The Best Skis of 2020 Tested

Our staff brings you the top 7 performers of the year.

A downhill skier on a steep slope with blue sky in the background

A version of this story appeared in the winter 2020 issue of Uncommon Path.

We tested the year’s top skis so you don’t have to. Whether you’re just starting out or eating black diamonds for breakfast, you’ll find the perfect pair of planks in this guide.

 

Rossignol Experience 76 Ci / Experience 76 Ci W

Best for Beginners

Rossignol Experience 76 Ci and 76 Ci W skis

Learning how to ski—or tackling, say, the East Coast’s notorious ice—need not be an exercise in survival. In fact, with the right setup, it should be downright fun. Take the Experience 76 Ci from Rossignol, the most responsive ski in our test. “They are very reactive and will do exactly what you tell them to do,” says Quincy Young, a professional ski instructor in Tahoe, California. “You don’t have to be perfectly balanced on these skis to feel in control, which makes them the ideal first pair of skis to learn on.”

The Experience 76 Ci owes its nimbleness to a few key characteristics. First, its core of relatively soft poplar wood and stiffer ribbons of lightweight carbon, called stringers, make the ski easy to swivel. (It’s the same general formula used in the more advanced Salomon QST 99 and black crows Atris.) Second, it doesn’t have sidewalls, or layers of extra material (usually plastic) that cover the core materials of the ski. That means the Experience 76 Ci is light and more maneuverable for new skiers (but stronger riders may easily over-flex it). Lastly, the progressive sidecut—the ski’s hourglass shape—makes it a breeze to get on edge. All that adds up to a rig that newbies will enjoy. Buy here.

 

Bottom Line: Newer skiers will be happy with the super-responsive Experience 76 Ci, which comes premounted with bindings and ready to rip.

 

Specs

Experience 76 Ci with Bindings

  • Price: $499.95
  • Lengths (cm): 162, 170, 178
  • Dimensions (mm): 123/76/109
  • Radius (m): 14.5 (170cm)
  • Weight (pair, with bindings): 11 lbs. 4 oz. (170cm)

Experience 76 Ci W with Bindings

  • Price: $499.95
  • Lengths (cm): 146, 154, 162
  • Dimensions (mm): 123/76/109
  • Radius (m): 12 (154cm)
  • Weight (pair, with bindings): 10 lbs. 6 oz. (154cm)

 

Volkl Kendo 88 / Kenja 88

Best for Intermediates

Volkl Kendo 88 and Volkl Kenja 88 skis

It’s simple: This ski turns like it’s on rails. And our crew of testers thinks that’s what you’ll want to do with a ski like the Kendo 88 or Kenja 88: “It’s easy to find an edge and fun to hold it,” proclaims Jess Bernhard, a skier of 30 years and our news and features editor.

The race-car feel of the ski comes from its modern shape and layup. Like the Rossignol Experience 76 Ci, the Volkl Kendo 88 has an hourglass shape for easy turn initiation, but it’s burlier—built for going fast. It has a Titanal metal layer and thick, full sidewalls around the beech-and-poplar wood core that make it strong tip to tail and tough to over-flex. Our testers deemed it stable at speed in everything from hardpack to mashed potatoes, the gamut of conditions you might expect to encounter at a ski resort.

With its strength and edge hold, the Kendo 88—which has been an REI customer favorite for a decade now—would be a great ski for trying steeper inbounds lines or arcing bigger turns on blues. But its narrow waist and minimal tip rise mean that it doesn’t have the same float in powder as a wider and more rockered ski (like the Salomon QST 99). This one is best for the groomed stuff. Buy here.

 

Bottom Line: Frontside riders looking to level up will enjoy the easy turn initiation and strength of the Kendo 88 and Kenja 88.

 

Specs

Kendo 88

  • Price: $649
  • Lengths (cm): 163, 170, 177, 184
  • Dimensions (mm): 129/88/111
  • Radius (m): 18.6 (177cm)
  • Weight (pair): 8 lbs. 9 oz. (177cm)

Kenja 88

  • Price: $649
  • Lengths (cm): 149, 156, 163, 170
  • Dimensions (mm): 129/88/111
  • Radius (m): 15 (163cm)
  • Weight (pair): 7 lbs. 10 oz. (163cm)

 

Salomon QST 99 / QST Lumen 99

Best for Advanced

Salomon QST 99 and QST Lumen 99 skis

“So much fun,” one tester wrote on her feedback form. “So. Much. Fun,” wrote another. In fact, every review of this offering from Salomon included that word. So to what does the QST owe its extreme delight? The answer comes in its updated shape.

