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Fantastic Four 

This quartet of versatile skis will help you have a good day in any conditions

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When you ask area ski shop owners and employees what their standout ski is coming into this ski season, the answer is unanimous. They all answered with a ski that was somewhere between 98mm to 110mm underfoot. In an industry where simplicity is celebrated, ski manufacturers have seemed to answer with an array of skis that all seem to be similar in dimensions and construction — but are in fact all unique, especially to those who ride them. Here are four standouts that will be on the shelves this season at your local ski shops.

Salomon Stella

(101-104mm underfoot, depending on length)

During a ski trip to Alta, I had the opportunity to test a pair of Salomon Stella skis. Utah was in an extended warm, dry period. I was a little hesitant, since the majority of the terrain I'd be skiing on would be hardpack, and the ski was measured at 103mm underfoot. As I cautiously made my way off the lift and immediately headed for a traverse, I wasn't able to get a good feel for the ski. As I made my way under Mt. Baldy and continued with a 100-yard side step, I was thinking, "Wow, I hope I like these skis." I was committed at that point. I made it to the "ski down" spot, caught my breath and made my first turn. I knew it was love right then — love at first turn.

Continuing down through the crud, every movement was made with complete confidence from turn to turn. The real test for this all-mountain diva was going to be the transition from the crud to groomer hardpack. It all came down to pure carving. The easy turning and quickness made me feel like I was on a much narrower ski. The perks of this ski are the stability of having 103mm underfoot, a rockered tip and a gentle-rise tail, allowing for more edge contact, which means stability. After the first run, I knew these were the skis I'd be finishing my day on.

Armada ARV Ti

(97mm-99mm underfoot, depending on length)

Armada is back at it again, taking the classic ARV and making it into a new all-mountain masterpiece. Micah Genteman, owner of the Sports Creel in the Spokane Valley, explains,"They've beefed up the chassis with titanal (an aluminum alloy), added the new AR rocker profile and completed the project with a comp series base that altogether will bring the slopes to their knees." Genteman skied the ARV Ti on a regular basis from mid-February though the end of the season at Mt. Bachelor, Mt. Spokane and Schweitzer.

Line Sick Day 110

The narrower version of this ski won Ski of the Year honors this season in Skiing Magazine. But locally, Genteman argues, the wider ski is a better choice. "Here in the Pacific Northwest, the 110mm scored incredibly high marks in all of the 'rigorous' preseason testing we put it through," he continues, explaining why this is so: "A directional twin-tip, with a perfect blend of camber, rocker and taper, combined with Line's legacy maple and aspen wood cores, make this an incredible ski for those off-road cruises, while still delivering a cleaving turn on the groomers and the skier-packed snow." Genteman had about seven skiers in total, all of whom, as he explained, "are deeply varied skiers in age and ski style. It scored one of the highest scores of every ski we tested!" They skied this 110mm-waisted beast on everything from "high-speed groomers on Mt. Spokane hardpack, some deep, late-season goodness at Schweitzer and a mixed bag of about everything at Bachelor," said Genteman.

Salomon Q98

(94mm-98mm underfoot, depending on length)

"You can't beat the versatility of a ski that is 98mm underfoot," says Rick Chatham of the Alpine Shop in Sandpoint. Chatham, part of the focus group for the wider version of this ski (the Q105, the Salomon Stella's brother), adds that the difference between the Q105 the Q98 is the "step down sidewall" construction that "makes it easier to carve, with a softer tip and tail than comparable skis. This allows for more purchase on the snow, which gives you more grip on hardpack conditions." Add the rocker tip with honeycomb construction, and this ski easily meets all-mountain challenges. Chatham tested these skis on a regular basis last season at Crystal Mountain and at the Northwest Demo event at Mt. Bachelor. ♦

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