Related: The Best All-Mountain Skis of 2019
The Best Women's All-Mountain Skis of 2019
|Price||$449.97 at Backcountry|
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|$779.32 at Backcountry|
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|$750 List||$600 List||$479.00 at Amazon|
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|Pros||Great float in powder, playful, decent stability||Unparalleled stability at speed, crud-buster, lends you strength||Short turn radius, very carvy, solid construction, fun in the powder||A blast to ski, easy to turn, relatively stable, fantastic in powder||Versatile, stiffer, reliable|
|Cons||More expensive, slightly lumbering in bumps||Very pricey, prefers faster straighter lines||Can be hokey in crud and bumps||Not perfect carvers, some deflection in crud||Not particularly exciting|
|Bottom Line||A great choice for a West Coast woman who loves getting out in the soft snow.||If you like to go fast and want a one-ski quiver, this ski is absolutely worth the extra funds.||A great ski for an advanced skier who wants to carve snappy turns on-piste and venture off trail into the deep powder.||Ripping skis for ripping chicks, or those on their way to becoming one, so fun and flexible.||A dependable ski, adept in all conditions, as long as you don't mind their lack of excitement.|
|Rating Categories||Soul 7 HD W||Kastle FX95 HP||Head Great Joy||Elan Ripstick 94 W||Black Pearl 98|
|Stability At Speed (20%)|
|Specs||Soul 7 HD W||Kastle FX95 HP||Head Great Joy||Elan Ripstick 94 W||Black Pearl 98|
|Intended Purpose||All mountain powder||All mountain stability||All mountain carver||All mountain play||All mountain reliable|
|Ability Level||All levels||All levels||All levels||All levels||Advanced|
|Available Lengths||156, 164, 172, 180||173, 181, 189||153, 158, 163, 168, 173||156, 163, 170, 177||152, 159, 166, 173|
Best Overall Women's All-Mountain Skis
Rossignol Soul 7 HD W
This year's Rossignol Soul 7 HD W, with her fancy Air Tip technology and new Carbon Alloy Matrix, truly blew us away. The Soul 7 has grown up. She got tougher and more spirited at the same time and has earned her place as the alpha female of this pack of skis. As a previous winner for powder performance, we already knew this ski would thrive in the deep stuff. Where its recent upgrades truly impressed us was in cruddy conditions and on-piste runs. The Soul 7 monsters her way through choppy conditions and then runs straight onto the groomers with the stability of a steam engine. Incredible rebound and awesome edge hold are icing on the cake for this fantastic ski.
The trade-off for the Soul 7's excellent powder performance is that their waist is on the thick end of the all-mountain spectrum. This means they take a little longer to get from one edge to the other. We think this minor issue is worth it for the range of conditions where these skis excel. If you're searching for a ski that you can take anywhere and enjoy in absolutely all conditions, the Soul 7 is your girl!
Read review: Rossignol Soul 7 HD W
Best Bang for the Buck
Icelantic Skis Oracle 88
The Icelantic Oracle 88 is an easy-to-ski affordable option suitable for a wide range of skiers. But it's ideal for upper-intermediate rippers looking to branch out into more challenging terrain. The sensible width underfoot, combined with a softness and dampness along the length, makes for a rewarding experience on the groomers, in the bumps and in moderate crud. The Oracle 88 surprised us with their adequate abilities in moderate powder (6 inches or less), despite their lack of a traditional powder-ski profile.
In deeper powder, they just aren't wide enough to keep their float. And they aren't as a stiff and stable as more advanced options, so ladies that never slow down should look elsewhere. Their laid back, easy to operate nature and versatility are what make them shine.
Read review: Icelantic Oracle 88
Top Pick for Best Carving Performance
Head Great Joy
All of the products in this review can handle the whole mountain, but some are more specialized and outperform the competition in certain terrain. The Head Great Joy earns a Top Pick Award because it is the most fun to carve on-piste. Its dramatic sidecut profile springs you in and out of 15.3-meter turns and its full sidewall construction provides excellent edge hold. Our testers love to carve snappy turns on this model. Although the Great Joy's stood out for carving, they can surf powder too! Their exaggerated fat tips and plump 100mm waist have great float in deep powder. Our expert testers tried these in a longer length, and we would suggest sizing up if you're on the fence in choosing a length.
