Updated October 2017
If you're like our ski experts, you are (secretly or overtly) wishing for winter's rapid return. As stoke for downhill charging grows, we updated this review to give you the latest on the best all-mountain skis. Our favorite pair, the Volkl Mantra, received graphics updates, but otherwise remains the same as last year's model. We're bummed that our Best Buy winner, the Dynastar Cham, and Top Pick for Playfulness, the Head Venturi, are discontinued this year and disappearing from online retailers and gear shops. If you want them, snatch them up fast! We detail the 2018 updates to all the skis in their individual reviews.
Best Overall All-Mountain Skis
Built for speed
Solid and reliable performance
Versatile and fun
Not best for beginners or intermediates
is no new kid on the block, being the flagship all-mountain model for Volkl. It received significant updates in 2015, and there was skepticism concerning the wider waist width and full-rocker profile, which have stuck with each product update since. For the verdict, just ask any skier who hopped on these sticks during testing — it's the bomb. When it comes to performance, fun, and versatility, the Mantra
is top dog. It's stable at high speeds and handles turns with ease. The wide width holds an edge well even when challenged in steep, firm snow. The fully rockered profile made it very playful in soft snow and agile in technical terrain. While we had some intermediate skiers hop on the Mantra
, we feel like this is an expert's ski
. It has no speed limit, likes big turns, and performs best when driven hard.
Read review: Volkl Mantra
Best Bang for the Buck
Dynastar Cham 2.0 97
Ideal for all-around skiers and conditions
Playful due to design
Out the Door
Dynastar informed us that this model is discontinued without a direct replacement. If you find this model for sale somewhere, better snag it fast.
As the second-highest scoring product in our test of eight different models, the Dynastar 2.0 Cham 97
stands out for its versatility and impressive performance all over the mountain. On top of that, a pair costs less than our Editors' Choice winner. Bang for the buck, the Cham 97 wins hands down. It gives you the versatile performance you want in an all-mountain model but is easy on the wallet. The Cham is traditionally cambered and has generous tip rocker with unnoticeable tail rocker. This rockered tip keeps it floating in deep and soft snow and also keeps it on top of refrozen crud and choppy snow. It has a beautiful turn shape, is easy to get on edge, and carves smoothly when on groomers. The Cham is playful and fun, making it an easy choice to take out for a day of riding, no matter what the conditions are.
Read review: Dynastar 2.0 Cham 97
Most Playful (AKA Pop and Drop)
Head Skis USA Venturi 95
High energy fun
Floats pow well
Not best in crud
Lackluster conditions lead to chatter
Like the Cham, the Venturi 95 is discontinued this season. Better buy them quick if you find them, because once they gone, they gone!
The Head Venturi 95
was by far and away the most playful model we tested. No other contender had the pop, the soft landing, and the general surfy nature that Head was able to put together in the Venturi. The rockered tip and tail let you float on top of fresh pow or cruise over variable snow. The consistent medium to soft flex throughout the Venturi allows the skier to make delicate landings, slarve turns with ease, and butter off anything and everything. The best part about how playful the Head Venturi 95 is, is that it is equally adept at slaying groomers. Sure, you could find a more playful pair that was only good in soft snow, had more pop, and was more surfy, but you inevitably sacrifice the on-piste capabilities that the Venturi provides. This is a true all-mountain model, for the skier who sees the whole mountain as his terrain park.
Read review: Head Venturi 95
Best Carving Ski (AKA The Butcher)
Nordica Enforcer 93
The Nordica Enforcer 93
was the only model to earn an 8 out of 10 in the carving testing category; it nudged out stiff competition (the Volkl Mantra
) and blew away others designed for on-piste superiority - the K2 iKonic 85 ti
. The early rise tip and tail make it super easy to initiate turns and release out of them. The titanium extends over the edges of a wood core, which creates the power, consistent flex, and rebound our testers found while riding them. You prefer on-piste and tend to run into firmer conditions? This may be the all-mountain choice for you, especially if you like to roll skis over on their edges and pull some Gs while arcing beautiful turns.
