I went out and bought new skis today. I had a short list from my brother, who does his research and knows how I ski, and while I investigated those options I ended up on something else - the Volkl Mantra. My mother is currently skiing the Volkl Aura, which is the women's version of the Mantra and not a ski to be trifled with - definitely living up to the "Action Mom" moniker, so she encouraged me to try the Mantra when I was trying a rental ski yesterday that I would have been able to get a deal on.
The rental shop had last year's 184 Mantra, and it rocked my socks off. At the time, I was unable to try a Gotama or Katana, which was too bad, but I spent the day saying "This ski kicks ass." Today I did the demo thing at the retail store and tried the Mantra in 177cm (the 184 felt too long,) the Gotama in 176, and the Katana in 183. It was not a good soft snow day - the groomed runs were very fast and off-piste was mostly frozen crud in the morning. This suited my purpose pretty well. I'm looking forward to taking my new skis out on fresh snow, but since they're going to be my everything ski, I need them to be stable at high speed on less-than-brilliant surfaces and able to carve ice and crud.
Skiing the 177 Mantra felt awesome. It was like dancing with one of my favorite partners - the skis challenged me to be a better, stronger, cleaner skier, and they were receptive to everything I wanted to do. They felt great doing big, linked GS turns, which are my favorite kind, but they also felt great doing long, high-speed turns over bigger radii and when I wanted to do some short-radius turns they did that too. They weren't as much fun to ski moguls on as my late, lamented Public Enemies, but I could pilot them through at a reasonable speed and if I hit a bump square and caught air, they landed very nicely. They give great feedback, but also have a pretty big sweet spot. If my weight was back, I knew it, but I could carve the tails.
The Gotamas were interesting. I'm not sure if they're actually softer or just felt that way. They were a little easier to do a clean carve on - the Mantras didn't let me rush my transition and the Gotamas seemed slightly more forgiving in that respect. They were livelier, but on crud they weren't as smooth as the Mantras, which bothered me.
The Katanas were interesting as well. I only took one run on them, and if someone offered me a pair or I could afford to buy a dedicated powder ski right now, I'd be into them, but they weren't my ski. East Face was groomed today, so I was doing a test run down East Face, a very long, very steep straight run and down a shoulder immediately skier's left of East Face that tends to have the smoothest morning snow if it's been a little while since the last new snow and the freeze-thaw cycle is really kicking in. Because of the freeze-thaw cycle, East Face was basically a sheet of ice in the morning. The edge engagement of the Katana is odd - I couldn't just press with my outside leg and start engaging the edge. I had to really lay them over, and it wasn't as positive as I'd have liked. I actually slid out of a turn on East Face and lost a ski. After that, I decided that rather than completing the run down East Face, I'd traverse over to where I'd been doing my off-piste run. The skis didn't ski with the authority that the Mantras did - they seemed to have more desire to get on top of the crud, while the Mantras had been more interesting in holding their line. In the interests of giving the skis their best shot, I cut through some untracked patches near the bottom of the run. They do have an amazing ability to turn in smoother, deeper snow, but unfortunately that's not most of the skiing I do.
After handing in the Katanas, I bought a pair of Mantras and gave the shop guy my bindings. They're on their third pair of skis now and those poor brakes have been stretched far beyond what Salomon intended. I love those bindings, though. I completely forget them when I'm skiing and they always release when I need them to. Thanks, Mom.
After hurrying to get some food in me, me in a uniform, and the whole assemblage clocked in, my supervisor offered to let me go skiing for a couple more hours. Of course I accepted. Went out to the car and grabbed my Bandits, which I'd taken along as a backup ski on Saturday in case renting didn't work out and my brother's Public Enemies, which he wanted me to try, drove me nuts. It was an odd feeling to be on such a lightweight ski after spending the morning and the day before on Volkl fatties. I discovered the only soft snow on the mountain while skiing those - there's an odd little run called East Face that sits on the south side of the Mt. Lincoln ridge run travelling east. There's a cornice running south on its western border, and after about a hundred feet the ski area ends. There's a rope line through the middle of the run, with open/closed signs and a "don't hike above this sign" sign at the bottom that seems totally random and bizarre. Anyway, I'd dismissed this run in the past because it's very short, requires a traverse out, and faces south, which usually means thin coverage and bad snow. For whatever reason, I decided to give it a shot today. I think because I'd been hitting east-facing runs that seemed like they should be getting a lot of sun and finding very firm crud. It turned out to be really nice. It didn't take long before I started traversing along the cornice and dropping in (and I finally did a couple fully-airborne drops) before taking my couple of turns and traversing out.
In the afternoon I checked in with my department again. It must have been a very quiet day, because my supervisor and the dispatcher had both left, and when I was able to get in touch with the department head, she gave me the rest of the day. So I went to the retail shop and picked up my Mantras, complete with venerable S850 binding. Of course I went straight to my new discovery. Dropping in on the Mantras was a completely different feeling - the landing felt very solid, as if the skis wanted to stick it. The snow was mostly packed into big, soft moguls, and that was a very different feeling too. The B2s are amazing at slithering through the ruts in a mogul field. These skis don't do that, but it didn't mess up my line to go over a mogul or carve through it. Like my Atomics, they make the whole mountain ski smoother.