Kastle Off-piste Shootout: FX95/FX95HP/BMX105/BMX105HP
As you likely know, Kastle overhauled their entire lineup of off-piste skis this past year. Gone is the older BMX lineup, with great snowfeel but some turn radii that were a bit much for some skiers. The FX lineup has also been overhauled for 2016: the FX has moved away from “MX-lite” to a much more off-piste based design. For 2016, Kastle is building basically the same “last” of ski in several widths: the FX and BMX series are almost identical skis; compared side by side, they have the same layups, close to the same rocker profiles. The difference is mainly in the graphic: the FX being the Chris Davenport “ski mountaineering” line and the BMX being the “big mountain” lineup. The other main distinction is the HP and the non-HP versions of each model: HP has 2 sheets of metal, the non-HP does not have metal. The non-metal version of this ski basically mirrors the layup of the “old” BMX lineup (BMX98/108/118/128). Kastle therefore has one of the most complete “off-piste but not super wide” lineups around, in the FX85, FX85HP, FX95, FX95HP, BMX105, BMX105HP. This is a massive range of skis that will cover any condition, skill level, and skier weight.
Tested today are the FX95HP/BMX105/BMX105HP
Conditions: see video attached: 16” of fresh snow in the previous 48 hours, quite heavy, lots of wind-loading, heavy skier traffic from MLK weekend, and therefore heavy set up crud and small to medium sized bumps forming. Flat light conditions as well.
Skier info: see video attached. 5 foot 9, 155lbs, ski 15-50 days a year. This was my 2nd day on snow this season, so skiing a bit slower than normal due to conditions and lack of fitness and timing! 38 years old
Reviews and comparisons:
Kastle FX95HP: this is the “flagship” model for Kastle for 2016, as it is the most commonly sold width. 95mm underfoot is good for just about any condition; the tip and tail rocker is enough to get out of the way upon turn entry and exit, yet it doesn't feel disconnected from the ski as some rockered skis can. The flex on this ski is dialed; very balanced tip to tail: no spots in the flex pattern that don't seem to fit the rest of the ski. The tip is stiff enough to hold up in chop, but supple enough to not to “push back” in bumps and set-up snow piles. The flex, IMO, couldn't be better. Getting exactly the correct tip flex in a ski is an elusive skill: we all know of wider skis that have aggressive tips that seem to rail around on hardpack groomers. Once off-piste however, they seem to be constantly pushing the skier into the backseat, making driving the tip a real chore; almost asking the skier to revert to skidding and other poor defensive techniques.
The first thing I noticed about the FX95HP is that it tracks unlike no other ski I have been on in a long time: snow hugging, but not a damp noodle. It has a substantial amount of metal, but is anything but
“clangy” in the way some skis seem to ricochet off any sort of crud pile. The FX95HP will track exceptionally well, provided you use some ankle flexion to help absorb terrain. Tipping to turn isn't quite enough with this ski: it likes active feet, even just a bit. I found the best way to navigate the cruddy bumps on this ski was to use a combo of techniques: the aggressive tipping of the new inside ski; down-unweighting at the end of the turn, and a foot-pullback move. This really allowed the ski to go flat and to engage the rocker early in the turn, pushing it down and getting the tip working fully. Some skis with less rocker, such as the Monster series, don't require that pull back move as much; tipping will suffice. But on a ski with rocker, tipping won't quite engage the front of the tip in the same manner: pulling the feet back in conjunction with the “little-toe edge tipping” move is more effective.
The FX95HP, in the junky crud, stuck to the terrain, was forgiving, and had a very nice sweet spot. It is a considerably quick ski, but not as quick as the non-metal BMX105. Stability doesn't get any better, although the 181cm will ski a bit “short”. Compare it to a 177cm traditionally cambered ski: not in terms of stability; as the 181cm has as much beef as any skier will want. Rather, it doesn't have the “wheelbase” of a ski that is more than 176/177cm; the FX95HP is quite nimble but not overly grounded in the 181cm reference length. It's a great length for me, although for soft snow, I would gladly take this in a 184cm. Tracking is nearly perfect: in comparison to some stiffer all-mountain skis I have tried recently, it is down right silly in terms of how easy this ski is to get on edge. Another amazing feature of the FX/BMX lineup is that no one turn shape is preferred: if you go directly to a high edge angle early in the turn, it works with you. Like to let the ski run flat and slowly tip and edge? It isn't aggressive to find that new edge, unlike a lot of skis out there. It lets the skier decide the turn shape and style. The HP is also as good as anything in the market for that drift to edge turn, the one where the skier sets up the turn, begins to tip on to edge, and then counters the correct amount to load the ski before releasing. The “impact turn” as some would call it; this is the FX95's bread and butter.
