Updated November 2017
To make sure you're ready to surf on the perfect sticks for your powder needs, we researched the updates to each model for the 2017/2018 season. Skis generally at least get new graphics from year to year, and the new look is less frequently accompanied by material and construction updates. For example, the Atomic Backland Bent Chetler got a new look, while the Rossignol Soul 7 HD received a total overhaul and a higher price, making it no longer the Best Buy winner. Whether the changes were to the topsheet or the actual shape and design, we highlight all changes to each model in their individual reviews. Two skis reviewed last season are being discontinued this year, the Dynastar Cham 2.0 117 and Head A-Star. We're keeping them in the review for now, though, because they are still available at a sweet discount from select retailers. If they are the skis for you, follow the links in the review to snag them fast!
Best Overall Powder Ski
Rides like lightning
Back by popular demand, the Moment Bibby
is the people's champ. 2016 brought the revival of this beloved shape and fat-board fans rejoiced. Whether or not you knew the original, it's worth knowing now that the Bibby got better. Still sporting the classic dimensions of 141/116/131, the Bibby has been upgraded with carbon fiber stringers and a UHMW sidewall with semi-cap construction. The result is an ultra-burly, lightweight, and stunty powder specific ski that was reviewed as "destroying everything in its path". These planks can float with the best of 'em but were also the go-to setup regardless of snow types. The relatively moderate waist width coupled with a camber-friendly Mustache Rocker gives it phenomenal edge hold while also remaining playful and surfy. Blending floaty, freeride surfability with an aggressive top-end stability, there isn't much that the Bibby can't do. Our reviewers agreed that this ski performed well across the board, though it preferred to be driven through deep snow and high-angle terrain. This is a hard-charging, in-your-face powder weapon that never hesitates to send. User be warned: the Bibby is radder than you. If you're looking for excellent powder skiing but want to shed some ounces for all-day backcountry missions, look no further than the Moment Bibby Tour
, the lightweight touring version of the favorite ski. This ski received minor updates to the semi-cap design for 2018, as well as a new topsheet. Click into the review for more details.
Read review: Moment Bibby
Top Pick for First Tracks Powder
Top notch float
When it came to dedicated float ability, there was an unmistakable and unapologetic victor. The Line Pescado
performed like no other powder ski in this lineup, delivering a decadent bounce out of deep particle and smearing turns like an absolute pro. One tester dubbed it the "Hokkaido Dream Machine" due to its whimsical buoyancy in hero snow. With a sidecut of 158/125/147, the Pescado boasts an outrageously large shovel and swallowtail construction that conjures a likeness to old-school Hawaiian surfboards. Apparently, these elements of design work much the same way in blower—which is the preferred habitat of the Pescado. Being one of the lightest offerings in the lineup, these boards are exceptionally nimble and track best atop soft snow. Head-to-head comparisons proved to our testers that the Pescado surfs and slashes like no other when the conditions are right, winning it the Top Pick for First Tracks.
Read review: Line Pescado
Top Pick for Freeride Powder
Atomic Backland Bent Chetler
Squirrely with a loose tail
Designed by backcountry-freeride Guru, Chris Benchetler, the Atomic Backland Bent Chetler
has made a name for itself as a jibby, spine-slurping powerhouse. It has been one of the winningest powder specific skis for the past 7 years, and for good reason. New for 2017 is the Atomic's innovative HRZN Tech construction that fuses lateral ABS sidewalls in tip and tail with a horizontal rocker that increases floatable surface area and makes for effortless shmears. With an updated poplar woodcore and carbon backbone for reinforcement, the Bent Chetler is playful and remains stable in chop. This ski begs to be buttered, ollied, nollied, and spun. Although it's not as light as the Rossignol Soul 7 HD or Salomon QST 118, the Bent Chetler feels nimble and floaty in a variety of snow conditions. Trippy graphics and a long-standing reputation caught the attention of our testers who validated that the Chetler lives up to its name. Our review team was impressed by this ski's ability to stunt around the mountain—whether it was deep, narrow, bombed-out or upside-down. For its rambunctiously playful float, we award the Atomic Bent Chetler the Top Pick for Freeride Powder. This model got a graphics update for 2018 but otherwise remains the same fantastic product.
