This article originally appeared on Outside
This article was first published by SkiMag.com.
Testing skis isn't easy. Especially when there are 23 brands, 24 testers, and over 100 pairs of skis that need a fair shake. But, when the powder cloud settles and the scores are tallied, there can only be one group of skis at the top of the pile. And these are the skis that survived every turn, mogul, and test card in order to earn the distinction of being named the top performing ski in their respective categories.
Even among these top performers, a handful of skis stand out. Some are perennial favorites that, year after year, just keep blowing their competition out of the water (here's looking at you, Salomon QST Blank). Some redesigned skis proved to be even better versions of their former selves (hello, Blizzard Sheeva 9). And some not only won their respective categories, but snagged top scores in every skill department (kudos to the Elan Wildcat 86 C Black Edition). For all of these reasons, some skis receive an additional nod--our prestigious Editor's Choice award--from the SKI and Outside gear editors.
With that being said, just because our SKI Test crew thought these were the best this year doesn't necessarily mean that they are the best skis for you. Dig below the surface and check out the detailed scores for each ski, the reviews and scores of other skis in each category, and remember the basics of how to buy skis in order to determine what pair is right for you this winter. And if it's one of these beauties, well, hate to say we told you so...
How We Test
Consensus can be mericless. And when the results are in, we often have some tough phone calls to make. But for every brand that tanks in the test, there's a brand that shines, and we want readers to know which factories are on their game. What we shouldn't have to say is that objectivity rules our test, but we know what goes on at other tests. So we'll say it: There's no "pay-to-play" fee for entry. No medals are exchanged for ad dollars. No palms are greased. To make our list of the best skis of the year, a ski has to impress our crew of 24 testers.
Who are our testers? Sure, they all rip. But more important, the team includes some of the most experienced testers in the business, and that's what counts--because testing 15 or 20 different skis in a day is a bewildering experience to anyone who lacks experience. The team includes a mix of natural gear evaluators: instructors, shop owners, former racers and freeride competitors, and industry product developers.
We educate our testers about leaving any preconceptions behind: about brands, about previous models, about construction of skis, etc. We set testers loose at our official SKI Test in Sun Valley, Idaho, and at the Carving Test at Copper Mountain, Colorado, on the test skis (more than 150 models total) sorted by waist width and divided among the number of test days.
Testers ski each model and evaluate and articulate its character, strengths, weaknesses, and ideal use and user. They also rate each model numerically according to nine different performance criteria. We crunch their numbers, consider those along with tester votes and opinions gathered during daily end-of-day debriefing sessions, come up with the top skis, and review them here.
We even show you the data, controversy be damned, because it's highly illuminating. We know testing is somewhat imperfect, and we know you know that, but we still think you want to see it. Use it wisely.
Meet the Testers
Age: 47 | Height: 5'4'' | Weight: 112 lbs
Kimberly Beekman has been testing skis and writing gear reviews for longer than she'd like to admit. She's a former editor of SKI and freelance contributor to both SKI and Outside. She lives in Steamboat Springs with her wonderful daughter and terrible cat.
Age: 41 | Height: 5'10'' | Weight: 195 lbs
Jacob is a ski race coach from the East Coast and skis like one. At his home hill of Bristol Mountain, N.Y., you'll likely find him carving up icy groomers on a set of skinny skis. Jacob is a veteran gear tester who has tested skis for both Outside and SKI.
Age: 40 | Height: 5'6'' | Weight: 138 lbs
Pesce lives in Whitman, Mass., and calls the ski areas of Vermont and New Hampshire home. She's an expert skier with an aggressive style that she applies to any and all type of terrain and snow conditions. Safe to say that as the head ski buyer for Boston Ski & Tennis in Newton, Mass., she knows a thing or two about skis--how they're built, and how they perform.
Age: 30 | Height: 5'10" | Weight: 185
Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Flitton joined the Snowbird ski team as a young racer at the age of 7. He worked his way through the ranks as a racer, spending time at a ski academy in Vermont before returning to his favorite mountain in Utah. Now he spends his time coaching young freeriders how to send it big at Snowbird. He's a veteran gear testers who has tested skis for both Powder and SKI.
