Updated November 2017
As ski resorts prepare to open for the season, we updated our women's all-mountain ski review with the latest models and designs for the 2018 Winter. As usual for this category, all products received an update from last year's models, but most of the changes are only in the graphics and prices. For example, our favorite overall Volkl Aura switched up its topsheet and bumped its price up. Other updates limited to graphics or price only were to the Head, Nordica, Fischer, Armada, K2 (price DROP!), and Atomic models. Our runner-up ski, the Rossignol Soul 7, got a design overhaul and an "HD" added to its name, while the DPS Nina got some new dimensions. Lastly, we're sad to see one of our Best Buy Award winners, the Blizzard Samba, become discontinued. They are still available at a few online retailers, though, so snag them fast if desired! All the product updates are addressed in detail in the individual product reviews.
Best Overall Women's All-Mountain Skis
Stable at speed
Great off-piste in powder and chop
The Volkl Aura
is the most versatile, high-performance ski in our review, earning it this award three years running. It is extremely stable at speed and full rocker makes it fun in powder and bumps. It's damp and eats chop for breakfast while feeling like a race car at speed. It performs surprisingly well on piste, despite needing to be driven more than the models that won carving points. It holds an edge extremely well and has edge-to-edge quickness despite its rocker. This model is for an expert, and it will drive if you are not ready to stay on top and ski with authority. If you are an advanced skier looking for sticks that you can go anywhere and take on anything with, consider the Aura
Read full review: Volkl Aura
Best Bang for the Buck
Great off-piste and in soft snow
Excellent in chop
Takes some getting used to
The Samba is Disappearing Fast!
Blizzard discontinued this pair of sticks for the 2018 Winter. We are testing a replacement model from Blizzard at the moment, so stay tuned for that upcoming review. In the meantime, you can still find the Samba's at a reduced price before they sell out for good!
The Blizzard Samba
is another hard-charging contender for the experienced female skier, and at a lower price than the Aura, it takes our Best Buy Award at $650. The Samba likes to dance its way through all kinds of conditions, keeping you floating through powder while remaining stable on groomers and hardpack. The Samba excels in variable conditions. For some, it will take a bit of time to figure the Samba out, but with patience, you'll get in the rhythm.
Read full review: Blizzard Samba
Best Bang for the Buck
Armada Victa 93
Easy to ski
Decent float in powder
Poor crud performance
Affordable and for the intermediate skier looking to get off the trails, the Armada Victa
wins the Best Buy Award for its steadfast performance AND
$600 price tag. The Victa are softer planks, but they have great carving performance, with a narrower 93mm waist, which provides edge-to-edge quickness on groomers. A fat, rockered tip plows through soft crud and floats on top of the powder. The Armada Victa can take your skiing ability to the next level at a reasonable price.
Read full review: Armada Victa
Top Pick for Best Carving Performance
Head Great Joy
Short turn radius
Fun in the powder
Can be hooky in crud and bumps
All of the products in this review are all-mountain, but some are more specialized and perform better than others in certain terrain. The Head Great Joy
wins Top Pick Award because it is the most fun to carve on-piste. Its dramatic sidecut profile springs you in and out of 15.3-meter turns and its full sidewall construction provides great edge hold. Our testers love to carve snappy turns on this model. Although the Great Joy's stood out for carving, they can surf powder too! Their exaggerated fat tips and plump 100mm waist have great float in deep powder. Our expert testers tried these in a longer length, and we suggest sizing up if you're on the fence in choosing a length.
Read full review: Head Great Joy
Top Pick for Best Powder and Soft Snow Performance
Rossignol Soul 7 HD W
Great float in powder
Tips deflect in crud
Rossi Updates Their Soul
Rossignol attempts for 2018 to make their Soul 7 ski even better by releasing the Soul 7 HD W. Check out how it differs from last year's model by clicking into the individual review.
The first time we laid eyes on the Rossignol Soul 7
, we knew it was special. Then we wiggled through powder stashes and knew we were in love. The Soul 7 wins our Top Pick Award for best powder and soft snow performance, because this is where they shine. Unique tip and tail shape and a 106mm waist floats you through coldsmoke and Sierra cement alike. They are an impressive all-around performer, neck-and-neck with the Aura for best all-mountain performance, but they are slightly less stable and will buck you in crud more than the Aura. That said, we love carving responsive turns on the Soul 7, and they're a great choice for the variable West Coast conditions.
