I’m often asked for recommendations for ski kit. In spring 2019 and the kick off for the 2020 season, I’ve been working with the Concept Pro Shop in Chamonix, testing boots, bindings and above all skis to find the ideal combination for my ski work.
The usual testing process in the ski industry is to bring a wide variety of users including guides, ski instructors, pro skiers (often linked to a specific brand) and shop buyers to one resort in early season. The buyers then test a wide range of skis in the same conditions and get a controlled view on the differences in performance. The testing I’ve conducted for Concept isn’t like that at all – I’ve taken their recommendations for the kinds of skis that I might like, and then taken them out for varying periods of time in real ski touring conditions.
To get an idea of what I’m looking for: I work on skis from mid December through to mid May in a variety of locations in the European Alps and Arctic latitudes. I do some lift served off piste but the majority of my work involves ski touring in some form: side country with lift assistance, day touring from hotels or boats and classic hut to hut touring up to 6 days at a time.
My preferred ski style is medium to long radius turns when I can, though clearly that needs adapting, whether that’s for speed control on steeps or to demo the kind of turn I would like my clients to emulate. I’m comfortable at 45 degrees in normal snow conditions (whatever that means!). I’m a firm believer in the axiom that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. My preferred ski for the last few years has been the Blizzard Zero G 108. It’s 108mm underfoot and has a 25m turn radius at 178cm. With a Dynafit Radical binding, one ski/binding weighs 2.3 kg. Having said that, technology moves on and it’s important to remain open to new ideas. So in each category – skis, bindings and boots – I’ll start with my existing setup and then look at the different options I’ve tried.
The start point is the Blizzard Zero G 108.
I’ve used these for two seasons. They have a mix of stability and verstatility that suits my skiing style. I can carve on piste (admittedly not very tightly!) and also skid in a controlled way. For more on the benefits of width, see my post https://andypmountainguide.com/go-large-touring-on-wide-skis/
One of the rules of the outdoor trade is that great products get dropped after a while. So if you find a top you really really like, buy two. I’m on my second pair of Zero G 108’s and the current pair, just one year old, are happily sat in my cellar, bindings wound down, just chilling. All that to say that there’s nothing wrong with them at all and I’d happily go back to them tomorrow.
However, Blizzard have now dropped them from their range and replaced them with….
Blizzard Zero G 105
105mm underfoot, 23m turn radius at 178cm
I imagined this would be very similar to the 108’s I’ve used in the past. However, the new 107 is a very different ski.
I found a marked tendency for the downhill ski to oversteer on piste. My feeling is that it’s a significantly stiffer ski, both in tip and tail. After a day of working the ski, I managed to eliminate this oversteering with significantly increased downsink in the last 10-15% of the turn.
Off piste, the Zero G 107 was fine at speed in open terrain, but very hard to control in tighter situations such as trees. I got the feeling that once you’d set up a turn, the ski was locked on a trajectory, often wider than I’d have liked.
This is a ski for experts with strong technique wanting to stomp big lines at high speed with plenty of room for manoeuvre.
Fischer Ranger 107
107mm underfoot, 18m turn radius at 178cm
The team at Concept Pro Shop have been keen for me to try this ski for some time. Sadly we couldn’t get a demo pair for the 2019 spring season, but I’ve been skiing on the Fischer Rangers for 10 days in December 2019, mounted with a Marker Alpinist binding and a Technica Zero G Tour Pro boot. It’s been classic early season snow conditions: some piste work, sastrugi, heavy chopped powder, some horrific breakable melt/freeze crust and a sublime day of powder in Verbier.
On piste, the Ranger skis surprisingly well for such a wide ski. It carves well and responsively with the 18m turn radius. There’s almost no chatter from the front rocker. Engaging the tips on carved turns requires a little more forward weighting but it’s all very manageable and easy to adapt. I was concerned that the turn radius, much shorter than I’m used to, might lead to chatter when side slipping at speed, but this proved to be unfounded. Edge control is progressive and predictable. Overall on piste, it’s fast and manageable in a variety of modes.
Off piste, the Ranger floats very well. There is the occasional front twitch at the end of the turn which I put down to the size of the shovel, but with a reduced attack angle and more progressive steering, that twitch was eliminated. There’s a similar feeling of confidence at speed in open terrain and landing some short sections of air felt just fine.
In tighter terrain such as gullies or in trees, the Ranger is very responsive to last minute changes. Its light weight makes it easy to jump turn and heavy short turns are an option too.