Read review: Atomic Backland Bent Chetler
Analysis and Test Results
The fixings of a glorious powder day.
In classic Tahoe fashion, this season also brought baking sun, heavy relief rainfall, and hurricane-force winds. It goes without saying that we experienced every snow imaginable this year. Tests were performed amidst stellar freeskiing days as well as working day-to-day on the largest ski team program in North America. We lent them out to friends, colleagues, and athletes of all configurations to harvest the deepest possible pool of shred data. They were put to work, day-in and day-out. They were fired off The Palisades, threaded through steep-and-deep trees, and some of them even made an appearance on the bulletproof World Cup training venue. All-in-all, these boards are intended to cruise over deep snow and not hold edge on a watered racing surface. But in the spirit of all-mountain savagery, we were exhaustive in our testing.
With repeated storm events, the snow became impossibly deep at times.
Criteria for Evaluation
To many die-hards, light-particle powder skiing is the single greatest feeling on earth. Weekend warriors and van-dwelling dirtbags alike are always chasing that elusive euphoria of dropping into the white room. That said, 'powder' snow takes on many forms, can be found on nearly any type of terrain, and can require a specialized style of skiing if your gear isn't cut out for the crud. Ideally, a well-rounded powder ski isn't a one-trick-pony. Because even when the conditions are less-than-legendary, fresh snow is always fun. If you disagree, we kindly ask you to rearrange your priorities.
A powder ski should do more than just float.
We set out to review these skis from the canon of all-mountain powder performance. This means that we took into consideration how well the boards perform on crusty, tracked-out, and firm snow surfaces as well—conditions that you'll likely encounter on your way to or from your favorite stash. Don't get us wrong; floatation was our primary consideration as this is a bonafide powder ski review. Though with modern advancements in ski technology, there is no reason that a fatty becomes a fish out of water when it comes to all-mountain shred-ability.
We carefully rated each product on its stability at speed, carving, crud-busting performance, float, playfulness, and versatility. We thoroughly examined each pair to determine physical specs like weight, the durability of construction, and relative stiffness. Though, as they say, the proof was in the pudding. The bulk of our testing was performed on-snow as we ran each contender through a gauntlet of metric-specific performance objectives like straightlining The Slot and coming to a complete stop from speed in peppered avalanche debris. While certain skis fared better in certain categories, the cumulative, weighted scores were used in determining the overall rating of each model.
Stability at Speed
A ski's stability is often defined by its ability to remain firmly planted on the snow surface without chattering or tossing about in variable snow. This criterion becomes an even greater consideration when driving the ski at speed. Reactive forces from snow to ski are amplified at greater velocity, which depending on your setup, can become treacherous when you point 'em straight down the fall line. A ski that is stable at speed provides the skier with a balanced and secure platform with which to rip turns, drop cliffs, and bisect mogul-dotted bowls with ease.
We assessed stability by finding steep, multi-surfaced pitches on which to let the skis reach full speed. After reaching the maximum comfortable velocity, the tester would make full turns across the fall-line at varying radii—paying close attention to the smoothness and reliability of edge hold. Additionally, we tested this metric by executing high-speed hockey stops in steep terrain because going fast tends to get hairy when you can't shut it down in time. In the end, stability was measured by the skis overall steadiness and the skier's confidence to complete these maneuvers without losing control.
With titanium reinforcement, the Confession has an incredibly damp and stable ride.
Powder-specific skis aren't exactly known for their stability on firm snow. They're usually made damp and wide for a reason, which can sometimes have an adverse effect on how well they handle high-speed runouts. Furthermore, heavily-rockered skis are notorious for slapping around on anything but fresh snow. While stiffer skis are considered to have greater stability at speed, this can compromise floatation and rebound ability—especially when driven by lighter, more intermediate skiers. And a rockered flex pattern allows to the ski to track over terrain fluctuations but can be a bit squirrelly on firm surfaces.
The 189 Blizzard Spur has rock-solid stability.
