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Every once in a while, a ski gets under my skin that is so good and so different that it separates itself from the pack. Skis that not only I think are special but so do others with discerning tastes. These are skis that have changed everything. Skis that when you put them in the rack at the lodge, you walk away, look back at them, and think "I'm not that hungry, let's take another couple of runs." Skis that I don’t have to ski, but that I want to ski. Skis that make even the most marginal conditions skiable.

In a previous newsletter I asked, What's the "Best Ski"? I wasn’t sure how I wanted to start the follow-up article, but I knew how I wanted to end it. We refer to the hot tub at Pugski's worldwide headquarters as “The Think Tank,” since that is where many of the ideas for the site originate. The most recent thought, lubricated by some Basil Hayden's, was going to be "What's the Best Ski Part 2: What Actually IS the Best Ski?" but I was trying to figure a way around defining a "best ski" when I have already said there is no way a ski could ever be the best. It is unfair to our readers and puts unrealistic expectations on any one ski. But there is the occasional ski that stands head and shoulders above the rest, a “once in a decade" ski.

When Salomon came out with its first skis in the early 1990s, we saw a major change in ski building and marketing philosophy. I remember Mark Beard from Wicks Ski Shop telling me it was the first ski he had used that was actually different. Salomon has a history of challenging the status quo, and the introduction of its monocoque construction made almost every ski builder change the way it built skis for generation. The S9000s were the first ground-breaking skis that were not just a novelty. Salomon also tried to change the way skis were sized by using a Power Rating, or PR, like when they previously attempted use volume sizing with boots, but these concepts ended up like the metric system here in the states, a method that makes total sense but never was adapted by antiquated minds.

From the 90s into the new century, there were huge changes in ski design. Every manufacturer had its own idea about what a shaped ski should and could be, from Elan's ground-breaking SCX (its Parabolic name eventually blanketed all ski designs), to Volant's pioneering Chubb and Spatula, to Atomic's Beta collection. All of these skis were great but never really got under my skin.

The next truly, markedly different ski was the Kästle MX88. When the Kästle brand was reintroduced in the mid-2000s, it immediately raised the bar. The Kästle team’s goal was to produce the best possible ski, and the result was a ski built to a standard and not a price point. The ski industry has always had boutique brands through the years, but Kästle came out of the box as a mainstream high-end brand with a global marketing strategy that made even the most frugal skiers open up their wallets. The Kästle MX88 was a "once in a decade" ski that belied dimensions: in soft snow it felt wider, on hard snow it felt narrower. Its on-snow feel was indeed special.

Fast forward to today and the Renoun Z-90. Written on every Renoun ski is, “Rules are meant to be broken,” and they are indeed being broken by a Millennial from Northern Vermont. If that doesn’t fit our current societal order, I don't know what does. I don’t need to revisit how Cyrus and I were introduced, just be glad that we were. Renoun’s Z-90 is truly a special ski; there is not a person that I put on the skis who would disagree. The shape is, well, perfect. The flex is, again, just perfect, but it is the HDT (Hyper Damping Technology) that separates Renoun from everything else out there and makes the ski, well, perfect.

While I still stand behind my statement that there is no one best ski, the Z-90 is an all-time great. If someone told me I could ski only one ski the rest of my life, but it would be the Z-90, I would not be too upset. Some of the best skiers from this community would also agree….

“These skis are the BEST skis in the mid-fat category I have ever skied.... I didn't want to like them, at all. In fact, I took them from Philpug begrudgingly.” --Jed Peters

“Can I borrow them for the rest of the season?” --Bud Heishman

“I didn’t want to give them back.” --James Marchand

“The Z-90 is nimble and light ... I loved it.” --Betsy Keyes

"Regardless of what turn shape I told the ski to make, or how rude I was about telling it, it did it without a fuss." --Dory Breaux

"This ski was simply amazing on the groomed stuff.... You just don’t feel the ripples and bumps, and the faster you go, the smoother it gets." --Susan Brown

It really is a risk for me writing this just weeks before the 2017 SIA trade show, where we will previewing and starting to ski the upcoming 2017-18 product, but I am a true believer that quality does not go out of style. While technology and shapes have passed by the S9000s, the decade-old Kästle MX88 is still as good as ever, and the MX89 that replaced it is a worthy evolution. What Renoun is doing with its designs and technology could be the future; the Z-90 is indeed a ski for the ages.

Artwork: @Dave Petersen
About author
I started skiing in the mid-70s in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania; from then on, I found myself entrenched in the industry. I have worked in various ski shops from suburban to ski town to resort, giving me a well-rounded perspective on what skiers want from their gear. That experience was parlayed into my time as a Gear Review Editor and also consulting with manufacturers as a product tester. Along with being a Masterfit-trained bootfitter I am a fully certified self proclaimed Gear Guru. Not only do I keep up with the cutting edge of ski gear technology, but I am an avid gear collector and have an extensive array of bindings as well as many vintage skis.


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