In the interests of full disclosure, the purveyors of realskiers once served in product management roles at Salomon, although our tenure was so long ago that the company we toiled for bears little relation to the Salomon organization of today. All that remains on our end is a lingering respect for Salomon’s meticulous R&D methodology, which resulted in a series of landmark product introductions that completely upended the established order. Their first boot, the rear-entry SX 90, introduced to modest applause in 1979, morphed into the SX 91, which led the brand to overtake Nordica in total dollars by 1985. By the end of the decade, there were hardly any overlap boots left in the market: the Nordica line was down to one 4-buckle boot and even Lange made a couple of half-hearted stabs at a rear-entry configuration. Meanwhile, Salomon’s SNS Nordic boot-binding system caught the sleepy XC market by surprise, running up a dominant market share. When Salomon debuted their monocoque skis they made such an impact that within two years, if you were a ski brand without a cap ski, you didn’t sell any skis.
Today, while Salomon remains a dominant player in the alpine boot market, their mantle of market leadership in skis has lost some of its luster. Their last shot at a game-changing ski, the BBR, didn’t achieve the traction they hoped for; instead of creating a whole new genre of surf-inspired skis they were treated as curios and largely overlooked by ski buyers. Salomon error-corrected with their second- generation BBR 10.0, a more relatable ski for the traditional, technical skier, but it still got lost in the well-stocked, viciously competitive 100mm-waist market. So in 2013 Salomon introduced a 98mm All-Mountain ski that doesn’t try to outperform the world in some newfangled way. Instead, Salomon is shooting to outmaneuver the market by street pricing the Quest 98 at $499, $200 below the leading models in the category. It’s like getting a free binding, which is pretty cool. And the ski is no slouch, particularly for the Finesse skier who’d rather make pretty turns than schuss à toute vitesse.
The Salomon product development juggernaut of the 1970’s and 80’s was financed by a simple idea: make a ski binding easy to step into and out of. If there is a unifying trait underlying almost all Salomon gear, it’s an emphasis on convenience and ease of operation. The accent on ease, coupled with an aggressive pricing policy, continues to be the primary Salomon ski family trait.
Salomon allowed brother brand Atomic to steal the new product headlines for 2016, while they focused their efforts on two areas we at realskiers largely ignore: Frontside system skis made more to match a package-ski price point than to fulfill a performance expectation, and backcountry models (we don’t hike). In the package market, Salomon whipped up a couple of less expensive X-Drive set-ups, while BC adventurers should look at the MTN Explore 95, which impressed those members of our cadre of testers who dabble in BC skis.
The one alpine ski category that Salomon thoroughly revamped for 2016 is women’s Frontside, introducing the Constellation series. The emphasis, naturally, is on weight reduction, in the core, in the structure and in the integrated Lithium 10 W binding. The standard Constellation construction is also not hard to guess: a monocoque spin-off Salomon calls Semi-Sandwich Sidewall, wherein the structural top shell (or cap) rests on a square sidewall underfoot and extends all the way to the edge elsewhere. This creates a soft-flexing ski with firm edge grip in the mid-section, just what the lighter weight, Finesse skier needs.
In-depth reviews of 21 models—with key performance ratings ( ? ) and genre model comparisons ( ? ) —are in our member section
Radius: 15m @ 170cm
Weight: 2300g @ 175cm
With a name like X-Race, you’d think this ski wouldn’t want to wander too far away from the race course, but it’s unwise to assume that just because a ski has a tight turn radius and a metal-laden, race room construction, it can’t cope with the minor stress of off-piste conditions like wind slab and chalky crud.
If you never take the X-Race off the beaten path you’ll never discover how it can take its act off-road without stepping out of character. It only has a pinch of tip rocker but it doesn’t take much to make a strong ski a crud-buster. And the Powerline Titanium dampening system works as well to buffer the shocks of off-piste terrain as it does to smooth out the ruts of a Masters’ race course.
Of Salomon’s troika of Technical models (the X-Max and X-Pro SW are the others), the X-Race exhibits the best edge grip at speed, a benchmark of A-team performance in this league. It prefers to get to a fresh edge early and often, and you don’t have to get low like Ligety to bring the X-Race around. (We said “like Ligety” in the spirit of generosity – you can’t go as low as Ted, and you know it.)
