Rocker is the new fat

After much ado about powder, the high-pressure system returned, leaving yet another mild January with spring-like conditions.  With no fresh snow to hunt, we decided to make the trek to Alpine Meadows a few weeks ago, to check out the Tele/AT demo day organized by Alpenglow Sports.

It’s been years since I’ve been on skis other than the ones I own, so I tried out as many skis as they had in my size (178 cm and under).  There was a surprisingly wide variety of brands present, including Black Diamond, Garmont, G3, Dynafit, Rottafella and K2.  I tried out four different skis, and while they all varied in width and length, all of them had a front rocker, called early tip rise in ski manufacturer parlance.   While I’m an evangelist for the front rocker in powder or mixed snow conditions, it was the first time I’d had them in anything less than a few inches of new snow.   Those upturned tips were really useful in inconsistent snow – think grabby in spots, faster in other spots – as there was none of the tip dive I see in other skis. Plus, it made them easier to turn, likely because the effective edge was a bit shorter as a result of the upturned tip.

Since it’s been years since my last ski review, I figured it was worth me sharing my initial thoughts here. After all, much has changed since the Karhu Bertha!

Having fun on the Zests

G3 Zest – I am not such a girl as to pick skis based on graphics alone, but the Zest’s cool top sheet definitely made them easy on the eyes.  I’ve typically found G3’s women specific skis to have a bit more life in them than some other manufacturers and this poplar (mid)fat ski doesn’t disappoint.  The rep noted that it was the women’s version of the  Tonic, with a similar front rocker (or early tip rise), albeit with smaller dimensions (132/100/123).  They were light, clocking in at 7.5 lbs for the pair according to G3, but not flimsy (except for the G3 bindings, which have never impressed me).  I took a few runs on the shorter 166 cm length, and found they were nimble and responsive in firmer snow, and damp enough that I didn’t feel thrown around. The front rise, while not as dramatic as some other skis I tested, was noticeable enough to make turning on a dime effortless.

G3 Jam – This could be considered the next generation of the Luscious, that groovy asymmetric ski of yore.  I tested the Luscious when it originally came out, and remember finding it lively and not too light.  This time around I was less impressed.  Slightly slimmer and lighter than the Zest (125/95/114 and 6.8 lbs), it features the same poplar construction and early tip rise, albeit with different measurement.

I found that this ski was a bit more skittery than its sister, and threw me around on the same snow conditions that the Zest carved through.  As some ski gear nerds might say, it didn’t ‘track well’.  It was a bit disappointing, as I had good memories of the Luscious.  No matter, for I had a new BFF in the Zest.

Megawatts on spring snow

Black Diamond Megawatt – I now understand why this fat wood (birch and poplar) core ski is hugely popular among backcountry skiers.  I hadn’t intended to try it, but given its pronounced rocker, at 178 it seemed manageable.  The 178 is the smaller of the two available sizes (188 being the ‘big guy’ size), and measures up at 147/120/126.  According to the Black Diamond website, weighs in at a little over 9 pounds. It’s a powerful and damp ski, and was almost too much for me at that length, but I could see how the stiff tip, overall dampness and generous girth underfoot could make it loads of fun in fresh snow.  In corn snow it was still fun, though I did feel like the ski was leading the charge and not me.

His & her BD Justices

Black Diamond Justice – I skied these right after the Megawatts, and thought they felt like a smaller, more manageable version.  Coincidentally enough, that’s how Black Diamond intended them, according to the marketing copy.  Like the Megawatts, these come in two lengths, 185 and 175, and are of the same wood construction.  The front rise was a bit less pronounced, and with the slightly slimmer dimensions (a svelte 138-111-123 mm for the 175) meant it was terrific in the mixed spring conditions without being overpowering.  That front rocker was noticeable in situations where I might otherwise see a bit of tip dive, and it was decidedly nimble when compared to its fatter big brother.  Were I to be forced to have a quiver of one, this would be on my list.

In addition to the gear testing, Alpenglow also had a raffle at the end of the day, and true to my form, I walked away with the ‘grand prize’, a spiffy new Mammut backcountry pack!  Not a bad way to cap off a great day of skiing.

All photos by Flickr user Wubberguy

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