The Reviews: The Best Skis of 2024
Lengths (cm): 167, 172, 180
Dimensions (mm): 118-66-100
Radius (m): 14.8 (172)
Pros: Hard-Snow Integrity, Stability at Speed
Cons: Playfulness, Forgiveness
If the Stockli Laser WRT Pro were college bound, it'd be an Ivy League contender. This hard-charging model scored top marks in all testing categories, solidifying its spot as the No. 1 Unisex Carving ski in this year's test, including near-perfect scores for Stability at Speed and Hard-Snow Integrity. "The responsiveness was next-level," said tester Geof Ochs, director of marketing for Sync Performance in Vail, Colorado. "This is an energetic, dependable, stiff ski with lots of pop. It will hold onto groomers, ice, or crud--no matter how hard you push it." The Laser WRT Pro's construction comes directly from race skis, featuring wide metal edges and stiff racing sidewalls with full edge contact for direct power transfer. The metal-and-carbon sandwich sidewall layup elicited adjectives like "burly" and "bomber"; however, testers were surprised by the variety of turn shapes this ski could offer, as well as what Chris Bivona, owner of Ski Town All-Stars in Vail, Colorado, called its "heat-seeking missile energy" out of each turn.
Category: Women's Carving
Lengths (cm): 155, 160, 165, 170, 175
Dimensions (mm): 121-70-102
Radius (m): 14 (165)
Weight (per ski in grams): 1,740 (165)
Pros: Carving, Hard-Snow Integrity
Cons: Forgiveness, Playfulness
The Blizzard Phoenix R14 Pro rose through the ranks to achieve No. 1 status for best-performing 2023-24 Women's Carving ski. As one of the narrower options in this category at 70 millimeters underfoot, it scored high marks for Carving and Hard-Snow Integrity. "It likes fast and firm," claimed Colorado skier Jordan Berde. "Steep groomers will allow you to get the most out of this ski. It also handled some chopped-up soft snow like a champ." The Phoenix R14 Pro favors medium- to long-radius turns, with short arcs requiring more work, said testers. Construction includes a double layer of Titanal, a dampening carbon plate underfoot, and a core made from a blend of two different types of wood that create three varying areas of densities: stiffer flex in the center, medium flex around the binding, and softer flex in the tip and tail. According to SKI test director Jenny Wiegand, "It's a serious carver for serious skiers, bred for charging in early season conditions."
Lengths (cm): 163, 170, 177, 184
Dimensions (mm): 129-88-113
Radius (m): 16 (177)
Weight (per ski in grams): 1,898 (177)
Pros: Hard-Snow Integrity, Stability at Speed
Cons: Forgiveness, Playfulness
The Volkl Kendo, like the traditional Japanese martial art it's named for, has been around for a while. But, according to our test team, the Kendo 88 keeps getting better. "It's insanely fun and responsive," said ski coach and Snowbird, Utah, local Tommy Flitton. This ski received the highest scores for Hard-Snow Integrity and Stability at Speed among the entire array of Frontside skis--both Unisex and Women's--as well as nabbed the No. 1 spot for the unisex group. Choose your length mindfully: the Tailored Titanal Frame adjusts for height and skier ability with a flex that's stiffer in longer lengths and less so in the shorter ones. If you're willing to put the effort into it, testers claimed, the ski will return in kind. "As long as you do not need flotation, this ski has no limits," reported Michael Rogan, ski instructor and PSIA National Demo Team alpine coach. "It's not for the faint of heart, but you can ski everything from hard snow in a NASTAR course to bumps down a long run."
Category: Women's Frontside
Lengths (cm): 152, 158, 164, 170
Dimensions (mm): 127-86-113
Radius (m): 14.7 (164)
Weight (per ski in grams): 2,955 (164)
Pros: Carving, Responsiveness
Cons: Crud Performance, Forgiveness
A frontside friend with benefits, the Elan Wildcat 86 C Black Edition earned the highest marks of all Women's Frontside skis for nearly all traits, including near-perfect tens for Carving and Responsiveness. This model features the brand's asymmetrical Amphibio Truline W technology, creating a right and left ski--one of the elements that allows it to roll on edge quickly. The Black Edition adds a higher level of performance to the Wildcat line (plus a layer of carbon), and testers appreciated the combination of characteristics that allows for aggressive skiing--without needing Mikaela Shiffrin's thighs or precision. "I was blown away by this ski's versatility for different abilities as well as the stability on hardpack and ice," said Vermont skier Avery Pesce. "Wait, there's more: It swings effortlessly in short turns with zero resistance, holds solid in GS turns with no tail skid, and has just the right amount of rebound in the bumps."