X-Drive 8.0 FS
Radius: 15.9m @ 175cm
Weight: 1750g @ 175cm
For most of Salomon’s relatively brief lifespan as a ski maker their line has been noted for being light and agile. They got away from this platform when they created the meaty Enduro family of Frontside skis, a deviation they corrected with the debut of the X-Drive series last season.
The X-Drive 8.0 FS is built from the same cloth as its All-Mountain East bro, the 8.8; it’s not a step down in quality but a step over in waist width. Everything the 8.8 can do, the 8.0 can match, only quicker. While not afraid of speed, it’s more amenable to low-speed turns and slips easily into a short-radius rhythm that helps maintain a comfortable, unhurried pace.
The X-Drive 8.0, like its intended owner, is most competent on groomed terrain, but it’s adequately equipped for forays into untreated terrain. Wherever its baseline is rockered the top sheet is reinforced (in an X-shape, hence the name), so the X-Drive 8.0 knows to keep its tips up in the trees and well connected on the trail.
Radius: 15.2m @ 176cm
Weight: 1987g @ 176cm
Don’t let the Salomon X-Drive 8.3’s higher number or steeper suggested retail lull you into the assumption that it’s somehow intended to look down on the X-Drive 8.0. It’s rather the opposite.
The head-fake on the MSRP is due to the 8.3’s automatic mating with a matching Salomon binding, while the X-Drive 8.0 can be purchased either with or without an associated binding. The seeming superiority in numbers is merely a reference to the 8.3’s 83mm waist width, which is a less significant stat than the 8.3’s smaller meter-radius measurement.
Lest the obscurity of the last sentence leave you in a fog, it means that despite the 8.3’s wider waist it’s nonetheless predisposed to make a tighter turn than the 8.0. This propensity for shorter turns at low to medium speeds is augmented by a semi-sandwich chassis that uses a flexible monocoque structure on either side of a stiffer, square-sidewall center section.
The combination of a wider platform, deeper sidecut and softer flex makes the X-Drive 8.3 ski/binding system an excellent value for the recreational skier who just wants to have fun.
Radius: 13m @ 161cm
Weight: 1782g @ 161cm
Talk about punching over your weight: the Cira isn’t even in the running for the most decked-out dame in her own clan of Salomon carvers, let alone a favorite to emerge as a top model in its class. But the Cira continues in the tradition of the Lava, its precursor in the Salomon line, by showing the high-society ladies that a scrappy lightweight from the lower price tiers can compete with the best that Frontside society has to offer.
The Cira doesn’t have the advantages of chic new technology, but earns its admirers by sticking to the tried and true. Our testers, bless them, didn’t know they weren’t supposed to be impressed. They scored the Cira as if she were of royal lineage, earning perfect points for low-speed turning and copping nearly flawless averages for forgiveness, short-turns and Finesse/Power balance.
Its A+ grade for Power aside, the Cira isn’t meant for the super-charged gal who already has all the skills, but it’s a little slice of heaven for the woman who spends most of her ski time on groomers and wants to look good and feel good while she’s there.
X-Drive 8.8 FS
Radius: 17.8m @ 179cm
Weight: 1975g @ 179cm
Nothing builds confidence like stability wedded to maneuverability, a formula followed by the Salomon X-Drive 8.8 FS.
Salomon’s previous generation of Frontside and All-Mountain East cruisers, the Enduro series, tipped too far in the direction of stability and were deemed lugubrious.
To introduce a greater measure of agility, Salomon removed a sheet of Titanal, substituting X-shaped carbon reinforcements at critical vibration nodes. The result is a lighter ski that’s whippet-quick off the edge, but only if it’s properly tipped and pressured. The X-Drive 88 isn’t a set of training wheels meant to gently coax an intermediate into a measure of competence (there are several other X-Drive models that serve this purpose), but a precision instrument that takes some skills to operate.
The X-Drive 8.8 didn’t lose the Enduros’ appetite for speed; its best scores are for stability and accuracy à toute vitesse. While it’s lighter and quicker than the Enduro that preceded it, the X-Drive 8.8 won’t waver or flutter on hard snow, and roaring through a foot of fresh is mother’s milk to this stick.More than one tester noticed that the X-Drive 8.8 virtually compelled better technique from its riders. As Matt from Footloose observed, “it’s a competent and commanding ski, still one of the best in the category. Could get my award for ‘most technically rewarding’. ”
Radius: 20.5m @ 183cm
Weight: 2200g @ 183cm
Like most powerful Big Mountain skis, the Salomon Q-Lab isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but those who tumble to its charms fall hard. A handful of testers rated it their favorite over 100mm underfoot, which is a strong indicator that the Q-Lab should find a following among strong skiers who are lucky enough to regularly explore big mountains.