Read review: Nordica Enforcer 93
Analysis and Test Results
If the one-ski quiver is the lofty ideal, then the top rated products in our review are capable of handling a wide variety of conditions and stand out as a solid performer all around. If you sum up all of our evaluation criteria, you can get an idea of which are the most versatile. This represents the most important characteristic of a true all-mountain ski. The single product quiver may be a bit of a cliche, but we think it is apt. There are options out there that are capable of being used in all conditions, performing well no matter what kind of snow or terrain you find yourself in.
Ultimately, some of the models in our test fell into sub-genres that are less versatile and have leanings towards specific terrain or conditions. There are several that are stiffer, quick edge-to-edge, carving powerhouses, like the Armada Invictus 99 ti
, Atomic Vantage cti
, and the K2 iKonic 85 ti
. Then there was the surfy soft-snow specialists, the Salomon QST 99
. The models that we feel are the most versatile for a broad range of terrain and conditions are consequently our four highest scorers: the Volk Mantra
, Dynastar Cham 2.0 97
, Head Venturi 95
, and Nordica Enforcer 93
Our testers skating towards advanced terrain for some test runs.
We rated each product on its stability at speed, performance in powder snow and crud, its playfulness, and even its bumps performance. Instead of rudimentary kick-the-tires sort of tests (i.e., hand flexing and fondling), we tested these eight models throughout a colossal snow season by putting in as many days as possible on each pair by as many different people as we could scratch up.
Stability at Speed
A ski's stability is particularly important at speed. Stability refers to the ability to stay on the ground, not chatter too much in a turn, and remain in the control of the skier in charge. We assess stability by testing in steep terrain where edge hold is critical, by going fast where a product is challenged to hold an edge and not chatter, and by testing on firm and icy snow where vibration can sometimes shake the person enough to limit their confidence.
Stability is related to the flexibility and its rocker/camber profile. Stiffness invariably affects performance characteristics. Stiffness is referred to torsionally and throughout the length, particularly in the tip and tail. Stiff models take more energy to flex and drive, but the result is better edge hold and stability at speed. Stiff models like the K2 iKonic 85 ti
and the Volkl Mantra
handle speed and firm snow with ease and can punch through variable conditions. Softer models like the Solomon QST
and the Atomic Vantage CTI
chatter more at speed and struggle to hold an edge on hard packed snow. They prefer to dance through harsh, bumpy snow than plow through it. Some of the chatter does come from the rocker, but the soft flex doesn't help them when things get firm and steep.
Try to keep up with the K2 iKonic ti.
Soft flexing models like the Solomon QST 99
and the Atomic Vantage 100 CTI
, our lowest scorers for this metric, are playful and easy to use but are nothing short of spooky at speed, especially on firm snow. Stable models like the Volkl Mantra
, which takes the highest stability score, can hold an edge at high speeds and feel damp, suppressing vibration on firm and icy slopes.
Weight can also be a factor in stability. Weight is largely determined by the materials used and the dimensions. Heavy models like to stay on the ground and can be more stable at speed. Lightweight versions tend to be easier to use and more maneuverable. However, high weight doesn't mean stiffer, and lightweight ones aren't always soft. Our testers that enjoy being light on their feet and playing with the terrain tended to prefer lightweight models. Friends that push their gear hard and shred aggressively, plowing through bumps and going fast, liked heavier, stiff models.
The Volkl Montra feels super stable at high speeds.
Resorts are well-maintained playgrounds. Groomed terrain accounts for a good amount of beginner and intermediate trails at most resorts. For the expert, groomed slopes are opportunities to open it up, make big turns, and push your limits in a more controlled environment. Race models eat up well-manicured pistes but are a challenge when things get more variable. All-mountain versions that have a more traditional design, like camber underfoot and a slightly narrower waist, are usually preferred for carving and on-piste performance.
The Nordica Enforcer 93
was the highest scorer in the carving category. One of our testers said the only reason he put the Enforcers down, was because his knees hurt from carving so hard on them.
Carving! Laying the Enforcer on edge is a total blast.
Traditional, modern all-mountain models have a certain amount of camber under the foot. This arching shape when it rests flat on the snow gives it pop/energy, and when compressed helps create the shape of the turn. Rockered designs pull the contact points further toward the center. This shortens the effective edge length. Less edge contact with the snow can make for quicker and easier turn initiation. With a more turned-up tip, it is is more likely to float in soft snow without adding width underfoot. Many models feature any combination of camber underfoot, early-rise tips (rocker tip), or rockered tails.