In the mixed conditions I was utilizing the FX95HP, I couldn't have asked for more. Calm, controlled, smooth, easy, powerful; this ski can almost read your mind. I did venture out to a soft groomer, and the HP was decent. I wouldn't call it a carver, but it held up OK, with lots of energy, if you are willing to really get a big edge angle. At lower edge angles, it won't do much on groomers, and wants to drift. The tip has to be fully engaged to get the most out of it. The tail can pack a punch when loaded properly, no doubt. Still, this is primarily an off-piste ski. If you roam groomers for the most part, I would keep the MX series firmly in sight as the “holy grail” of a do-it-all with no compromise on hard snow ski.
BMX105: same ski as the FX95HP, but 10mm wider and no metal. First off, for those wondering about the width differences; in terms of edge engagement and quickness in those soft snow conditions, I couldn't tell which was which. Surely hard snow would lean more toward the 95, but this 105 was very, very quick indeed. Adding to the “narrow” feel was the light weight of the tip, and the ski in general: it turns in a hurry, and has very likely the “narrowest” feel of any wider ski I have ever tried. I would classify it as more of a “wider all-mountain” ski rather than a mainly new snow ski or a powder ski. I also compared it to a Fischer Ranger 108 the same day: the Ranger undoubtedly had the edge in tip float, but the BMX105 handled variable resort conditions in a superior manner. Look for a review shootout of of those skis soon.
The BMX105 was supremely capable: in terms of stability vs the 95HP, it lost maybe 5% of it's top end stability. Quickness was amplified by the light weight of the ski. It absorbed terrain even better than the HP; feeling like an upgraded BMX98. Very damp, just leveled undulating terrain and floated right over bumps. Quick onto edge, super precise once there, and will complete any turn shape you ask of it, with no predisposition to a certain turn shape or release style. The true definition of a hero ski. At my weight, not having metal in the ski was not a detriment. I wouldn't mind the extra stability, but by no means was I out-skiing the non-metal version of the BMX. Bigger skiers will want the HP metal; guys and gals near my weight have a decision to make. Trade off a bit of stability for extra quickness and ease of use, a larger sweet spot, and marginally better terrain damping? Or get the HP metal version and gain a bit of crud-crushing power and a stiffer, more snappy tail? Personally, I could go either way. In the video I linked, that terrain is best suited at my weight to a non-HP version. Above tree line, where I can really open things up, I would go HP all the way. Also, I do believe a skier will adapt to either one, and it would be impossible to make the “wrong” choice.
Kastle BMX105HP 181cm: same ski as the BMX105, but with 2 sheets of metal. Everything I said about the above 2 skis regarding turn shape suitability can also be said here; unlike some commenters, I don't prefer to hear myself talk endlessly, so please reference those notes. I did find the HP to have more top end, but also want to be opened up a bit more at my weight. It was just a touch less friendly in steep bumps; I had to ski cleaner, and engage the tip more aggressively. Definitely a ski that will strain at the leash just a bit. As smooth and terrain-leveling as any ski made however: it has more sweet spot than any ski in this performance category. If you find yourself looking for a ski that can handle tight terrain when asked, but also has the ability to magically transform a wide-open 35-degree crud field to groomer status and skiing speed, this is your model. If this were a car, it would be a BMW X6M: an M engine and M6 suspension+subframe, but with all-terrain ability and pure velvet glove luxury. Making a ski that is relatively easy to use isn't that hard: making a ski with a top end that would please any big-mountain freeride pro isn't too tough either. Marrying those 2 attributes into a friendly package that can please elite skiers is a skill that very few ski companies can pull off.
Overall suitability of each ski: this is a tough one, and completely subjective. It depends on 1) the skier's size; 2) the skier's ability; 3) the skier's typical terrain; 4) the skier's typical skiing speed. Starting off, if you ski really tight spaces and are a lightweight, look first at the non-HP models. If you are lighter, skilled, and skiing all turns fast, you could choose either. Looking for maximum top end and big turn ability? That calls for the HP. Bigger person that isn't skiing hobbit-sized woods all day? HP. Bumps? Non-HP is slightly better, but both are good. Less skilled big guy? I would look at the non-HP, you won't overpower it. Live for wide-open terrain at moderate speeds? It's a wash, the HP will track a bit better, the non-HP has the school-bus sized sweet spot.
There are enough nuances between these models to keep even the most passionate gear-junkie occupied for months, testing the various skis. I will follow up when I get more time on then. But suffice to say that Kastle has truly hit a home run with the FX and BMX, and now an off-piste selection to rival the MX. The MX, for what it's worth, is considered by many to be the best frontside and mixed-condition ski line ever made.