Many of us have champagne tastes and beer budgets. It is nothing to be ashamed of; sometimes there are limitations in the budget, and trust me, we don’t judge. Don’t fret, hold your head high, because we are going to show you some great options to some of the popular premium models from each brand. Sure, you may make a slight compromise in performance or refinement, but you will also see up to a 50% savings in price, and for many that is a fair trade. That said, this is not to question the value of any of the premiums, because every one is worth the price of admission.
Here are some of the more popular alternatives:
This was a tough one. The Stöckli Laser AX is a unique ski. At 77 underfoot, you might think it is very biased to hard snow, but its unique forebody and gradual tip rise bring unmatched versatility to the table. I used to say that the AX was the best K2 Recon ever produced: if you gave a manufacturer an unlimited budget to build the ultimate Recon, you would get the Laser AX. That isn't a knock or even a backhanded compliment; it is praise for the AX (and the Recon, one of the most unappreciated skis ever). The Recon … err, AX is such an unassuming ski, one with a tremendous upside, yet it is so deceptively easy to ski.
So, if you cannot afford the Laser AX, what is the best alternative? First, there are no similar flat or systemless skis in this range, which means we need to look for something with a binding. Which ski in this range has the biggest sweet spot and a huge performance upside? We concluded that the Fischer Curv GT was about the closest mortally priced option. What we like about the Curv that most other skis in this class are missing (and something the AX has in spades) is low-speed performance. Good ski instructors want you to be able to do drills at slower speeds, because speed can mask mistakes. Both of these skis perform as well at slower speeds as they do at mach schnell.
- What are you keeping? Solid hard-snow performance.
- What are you losing? Binding options and a bit of versatility, with the loss of the gradual tip and rounded tail.
- Alternatives: Atomic Vantage X 80 CTi, Dynastar Speed Zone 12, Head Supershape i.Rally, K2 Super Charger.
The Kästle MX84 and MX89 have long been reference skis in their classes -- and deservedly so, they are so smooth on snow. They bely their dimensions: on firmer snow, they feel narrower than they are, and in soft snow, they feel wider and more floaty. So, how do you get all this and not break the bank? Well, you look to Head, the brand that lends part of its factory to Kästle. The Monster 83 and 88, respectively, are the every-skier's versions of the two Kästle thoroughbreds. Ever since the introduction of these Monsters, I have said that you are getting 90% of the performance for 50% of the price. Yes, the Kästles are worth the premium, but not everyone can afford the difference.
- What are you keeping? Solid, damp Euro feel.
- What are you losing? Very little; the Kästles with their wider shovel and elongated sidecut are an nth degree better in mixed conditions.
- Alternatives: Blizzard Brahma, Fischer Pro MTN 86TI, Völkl Kendo.
The Renoun Z-90 has been a darling of Pugski since we first tested it. No, we are not going to find another ski as smooth and connected to the snow, but we do have a couple of options with a similar turn shape. The Rossignol Experience 88 (and Temptation 88 for the women) lays out a really nice C-shaped turn, and with the Air Tip, the ski stays smooth on the snow. The Head Total Joy is another ski that comes to mind as a viable option; it is the closest to the Z-90 in shape even with its light weight.
- What are you keeping? The ability to make pure C-shaped turns without losing the versatility of a 90-ish-waisted ski.
- What are you are losing? HDT, it works. The Renoun has an on-snow feel that is not achieved anywhere else.
- Alternatives: Fischer Pro MTN 86TI, Head Monster 88.
The DPS Alchemist Wailer 106 is leagues above the Pure 3 collection it replaced. The Alchemist is everything you wanted from the Pure: it is just as light and stable but not as “noisy.” DPS was always able to maximize the efficiency of the carbon but now has quieted it down. If you want to save some money and are willing to give up some of the weight savings, I am going to suggest the little brother of the Alchemist, the Foundation version of the Wailer 106. I actually like it a little better than the Alchemist version for its warmer, carbonless feel on snow, and it is a great $aving$, especially if uphill performance is not a priority.
- What are you keeping? An independent boutique brand.
- What are you losing? A bit of uphill performance and the added lightness of the Alchemist.
- Alternatives: Armada Tracer 108, Dynastar Legend X106, Head Kore 105, K2 Pinnacle 105, Rossignol Soul 7 HD, Salomon QST 106.
If there is a ski that you would like an alternative for, please feel free to post it.