Ski makers at Atomic can’t help being obsessed with speed. They’re Austrian down to their toes, thereby imbued with a patriotic obligation to assist Austrian natives in winning World Cup titles. They’ve been very good at meeting expectations, delivering a horde of gold to Austrian athletes.
An interesting side development occurred on the way to the podium: non-racers discovered the amazing tranquility at speed that Atomic’s race-room skis exude.
At one ski area we frequent, hardly a racing hotbed, there is a knot of very fast, talented skiers who crush the groomers on Atomic GS sticks, and every one of them said “aloha” to their 50th birthday several seasons ago.
Point being, if you understand when and how to tip a ski, if you realize skiing is an active verb, you may decide, when conditions are firm, to pass over the entire flotilla of Atomic all-mountain skis and attach yourself to the nearest race model. We don’t review true (FIS) race skis here because we have too much respect for the coach-racer relationship to pretend we ought in any way to intervene, but if we did delude ourselves into declaiming on the subject, we’d tell you to try an Atomic.
On the race course, precision is paramount and compromise is unthinkable. In the freeride world of buttered turns, imprecision is part of the program, and some compromises better be made or the skier is in for a very rough ride. So when Atomic creates what we would call an All-Mountain West ski (or fatter shape), they tune the entire ski to be more amenable to broken snow. Atomic also has made a conscious commercial choice to offer competitive product for less, pricing most of their top off-piste skis several schillings below the competition. If you’re looking for good value in a very well made ski, Atomic is a sensible place to start your search.
We’ve been fans of the Nomad series since its debut several series ago. The Crimson Ti and Blackeye Ti have made frequent appearances on our Recommended roster, and this year Atomic upped the ante by adding their effective Carbon Tank Mesh to both skis.
So how come our 2016 results didn’t place either Nomad in the forefront of their respective categories? Simply put, the new Vantage series, also adorned with Carbon Tank Mesh, stole the spotlight from the Crimson Ti for all-mountain prowess, while the ungodly good Redster Doubledeck 3.0 XT overshadowed the Blackeye Ti as a carver. So apologies, Atomic: your newest models are so sensational, they make your previous best efforts seem almost lackluster by comparison.
The Vantage and Redster series especially impressed our men, but every Atomic women’s series—Affinity, Cloud and Vantage—slayed it with the women. Of the ten Atomic women’s skis essayed by our crew, the only ski not to make our Recommended cut was the Big Mountain Century 109, which hasn’t had much opportunity to be fairly tested in the low-snow years of the recent past.
In-depth reviews of 24 models—with key performance ratings ( ? ) and genre model comparisons ( ? ) —are in our member section
Redster Doubledeck 3.0 SL
Radius: 10-11-12m @ 165cm
Weight: 2530g @ 165cm
Like everyone else, we have no idea why Michaela Shiffrin is so preternaturally talented and unflinchingly poised, but we’re pretty sure of one thing: her equipment isn’t holding her back.
As with the Head iSL RD, to ski the Redster Doubledeck 3.0 SL is to fall in love, hard. One tester felt a 10-point scale couldn’t do the Redster justice, awarding it 11’s for rebound and short-radius turns, two traits that epitomize what makes race slalom skis such a kick to cut loose on.
As one would expect, this tiny-radius racer would rather scrub toilets than a turn and don’t expect it’s agreeable disposition to stay sunny if you drag it far off the well-groomed path. To describe all the technology in and on this ski would tax the patience of Job even he was a techie, but one feature bears special mention.
“Ramp Tech” ramps up forward lean under the heel when you ramp up the speed and start cranking turns. The ski can generate up to 10 degrees of tilt, propelling the skier’s mass forward and retaining a centered stance as the racer ricochets downhill. The skier has more control with less exertion, which is helpful when you’re battling ruts that would break the axle on a Humvee.
Redster Doubledeck 3.0 XT
Radius: 15.5m @ 175cm
Weight: 2470g @ 175cm
The new Redster Doubledeck 3.0 XT begs for speed, which it handles with the same enthusiasm and aplomb Bond displays when seducing the femme fatale from SPECTRE.
The invitation to floor it comes as soon as the Redster XT senses motion; “Trust me,” the ski seems to be saying, “and you’re gonna love what happens next.”