One of our testers enjoying a classic blue bird pow day in the Sierras on none other than the Nordica Enforcer 93s.
The Nordica Enforcer
, our top scorer for carving, has a rockered tip for easy turn initiation, a bit of tail rocker that allows you to release out for your turns easily, and camber underfoot, which results in lots of pop and energy. Conversely, the Volkl Mantra
has a fully rockered design that looks like a smooth, gradual bend from tip to tail. Though convention suggests that a fully rockered model would not carve well, this was not the case. The Mantra
carves excellent big turns.
Rocker technology is found in all of the models reviewed here, even if ever so slightly in the K2 iKonic 85 ti
. Rocker profiles are becoming somewhat ubiquitous in all-mountain designs and are enabling skiers to use longer models and help wider versions perform better on firm snow and groomed terrain. Overall, we believe that designs that feature some amount of rocker are more versatile for most people. Skeptics are critical of this rocker shortening the effective edge and resent that newer designs are skiing short. Rockered tips don't make contact with the snow unless you are railing turns, and they can appear to be and feel a bit floppy when carving.
For this metric, we scored each model based on its edge-to-edge quickness, carving ability, and edge hold. The three products that stand out most for carving performance are the Nordica Enforcer 93
, the Volkl Mantra
, and the Head Venturi 95
. The Enforcers took the overall top score in this category to no one's surprise and the Mantras
were voted a close second, but the Venturi
model was a total surprise to our testers. The Venturi
won our playfulness category, but were capable of arcing fast turns on the groomers; it is rare to find both aspects in a single ski.
Once you wander off the groomed trails, any condition possible can be thrown your way. This past season, we encountered a generous amount of powder (thank you Ullr), but also: wind-buff, bumps, corn snow, breakable crust, boilerplate, and everything in between. The variability is immense, and we're asking a lot for a ski to shine in pristine to tough conditions. Because of this, we decided to rate each competitor on its performance in different snow conditions. And we begin this by evaluating everyone's favorite: powder.
We rated this based on the ability to float through powder and stay on top when the snow gets deep. We looked for a surfy and floaty feeling rather than ones that feel like tanks. Almost every model is fun in perfect powder because perfect powder is fun and easy to ski! There were, however, some notable differences in the performance in the soft stuff.
The Chams doing their thing in the soft stuff found at Kirkwood!
Most of the models in this review are a bit on the narrow side when imaging a powder ski, ranging from 85mm-100 mm underfoot. In general, wider waists perform better in softer snow and struggle on-piste and firm conditions. But, more modern designs are changing that paradigm. We have found that in some instances, wider models like the Volkl Mantra
(100 mm) are just as good on piste as some of their more narrow waisted counterparts like the K2 iKonic 85 ti
With the ubiquity of rockered profiles, there are lots of people who are getting on wider versions for everyday use. Many all-mountain models now feature some amount of rocker in them. Rocker designs make for quicker and easier turn initiation, even on wide models, and help to keep the tip up and out of softer, deeper, and more variable snow conditions.
Slashing some pow on the Head Venturis...WOOOO!
Three models in this review stood out as having a soft snow preference: the Dynastar Cham 97 2.0
, Head Venturi 95
, and the Volkl Mantra
. With wide waists, big shovels, and lots of rocker, these were the gems of this review in powder conditions. The lightweight Head Venturi
was fun in soft snow and technical terrain. Once again, the Mantra impressed in this category and earned a respectable 7 out of 10 for fun and float in the fluffy. Most impressive is the Dynastar Cham 97 2.0
; its massive shovel, medium width waist, and pintail make this model float, track, and bounce well in the pow. Other top scorers include the Salomon QST 99
, the Armada Invictus 99 Ti
, and the Atomic Vantage 100 CTI
Outside of the manicured pistes, there is just too much fun terrain to explore for an all-mountain model to fall apart off the groomed trails. Variable snow is a challenge. Even though crud is not a desirable condition to ski, we all encounter it, and having the right tool to get you through it is key. Our crud/chop/poor snow metric helps to highlight well-rounded models that can hold their own anywhere on the hill.