Lengths (cm): 165, 172, 179, 186, 191
Dimensions (mm): 132.5-100-120.5
Radius (m): 17.3 (179)
Weight (per ski in grams): 2,175 (179)
Pros: Stability at Speed, Crud Performance
Cons: Quickness, Forgiveness
The Enforcer 100, the ski that has defined this category since its inception, swept away its competition yet again with an all-new layup. Advanced skiers and ex-racers alike will swoon the moment they put their foot on the gas, while intermediates and beginners may want to look for a more forgiving ride. Nordica's redesigned charger treated our testers with a rock-solid platform, burning sidewall for thousands of feet from the top of Sun Valley, Idaho's Challenger chair. The brand may have put its beast on a diet, but the Enforcer 100 hasn't lost any of its teeth. And while the tech talk intimates that this ski was cooked up in the bowels of the race department, it is most at home carving off-piste chalk and snaking at the margins of groomed runs. Put simply by tester Luke Larsen, who owns a ski shop in Salt Lake City, Utah, "If you love to ski, you will love this ski."
Category: Women's Frontside
Lengths (cm): 150, 156, 162, 168, 174
Dimensions (mm): 129-96-118.5
Radius (m): 14 (162)
Weight (per ski in grams): 1,765 (162)
Pros: Versatility, Quickness
Cons: Flotation, Stability at Speed
Last year, the Blizzard Sheeva 9 won best in test. This year, it repeats the feat, but while boasting a complete redesign that hones its strengths and eliminates its weaknesses--"favorite ski of the day" was our testers' refrain. The new iteration is 4 millimeters wider underfoot and has a longer effective edge to both float in powder and carve on groomers. It also boasts Blizzard's Freeride TrueBlend Woodcore, which consists of denser wood where a stiffer flex is desirable, and softer wood in the tips and tails lends forgiveness and ease of turn initiation. A new fiberglass plate underfoot replaces the metal one, allowing the ski to go from tight slalom corkscrews to long, fast downhill turns just by thinking about it. The Sheeva 9 is quick and playful, and testers agreed that it's the most versatile within the Women's All-Mountain category in terms of both ability levels and terrain. "Amazing all over the mountain," said Avery Pesce, a Sugarbush and Jay Peak, Vermont, skier.
Category: All-Mountain Wide
Lengths (cm): 165, 172, 179, 186, 191
Dimensions (mm): 134.5-104-123.5
Radius (m): 17.5 (179)
Weight (per ski in grams): 2,105 (179)
Pros: Stability at Speed, Flotation
Cons: Forgiveness, Quickness
The Nordica Enforcer lineup is no stranger to the upper ranks of the SKI Test, and the Enforcer 104 Free carries on that tradition by claiming the top step on the Unisex All-Mountain Wide podium for 2023-24. This model combines a wood core, carbon, and two sheets of metal sandwiched into Nordica's Powder Rocker Profile to build a stout ski that earned top scores for Stability at Speed, Flotation, and Versatility. Testers agreed that the Enforcer 104 Free was best suited for strong, aggressive, and expert skiers who are looking for an option that's competent in the soft stuff but can still hold an edge on firm snow. Some skiers found it to feel most comfortable in wide-open spaces and when skied assertively, which explains the low scores for Quickness and Forgiveness. Tester Luke Larsen, who calls Snowbird, Utah, his home hill, summed this ski up well: "It will Enforce your will on pow days."
Category: Women's All-Mountain Wide
Lengths (cm): 158, 165, 172, 179
Dimensions (mm): 133-104-122
Radius (m): 16 (165)
Weight (per ski in grams): 1,745 (165)
Pros: Versatility, Responsiveness
Cons: Hard-Snow Integrity, Playfulness
The Nordica Santa Ana 104 Free appeals to skiers of many abilities, from intermediates through ex-racers, with testers noting that it will meet you where you are and eagerly take you anywhere you want to go. Its comfort in all conditions earned this ski the highest score for Versatility in the Women's All-Mountain Wide category while also guaranteeing it took home impressive marks for Crud Performance and Flotation. Testers reported that, wide appeal notwithstanding, advanced and expert skiers will be best able to maximize the Santa Ana 104 Free's performance. Some in our crew were concerned that this ski could feel dull and lack energy, which saw it ranked low in the Playfulness category. Despite those reservations, however, Avery Pesce, a Boston, Massachusetts-based tester, described the Nordica as the "ultimate all-mountain ski, to be taken anywhere regardless of the conditions or terrain."