If you follow the Redster XT’s lead, you’ll let your feet spread further apart, tuck up your uphill leg and let the g’s feed the bottom of the turn. Whether you spell stunned “OMG!” or “WOW!” the way this stick stays stuck to hard terrain leaves every tester who tries it agog.
“It reminded me of my first time on Space Mountain,” scrawled an enraptured Alvie from Bobo’s, an erstwhile racer who still skis like one. The sensation of being on a roller coaster that is laying track just ahead of you is a particularly apt comparison since you’re going fast enough to be scared yet know the machine you’re on won’t ever fail.
“It never strays off course!” Alvie confirmed, but with this proviso: “Not for your non-technical skier.”
♀Cloud 11 XT
Radius: 13m @ 162cm
Weight: 1860g @ 162cm
Atomic’s Cloud Eleven XT was inspired by the Redster Doubledeck 3.0 XT, but it’s not a slavish copy or a softer replicate. Using the core of the Redster XT as its template, the Cloud 11 puffs up its dimensions to make a less tippy platform and further expands the width at tip and tail to augment its carving characteristics. The result is a ski that cuts a tight corner under a light touch yet laughs at speeds that make other women’s skis tremble.
If we were into minimalist reviews, we’d distill the Cloud Eleven XT down to “Power. Steering.” It epitomizes what this genre is meant to deliver: accurate turns in endless supply. It’s strong enough in a 162cm to not only support an expert male, but to thrill him with its security in turns both long and short, up and down the speed range (but mostly up).
Steph Humes of Jan’s, a solid skier of the sort everyone notices when she flashes by, put all she felt in the word centrifuge and compressed the Cloud 11 to 3 little words: “Ripping ladies’ ski.”
♀ Cloud Nine
Radius: 11m @ 156cm
Weight: 1710g in 156cm
If this category could be said to have a defining purpose, it would be to give skiers the confidence to ski better than they thought they could. Atomic’s Cloud Nine is well equipped for this assignment, for it’s made of equal parts of comfort and control.
Its unusual agility – no other ski in the category could touch its score for short-turn facility – is attributable to three main factors: a tiny waist, a nearly full-length camber line and a Densolite core that weighs a lot less than wood. The Cloud Nine gets its determination to grip hard snow from a sheet of Titanium, a performance boost that most models in the Women’s All-Mountain East genre aren’t armed with.
One of the disarming Divas who provide feedback for Willi’s described the women who would be the best fit for the Cloud Nine as “those who wish to build on their skill set and push into terrain that’s a bit past their comfort zone.” Another extolled the Cloud Nine as “everything the manufacturer says. It carves well, has good response and performs well at speed.”
♀ Affinity Sky
Radius: 14m @ 154cm
Weight: 1810g @ 154cm
Atomic created the Affinity Sky to fill a gap in their line between the Pure and the Storm, in the process making a model our testers preferred in some respects to its more established elder siblings. The Sky is essentially the ever-popular Pure with a wood core instead of the Pure’s “Cap Fiber” core material.
The upgrade in behavior makes a strong case that, at least when used with the Step Down Sidewall construction of the Affinity series, wood cores contribute a decided performance advantage. Even though the Sky uses the same early-rise baseline as the Pure, it felt slightly earlier to the edge and consequently quicker in and out of a short turn.
While the Pure remains an exceptional value, the additional $100 (@MSRP) it costs to ante up to the Affinity is a good investment for any woman who wants to broaden her horizons in terms of ability or terrain. Women who want even more terrain versatility should step up another rung to the Affinity Storm, but those who prefer faster reactions edge-to-edge should stick to the Sky.
♀ Affinity Pure
Radius: 14m @ 154cm
Weight: 1790g @ 154cm
As we’ve pointed out in each of the last two seasons, the Affinity Pure is one of the best buys in all of skiing. Like a lot of superlight skis, the Pure can’t cope with blistering speeds and heavy snow can slap it around, but if these boundaries are observed, little else will put the Pure off its paces.
As its 14m-turn radius prescribes – and it’s super scores for short and slow turns confirm – the Pure prefers to cool its jets and take its time gently embracing and releasing a sequence of tight turns. As long as it isn’t pressed into service as a dive-bomber or a trailblazer, the Pure is pure delight.