The Salomon QST 99 (and women’s QST Lumen 99) has been an REI customer favorite since it launched. This year, the fourth generation of the ski has a longer sidecut than previous models, which makes it easier to initiate turns—called “effective edge” in skiing parlance. The tips are also blockier, and with less taper comes better float in the soft stuff and more stability at speed. That all makes for a ski that our testers found super easy to turn both on- and off-piste. “They carve with grace and ease,” says Megan Michelson, a 35-year veteran of the sport and our contributing snowsports editor. “It was easy to get them on edge, and they felt equally at home on quick, slalom-style turns and huge, high-speed Super G turns.”

More good news for speedsters? The QST’s 99mm waist and poplar-wood core (which remain unchanged from previous iterations) and new cork inserts in its tip make the ride blissfully damp at speed. That said, if you’re still learning or not comfortable opening the throttle, the QST might feel big and clumsy. Buy here.

 

Bottom Line: Advanced riders looking for a one-ski quiver should look no further: The QST 99 floats fine, gets on its edge swiftly and loves charging.

 

Specs

QST 99

  • Price: $649.95
  • Lengths (cm): 167, 174, 181, 188
  • Dimensions (mm): 134/99/116
  • Radius (m): 19.4 (181cm)
  • Weight (pair): 7 lbs. 8 oz. (181cm)

QST Lumen 99

  • Price: $649.95
  • Lengths (cm): 159, 167
  • Dimensions (mm): 130/99/112
  • Radius (m): 19 (167cm)
  • Weight (pair): 6 lbs. 15 oz. (167cm)

 

black crows Atris / Atris Birdie

Best for Experts

black crows Atris and Atris Birdie skis

Savvy big-mountain skier in the market for some new boards? If you live in the powder-blessed West, the mid-fat Atris or smaller Atris Birdie may be the rig for you. Its wide shape and generous rise in the tip and tail help the ski plane effortlessly through deep snow, but a traditional camber profile and beefy core of poplar wood with fiberglass reinforcements keep it stable at speed and in choppy crud.

Better yet? The black crows Atris doesn’t sacrifice anything in the way of maneuverability, which is rare for a ski of this size. “It pivots on a dime,” notes Jonathan Greathouse, a sales manager for REI San Carlos in California. “Its playfulness will reward the modern freeride skier.” In other words, if you like slarving, buttering, smearing or any other slang-term-ing, you’re going to love the easy feel of the Atris. Credit the double rocker for the Atris’ quick pivoting and its relatively soft tip and tail for its nimbleness.

Though our expert-level testers didn’t have any issues with the Atris in subpar conditions or on groomers, the 108mm waist may not feel that versatile for more intermediate skiers. The Atris is best for the charger who’s looking for a fun powder ski to add to the arsenal. Want to try before you buy? You can rent the Atris and Atris Birdie from select REI stores through March. Buy here.

 

Bottom Line: There’s no better ski in this lineup for expert-level riders eyeing bigger lines, airy drops and deep powder.

 

Specs

Atris

  • Price: $839.95
  • Lengths (cm): 178, 184, 189
  • Dimensions (mm): 139/108/125
  • Radius (m): 20 (184cm)
  • Weight (pair): 8 lbs. 13 oz. (184cm)

Atris Birdie

  • Price: $839.95
  • Lengths (cm): 160, 169, 178
  • Dimensions (mm): 136/108/123
  • Radius (m): 20 (169cm)
  • Weight (pair): 7 lbs. 3 oz. (169cm)

 

Other Top Performers

 

Line Sakana

Most Fun

Line Sakana skis

Weird tail = weirdly fun. Similar to a “normal” directional ski (like the Rossignol Experience 76 Ci or Volkl Kendo 88), the 105mm-waist Sakana has a long effective edge for biting into hard snow. But by coring out the back end to create a swallowtail, Line improves the Sakana’s float in powder. The best-of-both-worlds design makes the surfy Sakana a great ski for playful riders who say things like “surfy.” “I bought the Sakanas for powder days, but I haven’t stopped using them even when the snow isn’t flying,” says one Breckenridge-based tester. “They’re easy to maneuver on hardpack and relatively stable at speed.”