We rated crud performance based on a model's ability to dance through chopped up powder and plow through variable conditions. Think refrozen choppy snow, breakable crusts, heavy slush, and any other unpleasant type of snow. We asked ourselves, do these skis like to hook up or can they still turn smoothly in harsh conditions? Can they plow through crusts or do they dive?
Attempting to bust through some crud in the steeps on the Atomic Vantages.
Stiff models like the Volkl Mantra
and the Dynastar Cham
punch through crud well. These two models earned our highest score in this category. Conversely, softer models like the Solomon QST 99
and Atomic Vantage 100 CTI
tend to get bounced around in uneven snow and make you more likely to resort to survival skiing techniques instead of riding confidently over the chop. Rocker tips and wider waist widths providing a lot of surface area, like the design of the Mantra
, help keep you floating on top of the muck. Designs with less rocker, like the K2 iKonic 85 ti
, liked tackling steeper pitches with firm snow and ice, but don't glide over uneven crud quite as well and sometimes hook up.
The Chams busting through some chopped up pow in the steeps.
Playful models are easy to use, responsive, adapt well to changing terrain, and are fun! Lots of pop, a little loose, and quick to turn make the most playful planks a go-to choice for the "all-mountain terrain park." Gullies, little airs, and bouncing through bumps are the playgrounds for those who are light on their feet and creative with their terrain choices.
The Head Venturi 95
owned this category. Big guys, little guys, women, snowboarders
everyone loved playing around on this model. It popped off side hits, landed soft, buttered easily, and bounced around nimbly in most conditions. While the Solomon QST 99
was the second most playful we tested, the Dynastar Cham 97 2.0
was not far behind. While these two competitors earned the same score (7/10), the QST
was preferred by our testers when wanting a playful ski because of its surfy feel.
Don't let the Cham's excellent on-piste ability limit your exploration of the all-mountain terrain park!
On the opposite end of the spectrum is the K2 iKonic 85 ti
. Although they have pop - thanks to the camber underfoot - and are lightweight, they lack the softness needed for landing and have no surfyness to them, which leads to a stiff, all business-like feeling.
Attempting to bounce through the chopped up snow on the iKonics.
Bump Skiing Performance
When commuting around the mountain to find the best snow, it is inevitable you'll find skied up snow that is set up into the sometimes seemingly endless mogul fields. These aren't the fun zipper lines that have some rhythm to them; they're more erratic in shape and spacing. Take your time and think quickly and they can be navigated. There are some sacrifices to be made for a contender to handle the bumps well. They are a bit softer to shape themselves to the terrain with plenty of pop to bounce quickly. They are also shorter so that they are more nimble. Pairs with consistent flex and that are quick underfoot, such as the Head Venturi 95
, handle this terrain best.
While none of the products in this test are designed specifically with moguls in mind, the one that handled the bumps the best is the one that we think handles the best overall: the Volkl Mantra
. The worst player here is the Armada Invictus 99 ti
. Stiff and hooky, we felt worked after a lap through the bumps on them. Find something softer and less prone to holding you hostage in the turn if you seek out bump lines.
Steep bumps below for the Armadas.
Who We Are
One of our testers putting skis away at the end of a long, but super fun, day of testing. Thanks to all of our testers who helped test these skis!
This review utilized a collaborative testing format. We sought out expert opinion from three primary testers who were tasked with trying out these eight pairs day-in and day-out, and comparing each of them in as many different conditions as a drought year would allow. Our testers come from different backgrounds, have unique styles, and differ in their taste. Other friends and colleagues provided input for each test model to temper the strong opinions of our lead testers.
Our Buying Advice
article highlights construction, design features, and considerations for purchasing the right model for your needs. If you're new to this sport, or need to update your current knowledge base and are looking for some advice about what to watch out for, then check out this article.
Andrew Pierce, Lead Test Editor
- Age: 28 HT: 6'1" WT: 185lbs
- Occupation: Professional Ski Patroller, Heavenly, CA.
Andrew, enjoying the steep and narrows at Heavenly.
