Of all the categories of premium skis, the 80-something segment could be the most hotly contested. Wider skis will probably sell more in volume, but the 80s are the ones that give their manufacturers bragging rights at their respective country clubs. These skis are halo automobiles, proper mile-gobbling touring cars, as opposed to SUVs: the Panameras and AMG GTs of the ski world, not the Cayennes and Gelandewagens. They don't pay the bills, but they do create reputations.
I got to test four of the these premiums head to head at Arapahoe Basin this past spring in similar conditions and terrain, ranging from rattle-your-fillings-refrozen morning corduroy to mid-afternoon slush. Three of the skis were from Pugski.com's test fleet, and the Stöckli Laser AX was offered by a member. The tunes on all four skis were very similar. The skis not in the head-to-head review were skied at various tests at different mountains.
Let’s start off with the core four.
Augment All Mountain 77
Augment is new to the North American market. Its overall reputation comes from racing circles when it was initially branded as Croc. The owners know that while racing creates an image, it does not pay the mortgage -- in fact, when it comes down to it, racing tends to be a financially losing proposition. But it is a great source for R&D and, again, bragging rights. Even for the well-heeled consumer, podium images on Facebook go only so far in the win-on-Sunday, sell-on-Monday buying process. Augment skis initially were to be offered in 10 flexes, which could put even the most decisive skier into a fetal position in the corner of a round room. The company took our suggestion to limit its offerings to soft, medium, and stiff. The ski that we tested would be considered a medium flex.
The AM77 is offered in two variations, thus two constructions, the stronger and damper Ti-Carbon and the lighter-but-still-not-a-weakling (or even wallflower) Titanal. Both of these skis enjoy being pushed and expect your A game. The AM77 Ti-Carbon can be the strongest ski of this group if you choose the stiffer flex, but it also can be a bit more docile if you choose the soft. Think "stiff" for power and "soft" for finesse; if you vary your skiing style, play it safe with the medium flex. But make no mistake, every flex will give you an on-snow experience well worth Augment’s cost of admission. These 77-waisted siblings with a 16.5m radius make one of the longer turns of the skis offered here; they don't want to turn on a dime -- they can, but they also love to run. They are the grand tourers that love to eat up miles at triple-digit speeds. Can you relax on these long-legged super skis? Sure ... but if you do, you will not be maximizing your experience, and quite frankly your skis will be disappointed in you and your lack of effort.
DPS Alchemist 79
One brand you might not expect in this shootout is DPS, not because it doesn’t have an an extensive history in premium skis, but because we just never expected it to come out with a pinpoint-precise sub-80mm offering. Well, we were wrong, now, weren’t we? The Alchemist 79 is the surgeon's scalpel in this comparison.
Let’s take a step back with the progression of this ski. Last year (or was it two years ago?), Stephan Drake was telling me about this project. He wanted a ski that was an alternative to the SL skis that high-level skiers were using as daily drivers, a strong technical ski for strong technical skiers. Since most skied them in one of two sizes, 155-157 for women and smaller guys and 165 for men, he decided to offer the Alchemist 79 in two FIS-slalom-like sizes, 160 and 167. Well, after skiing the 167, I had to say that he slightly missed the mark and these would not be a replacement for those carvers. Instead, they would be a great complement to a true race-bred ski. I immediately went back to Stephan and told him he needed to make the ski one size bigger, a 174. @Tricia was marketed the 160, but she loves the 167; I was marketed the 167, but it was just too short. The 174, though … wowzers. In this class, the Alchemist 79 is by far the sportiest and most playful option. DPS is nimble enough as a company to make these changes; kudos to it for listening. I think any skier considering one of these skis will be better for it.
Renoun Atlas 80
Ahh Renoun, with its Hyper Damping Technology (HDT) and numerous ISPO Gold awards .... At the initial writing of this article, Renoun was still fine-tuning its offering in this category. Pugski’s test team offered up a cadre of hand-picked testers who have been working with the company on its next generation of narrow offerings. The Atlas 80 will be the second narrow frontside-biased Renoun. As much as much as we were enamored of the Z-90, the first Z-77 really didn’t wow us. I didn’t understand why until I put a caliper to the ski. I thought the Z-77 would be a Z-90 with 13 mm taken off its entire length -- which it wasn’t. Yes, it was 13 mm off in the waist, but the tip and tail received a much bigger drop in millimeters, which created a different on-snow experience. No wonder it wasn’t quite as much fun.