Striking the perfect balance between stiffness/dampness and rocker/camber—both directly related to stability—can be exceedingly difficult. It is perhaps no surprise that we had the greatest degree of variance amongst ratings in this metric. Softer skis like the Solomon QST 118
tended to get bossed around when ridden at speed. They prefer to bounce in and out of low-angle bumps rather than crushing through steep, tracked-out snow. Stiffer, heavier skis like the Volkl Confession
and Blizzard Spur
had seemingly no speed limit and ate up vibrations with ease. The Spur
scored the highest score, taking home a near perfect 9 out of 10 - the highest in the review.
Stiff skis aren't always heavy, though weight can give you some extra oomph when hitting the gas. Because of these tradeoffs, stability can fluctuate depending on how you intend to use the ski. Testers that enjoy playful, energetic, easy-driving skis had a preference for the lighter and more flexible options. Those who prefer aggressive turn shapes and big lines felt more comfortable on beefier boards like the Bibby or Confession.
You wouldn't expect to find 'carving' in the lexicon of a powderhound. Terms like slarving, slashing, and shmearing seem more fitting in their turn-shape vocabulary. Nevertheless, the ability to link turns is an important consideration when judging a ski's overall performance—no matter which niche they cater to. Given the average waist width in our lineup, these skis obviously aren't going to roll over as quickly as a dedicated carver would. However, our testers were pleasantly surprised by their ability to set an edge and bring it across the fall-line.
Traditionally, powder boards are a blend of rockered and cambered construction which typically have a shorter effective edge. Put simply, the effective edge is the portion of the ski that makes contact with snow when you stand on it. With even a moderate amount of camber underfoot, shaped powder specific skis are able to arc nice turns on firm snow when adequate boot pressure is applied. Rockered tips (AKA early rise) bring the contact point closer to boot center and allow for quicker, easier turn initiations. Because of this, longer powder-specific skis have a shorter turn radius than usual while still providing better float and stability in chop when compared to a fully cambered ski. In addition to helping the skis glide over snow, rockered tips and tails help the skier execute varying turn shapes by offering different contact points when skied in powder. So in essence, the effective edge of a rockered ski changes depending on the conditions.
Despite its short effective edge, the Chetler has enough camber to bust out GS turns when snow is right.
Some alpine purists scoff at rockered skis becoming so pervasive. These skeptics argue that less effective edge is a performance trade-off. When it comes to powder skis, this trade-off is negligible if not welcome to provide greater float in deep snow. And if you're using these skis to find the deep stuff, the firm snow you encounter likely comes in the form of crusty wind slabs and not juicy groomers.
Beyond powder skiing, we believe that rockered designs provide greater utility to all-mountain skiers by enabling them to use longer, more stable skis that are still maneuvered with ease on firm snow. You'd be hard-pressed to find a dedicated powder ski that doesn't have rocker. That said, many of the contenders from our test were still able to carve smoothly when taken out of deep snow. For this metric, we rated each model based on the ease of turn initiation, exiting power of turn, and confidence in edge hold. Our testers were asked to find a firm, consistent surface with a considerable pitch on which to make aggressive turn shapes. By carving rhythmically with consistent edge pressure, they were to complete turns at the smallest possible radius for the ski.
The Ripstick doing what it does best: laying an edge.
The three standout models for carving are the Volkl Confession, Elan Ripstick 116
, and the Rossignol Soul 7 HD
. All of these choices have stout sidewall construction, considerable camber and stiffer-than-usual tails for a powder ski—characteristics more commonly found in a full-on frontside carver. Not surprisingly, all of these models come from brand families traditionally seen on World Cup podiums. With an appetite for speed, they are quick to initiate and accelerate through the finish of each turn with. Of our favorites in this category, the Volkl Confession
takes the cake for carvy-ness. With titanal bands for torsional flex and a sidecut radius of more than 21 meters, the Confession
handles aggressive edge pressure and top-end turn shapes with ease—winning it our highest score for carving - a 9 out of 10.
