The number of ski brands, and our exposure to them via the internet, has exploded in recent years. How do you know which ones are the best?
It’s a tough call to make. Everyone has their own riding style, local ski hill, and favorite color. A few brands are currently at the top of their game and it’s hard to go wrong with any of their ski gear. Here are some of our the best ski brands with top men’s gear picks from each.
During the 1960s, Bill Kirschner worked for the family business, Kirschner Manufacturing, making plastic splints and animal cages. In 1961, his world changes forever when he used a pair of borrowed skis and made a lighter, livelier fiberglass version. By 1968, with help of a Seattle-based ski equipment distributor, Bill and his brother, Don, had created K2 and sold 21,000 pairs of skis.
Fast forward to 2019 and K2, now K2 Sports, owns K2 Skis, K2 Snowboarding, Line Skis, and numerous other outdoor sports companies. What started as an experiment on Vashon Island near Seattle in the ’60s is now a global outdoor equipment and apparel brand.
Cold toes while skiing is the worst. K2 and Therm-Ic have done something about it. With a heating element over the toes and a tiny battery pack hidden in the back of the boot, the Recon 120 Heat ski boot keeps your feet warm. The batteries last between four to 19 hours, depending on the setting. They charge in about six hours so you’re heading for (warmly) shredding the pow the next day.
The Pinnacle 95 Ti from K2 is the definition of an all-mountain ski. A layer of Titanol above and below the fir wood core dampens vibrations while keeping control accurate. K2 Konic Technology keeps the mass of the ski towards the edges where it’s going to impact performance the most.
Ski poles need to be comfortable and lightweight. The Power Carbon Ski Pole from K2 is both. It’s Rip Cord quick-release system makes it easy to adjust your strap length no matter what size of gloves you are wearing. The external Carbon Web laminates carbon fiber around the shaft making it lighter weight and super-stiff.
François Salomon started Salomon with his wife and son in 1947 making saw blades and ski edges. In their Annecy, France-based workshop, they focused on multiple kinds of bindings until 1979 when they introduced the SX90 rear-entry ski boots. The S9000 ski came in 1990, and by 1997, they had a full snowboard kit.
Today, Salomon is owned by Amer Sports and makes “the leading mountain products for the leading mountain people.” From trail running to mountaineering to skiing, Salomon focuses on innovative products that keep you fast and safe in the mountains.
One of the trade-offs for backcountry ski bindings has always been the choice of light or strong. If you want a strong binding, you don’t get lightweight. The S/Lab Shift MNC binding from Salomon aims to eliminate that choice. The pin-style toe attachment keeps things lightweight for walking uphill. At the top, the alpine-style toe piece moves into place and the burly heel piece to keep you locked in for skiing the steeps.
The QST 106 skis have been winning awards the last couple of years because they do everything. Updated in 2018, the QST 106 has a patented blend of carbon fiber and flax running across and down the ski with a basalt layer under the core for dampening. The result is a ski great for powder, groomers, and everything in between.
Whether you’re in the backcountry worried about trees or at the resort worrying about other skiers, helmets keep your head warm and your noggin safe. A lot of them are large and heavy though, stealing your energy away from skiing. The MTN Lab Helmet from Salomon is lightweight, comfortable, and certified for both skiing and climbing. The removable merino wool liner is easily washable. When it warms up in the spring, just add in the cooler summer liner.
In the 1950s when heavy wood skis were the norm, Howard Head brought his experience building aircraft fuselages to the industry. He began tinkering with lighter metals and plastics in skis and, after two years of breaking them, found a design that stayed together and made turning far easier. The Head Standard ski was born.
Everything about the Kore 99 skis from Head scream light and strong. The Karuba wood core fused with superlight graphene in the tip and tail is stiff and durable. The core underfoot is replaced with vibration-dampening Koroyd. The whole thing is wrapped with carbon in three directions. This is a ski that can hit the hardback but is still easy to swing around in the powder.
The strong and light theme continues with the Nexo Lot 130 ski boot. The plastic is infused with graphene, increasing its stiffness. A curved rubber GripWalk sole on the bottom makes it easier walking around. The LiquidFit ankle and heel areas can be heat molded to your feet in just 10 minutes.
Boots with GripWalk soles have to be mounted with specific bindings. The PRD 14 GW bindings can easily accommodate regular boots or those with GripWalk. The PowerRail between the toe and heel piece makes the adjustment for different boots easy. The Full Diagonal release makes sure your skis come off in a crash no matter which direction you’re heading.
Few ski companies have roots as far back as Völkl. Georg Völkl built horse-drawn wagons since 1875 in Lower Bavaria. His son, Franz, started making boats, sleds, and finally skis and called them Vöstras. Franz Völkl, Jr. took the company from his father in 1952 and modernized the whole thing.
In 1967, the brand released a striped abomination to the world called the Zebra-Ski and then started winning international ski racing in 1970. Later, 1994 saw the Völkl Snow Ranger, a heavily tapered ski for faster, smoother turns. Völkl remains focused on innovation and pushing the limits of technology in skiing.
Editor’s choice for all-mountain skis nearly everywhere, the M5 Mantras from Volkl can do anything you ask of them. Volkl lightened up the ski considerably by only including a frame of Titanol. The frame stiffens up the beech and poplar wood core and is just as good at dampening as a whole sheet. Ride anything from ice to deep powder with the M5 Mantra.
For touring or just travel, collapsible poles take up less space. The Touristick Vario CC from Volkl adjust for the terrain, your height, or just stuffing in the back of the car. CC means both the top and bottom portions are mainly carbon fiber.
If you’re heading off-piste and uphill, you’ll need skins to take you there. The Volkl skins have super sticky glue to stay on the bottom of your skis. A mix of natural mohair and synthetic nylon get you the best of glide and traction. More mohair up front leads to better glide on the flats; more nylon on the back leads to better traction going up. Be sure to buy the ones that are cut to your skis.
One of the oldest names in skiing, Abel Rossignol made the first Rossignol skis in Isère, France, in 1907 using his carpentry skills from a textile accessory business. The brands all-metal Allais 60s skis won the 1960 Winter Olympics and, in 1964, Rossignol introduced its fiberglass ski.
By the 1970s, Rossignol was the world’s largest producers of skis. Now it produces all sorts of ski and snowboard equipment and clothing, showing no signs of slowing down.
Skis are a contradiction. They need to be lightweight to be maneuverable but they need to be heavy to be solid and stable. The Soul 7 HD skis from Rossignol are both. Honeycomb Air Tips reduce the weight at the tip and tail. The Paulownia wood core is wrapped in a Carbon Alloy Matrix for better stability and edge grip. A durable elastomer in the rocker and camber zones help absorb vibrations so you can keep your teeth when the snow gets chattery.
The Allspeed Pro 120 boot walks the line between precision and comfort. The Sensor Blade shell wraps your foot closely to direct all the power into the ski. It’s easy to adjust the flex on the bottom to conditions with a little screw int he spine. Two different materials in the liner create support zones and comfort zones exactly where you need them.
Most ski companies specialize in skis but Rossignol makes just about everything. The Rapide Jacket is one layer that’s going to keep you warm and dry all day. It’s extremely waterproof and has PolyDown synthetic insulation inside. Lycra cuffs keep all that precious heat inside even when your gloves are off. A powder skirt keeps the snow out when you’re upside down in the snow. Your entire body will be sore but at least you’ll be warm.