Andrew is relatively new to the OutdoorGearLab family, but not new to being on skis. At the age of 15, he wandered from the plains of Kansas into the mountains of Colorado and was hooked. After college, Andrew moved to North Idaho to pursue his outdoor passions and found himself spending most of his winter volunteering with ski patrol at a small hill. After realizing people get PAID to do the same thing, his mind was made up, and he moved to South Lake Tahoe to become a professional patroller. Five seasons later, Andrew continues to work full time in the winter as a patroller for Heavenly Mountain Resort, and skis over 100 days a year between work, free days at the resorts, and in the backcountry. This is his passion, and is found on the snow from October through July (as long as Mother Nature delivers the goods).
During the summer months, Andrew still seeks the snow but focuses on a slightly warmer, more melted version. He works for Shasta Mountain Guides on Mt. Shasta in Northern California guiding mountaineering clients up the 14,180 ft peak. He also works for Sierra Rescue (Rescue 3 International) teaching swift water rescue courses on the snowmelt-fed rivers in the Sierra front, and well as instructing wilderness based medical courses.
Andrew's favorite model in this review was the Dynastar Cham 97 2.0
. He was pleasantly surprised to find a contender that was quick and fun on the groomers but also held its own in soft snow. As a patroller does, he put all of the models in this category through the wringer in all conditions, and the Cham
emerged as his go-to, no matter what the mountain held in store for him.
Gray Grandy, Collaborating Tester
- Age: 24 HT: 5'7" WT: 145 lbs.
- Occupation: Professional Ski Patroller, Heavenly, CA.
Gray, in his natural environment...steep and deep!
Gray Grandy is a ripping skier in a small package. Don't be fooled by his stature, he can tame even the burliest of skis, and prefers a pair with some backbone (read metal) in them. His East Coast upbringing was great training for charging on-piste terrain, but he came into his own when he moved to the West Coast for college. He fell in love with the powder and stayed out west. His love for hands-on hard work, combined with his passion for shredding, led him into the professional patrolling career.
Gray prefers hard-charging big mountain models which are reliable at speed and in variable conditions. Being a backcountry skier, however, it is important to him that what he uses are light and nimble enough that they are playful and can be used in a variety of conditions, yet uncompromising in other areas. Even though it took him "a day to figure them out," the Volkl Mantra
was Gray's top choice.
Ryan McPartland, Collaborating Tester
- Age: 35 HT: 5'8'' WT: 185 lbs.
- Occupation: Professional Ski Patroller, Heavenly, CA.
Ryan McPartland takes the first word of his job title (SKI
Patroller) seriously. He can often be seen railing turns on the groomers on his way to help an injured guest or blowing through the powder on his way back from morning avalanche control. He somehow manages to find the time to successfully supervise 40 other patrollers AND shred all day long.
Ryan's favorite model in this review was the Volkl Mantra
, hands down! Not only was the Mantra quick and responsive edge-to-edge while remaining stable at high speeds, but it was also playful while staying reliable and confidence inspiring both on and off-piste. After testing all seven other contenders, Ryan asked to keep the Mantras for a couple of extra days for more "extensive testing."
Lots of skis in the 2017 Men's All-Mountain category = lots of fun!
For the all-mountain review, we sought out products that are wide enough to handle soft snow but have dimensions and design features that allow them to rip up the hard packed snow as well. That said, there may appear to be a slight west coast, big mountain bias to our selection; and this is accurate. We work and play at a big west coast resort. Some of our feelings about what may constitute a good all-mountain ski are a reflection of our terrain and snow type in the Sierra.
We generally have soft snow, receive generous amounts of it, and have lots of off-piste terrain to explore in-bounds. This season has been record-breaking for many resorts in the area. Though we got pounded by snow in the middle of the season, we found some balance in the beginning and end, and it made for some good testing conditions which reflect the different snow climates of the U.S. When testing all eight contenders in every type of snow, it became clear that wider waisted models, formerly reserved only for deep snow, are becoming better performers on firm snow, which makes them more versatile.
The Venturis proving they can handle steep, chalky snow.
We've all been there; looking for a new pair for the season, but unsure of where to start. We hope we've been able to help you decide which pair of planks to spend your dough on, with the award winners listed at the top of the review receiving specific awards for their performance. Rest assured that there is a pair out there for everyone and we've made it our mission to help you find them. If you're still on the hunt for the perfect pair, seek refuge in our buying advice