Read full review: Rossignol Soul 7 HD W
Analysis and Test Results
We rated each model in this review on their stability at speed, carving performance, performance in snow types—like crud vs powder—playfulness, and bump performance. We tested the 11 models throughout multiple seasons with many days on each pair during work and play by as many different ladies as we could round up. Our top-rated products are capable of handling a wide variety of conditions, and they stand out as solid all-around performers, though we also found some pairs that excel at specific applications, like the Rossignol Soul 7 HD
's powder abilities and the Head Great Joy
's bent for carving.
Some of our dedicated women testers out for a rip on Mammoth Mountain.
Stability at Speed
We want our skis to inspire confidence when flying down the mountain instead of making us pray for our lives. We want to lay into them knowing they won't wash out or chatter at high speeds. So we evaluated how each pair performs at speed. Does the contender provide a smooth ride, or are the tips floppy? Can they hold an edge when railing fast, hard turns, or do they slide out? Are they damp and controllable, absorbing bumps, or do they throw us around? The Volkl Aura
is the most stable competitor in the test, followed by the Head Great Joy
Many manufacturers have updated their technology, adding carbon for stiffness. The FulLuvit's, Samba's
and the Atomic Vantage 95 C
are examples of this. Some pairs are built to perform in this category, like the Volkl Aura
, but some, because they are meant to be lightweight, female-specific models, are soft and feel unstable at speed, like the Fisher My Ranger 98
. These prefer to floppily smear their way down the mountain. We found the Armada Victa
to be disconcerting at speed and didn't like riding them on the hard pack in steep terrain.
When you get the the Great Joy's up to high speeds, the tips will start to flop, although the holes in the tips are meant to dampen the skis.
Many of the off-piste models have rockered tips and have the appearance of being unstable at speeds, but many, like the Atomic Vantage
and Great Joy's
have enough sidewall underfoot that despite flopping tips, you still have stability and edge underfoot. Stability is the one redeeming quality in our new addition this year, the DPS Nina 99 Foundation
which is otherwise unremarkable in every category. This metric is closely related to edge-hold, which we talk about in the carving metric below.
Carving the Ninas was a challenge.
The Vantage does decently well on corduroy and hard pack, but it has a medium-sized turn radius and is not particularly snappy when railing turns.
How turny is each contender? Do they like to turn when asked? What is the turn radius? Models that have a smaller turn radius are usually better at carving, such as the Head Great Joy
. If you prefer to spend most of your time shredding corduroy, you'll want a product that scored high in this department.
The "Carving" criterion also looks at edge hold. Do you trust it to hold its edge when you're carving turns? If you turn at speed, will your planks hold on through the turn, or will they chatter or slide out? The Volkl Aura
has great stability and edge hold in the turns, especially at speed. The Head Great Joy
loves tight turns, propelling you out on the other side while providing a smooth, snappy transition to the next turn.
The Fischer Rangers have decent edge hold underfoot, but will get to chattering if you force them to do something they don't like.
These transitions are a result of the sidecut. Hourglass-shaped models are appealing to folks who are into that sort of thing. The Head Great Joy
have the most dramatic sidecut in this review. They have a big shovel width of 142, a waist of 98, and tail width of 125; this dramatic sidecut makes for a snappy, carvy turn. The Blizzard Samba
and the DPS Nina 99
have the least amount of sidecut, with dimensions of 131-98-116 and 123-99-122, respectively.
The Auras can carve up a storm and really like holding an edge -- but you really have to ask them forcefully to turn tighter than they want to.
Edge-to-edge quickness also factors into the carving metric. The planks will either turn as soon as you roll them on edge or they will take their time while turning. Some competitors are more sluggish. The Head Great Joy
is fun and snappy with a small turn radius, and is quick to transfer from edge to edge. The Head pair was the favorite of one of our testers for its notable on-piste performance. We were also surprised with the upgrade to the KS FulLuvit's
; their turn radius has been tightened up to 14M, and they are quicker edge-to-edge as a result. They are also extremely responsive when you need them to turn. We found the DPS Nina 99
to be sluggish and unresponsive.
