If you stopped by Solitude Mountain Resort last March, you'd see a crew of 27 skiers ripping lap after lap after lap on skis you'd never before seen. The skier would be hunting for every kind of terrain possible on a single run—corduroy, bumps, chunder, powder, ice and everything in between. You'd watch the skier arc turns down Alta Bird or charge through moguls on Blue Spruce before flying into a corral full of ski racks in front of Honeycomb Grill to quickly snap out of their bindings and snag a new freshly tuned pair from another brand. A ski tech would quickly adjust the bindings before the skier would skate over to the lift and hop on a chair, all while scribbling notes on test cards. As they dot the last i and cross the last t in the few minutes up the lift, they'd shove the cards back into their pockets, take a look at what they just put on their feet and switch gears. Then they'd ski another lap and do it all again.
Welcome to SKI magazine's annual SKI Test.
A few years ago, I got the coveted invite to be a member of this test crew. For five days each March, I get to test every women’s ski on the market—from powder skis to carving skis and everything in between. It’s a dialed-in team of testers—ranging from ex-U.S. Ski Team racers to PSIA pros to shop employees—and every single person there is a phenomenal skier. It’s humbling, exhausting and so fun.
While SKI has hosted tests around the country over the last few years, 2021’s test was at Solitude—a perfect mountain due to its fast lifts, variety of terrain and because many of the testers live in Utah, an integral factor in a pandemic season. We start skiing before the lifts turn and end at closing bell, testing 20+ skis a day while shooting photos and videos for the magazine, then gather at the end of the day with beers and our test cards to download our opinions.
Each of the five days has a different category to test—carving, frontside, all-mountain, all-mountain wide and powder—and we rate each ski based on its floatation, stability at speed, maneuverability, playfulness, crud-performance, hard snow integrity and versatility. We’d also define what kind of skier each ski was especially good for, describe the ski's flex and of course, rate its graphic appeal.
Rossignol has been a sponsor of Ski Utah for years and has been making consistently great skis for decades, and Ski Utah has asked if I could pull my notes out from March to report on a few of my favorites. Below are a few of my front runners for 2022.
Rossignol Experience W 86 Basalt
Dimensions (mm): 132-86-120
Available Lengths (cm): 148, 157, 166, 175
Radius (m): 14
At SKI, they classify a category of "frontside skis" for those bluebird days in between storms—what you grab to shred laps on the hardpack, but isn't too skinny to dip into the ungroomed stuff for a few runs. And this is exactly the kind of ski I look for in this group. The Experience W 86 loved groomers—I ripped it on a perfect sunny corduroy morning at Solitude Mountain Resort—but when I explored the softening moguls come the afternoon, the ski turned easily through bumps. It was nimble enough to make short-swing slalom turns down the mountain, but could also open up to rail larger giant slalom carves. This is the perfect ski for nearly any woman on almost every day and will make you a better skier as you progress over the season.
Rossignol Black Ops Stargazer
Dimensions (mm): 127-92-117
Available lengths (cm): 154, 162, 170
Radius (m): 14
You know that one friend that’s always fun to be around—the one you can always invite to a party and she’ll get along with everyone? This is the ski equivalent. The Stargazer is a fun do-it-all ski suitable for anyone and everyone. It loved speed but didn't need it. It’s light and playful but can charge through chunder and arc nicely on groomed runs. I’d put my beginner friends on these, but I’d also happily rip them myself. It doesn't matter if it's been snowing or we've been dry for weeks—these skis will make you smile.
ALL MOUNTAIN WIDE
Rossignol Black Ops Rallybird Ti
Dimensions (mm): 137-101-127
Available lengths (cm): 163, 171, 178
Radius (m): 13
Moment of honesty: The 2021 version of this ski wasn’t my favorite at the last SKI test. So I remember clicking into the ski this year without any high expectations but was surprised and thrilled to find this ski was awesome. It did everything l wanted—nuked high-speed turns on ice, darted through crud with no problem and let me make all decisions as to where I wanted to point them. I tend to ride wider skis as my daily driver (I do live in Utah!) and with a resume like this, this ski will actively be lobbying for me to grab it on my way out the door with any kind of new snow on the ground. On that next 6-inch day at Deer Valley Resort, you can likely spot me surfing these on top of the fresh stuff in the morning and then blasting through the bumps in the afternoon.
Rossignol Black Ops Gamer
Dimensions (mm): 146-118-141
Available lengths (cm): 176, 186
Radius (m): 22m
Feeling strong this winter and ready to crush some Utah pow? Then this is your ski. The Gamer is fat and burly, but when hammering turns in the soft stuff, it did exactly what it needed it to. So when you’re heading out to those open steep powder fields at Snowbasin Resort or Snowbird, bring along this fatty for some high-speed good times. However, if you tend to enjoy a more nimble or flexible ski, the Gamer might not be your favorite.
Rossignol Experience W 80
Dimensions (mm): 125-80-113
Available lengths (cm): 142, 150, 158, 166
Radius (m): 11
In addition to the lineup you see above, we also tested “value” skis as part of the test. There’s a whole formula that SKI uses, but in general, it’s a ski and binding package that you can snag for a lower price, while still being a great ride. Meet the Experience 80—a skinnier rig that liked getting on edge and cruising around the mountain. Advanced skiers will likely overpower it, but if you love to ski greens and blues or are looking for a great easy-to-ride vacation ski, this is the setup for you.
Have any more questions about what to buy or try this season? Shoot me a DM on Instagram and I’ll send along thoughts - @courtneyhark. Have fun on your new skis this winter! I know I will.