The Joys aren't the best options for bump runs or crud filled slopes, but if you live for corn and powder, these skis will help you get the most out of ideal conditions.
Read review: Head Great Joy
Top Pick for Playfulness
Elan Ripstick 94 W
After seeing the resort bespattered with the wild hues of the Elan Ripstick 94, we knew there must be more to them than just the crazy colors. As it turns out, these boldly tinted sticks DO rip, and they do so in just about every type of snow. We absolutely fell in love with the animated, vivacious nature of the Rip Sticks — everywhere we took them they either floated or flew from one turn to the next. Their Amphibio technology creates a buttery grace in the pow, trees, and wind buff, while still providing stability and edge control when back in firmer conditions. The Ripsticks soar like a dream in the soft stuff. But you can find them all over the mountain, zooming from one powerfully recoiled turn to another.
The one area that the Ripstick does not excel in is carving tracks with both skis. The outside ski rails, but the inside edge tends to skid out. The outside edge keeps you stable, but for ladies who love to lay down two clean lines, this ski isn't ideal. If you can get past that, every other move you make on these skis will be fun, fun FUN!
Read review: Elan Ripstick 94 W
Top Pick for Stability
Kastle FX95 HP
Skiing on something as pricey as the Kastle FX95 HP felt very different and very exciting from the very first turn, and not just because we were terrified of ruining our expensive new toy on early season rocks. We suddenly felt a stability and clarity of purpose we'd never before felt on an all-mountain ski. There is simply nothing we've ever skied (with this versatile width underfoot) that provides the certainty and dampness of the Kastle, particularly at speed. This ski does not chatter or slide out even when pushed to the limits. And while the Kastle certainly enjoys having a full throttle driver, and cuts a path through the crud like Valyrian steel, it is also just as stable and secure for the skier who doesn't leave the groomers or run gates.
All that stability keeps the FX95 HP from feeling especially light and lively, and it's tricky to turn it quick enough to snake through tight trees. The Kastle is also in a price bracket well above the rest, but its engineering is second to none. You will feel the difference instantly. If you're interested in extreme quality and versatility, this ski will not disappoint.
Read Review: Kastle FX95 HP
Why You Should Trust Us
Our Expert panel consists of the Mammoth Lakes-based duo Jessica Haist and Renee McCormack. Jessica holds a Master's Degree in Adventure Education from Prescott College in Arizona and has worked as a guide and outdoor educator across North America. Renee has taught skiing for the past 12 years at Vail and Mammoth Lakes. We go into much more details of our testers qualifications below.
Analysis and Test Results
We rated each women's all-mountain ski in this review on their stability at speed, carving performance, performance in crud vs. powder, playfulness, and bump performance. We had a team of ladies (and a few guys!) test these models during multiple seasons with tons of days on each pair for work and play. The rating table above shows the cumulative scores of each ski in this year's lineup. Read on for details about each individual metric.
The top-rated all-mountain skis are all capable of handling a wide variety of conditions, and they all emerged as high-performers within the women's all-mountain ski realm, where versatility is crucial. In addition, though, we also noticed a few pairs that excel at specific applications, like the Elan Ripstick's knack for excitement and the Head Great Joy's bent for carving.
With its do it all attitude, an all-mountain ski is already a value conscious skier's dream come true. Since we all want our dollars to go further, we compared retail prices and overall scores for all models to find the best values. The Icelantic Skis Oracle 88 and Elan Ripstick 94 W are both very high-value options. The Icelantic is a solid all-around choice, and the Elan is an extremely playful ski. For not much more, you can get our favorite model overall, the Rossignol Soul 7.
At the other end of the cost spectrum lies the Kastle FX95 HP, that are double the price. While this is certainly a very expensive toy, it is a beautiful piece of ski engineering which proves on its first turn that it is in a class of its own. The Kastle is the Porche of the ski world, but it's not just a status symbol — it truly performs like a different caliber machine.