The K2 FulLuvit 95 SKI are great to cruise through any soft snow and have a tight snappy turn radius.
In powder, most of the models in this review will make you feel like a superhero. These boards keep you on top of the snow and make skiing feel effortless. Models with wider tips and waists help you stay on top, and others, particularly the skinnier models in this test, are more work in powder.
The Rossignol Soul 7 HD W
makes powder feel amazing, whereas the DPS Nina 99
's tips tend to dive under the snow, making the powder more work. These are not powder-specific models; once the snow gets deep, some just couldn't hang. We took the Atomic Vantage
up to Canada to surf cold smoke, and once the powder got above the knees, the Vantage
wanted to dive down.
Today was a fun day to butter and wiggle our way down the mountain on the Soul 7s.
We noticed that different tip shapes made a difference in float. Tips that are more tapered, with the widest part set back, have better glide in powder, like the Nordica Santa Ana, which has great powder performance because of its fat waist and rockered tips
. We were surprised with the Armada Victa
's deep performance. They have a 93mm waist but hold their own in up to a foot of powder because of their fat, rockered tips. Other models with tapered tips in this review were the K2 FulLUVit
and the Fisher My Ranger
The Great Joys were joyful in the deep powder and on the groomed corduroy.
Good performance in powder and soft snow often has to do with waist width (wider = more float) and the amount of rocker. With a more turned-up tip, the product can float without added width underfoot. Rockered designs pull the contact points further toward the center, shortening the effective edge length. All of the models in this review have some rocker, and many feature a combination of camber underfoot (the arching shape resting flat on the snow), early-rise tips (rocker tip), or rockered tails. The Fischer My Ranger 98
seems to have the most rocker of all the models in this review and many of our testers described this pair as buttery in powder. The Volkl Aura
is the only product in this review with "full rocker," meaning it is virtually flat underfoot with no camber.
The Nordica Santa Ana is a light and nimble ski that will float over the powder and crud with ease.
When things start to get chopped up, the Nordica Santa Ana will help you plow through the crud.
At OGL, we use this term as an all-encompassing category for variable snow (excluding powder) on ungroomed trails. The day after a powder day usually results in crud. Will your trusty friends plow through the irregular snow, whether it's slushy or frozen? At the end of the day, when even the groomers are trashed, does it still feel like you're carving? The Nordica Santa Ana
and the Blizzard Samba
both handle the chop with ease, absorbing any crud that came their way.
Some days the snow is frozen solid in the morning and slushy by mid-afternoon. Other days you will find breakable crust in one spot and chalky fun powder elsewhere. Can your planks handle it all? The Fischer My Ranger 98
let us down in this terrain; instead of absorbing the crud, they just threw us around, resulting in embarrassing face plants. How does each model transition from one type of snow to the next? The stiff and weighty Volkl Aura
handles variable conditions with grace, plowing through it without batting an eye.
In cruddy conditions you need to work to stay on top of the Auras. They are recommended for expert skiers, but if you can drive them they'll plow right through.
The Armada Victa
's tended to buck in the crud, throwing us in the backseat, but the Head Great Joy
sucked up the crud and excelled in any off-piste conditions, from tracked-up powder to frozen chunks and wind buff.
Tester Jessica Haist demonstrates the "Alien" on the Armada Victa's.
The playfulness metric is an evaluation of how fun the product is to use. It can be subjective from tester to tester. Playfulness is pretty simple—do you have fun with this model? Are you excited to take them out and goof around on the mountain, ride switch, and jump off things?
Are they easy to use? Are they snappy and "turny"? Generally, the park-inclined models in this review came out on top, with twin tips and softer flex adding a playful feel; models like the Armada Victa
were fun to butter and smear on.
Our expert testers liked the Great Joys in their longer 173cm length.
The Head Great Joy
is playful in a different way; they are carvy and responsive—fun to play with on groomers. The Rossignol Soul 7 HD
were playful in soft snow; their tapered tail shape allowed us to wiggle down runs, giggling while doing it.