Not to be discounted is the degree to which all this appropriate behavior is discounted vis-à-vis the competition, as the Pure price (a penny below $500 in most American markets) includes a quality binding. Skiers who always keep it under control won’t miss what the Pure doesn’t proffer, but will get their thrills making short turns simple.
♀ Affinity Storm
Radius: 15.2m @ 159cm
Weight: 1520g @ 151cm
The Storm presides over the Affinity series, the bridge collection that spans the gap between the on-piste Cloud series and the wider-bodied Vantage women’s models.
As befits the head of her household, the Storm does the best job of blending the carving traits of the groomer-bound Clouds and the off-trail, anything-goes attitude of the Vantages. While it can’t quite manage an arc as tight as the Cloud Nine's, it has a much more open mind about where you might like to ski. Some skis in this category aren’t as interested in wandering off prepared slopes, but the Storm is built to handle the surprises that one encounters off trail.
Atomic didn’t skimp on the Storm’s stuffing, giving it a sheet of Titanal, a core made of lightweight woods and a Step Down sidewall that increases edging power underfoot. Solid enough for ice, slinky enough for moguls, rockered just enough to smooth out uneven terrain, the Storm tames whatever “weather” you subject it to.
A system ski (as are all the Affinities), the Storm comes with its own Atomic binding.
Vantage 85 CTi
Radius: 18m @ 181cm
Weight: 1720g @ 181cm
For 2016 Atomic focused their R&D effort on the all-mountain Vantage series, and boy, did the investment pay off. Atomic fiddled with how little expensive reinforcement might be required to stabilize a relatively wide, high performance ski in the previous generation of Vantage models; with Carbon Tank Mesh they’ve found the right formula. In combination with the 2.0 version of the Titanium Backbone, the grid of carbon fibers provides the strength and snap that makes the new series a tangible step up from Vantage 1.0.
The Vantage 85 CTI is not to be confused with the Vantage 85, which is the old Panic and therefore without Carbon Tank Mesh or Titanium. The plain-Jane 85 can’t hold a candle to the CTI, which is a stronger and livelier ski in every respect. Picking between the 85 CTI and the new 90 CTI, however, is not so simple.
The 90 CTI and 85 CTI are built the same, priced the same, rated the same for Power and Finesse properties and, after dozens of test runs, scored within one-hundredth of a point of each other for Finesse/Power Balance, a key metric of excellence. The difference boils down to geometry: the narrower 85 CTI can get on and off the edge quicker while the broader 90 CTI has better flotation in powder.
So the key to picking between the 85 CTI and the 90 CTI comes down to what off-piste conditions do you ski more often, moguls or powder? If it’s bumps, the agility and overall ease of the 85 CTI will make it the better choice.
Vantage 90 CTi
Radius: 17.8m @ 184cm
Weight: 1,820g @ 184cm
Of the three new Vantage models offered in the All-Mountain East category, the 90 CTI clearly out-performed its brethren in all-around aptitude for all-mountain skiing. Wide enough for knee-deep powder, stout enough to bash through cut-up crud, quick enough to carve on corduroy; there’s nothing the 90 CTI won’t do and do with relish on top.
The 90 CTI doesn’t ski fat, meaning one doesn’t notice a balk at the top of the turn while the pilot pulls the ski up on edge, yet when it’s plopped down in a pile of powder it performs like it’s in its native element. I had the blessed opportunity to experience this facility when I enjoyed one of the few powder runs of this execrable snow year when I happened to be essaying this model. No question I was in an ecstatic state and may have been smitten by any ski under the circumstances, but the 90 CTI nonetheless performed admirably, keeping the beat, holding the line, never letting it feel arduous. Sweet.
Lord only knows, not all runs are going to be powder. Perhaps that’s why Bob Gleason, chief of surgery at The Boot Doctors, called the 90 CTI a “good climate change ski.” It will make the most of whatever Nature provides. “It drives through bumps like Audi through curves,” Gleason observes, noting an attribute that isn’t shared by all skis of this girth.There’s little point to buying a ski in this genre if all one is going to do with it is swoop around on groomers. (A Frontside or Technical ski is better adapted to this purpose.) The Vantage 90 CTI is an ideal companion for anyone who’s bored with the bleak monotony of manicured slopes and is up for trying, well, whatever else is on the menu.