Women's All-Mountain Skis — A Quiver of One
If you want to only own a single pair of skis, you'll want a setup that lets you cruise through all types of terrain with style. All-mountain models are made for just that—skiing all over the mountain. Different ski manufactures refer to this broad category differently, it's often all-mountain, but is sometimes freeride. Either way, an all-mountain model strives to do it all — carve turns on groomers, remain stable at speed, handle chop and crud, and float in powder.
Here we review resort models, meaning they aren't specifically built for the backcountry (though some of them would do well there), but they should be able to transition from groomers to off-piste, or ungroomed terrain. (Please see our Glossary of Terms below if we're starting to speak skier mumble-jumble.)
Stability at Speed
We want our all-mountain skis to inspire confidence when flying down the mountain instead of making us pray for our lives. We want to be able to lay into them, knowing they won't wash out or chatter at high speeds. So we evaluated how each pair performs at speed. Do they provide a smooth and quiet ride, or are the tips floppy? Can they hold an edge when railing fast, hard turns, or do they tend to slide out? Are they damp and controllable, absorbing bumps and rougher snow, or do they buck us around?
The results are in — The Kastle FX95 HP is by far the most stable competitor in the test, followed by the Blizzard Black Pearl and the Rossi Soul 7. The Elan Ripsticks also perform well. These skis excel in this category because they are built to. Some manufacturers even add carbon for stiffness, such as the Rossignol Soul 7s.
Other models, perhaps attempting to be lighter weight or softer for a female audience, feel unstable at speed and floppily trudge down the mountain, like the K2 Fulluvit. The Atomic Vantage is also a less comfortable ride at higher speeds, not instilling the confidence we wanted to reach our maximum velocity threshold.
Most skis being built for all-mountain skiing these days have rockered tips, which might have the appearance of being unstable at speeds (as they flap their wings), but some, like the Dynastar Legends and Great Joys have enough sidewall underfoot that despite flapping tips, you still have stability and edge-hold underfoot. This metric is closely related to edge-hold, which we talk about in the carving metric below.
How easy is each contender to turn? Do they like to turn when asked, or prefer to go straight? Can you rally them around on their edges? What is the turn radius? These are all questions we asked when assessing how well each of these skis carves a turn. Models that have a smaller turn radius are often better at carving, like the Head Great Joy. If you really love shredding corduroy and leaving deep trenches behind you, it's important to choose a ski that performs well in this metric.
Turn shape is largely the result of a ski's sidecut. Hourglass-shaped models result in tighter, smaller radius turns. The Great Joy has the most dramatic sidecut in this review. They have a big shovel width of 142, a waist of 98, and tail width of 125. This shape makes for a snappy, carvy turn. The Rossignol Soul 7 actually has the least amount of sidecut, with dimensions of 136-106-126, but their ability to bend with the momentum and weight of the skier makes them feel capable of quicker turns than you'd expect.
Edge-to-edge quickness also factors into the carving metric. This is usually a function of the ski's width underfoot but is also related to the sidecut and turn radius. Some skis will flip from one edge to the next with agility, immediately entering the new turn as you engage the new edge. Other competitors are more sluggish. The Head Great Joy is fun and snappy with a small turn radius, and is quick to transfer from edge to edge. The Head pair was the favorite of one of our testers for its notable on-piste performance.
We also really pay attention to edge hold. Do you trust the ski to hold its edge when you're railing turns? If you turn at speed, will your planks hold on through the turn, or will they chatter or slide out? The Great Joy rails tight turns, propelling you out on the other side while providing a smooth, snappy transition to the next turn. The Kastle FX95 HP has excellent stability and edge hold in turns, especially at speed. Both the Rossi and the Elan also enjoy laying down trenches and can hold an edge throughout.