The Q-Lab’s warm reception by our veteran testers should be especially gratifying to Salomon, for Q-Lab’s first assignment was to win back the loyalties of specialty shop personnel, upon whose recommendations the fate of all ski brands rest. Note that the Q-Lab isn’t a monocoque like the rest of the Q series, but a square-sidewall, two-sheets-of-Titanal, Austrian warhorse built to subjugate every crud field on earth.
Salomon applies this traditional sandwich construction to a modern baseline with a dab of tail rise and a long, tapered tip that’s become the de facto standard tip shape for the category. (The tapered tip is presumed to be less twitchy in choppy off-trial conditions, and is sometimes referred to, as Salomon does, as “Hook Free.”)
While the Q-Lab is tailor made for chargers, in its longest length (190cm) it also grows in girth to 109mm underfoot, making it one motivated mother getting from point A to point B, where point A is the mountaintop and point B is the bottom. If you’re planning to step up to this size, don’t skimp on your off-season workouts.
Radius: 23.3m @ 181cm
Weight: 2020g @ 181 cm
Our Finesse favorites are all about ease, and the Salomon Q-105 belongs in the Easy-Peasy Hall of Fame for Fat Skis. If mastering powder is still on your to-do list, or if you just want to make it an easier exercise, the Q-105 belongs on your to-ski list. Its go-along-to-get-along attitude travels well to the groom and mixed snow conditions and its lightweight construction makes it more maneuverable no matter where you roam.
Its blunt, honeycomb tip is more useful as a buffer in broken terrain than as a turn initiation instrument on the groom, tipping the Q-105’s test scores in favor of its off-trail attributes. The Q-105’s lightweight monocoque construction helps this relatively wide ski feel quick, responsive and easy to steer at the slower speeds more cautious skiers proceed at in unpredictable off-trail conditions.
Building a lightweight, responsive ski that skis skinnier than it width is right in Salomon’s wheelhouse, so the Q-105 plays to Salomon’s strengths. Cost-efficient production is also a Salomon strength, which allows Salomon to price the Q-105 a bit below the market norm for the category.
♀ Q-103 Stella
Radius: 23.3 @ 165cm
Weight: 1820g @ 165cm
Salomon’s Q-103 Stella takes all the standard steps to adapt its classic monocoque construction to the requirements of the Powder category. Taking it from the tip, the Stella swaps its lightweight wood core for a honeycomb composite, then flattens out the forebody with a “hook-free” taper that can deflect in soft snow without redirecting the ski. The structural top sheet also forms the sidewalls, saving a few parts and softening the overall flex pattern.
The Stella’s 23.3m turn radius isn’t made for short, mincing steps; in fact, it’s hard to find a women’s ski that has less shape than the flat-chested Stella. But what would be a liability on hard snow works in the skier’s favor in the choppy tracks that are the dominant condition on most “powder” days. When the depth and consistency of the terrain changes with every foot, one doesn’t want a ski that over-reacts. Skis with too much shape tend to sink underfoot in this condition, which only makes skiing this challenging condition more exhausting. This is Stella’s secret, and why she’s a crud-busting queen.
Radius: 16.4m @ 178cm
Weight: 2120g @ 178cm
Salomon’s signature monocoque construction is ideally suited to building a big-bodied ski. A monocoque can be made skeletally light, and Salomon doubles down on weight diminution by stripping the edges off the extremities and using a synthetic honeycomb in lieu of a wood core in the same zones. Not unlike the Rossi Super 7, the Q-115 takes the superlight tip out of the turn equation by applying a long rocker line and tapering the forebody so the effective sidecut begins well behind the shovel. This allows the Q-115 to finesse a short-radius turn outside of its 16m-radius sidecut, making this model one of the more readily reactive in those tight situations where fast-twitch reflexes are required.
Despite a reputation as an easy-turning range, the Q series, headlined by the 115, has plenty of pop to please the highly skilled skier. As befits this boaty genre, its on-trail accuracy isn’t extraordinary, but in the domain for which it was designed, the Q-115 is drifty and dreamy.