♀ Vantage 85 W
Radius: 15m @ 157cm
Weight: 1390g @ 157
The Vantage 85 W is an old girlfriend in a new outfit. Dressed to match the new Vantage line, underneath the topskin is last season’s Supreme, as light and playful as ever.
Clare from Peter Glenn in Atlanta was smitten, awarding it 5 exclamation points. “I loved this ski!! It took hold and showed me the way without over-powering! Not too heavy, not too light! It made me feel like a better skier than I really am!”
Clare’s concluding sentence encapsulates the feeling that a lot of women want from their next pair of skis. The Vantage 85 W has just the right amount of energy for women who want to explore more of the mountain and need a little encouragement from their gear to get them going.
Most of us don’t need much added motivation to save money, and the Vantage 85 W is significant contributor to this cause, often retailing for $200 less than the benchmark models in this category, earning our kudos for best value in its class.
♀Vantage 90 CTi W
Radius: 14.9m @ 161cm
Weight: 1600g @ 169cm
Atomic makes a full array of women’s skis, from skinny and slight to stout in all senses of the term. The Vantage 90 CTi W is of the second sort, a full-bore ripper that lays into the mountain as if it had stolen its boyfriend.
The things that make the Vantage 90 CTI W great are also its potential liabilities. “Titanal and carbon gives the ski liveliness but [makes it] harder to control in bumps and chop,” writes Kelli Gleason of The Boot Doctors. “It bucks you out of the turn, although it is stable,” she admits.
It attacks the fall line like Homer Simpson assaults a box of donuts, but ask it to back off the juice and it wants to know what for? Somehow the Vantage 90 CTi W knows that life is too short, so it wastes no time getting from the top of every turn – and every mountain – to the bottom.If this doesn’t sound like the most tolerant of rides, it isn’t. If the 90 CTi W were taking applications, it would be as selective as Harvard. But if you’re an A student, don’t you want all that hard work to pay off? As Kelli’s sis Galena contends, this Vantage is “powerful out of the turn → for advanced skiers only!”
Vantage 95 C
Radius: 17.9m @ 178cm
Weight: 1850g in 186cm
Atomic removed the metal elements from the Vantage 95 C in order to tuck it into a more aggressive price point, depending on the new Carbon Tank Mesh to provide sufficient support for high performance all-terrain skiing. As it turns out, the Carbon Tank Mesh performs above expectations, delivering plenty of energy in the turn transition.
The ability to bring some juice to the party at the end of the turn works as well for All-Mountain West skis in the choppy conditions one encounters off-trail as it does for Technical skis on hard snow. A lively lilt is the key to rhythm, and rebound energy is its source.
The raison d’être of this entire genre is to deliver more or less uniform (and excellent) performance across the full spectrum of snow conditions, so the skier never has to worry, “Do I have the right ski for today?” If you own a Vantage 95 C, the answer is always, “yes!”
If you’re looking for a great value – and if you’re researching on the Internet, you’re probably on the alert for a deal – you just found it. We don’t rate skis based on their price/performance ratio, but if we did the Vantage 95 C would be at the top of the list.
Our cast of very talented skiers were awe-struck by the performance attributes of the 95 C, showering it with praise normally reserved for much more expensive skis. “Lively yet stable.” “Easy turn initiation and holds well.” “Smooth and accurate on edge.” What else do you want in a ski? With a probable price tag in most markets of only $499, it’s a crazy-good cost/value relationship. As one tester summed it up:
“Price point vs. performance = amazing.”
Vantage 100 CTi
Radius: 19m @ 188cm
Weight: 1950g @ 188cm
In the fat-fatter-fattest line of new Vantage models from Atomic, the 100 CTI occupies the superlative position. Its girth, while noticeable compared to its more slender siblings, can’t mask its inherently lively nature; the 100 CTI moves briskly edge to edge compared to most other 100’s.
“It doesn’t feel heavy,” confirms Pat from Bobo’s, adding, it’s a “nice, stable ride with a smooth feel.” Lou from Sport Loft concurs, calling the 100 CTI “lively but not squirrely.”