 

Specs

  • Price: $749.95
  • Lengths (cm): 166, 174, 181
  • Dimensions (mm): 150/105/138
  • Radius (m): 15 (174cm)
  • Weight (pair): 7 lbs. 13 oz. (174cm)

 

DPS Skis Alchemist Wailer 100 RP / Alchemist Yvette 100 RP

Best for the Backcountry

DPS Skis Alchemist Wailer 100 RP and Alchemist Yvette 100 RP

Spend enough time at the ski hill and you’ll come to recognize the yellow DPS Wailers. Born in 2005, DPS Skis’ most beloved model has developed a loyal following of ski nerds who are willing to pony up for its best-in-class marriage of float, strength and weight. But at 112mm underfoot, it’s simply too much ski for most conditions. This year, however, DPS introduces a Wailer in a much more versatile 100mm width. Paired with the company’s premier aerospace carbon core (called Alchemist; buyers can select from three cores), the Alchemist Wailer 100 RP (and Yvette 100 RP) is an appealing option for advanced riders who split their time between the resort and backcountry.

 

Specs

Alchemist Wailer 100 RP

  • Price: $1,299
  • Lengths (cm): 171, 179, 184
  • Dimensions (mm): 132/100/117
  • Radius (m): 15 (179cm)
  • Weight (pair): 8 lbs. (179cm)

Alchemist Yvette 100 RP

  • Price: $1,299
  • Lengths (cm): 153, 163
  • Dimensions (mm): 122/100/111
  • Radius (m): 15 (163cm)
  • Weight (pair): 7 lbs. 4 oz. (163cm)

 

Blizzard Black Pearl 88

Women-Specific Pick

Blizzard Black Pearl 88 skis

Though we maintain women would be content riding any of the skis listed in this guide, there’s something special about a ski that has no men’s equivalent. The Blizzard Black Pearl 88 (an REI fan favorite for nearly a decade) returns with its same versatile shape and core, specifically designed to accommodate women, who tend to have lower centers of gravity than men. The ski’s traditional hourglass shape makes it easy to turn, while a fiberglass-and-carbon layer on the wood core gives it strength and stability—a dream for carving and laying into high-speed turns. Intermediate and advanced skiers who spend their time on-piste will love the Black Pearl 88.

 

Specs

  • Price: $599.95
  • Lengths (cm): 152, 159, 166, 173
  • Dimensions (mm): 127/88/110
  • Radius (m): 14 (166cm)
  • Weight (pair): 6 lbs. 9 oz. (166cm)

 

Methodology

Skis leaning against a wood panel wall

We sent 19 testers across the country to try out more than 70 ski models on- and off-piste. Every rider noted each ski’s pros and cons and ranked it on its carving, nimbleness, float and stability in each terrain type it was used. These are the best of the best.

 

Buying Advice

Narrower skis (like the Rossignol Experience 76 Ci) are more nimble, while wider skis (like the black crows Atris) float better. Beginners and folks who stick to groomed runs will prefer the easy handling and carving of skinnier skis. On the flip side, experts who venture off-piste will appreciate the stability of a wider ski at speed and in ungroomed terrain. Most skiers land somewhere in the middle.

If two models are listed, it means the ski is available in two versions: one slightly bigger or stronger and one less so. Sometimes the leaner version is specifically called a women’s ski, but really, it’s the same ski, just for lighter-weight riders. Women can (and do) ski on the burlier models and vice versa.

 

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Article by Maren Horjus. Maren Horjus is the at-large gear editor for REI’s Co-op Journal, Expert Advice and Uncommon Path, presently chasing powder and a humidity-free lifestyle in Boulder, Colorado. She worked as an editor at Backpacker magazine for six years and wrote some books before joining the squad. She thinks winter camping is underrated. REI member since 2012.

 

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