In short, the Fischer Ranger 107 is a versatile ski aimed at the competent /expert level. It performs well both on and off piste and will be my preferred ski for the bulk of this season’ skiing.
104mm underfoot. 18m turn radius at 178cm length
Ogso is a brand relatively unknown to skiers outside France. The logo looks, to many UK customers, like ASBO ( Anti Social Behaviour Order ). It would appeal to the younger end of the market!
The low weight of the ski is immediately apparent on picking it up. Everyone who picked them up was impressed how light they are for a wide ski. My initial thought was how durable they will be…
The technical info on the ski is comprehensive. I was concerned about the turn radius of 18m as I normally ski a much longer radius (24m as a rule). The ski wouldn’t normally be on my short list, purely because of that. But I can try anything once!
I used the Ogso Schwartztor for 6 days in the Stubai. We started on piste, then skied a wide variety of off piste snow including spring snow, wind scoured hard pack and settled powder. So typical ski touring conditions!
On smooth firm snow, they are super positive and feel almost like a slalom ski. There’s no flapping or chatter from the rockers at front or rear, and the edges feel super positive. They excel at tight turns
In smooth powder, they feel very flowing with the front rocker fully engaged. They are quite stiff so need firm pressure for tight turns in powder. The default seemed to be medium radius and let the ski do the work
On windpack, they are super easy to pivot, presumably because only half the ski is in contact with the snow. Tight turns from stationary are very easy especially on firm snow, allowing me to keep the skis on the surface and whip round fast and in control for individual turns on steep terrain
On a related note, they are light for uphill kick turns.
The problem I have with the Ogso Schwartztor is on variable surfaces where rockers catch and they feel twitchy and nervous. I ended up looking at my tips all the time and then having to work really hard to keep forward. My knees hurt after 3 days.
So anything like chop or avalanche debris or lumpy snow, the benefits of the ski are outweighed completely. I ended up initiating all my turns on this kind of surface with little jumps, which isn’t ideal.
These are demanding skis, great for touring on steep firm even snow.
They are very good at specific jobs where the snow is even (either piste or smooth powder), but hard to manage in a mixed messy environment.
Personally they’re not suitable for me, but there is a section of the market that will like them.
Scott Speed Guide
95mm underfoot, 23m turn radius at 178cm
They are super light, which made me wonder if the durability would be ok. I like the graphics and the opposing colours on each ski. A 23m turn radius is in my zone. Normally I wouldn’t ski on less than 100mm but was curious to see how they ski.
I used the Scott Speed Guide 95’s for an afternoon on Les Grands Montets. We skied down the Bochard, then across to the start of the skin over the Col des Rachasses. We went over the col in an hour’s skin and then took a line down the Moraine des Rognons to the Argentiere glacier. We had slushy bumps on the piste, then 5cm of powder on a firm base, and then spring snow to finish.
Once I got forward and/or lifted the tails, the tips engaged well. I needed to emphasise the forward position of the uphill hand a little more to get positive engagement. The finish of the turn, in total contrast to the Völkl, is smooth and progressive.
Their low weight means they’re easy to lift off the snow and low inertia means rotation in the air is super quick. I did a pedal jump turn on 45-50 degree terrain and it felt easier than it would have done on my usual Blizzard 105’s.
I then took the Scott Speed Guide to Greenland for 2 weeks, where we skied for 11 days. The first week was fairly wintry with powder at first. This got heavier as the week progressed. Visibility was also poor on the first day which meant I was in the backs quite a bit, perhaps more so than I might have been with my usual weapon of choice, the Blizzard Zero G 108. As I went through the first week, I got better at keeping in the middle of the ski but still found it difficult to skid and smear the ski.
The second week was much more springy in nature. By using a lot less edge than I might normally, I finally managed to ski the Speed Guide in the way I would like. I needed to back the edge angle off and compress more in the final 25% of the turn. Once I’d got this dialed, they felt like a good ski for my style of skiing.
The Scott Speed Guide is a super light performance ski that’s easy to work with. I could consider these, but would like to check them out in deeper soft snow, as I’m wary of anything less than 100mm. Perfect for firm spring conditions and touring.
Völkl VTA 98
It’s very light and looks long somehow. This might be to do with the graphics on the top sheet, which aren’t very appealing.