A 2017/2018 upgrade improved the K2 FulLuvits' carving skills. Their turn radius tightened up to 14M, and they were quicker edge-to-edge as a result. They are also extremely responsive when you need to turn. You can't simply rely on specs to know how a ski will feel in this department. The Volkl 90Eights were lethargic and unresponsive during our testing. While the much wider Rossignol Soul 7 HD W feels wonderfully sprightly and quick.
In powder, most of the models in this review will make you feel like a superhero, particularly if you've only ever been skiing on a rental ski or something without much width. These boards keep you on top of the snow and make skiing feel effortless. Models with wider tips and waists and more rocker help you float on top of deeper snow (making it easier to ski). Others, particularly the skinnier models in this test, are more work in powder since they sink down within it, making it harder to turn.
The Rossignol Soul 7 makes powder feel amazing, whereas the Volkl 90Eights' tips tend to dive under the snow, making the powder more laborious. None of the skis we tested are powder-specific models, and, when the snow gets deep, some just can't hang. When we took both our skinniest models out in more than half a foot of powder — the Icelantic Oracle 88 and the Atomic Vantage 90 Ti W — they delivered some embarrassing face plants when they dove underneath the deeper snow.
The Soul 7 slays powder because it has the widest waist and some of the most aggressive rocker of all the models in this review. Many of our testers described these skis as buttery in powder. None of the skis currently in the test fleet have a full rocker, meaning the ski is shaped like a banana with each end reaching up off the snow. This design aids flotation in powder, and helps the skis to smear rapid turns in trees, but doesn't allow for the bite of regular camber when carving.
Tip shape also makes a difference in a ski's ability to float. Tips that are more tapered, with the widest part set back, have better glide in powder. Again, an example is the Rossi Soul 7. The Elan Ripstick's have a relatively narrow, 95mm waist but hold their own in up to a foot of powder because of their fat, rockered tips. We were surprised by their solid performance in deep pow. Other models with than gain float through well-designed, wide tips are the K2 FulLUVit, the Kastle FX95 HP and the Dynastar Legend W 96.
We use this term as an all-encompassing category for variable snow (excluding powder) on ungroomed trails. Some days the snow is frozen solid in the morning and slushy by mid-afternoon. Other days you will find breakable crust in one spot and chalky fun powder elsewhere. Will your trusty planks plow through the irregular snow, whether it's slushy or frozen? When even the groomers are trashed, does it still feel like you're carving and cruising?
The Rossignol Soul 7 HD and the Blizzard Black Pearl both handle chop with ease, either absorbing or skimming across any crud that came their way. But, the Kastle FX95 HP is truly the most crud-munching machine we'd ever skied, barreling through the roughest terrain without batting an eye. The stiff and weighty FX95 HP transition from one type of snow to the next effortlessly. They handle variable conditions with grace, pushing through it all without hesitation.
The K2 FulLuvit's also tended to buck in the crud, throwing us in the backseat, but the Head Great Joy sucked up the crud and excelled in any off-piste conditions, from tracked-up powder to frozen chunks and wind buff. The Atomic Vantage 90 Ti let us down in this terrain. Instead of absorbing the crud or plowing through it, they often threw us around, resulting in minor humiliations.
The playfulness metric is an evaluation of how fun the product is to use. It can be subjective from tester to tester, and from one skier-type to another. Playfulness is also pretty simple — do you have fun with this model? Are you excited to take them out and goof around on the mountain, ride switch, and jump off things?
One aspect of "playfulness" is whether the ski gives you any rebound when you bend and release it, creating an energetic and exciting transition from turn to turn. After you've pressured them through the turn, and you let go, do they spring up and pop easily to the next set of edges? Or are they listless and lack energy? Generally, more traditionally cambered skis excel in this department, and we found the Elan Ripsticks to have unparalleled rebound.
The Head Great Joy is playful in a different way. They are carvy and responsive --fun to play with on groomers. The Rossignol Soul 7 HD is playful in soft snow, and their tapered tail shape allowed us to wiggle down runs, giggling all the way.
While the Kastle FX95 HP isn't playful in the traditional sense, the sense of security we gained while on this ski allowed us to try new things, which is always fun!