Somewhere between that bottomless pillow line and the cat track, you're inevitably going to find some rough conditions. Off-piste skiing necessitates the tools and techniques to blast through choppy snow without getting mangled. Specific to this grouping, a powder specific ski's ability to manage variable snow is arguably more important than its ability to carve. Thus, we've rated this metric twice as heavily as the carving category.
We rated crud performance based on each models dampness, plowing ability, resistance to 'grabbing' or 'hooking', and ability to link turns in variable snow. We drove the contenders through all kinds of beastly conditions: snotty bumps, twice-baked potatoes, and re-frozen, bombed-out bowls come to mind. Such conditions are obviously not the goal, but this metric was intended to discern which skis could handle chop with grit.
When it comes to crud, the A-Star is stiff enough to plow and damp enough to absorb.
By nature, powder skis are better suited to push through and glide over chunky snow when compared to all-mountain boards. Fatter dimensions and rockered construction permit a skier to manage variable snow without much kickback. The caveat being that lighter, flexier powder boards may tend to get bossed around when not in a deep float. Stiffer models like the Volkl Confession and Blizzard Spur were more assertive when it came to breaking through crust and crud at high speeds. Softer, more playful models like the Salomon QST 118 could bounce in and out of cushy contours but wouldn't handle icy crud or high-angle chop with confidence. Progressively-flexed models like the Elan Ripstick 116
or Dynastar Cham 2.0 117
had enough rocker to pop over crud, but not enough backbone to drive through it. The Volkl Confession
and Blizzard Spur
were the top scorers in this metric, taking home 8 out of 10s.
The stiff and heavy Volkl Confession absolutely charges through chunky snow.
Float is hands-down the most important metric in this review—which is why we weighted it the most heavily. If nothing else, a powder ski is bred to perform as an unrelenting, snow-slashing floatation device. It is the tool you rely upon when the snow is deep and the stoke is high.
Fatter-than-average dimensions give the skis in this category an inherent ability to glide atop snow with ease. But a powder ski must also execute turns when in the fluff. Thankfully, modern ski technology has given us the ability to float and turn in soft snow without burning out our legs.
Blower, cold smoke, champagne powder; whatever you call it, you'll need the right tools to stay afloat.
To assess, we rated each ski on its ability to plane on top of deep snow and rebound when sunken. We took note of how easily the ski slashed turns and stayed hovering without having to get in the backseat. We had a preference for surfy, playful boards to the stiff and boaty variety. Powder skiing is undeniably fun, but there were some nuanced differences in performance that are worth recognizing.
All-but-one of the contenders had waist widths in excess of 115 mm. The Rossignol Soul 7 HD
was our most conservatively shaped powder ski at 106 mm underfoot but still had no problem bouncing out of turns in deep snow. Fatness aside, there are other design considerations when it comes to finding the perfect float. Rockered profiles and dramatic shovel shapes give the added benefit of keeping your tips tracking on top of the deep stuff so you won't submarine and lose momentum. Furthermore, lightweight construction and mixed core materials have improved the swing weight of these portly boards, allowing them to be turned and slashed with great swiftness.
Surfing the deep comes naturally to the Line Pescado.
By no surprise and much to our delight, all of the skis we reviewed performed well in powder. There were, however, two standout models that clearly had a knack for surfing the deep stuff: the Line Pescado
and the Blizzard Spur
. They are both uniquely-shaped and superfat boards that are only offered in one length; 180 cm and 189 cm, respectively. The Pescado
delivered exceptional buoyancy reminiscent of actually floating in water. Though the Spur
also had tremendous amounts of float, it couldn't maneuver quite as quickly as the Pescado
could. The lightweight Solomon QST 118
was playful and responsive in soft snow, but lacked the guts to stay afloat in heavier powder or on high-angle lines. As expected, the Moment Bibby
was also a top-performer in this category, earning an 8 alongside the Elan Ripstick
and Dynastar Cham 117
A ski that is playful often feels energetic, easier to engage, and overall more responsive to the drivers' commands. 'Fun' is, of course, a subjective qualifier, just as playfulness is in the eye of the shredder. Thus the precedent for a playful, fun ski evolves with speed, terrain, and skier type.