Sarah on the Fischer Ranger W98s that prefer to butter and smear turns rather than rail and carve them.
Some love them, some hate them, but they are a fact of life at the resort. Even if you set out to avoid them, most days you'll find yourself at the top of a pitch of moguls. None of these all-mountain models are meant to cruise bumps, but some performed better than others. Models with tighter turn radiuses, like the K2 FulLuvit
, are better when it comes to tight, firm, evenly spaced moguls.
If there are bumps forming in new snow, you may want planks that have better crud-busting abilities, like the Blizzard Samba
. We enjoyed ourselves in steep, small-ish bumps on the Armada Victa
but wouldn't take them into anything firm or icy. If you want to spend more than 5% of your time in the bumps, we recommend looking into more on-piste-specific models.
The Blizzard Sambas will help you navigate your way through a sea of soft bumps, but if they get too tight and icy you may be in trouble.
A Note About Versatility
Versatility is not a specific metric, but a contender that scores well across the board is versatile, given our scoring metric. A good all-mountain model is well-rounded, and so our highest-rated models will be the most versatile. The most versatile competitors in this review were the Volkl Aura
, because it is fun at speed on groomed runs, plows through off-piste crud, and floats on powder; and the Rossignol Soul 7 HD
because of its great carving ability, playfulness, and powder performance.
An all-mountain ski's best quality is its ability to perform in any type of terrain. The Aura floats in powder and can hold its own on the groomed corduroy as well as in the chop and crud, making it an incredibly versatile ski for use all over the mountain, and our favorite.
The Blizzard Samba
scored just around average for our evaluation criteria, making it an all-around versatile performer. The least versatile models were ones that specialized in one thing or another, like the Fischer My Ranger 98 - Women's that is tons of fun in fresh powder
but failed to impress at most everything else and the DPS Nina's
that were somewhat lifeless and hard to control in all conditions. We believe that an all-mountain pair should be versatile by design
. All of our test models are somewhat versatile, but some handled a variety of terrain better than others.
The Rossignol Soul 7's fat waist and tips combined with its inclination to turn are why we award it the Top Pick for soft snow performance.
Who We Are
Our testers had tons of fun making tight playful turns, cruising in powder and getting air with the Cham. Holly Moseley shows us how it's done!
OutdoorGearLab gathered a team of industry pros and professional snow bums to put our all-mountain models through the wringer. These ladies ski for a living, or live to ski, and each woman skied many days on each model. With different styles and preferences, they liked different things about each product.
Jessica Haist, Lead Test Editor
Jessica Haist grew up in the Great White North, Ontario, Canada. She started skiing the icy slopes at the age of six. She has enjoyed being outside in frigid temperatures ever since. She took her skiing to the next level when she moved to British Columbia and spent years exploring the resorts and backcountry it had to offer. Her favorite resort is Red Mountain in Rossland, BC, where she was a resident for four years and volunteer patroller for two. She loves all types of skiing, from cross-country to backcountry, but loves ripping it up in steep treed terrain and powdery bowls. She now lives in Mammoth Lakes, California where she works as a backpacking guide and outdoor educator in the summers and an OGL bum and administrator for Outward Bound California in the winters. In her free time, she likes cooking, gardening, mountain biking, rock climbing, and generally being outside.
Jessica had a hard time choosing her favorite model in the review and fell somewhere in the middle of Renee's diverse preferences. She likes big lines off-piste, but also loves cruising groomers and making snappy turns. She likes the Nordica Santa Ana
for its nimbleness and powder float but also had fun on the Rossignol Soul 7 HD
's for deep days. If she had to choose only one, she would go with the Volkl Aura
; she loves these versatile, stable, expert sticks.
The Nordica Santa Ana's mid-fat 100mm waist and fat, rockered tips give you the float you need to stay on top of the deep stuff.