I used the Völkl VTA 98’s for a day in Les Contamines. We warmed up on piste and then skied the south face of the Aiguille Croche followed by a tour towards the Col de la Fenêtre but doing a steeper variant couloir rather than the standard route. We had piste, spring snow, soup, bottomless soggy depth hoar and slushy spring snow to finish.
The initial characteristic I noticed was a tendency to chatter or judder at the end of a turn, especially on firm snow at anything more than about 20 degrees. To eliminate this I had to back off the edge angle and really flex at the end of the turn. Personally I think the tail is too stiff. One of my clients was on the same ski and I observed the same chatter when he was side slipping slowly on 35 degree hardpack, which was disconcerting for him.
I also had trouble engaging the tips at the start of the turn, and felt in the backs a lot more than I would with other skis. I wonder if this is due to the Völkl mounting position. I had a pair of Katanas some years ago and was advised by Mark Geere to mount them 15mm forward of the Völkl “mid point”.
Based on just this one day, I wouldn’t buy a pair of these.
My start point here is the Dynafit Radical ST. The original innovators of the pin binding now have many competitors out there, but this original version still works well. I had a few brake problems early on but once these were sorted, the bindings have been supr reliable and I especially like the option to flip the heel risers up and down, so easy you can almost do it without breaking stride.
The construction of these bindings feels super solid. They are light and have a no nonsense approach. Entry at the toe is easy and firm.
More than 50% of the time, the climbing step covers the pins. It’s not a big deal to flip it over.
Climbing, I never used the first heel riser position, but just flipped the lever over. Bending down to turn the heelpiece through 180 degrees is just too much hassle, especially after the ease of use of the Dynafit system or just flipping the big step over.
On my first day, I nearly lost a ski on a changeover from down to up as the brakes stayed up when I took my boot out. On closer examination, the wire wasn’t fully pulled out, so that was user error, but if I can do it then anyone can.
On day 2 I had to clear some snow off the heel of one boot. I went to tap the heel of that boot on the toe of the other, which was already in the other binding and locked in the Walk position. I hit the lever with my heel by accident and the lever went fully over past the normal Walk position. It wouldn’t go back by hand, so I tapped it with my ice axe and the lever broke off. My boot was therefore locked in the binding. I did the rest of the afternoon with it locked in the boot and, at the end of the day, removed it from the binding by kicking the heel sideways very hard several times.
There is an issue here, as I’ve never had that problem with years of Dynafit use.
I’ve dared to take a pair to Greenland on the Scotts, treated them gently and kept my fingers crossed. Nothing happened…
This season I’ve got more used to them and they seem fine.
It’s worth noting that when the skis are planted tails first in deep snow, the brake release mechanism can be de-activated. It’s a good idea to check that the brakes are deploying normally on a regular basis during the day.
This binding looks well made and feels very easy to get in to.
The heel risers aren’t as easy as the Dynafit system to operate.
There are definite problem with the brake locking button on at least one binding.
It jammed down after about 2 days use so the brake kept deploying when I was skinning.
On the other hand, the sliding plate to lock/unlock the brakes was very stiff to operate with my hands. I often had to use the tip of a pole to hammer the plate forward or backwards. On one occasion I even used my ice axe.
It was very warm during the test week with temperatures hovering around zero, so I wonder if there was some water ingress affecting the binding when it froze.
The Plum Couteaux system is great, much easier than Dynafit to install and remove.
The start point were a pair of Dynafit Vulcans. Here’s the original review that I texted to Mandy the boot fitter after the first day of try out at Les Contamines.
Unfortunately they’re now coming to the end of their natural life after 3 seasons of use and one resole. As per the product rule above – I should’ve bought another pair as of course Dynafit have gone and dropped them from their product range. Sigh….
Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro
The team at Concept have done a great job of fitting me out with some light shell stretching. The boot is stiff enough to drive the Fischers with a progressive flex, perhaps a little softer or less abrupt than the Vulcan. The liner is very comfortable, and the walk mechanism is external and easy to use. It’s lighter than the Vulcan so although the ski and binding are heavier, the overall weight per foot is 100 grams less. So far my feet haven’t been too cold, considering that the liners are still bedding in and we haven’t had and super cold days yet. Not having removable tongues to faff around with is definitely a bonus!
THE BOTTOM LINE
This season I will mostly be skiing on
Fischer Ranger 107’s mounted with a Marker Alpinist and wearing a Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro boot.
Thanks to the team at Concept Pro Shop for sorting it all out.
I can strongly recommend the team. Nico, Louisa, David and Mathieu know their stuff.