Category: Unisex and Women's Powder
Dimensions (mm): 138-112-127
Available lengths (cm): 178, 186, 194
Radius (m): 17 (186)
Weight (per ski in grams): 2,220 (186)
Pros: Flotation, Quickness
Cons: Stability at Speed, Forgiveness
Except for new graphics, nothing has changed about the highly popular Salomon QST Blank for 2023-'24 season, and that includes how much skiers of all stripes love it. Proof: For the third year in a row, this unisex ski won the highest scores in the powder ski category from both male and female testers. What we loved most about this ski is how quick and playful it is. The QST Blank features a full poplar wood core and no metal, which keeps it feeling light underfoot (2,220 grams per ski) and makes it extraordinarily nimble. For a pow ski, it also has a more moderate waist width at 112 millimeters, a healthy amount of traditional camber underfoot, and relatively short turning radius (17 meters in the 186-centimeter length), which translate to enhanced responsiveness and quicker edge-to-edge transitions. We also appreciated how approachable the QST Blank is, with testers calling it a great powder option for intermediates to experts. "It's very easy to figure out. Skiers of lower ability could handle it, but it still charges for the higher-ability skier," commented Aspen-based ski shop technician John Jensen. One small critique: It's not the most dependable at speed. A few testers noted a slight lack of stability when trying to plough through crud at mach speeds or opening it up when the terrain allowed. "It's not a ski to go 100 miles-per-hour on," noted race coach Chad Jacob, "but is that what we really want in this category?" For most skiers, the answer is no--no it's not. What we want in a powder ski is flotation and fun, pop and pizazz, and the QST Blank delivers on those fronts in spades.
Lengths (cm): 157, 165, 173, 181, 189
Dimensions (mm): 139-106-126
Radius (m): 19 (181)
Weight (per ski in grams): 1,760 (181)
Pros: Playfulness, Forgiveness
Cons: Stability at Speed, Flotation
Known for their energy, playfulness, and solid feel in variable conditions, the QST skis have an uncanny ability to please pros like Cody Townsend as well as us mere mortals. The brand-new QST Echo 106 shares the shape and profile of the all-mountain QST 106, with a slimmed-down construction (the Echo shaves off 200 grams per ski) that's spry on the skintrack while maintaining an impressively quiet feel through variable snow in the backcountry. Salomon ditched the Titanal in this model, opting for a lightweight and responsive caruba-and-poplar core, with basalt fibers that bump up the stiffness. "This is your daily driver," said Jackson, Wyoming-based tester Max Ritter. "Floats in pow, nimble in tight trees and couloirs, but reliable and solid when it comes time to open up the throttle and ski fast through chunky snow." Testers agreed that the lightened-up construction made the QST Echo 106 feel more energetic than the QST 106, touting the benefits of the lower swing weight for confined couloirs where you need to get your skis around quickly.
Frequently Asked Questions
How does SKI test and rank skis?
SKI’s and Outside’s editors and veteran gear testers, who are all proven industry professionals, spend a week each March testing more than a 100 pairs of the upcoming season’s most exciting skis. We test men’s and women’s skis separately in six different categories: Carving, Frontside, All-Mountain, All-Mountain Wide, Powder, and Backcountry. Testers ski each pair of skis for one or two runs, making sure to take the skis into different kinds of terrain and conditions. They then immediately fill out a ski test score card, rating each ski in eight to ten different criteria, including Stability at Speed, Hard-Snow Integrity, Playfulness, etc. SKI’s editors then crunch the numbers to see which skis come out on top of each category and to determine each ski’s strengths and weaknesses.
How do I choose a pair of skis?
Do your research. Start by asking yourself what type of skis you are looking for, and being honest about your current ability level and goals for the season. Check out our “How to Buy Skis” article to get started. Then, use SKI’s Gear Guide and extended ski reviews to get an idea of different options in different categories.
Just remember: ski testing is not an exact science. While we rely heavily on the feedback and opinions of our veteran gear testers to rank and review each season’s skis, at the end of the day ski testing is subjective. That mean’s our top-ranking ski in one category might be a great ski, but it may not be the best choice for you if it’s above or below your ability level, or if it’s too wide or too narrow for the type of skiing you typically do. So do your research.
What’s the difference between men’s and women’s skis?
Most skis are technically unisex skis--they are not specifically designed for men or for women. These skis come in a variety of length options, usually from 150cm to 190cm to accommodate for both men and women, as well as different ability levels. However, some skis these days are women’s-specific. These skis have adapted constructions, usually to make the ski a little lighter, less stiff, and to move the mount point forward to improve a woman’s ability to drive a ski. That said, many advanced and expert women, especially if they’re aggressive skiers, still prefer to ski a unisex ski. Read more here.
For exclusive access to all of our fitness, gear, adventure, and travel stories, plus discounts on trips, events, and gear, sign up for Outside+ today.