Renee Lemmer McCormack, Collaborating Tester
Renee McCormack has been tipping and ripping since her mom dressed her up in a pink piggy onesie and sent her off to follow a ski school snake at age three in Colorado. She's since started creating her own snakes, teaching first in Vail, and for the past seven winters in Mammoth Lakes, California. She is a fully certified Level III Alpine Instructor through PSIA, which means she can [mostly] manage to french fry when she's not supposed to pizza. When not busy feeding children hot chocolate and Starbursts, she and her husband teach scuba diving around the world, go rock climbing and mountain biking, and enjoy life with only the obligation of two mouths to feed.
Renee is 5'10'' and 140lbs, so she's not a tiny creature. This has affected some of her ratings; many models seem a bit short and would have potentially rated higher if tested in a longer length. She generally prefers a stronger, stiffer model with decent sidecut. Renee believes that making turns is the best part of skiing; if you want to go straight then get yourself a sled! She enjoys skiing Mammoth's steeps as well as bumps and tree-skiing but believes that an all-mountain pair is capable in all conditions, including on-piste groomers where we all end up spending portions of our day. Therefore, the Dynastar Cham
(now discontinued) was her favorite, with the Head Great Joy
coming in a close second, since they perform so well all over the mountain. She loves that they both have enough shape to carve a groomer like a Thanksgiving turkey, while their width and insanely fat shovels allow them to float in the fresh.
Glossary of Terms
Like the Inuit people of the north, skiers have a plethora of words to describe snow. We also use colloquialisms to describe other elements of the sport, including style and technique. Below we attempt to disseminate this mystifying nomenclature.
Originally a French term that has been adopted worldwide to describe a marked trail with an artificially prepared surface of packed snow. Off-piste is any route on the mountain that is not on-piste and can consist of all types of snow (see snow terms below).
Any type of snow that has been chopped up or pushed around. This typically occurs after a powder day but could be on a spring day when the groomers have been skied out. Crud usually is heavier, more dense, and warmer than chop, but some might use the same terminology interchangeably. Chop is still fun, but requires a lot of work and often wears people out.
Residents of Utah and Interior British Columbia are familiar with this type of powder snow, although it occurs anywhere there is a cold snowstorm. This is the holy grail of powder: light and fluffy. Extremely easy to ski and sometimes described as bottomless, you may see snorkels in use on a coldsmoke day.
These conditions are often a result of melt/freeze situations or low snow years, and sometimes can be avoided by going out in the afternoons when things have warmed up. Bullet-proof can mean extremely hard, icy conditions where you hope your edges have been sharpened recently. Hardpack may be slightly softer than bullet-proof and has typically been skied or side-slipped.
You can find slush on warm days in the spring, especially at lower elevations. Slush can be fun because you can smear on it. Elephant snot is a step down from slush—the kind of snow you find transitioning from shade to sun.
Imagine skiing on a huge block of compacted chalk. You can find chalky snow in shaded, off-piste areas and it is almost always firm but edgeable and fun.
A phenomenon oft-experienced at Mammoth Mountain, which can make for surprise almost-powder days. When there are high winds and snow available for transport, it will deposit in pockets around the mountain. If you are lucky enough to find one of these deposits, it is a lot of fun. Locals covet the wind buff and usually will not share its location.
When there has been a lot of melt freeze going on, death cookies, or large chunks of ice, will form. Sometimes these are also created by a groomer plowing over something icy. You will know you have hit a patch of death cookies when it feels like you are skiing over rocks.
Think about when you're cold and your teeth start to chatter. This is the same sensation as when you are trying to rail a turn and your boards acts like your teeth, chattering under your feet. This usually means you're asking the ski to do something it does not want to do.
Shralp is a verb and means to "rip," "shred," or "tear" something up, like the slopes. We use this to describe the mountain after it has been skied out on a powder day: "Man, the mountain is totally schralped." You can also schralp a sick line.
Although Urban Dictionary says otherwise, to schnoodle, or schnoodling, is a verb meaning to turn like you are from the '80s or are on a monoboard. This entails keeping your knees close together while wiggling your bum. A onesie is the preferred outfit to schnoodle in.
We have covered this term before in our Women's Ski Jacket Review
, but it deserves mention here. When you perform a trick in the park with style and ease, it is "steezy." It can also be used in reference to stylish clothing.
The gang is about to schralp the crud at Kirkwood with steeze.