Some love 'em, some hate 'em, but whatever your preference, bumps are a fact of life at the resort. Even if you set out to avoid them, most days you'll find yourself at the top of a pitch of moguls. None of these all-mountain models are built for zipper-lines, but some outperformed the others in a mogul field. Models with tighter turn radii, like the K2 FulLuvit, are better when it comes to tight, firm, evenly spaced moguls.
Perhaps due to their easy-to-turn and playful mentality, the Elan Ripstick 94s are a hoot in the bumps and outdid all the others in this metric. We enjoyed ourselves in steep, small-ish bumps on the Icelantic Oracle 88s but wouldn't take them into anything firm or icy.
If there are bumps forming in new snow, you may want planks that have better crud-busting abilities, like the Blizzard Black Pearls. It's also a kick to feel the Kastle FX95 HP remold the slope to their liking, essentially just bulldozing over any moguls in their way. If you want to spend more than 5% of your time in the bumps, however, we recommend looking into more on-piste-specific models.
A Note About Versatility
We didn't rate the skis based on their versatility, but a contender that scores well across the board is versatile. A decent all-mountain ski is well-rounded, and so our highest-rated models will be the most versatile.
The most versatile competitors in this review are the Rossignol Soul 7, the Kastle FX95 HP, and the Elan Riptick 94. The Rossi is fun at speed on groomed runs, soars across off-piste crud, and floats on powder. The Ripstick has incredible playfulness both on and off-piste and also rates highly in powder performance, and the Kastle has unmatched stability at speed and carving. It also crushes through anything ungroomed. The Blizzard Black Pearl scored just around average across the board, making it an all-around versatile performer.
The least versatile models are ones that specialize in one thing or another, like the K2 FulLuvit. It's tons of fun in fresh powder but failed to significantly impress at most everything else. The Black Crows are fun in powder, and might be playful for a park skier accustomed to stiff skis and straight lines, but they don't cut the mustard for the general public in all types of terrain. All of our test models are somewhat versatile, but some handled a variety of terrain better than others.
Who We Are
OutdoorGearLab gathered a team of industry pros and professional snow bums to put our all-mountain models through the wringer. These ladies ski for a living or live to ski, and each woman put in many days on each model. Each skier has a different style and preferences, and they liked different things about each product. This helped us create a quality and fair impression of each ski and its strengths and weaknesses.
Renee Lemmer McCormack, Lead Tester
PSIA, which means she can [mostly] manage to french fry when she's not supposed to pizza. When not busy feeding children hot chocolate and Starbursts, she and her husband teach scuba diving around the world, go rock climbing and mountain biking, and enjoy life with only the obligation of two mouths to feed.
Renee is 5'10'' and 140lbs, so she's not a tiny creature. She generally prefers a stronger, stiffer model with decent sidecut. Renee believes that making turns is the best part of skiing — if you want to go straight then get yourself a sled! She enjoys skiing Mammoth's steeps, bumps, and trees but believes that an all-mountain pair should be capable in all-conditions, including on-piste groomers where we all end up spending portions of our day.
The Rossignol Soul 7 HD was her favorite test ski, since it was so much fun to ski in absolutely all terrain. However, this year's Kastle FX95 HP blew her away with its incredible strength and power. While she didn't feel the pure joy she does on the Rossis, Renee felt she could nail any turn anywhere on the Kastles. She loves that they both have enough shape to carve a groomer like a Thanksgiving turkey, while their width and nicely tapered rockered tips allow them to float in the fresh.
Jessica Haist, Contributing Tester
Outward Bound California in the winters. In her free time, she likes cooking, gardening, mountain biking, rock climbing, and generally being outside.
Jessica had a hard time choosing her favorite model in the review and fell somewhere in the middle of Renee's diverse preferences. She likes big lines off-piste, but also loves cruising groomers and making snappy turns. She also prefers the Rossignol Soul 7s for deep days.
Hilary Roache, Contributing Tester
In her downtime, Hilary can be found on the bunny slopes with her 3-year-old, or back in Australia on the beach catching some waves. The days of dairy farming are long gone.