To test this metric, we monitored the performance of each ski in a variety of snow conditions through all types of mountainous playgrounds. We buttered our turns, slashed pillows, spun off of spines, and hit ridge transfers. There were ollies and nollies; tail taps and switch landings. In a general sense, we rated playfulness by the skis responsive energy, agility, and pop.
Playful skis like the Atomic Backland Bent Chetler enjoy air time just as much as powder.
There were three standout models when it came to playfulness in the powder category: the Line Pescado
, the Atomic Backland Bent Chetler
, and the Moment Bibby
all received nearly perfect scores - 9 out of 10. Both the Atomic Chetler
and Line Pescado
have softer-flexing tails which could easily wash out for sliding turns and were forgiving when the terrain got tight. These softer models could snap all kinds of fun turn shapes but tended to get a little jumpy at higher speeds. On the other hand, the Bibby had a bit more beef to back up those big drops and high-speed jibs.
Popping into pillowy snow on the QST 118.
Also worth mentioning are the Solomon QST 118
and the Rossignol Soul 7 HD
which were light and agile underfoot but had a more directional focus than the Moment Bibby
. Stiff boards like the Head A-Star
, while able to take a beating, weren't as lively as the others. The bigger, heavier guns prefer to stay on the ground and only come alive on fast, high-angle terrain.
When looking at powder skis, there is an unquestionably particular purpose in mind. But that doesn't necessarily mean we want to sacrifice performance when skiing anything but creamy hero snow. While you may not find a quiver-killer in this pow-ski lineup, it's prudent to know how well each model operates across-the-board. We rated versatility by considering how confident we were to take each ski out on any given day. It was a relative measure of the skis ability to perform in all of the listed metrics, not simply powder.
The Soul 7 HD is ready to tackle anything.
It may not be surprising that our skinniest ski also received the highest score for versatility. The Rossignol Soul 7 HD
looks more like an all-mountain ski than a powder ski—though it performs well in both categories. The Atomic Bent Chetler
and Moment Bibby
were also well-rounded in all-mountain performance, while the Solomon QST 118
and Line Pescado
had a noticeable preference for the soft stuff.
While it's not a quiver-killer, the Volkl Confession is ready to handle whatever you throw at it.
Who We Are
Our reviewing methods employed a collaborative testing model that relied on input from a variety of skiers. Our primary testers are professionals in the ski industry and depend on their equipment to perform reliably in all conditions. We asked these experts, along with their colleagues and friends, to put these powder boards to the test on a diverse collection of terrain and snow types. By utilizing testers of different size, gender, skier type, and geographical backgrounds, we aimed to grab a comprehensive data set that discluded any possible bias.
Rob Woodworth, Lead Test Editor
- Age: 26 HT: 6'2" WT: 200 lbs.
- Occupation: Jr. Development Head Coach, Squaw Valley Ski Team
Lead Test Editor, Rob Woodworth, sending the Soul 7 HD into Bernie's Bowl at Alpine Meadows.
Rob is a lifelong adventurer and perennial student of the outdoors. Beyond reviewing for Outdoor Gear Lab, he works the winter months as an alpine ski racing coach at Squaw Valley, USA and spends his shoulder season roaming the great American west in his super-groovy '83 Chevrolet camper van with a trail hound named Wrennie Mae. When not training with his alpine athletes, Rob can be found breaking trail in the Tahoe backcountry in search of pristine snow and steep, puckering lines. He is an accomplished FIS and USCSA athlete that has since received his USSA level 300 coaching and Alpine Official certification after hanging up his race boards. With a formal background in alpine racing, he prefers hard-charging skis, aggressive turn shapes, and high-angle terrain. Though his real passion is hunting down those bottomless, legendary lines that are the stuff dreams are made of.
Rob's favorite model in this review was the Moment Bibby
. He was delighted to find a fat ski that was both damp and stable at speed, eager to get on edge, and stiff enough to get driven hard without sacrificing any float. He liked the playful sidecut radius and rockered tail that allowed for beautiful washouts in the exit of each turn. While he usually opts for longer skis with metal backbones, he found the 184 cm Bibby
to be stable enough for a skier his size.