The only qualm expressed by our test crew was the admonition to stay forward to get the best behavior. “Skis best from the tip,” suggests The Boot Doctors’ Gleason. Taylor from Peter Glenn notes the 100 CTI’s preference for a skier who can stay forward and drive it, penning appreciatively, “Pay attention and these will take you anywhere.”
Stepping back for a moment to look at the all the new Vantage line as a family, our test experience confirms what one might have forecast a priori: the 85 CTI has the best on-slope performance, the 100 CTI the best off-piste comportment, the 95 C is the best value and the 90 CTI is the most versatile all-around performer.
♀Vantage 95 CW
Radius: 15.8m @ 162cm
Weight: 1670g @ 170cm
Atomic’s new Vantage 95 C W isn’t one of the All-Mountain West genre’s strongest skis or it wouldn’t be holding down the final position among our Recommended models. But it has several redeeming qualities, not the least of which is its relatively low retail price.
But price alone won’t buy you a point on a performance-based test card. The Vantage 95 C W earned its place here on merit, with performance that raised the value quotient in the cost/value relationship. (An awkward way of saying you’ll get more than what you pay for.)
Galena Gleason of The Boot Doctors was impressed with the 95 C W’s all-around athleticism. “Perfect for Telluride every day conditions,” she wrote. “The lack of Titanium makes it more versatile. Winner, winner!”
The Vantage 95 C W works its magic without metal thanks to the new Carbon Tank Mesh that seems perfectly calibrated for strength and flexibility. Kelli Gleason’s card cut to the chase: “Money,” she said succinctly, adding only, “Great drifter yet stable @ speed.”
Radius: 16m @ 164cm
Weight: 1600g @ 164cm
Although Atomic’s Automatic 102 and Century 102 are male and female twins cut from the same cloth, apparent parity isn’t what it seems. That’s because the Century 102’s “Lite Woodcore” is a better fit for the lighter gender than it is for meatier men. “Playful and easy to maneuver for a small person,” wrote a petite test pilot from Telluride. “Being the smallest kid in the pack, it skates real well so I can keep up. Awesome one-quiver ski – big fun!” she enthusiastically concludes.
Equally adept at both short and long turns, the Century 102 will carve as accurately as any ski in the women’s Powder pile and plays around in the soft stuff with aplomb. The Century 102 is as well-rounded and even-tempered a performance ski as the genre as to offer.
Radius: 19m @ 185cm
Weight: 2190g @ 185cm
The only athlete’s signature ski in Atomic’s lineup since time immemorial, the Bent Chetler has built a large and passionate fan club. Now they all finally have a reason to get a new one, as last season Chris Bentchetler and Atomic concocted the most significant changes since the first innovative iteration appeared.
As if the original model weren’t smeary and playful enough, the long forebody of the latest Bent Chetler is rockered on both axes, so it’s both bent upwards and crowned like a boat prow. The 3D change in the baseline, which Atomic calls HRZN Tech, adds 10% more surface area, just in case a 120mm waisted ski isn’t quite buoyant enough for you. The additional curvature makes deep snow mindlessly simple to ski forwards and easier to throw into reverse and see how a prow works in the stern.
Radius: 19m @ 186cm
Weight: 2210g @ 186cm
With almost exactly the same dimensions as the Rossi Super 7, the Automatic 117 shares several other similarities with its French competitor, including a disdain for short turns, but at the end of the day the two skis don’t feel all that alike.
That both are in their heaven in three feet of fresh goes without saying, but while the Rossi wants to porpoise downhill with a lively disengagement between each arc, the Atomic wants to hunker down in the turn and blast a trench through whatever you position in front of it. While this Atomic does indeed make navigating off-piste conditions automatic, the level of facility one feels does depend on the pilot’s proficiency.
Which is a fancy way of saying the better the skier, the more probable it is he’ll appreciate what the Automatic delivers. Tapered tips and tails mean the Automatic 117 skis shorter than its dimensions, a sensation seconded by a long front rocker that keeps the tip from ever twitching into a turn. Surprisingly secure once one commits to the turn - it earned high marks for continuous carving despite the stain of a low grade for always being late to the edge - the Automatic is ever ready to smear, you guessed it, automatically.