Hilary is 5 foot 3 inches and 120lbs, so certainly some of the women's all-mountain skis were on the bigger side for her. However, she still fell in love with the Rossignol Soul 7, their versatility and playfulness allowed her to explore all the mountain had to offer. The Kastle came in hot pursuit as a runner-up, with their incredible strength and stability at speed, they said "I've got your back" all the way down the mountain.
Glossary of Terms
Like the Inuit people of the north, skiers have an abundance of words to describe snow. We also use colloquialisms to describe other elements of the sport, including style and technique. Below we attempt to illustrate this mystifying taxonomy.
Piste: Originally a French term that has been adopted worldwide to describe a marked trail with an artificially prepared surface of packed snow. Off-piste is any route on the mountain that is not on-piste and can consist of all types of snow (see snow terms below).
Chop/Crud: Any type of snow that has been chopped up or pushed around. This typically occurs after a powder day but could be on a spring day when the groomers have been skied out. Crud usually is heavier, more dense, and warmer than chop, but some might use the same terminology interchangeably. Chop is still fun, but requires a lot of work and often wears people out.
Cold Smoke/Blower: Residents of the Rockies and Interior British Columbia are familiar with this type of powder snow, although it occurs anywhere there is a very cold snowstorm. This is the holy grail of powder: light and fluffy. Extremely easy to ski and sometimes described as bottomless (unless you're hitting the icy bumps underneath), you may see snorkels in use on a cold smoke day.
Bullet-Proof/Hardpack: Bullet-proof can mean extremely hard, icy conditions where you better hope your edges have been sharpened recently. Hardpack may be slightly softer than bullet-proof and has typically been skied or side-slipped. These conditions are often a result of melt/freeze situations or low snow years, and sometimes can be avoided by choosing the right aspect. Don't ski a shaded pitch the morning following a warm day.
Slush/Elephant Snot: You can find slush on warm days in the spring, especially at lower elevations. Slush can be fun because you can smear on it. Elephant snot is a step down from slush—the kind of snow you find transitioning from shade to sun.
Chalky: Imagine skiing on a huge block of compacted chalk. You can find chalky snow in shaded, off-piste areas and it is almost always firm but edgeable and fun.
Wind Buff: A phenomenon oft-experienced at Mammoth Mountain, which can make for surprise almost-powder days. When there are high winds and snow available for transport, it will deposit in pockets around the mountain. If you are lucky enough to find one of these deposits, it is a lot of fun.
Death Cookies: When there has been a lot of melt freeze going on, death cookies, or large chunks of ice, will form. Sometimes these are also created by a groomer plowing over something icy. You will know you have hit a patch of death cookies when it feels like you are skiing over rocks.
Sastrugi: A Russian word describing the sharp and consistent ridges of ice and snow usually caused by strong winds. Sastrugi tends to look like the snowy version of sand ripples just underneath the surface of waves in the ocean — except instead of the waves coming down to smash you, the sastrugi reaches up to grab your skis and then you smash yourself.
Chatter: When you are trying to rail a turn, and your boards acts like your teeth, chattering under your feet. This usually means you're asking the ski to do something it does not want to do.Schralp: Shralp is a verb and means to "rip," "shred," or "tear" something up, like the slopes. We use this to describe the mountain after it has been skied out on a powder day: "Man, the mountain is totally schralped." You can also schralp a sick line.
Schnoodle: Although Urban Dictionary says otherwise, to Schnoodle, or schnoodling, is a verb meaning to turn like you are from the '80s or are on a monoboard. This entails keeping your knees close together while wiggling your bum. A onesie is a preferred outfit to Schnoodle in.Schuss: Technically a German word meaning to straight-line downhill on skis, but we just use it for skiing, as in, "Do you want to go for a schuss today?"
Steeze: We have covered this term before in our Women's Ski Jacket Review, but it deserves mention here. When you perform a trick in the park with style and ease, it is "steezy." You can also use it in reference to stylish clothing.
— Jessica Haist and Renee McCormack