What is now the Atlas 80 is a whole new shape, more like the Z-90 but with a bit more taper in the tail. Its shape still rewards the better skier but is more accommodating to the skier who wants (and needs) to release the tail from time to time. This newest Renoun has the playfulness of a 14m ski, but you can definitely feel the HDT keeping it smooth on the snow. Where the Z-90 could be a one-ski quiver, the Atlas 80 is the skinny end of a two-ski quiver. Did upstart and defiant Renoun get lucky with the Z-90? Some skeptics say it did. Was it lucky again with the new Endurance 98 and Citadel 106? I am thinking this boutique builder is more than just really lucky: it is really good.
Stöckli Laser AX
Last but not least is the reference ski in this category, the Stöckli Laser AX. As the one that the other skis are compared against, the Laser AX may very well have the largest sweet spot. With its gradual tip design and relaxed shape, this is the one ski that a solid intermediate with a good technical foundation can get on and happily progress with. The Laser will do everything you ask of it and make you look good while doing it. Do you want short turns? No problem. Long turns? Not an issue. Speed? What is your pleasure? From skiing with the grandkids on a green trail to ripping it up with your buddies, the AX can do it all.
Now for the skis that did not make the four-ski shootout but should be in this discussion:
Blossom Wind Shear. Here is where it gets interesting. Blossom has been like a unicorn or maybe a snipe for the past few years. You heard they exist, you might have seen one or two out of the corner of your eye … but did you really? Yes, over the past decade, Blossom skis have shown up from time to time with sporadic distributorship, then *poof* they are gone again. After a few recent email exchanges and phone calls, I am hearing that Blossom has a game plan in place to make a serious play into the US market, and I for one am excited.
So, now that we got the business end out of the way, let's talk about Blossom's skis. Over the past few years, Blossom offered two options in this segment, but I am told the venerable Wind Shear has finally been put out to pasture <moment of silence>. This leaves only the White Out -- which isn't the worst thing in the world, especially if you are one of the lucky ones to own this magnificent ski. More than one member of Pugski’s test team has a White Out in their own quivers, which is notable considering that these skiers have access to almost any ski. Expect a full test of the White Out and its new siblings, the 74mm-waisted Tail Wind and 85mm-waisted Cross Wind. All three of these skis are expected to enter Pugski.com's test fleet.
Bomber Timberline. The Timberline is a nice ski at 77 mm underfoot, but in this class, "nice" doesn't make the cut. It was one of the first skis to come here under the Bomber brand, and its age, design, and shortcomings are beginning to show; it is the one ski that might be the pretender in this group. No worries, I am going to give Bomber a pass and let it pinch hit with another ski, the superb Pro Terrain that I reviewed HERE. Step up to the 84mm Pro Terrain if you must have a Bomber; not only does it not disappoint, it is the class of the class and well worth what is the highest price in this comparison. Now, Bode and Doug, if you are reading this (I am sure someone has sent you a link), replace the Timberline with a ski that has the Pro Terrain's shape and construction and an upper-mid-70s waist, and it should be a winner too.
Kästle MX74. If I can go slightly wider with one brand, I can go a bit narrower with another -- so let's add the Kästle MX74 to the conversation. The MX construction has a storied history; it is the cornerstone of modern Kästle design, race-bred construction in an all-mountain shape. Even though the MX74 is relatively new to the Kästle line at only a few seasons old, it has probably the oldest soul of all these skis. The MX74 is very traditional in shape and design, and it skis that way. It is truly one of the most timeless skis out there. It will not be easy to find on ski walls in the Rockies and West, but the search will be worth it if you can secure a pair.
- Who are these skis for? No longer just the well heeled or trust funders, but any skier who appreciates quality and refinement. You are on the hill not to impress others with the latest and greatest trend-setting ski, but to maximize your own experience. You want the best ski for bluebird days and perfect corduroy or even 3 in. of fresh over that cord. (This should be everyone, btw.)
- Who are these skis not for? Well, IMHO every skier should own one of these skis at least once in their lives. We are put on this earth for a very short time, and the time we get to ski is even less than that, so why always ski on common skis?
- Insider tip 1: With a great ski comes responsibility. For the love of all things holy, please do not shortcut on bindings. Even for a lightweight skier, do not even think of using an 11 DIN binding. Step up to a better interface; these skis deserve the best.
- Insider tip 2: While these skis do require a higher-than-average cost of entry, like many things of quality, they will last a long time. So in reality, these could last you triple the lifespan of a common ski, in the long run actually costing you less to own.
Last edited by a moderator: