Currently, the high end of race/free carve snowboard manufactures is dominated by Kessler, Virus, Coiler, SG, Donek, Volkl, Prior and Swoard. This review will focus on the first three and reference the others. Bindings from Bomber, F2 and CATEK, and alpine snowboard boots manufacturers UPZ, Head and Deeluxe will be reviewed later.
Thanks to the record breaking snowfall we are having this season it seems I did not need to bust out my rock boards. My old Volkl Renn Tiger and Prior, have more or less set, doing nothing other than collect dust. However, my Coiler, Virus and Kessler have been ridden vary hard in nearly every condition that exist. What follows is my thoughts of these boards, as well as an overview of the current crop of alpine bindings and boots.
2010/2011 Gear tested are:
Race/Free Carve Boards built for a 140 pound advance rider/racer: Custom Kessler 177 GS, Custom Coiler 178 NSR and Custom Virus 175 Tantalus II Evolution III.
Bindings: (all standard) are F2 Titanium Race, Bomber Sidewinder, CATEK OS2 and Virus Power Lock II.
Boots: UPZ RC10, Head Stratos Pro and Deeluxe Track 325.
Plates: Kessler K Plate.
All Mountain Boards: Prior 174 AWD and Nidecker 167 Proto.
Snowboarding has been around now for the better part of 30 years. However, it dates back even further, if one wants to consider the snurfer a snowboard. http://www.sbhistory.de/. For the most part, it is a new sport that is not new any longer. Yet free carving and racing seems new in the world of alpine sports, because of a revived interest in this type of riding, and advancements in the gear. The technology used to produce current alpine snowboard gear is a result of a few people, working day in, and day out, with rider/racer feedback leading to improving the gear year by year. Not a mega manufacture building gear for the masses. Without this committed devotion and passion, alpine riding might have vanished altogether. When I started riding alpine we had one of two choices of boots, mountaineering boots or ski boots. Crap plate bindings, that could, and would brake on any day of the week, and boards that were so stiff they would chatter your teeth out of your head, or so soft they, could snap if you looked at them the wrong way. There is nothing quite like the feeling of hearing a ping at 40 MPH, and knowing you now have only 1 of your 2 feet connected to a board, that is going to try to tear your connected leg off your body as you cart wheel down a run. Or worse yet off the run, and into the trees! More than once, I have found myself visiting the local ER. Several broken bones later and I am still riding, but now with gear I can trust.
I am not a professional writer, as I am sure it is clear in my writing so far. Nor a bloganator, who has nothing better to do, then post pointless info on forums and blogs. What I am is a snowboarder, skier, surfer and vert skater, who is very passionate about alpine snowboarding, with north of a 1000 days/10 million vertical feet in hard boots. Being not everyone can test every set up out there, and the simple fact, we are a small club, any info shared only helps the sport. This is the reason for this blog/review. All gear has been tested in multiple set ups, on multiple days, and in many cases back to back, on the same day, on the same runs, over the past 75 ski days. Any views or opinions are openly welcome.
Coiler Custom Race 178 (based on NSR).
What it is about the Coiler boards that has got so many people raving about them? Is it the 6 month wait? Or that the Canadian Olympic team used them, till they switched to Kessler or maybe the graphics? For the record, it is not the graphics. The graphics are in fact, the worst quality of the boards. I have a few Priors (another Canadian builder) that are a dream to ride, but have yet to get on a Coiler, till now.?In short, it is just plain fun to ride this board! Super trusting! Great at taking out chatter, from end of the day chop snow. One can relax on this board, and dust of speed without fear of hooking up. Works good in powder (just put your boots in walking mode) and you can get through the steeps, and bumps fairly well. It loves riding the fall line, and driving large radius turns against the fall line, and back and forth all day long. “Flex is aggressively stiff in the mid and rear with a sidecut that is GS oriented with that extra bit of forgiveness” It has glass like snap off the tail when wanted, but the Titanal construction provides that smooth ride that you can only love. Works great with all bindings tested, but for me the F2 bindings seem to match its torsional deflection best for free carving. It could be the best one and only board for the average to strong rider/racer, who wants to free carve on the weekdays, and get in the gates on the weekend. It is the most cost friendly board of any tested by nearly a 3rd, bang for buck maybe one of the best free-carve/race boards on the market! If it were made by Audi this is the A4. It is great fun, very comfortable, and easy to ride. Tons of snap out of the turn, and killer bang for buck. If you could only have one board, and are a fairly strong rider, for the money, you will be hard pressed to find a better ride.
Kessler 177 custom race…
On average, it seems half the top 10 riders in any given race are on Kessler boards. This is amazing! How can one board dominate so many races, over so many years? I asked around, and most riders I asked this question to had the same answer… “you just got to get on one and you will understand”. No one could give me a black and white answer. So I did and I do.
Kessler’s site states “No other snowboard has won more titles and medals worldwide. Experts rate highly the safe edge grip and first-class control of Kessler Shape Technology. It handles effortlessly and simply for both competitions and leisure carving on frozen pistes. Feel good from the first turn at every boarding level. You’ll love it”
The Kessler GS is by far the most trusting board I have ever been on! It loves to ride the fall line! It is fast, and you can free carve on it all day, but, it is a pure race board! In return, I have found, it is not the one and only board you can have. You can almost relax on the Kessler, but not much, it needs you in the middle or forward, as you go into your turn, and you need to press with everything you got to get out of it, but, it rides like a dream, if you ride it this way. As it is said, you ride the K on a Kessler, meaning you are driving this board hard on the nose. if you ride this way, it is the best, but if you ride this way I give you 10 to 20 big runs tops before your legs are totally spent. It absorbs chatter very very well! Edge to edge, it is very quick thanks in part to the reverse cambering or the nose and the board profile. Torsionally it is very stiff! This can make micro adjustments that we riders make a bit less available, and with a plate system nonexistent. In testing, when riding in a closed (roped off) runs were one can step on the throttle, there is nothing like it!
Its not a board you follow through your turns on with your back foot, while sitting in the back seat. But one you start the turn with your front foot 70/30, and, follow through with both feet 50/50. If you ride like you’re sitting on the toilet with arms wide open, reading the Sunday Times, this is not the board for you. It will hurt you! It will put you in the back seat, rolling the windows up and down frantically, as you try to gain control of it, as you fly off the run and into the fencing. I do not like it much in new snow or for that matter on anything even remotely soft. However it can find grip in bullet proof conditions better than anything I have ever experienced! For that matter, I can say three of the best runs I have ever had was on this board, with the K plate on it, on Gold Peak race course with ultra firm snow, that you could see your reflection in. You know the kind of stuff, that if you deck it in at speed, will see you getting X rays at your local hospital. Yet, my God, does it bite and grip. Each turn seems to gain more speed, till you have no choice, but to lock it up. Then you suddenly realize snow monkeys are grabbing your board, trying to pull your toe side edge into the snow, as you try to stop or dust off speed on your heal side edge. I have nearly caught my toe side edge more than once at speed, simply trying to slow up, before the maze. This is due to the fact, this combination is so torsionally stiff, you have zero board deflection, and no ability to micro-manage the ride. With board twist, we have a bit more control in these situations, however when a board twist in the apex of a turn we have less then idea edge contact with the snow. Hence in the gates, it shines! This board was build specifically for driving through rutted up parallel slalom courses. I absolutely love the Kessler ride, with or without the K-Plate, and now understand the statement ” you just got to get on one” Could this be my only board? Not a snow ball’s chance in hell. Can I live without this board? Even less chance! Without question, I found this board worked best with stiffer bindings like Bombers or CATEK; however, none of these is the choice of World Cup racers, their choice is my true and tested F2 Race Titanium. If Kesslers were made by Audi, this is the RS4 or V10 TDI F1. Not for the weekend rider, or budget conscious. But, a must have for any seasoned rider, looking for a top shelve board for their quiver, for race day, or firm snow hard riding days. “You just got to get on one”
On another note, the Kessler ski’s are quite something as well. I have two pairs, the performance carver, the Phantom, and the All Mountain, the Spirit that I have been testing this season. These skis are nothing short of a shit eating grin! If nothing else, they allow just for blasting by friends who know you as a snowboarder. You can drive near snowboard deep ruts on them with ease, yet vary stable at higher speeds. This all mountain ski, makes me wonder if I should grab a board, or ski’s? Of course, 9.9 times out of 10 I grab a board.
Special Thanks to Bola, of All Board Sports in Boulder for the Kessler ski’s and board!
Virus Tantalus II Evolution III
Have you ever been in a auto accident? I hope not, However if you have, you know the feeling, of metal contacting metal at speed. Here is another metaphor, firing a large caliber pistol, or dropping a glass on a tile floor. This point of impact is what the Virus Tantalus II Evolution III is like to ride. Every turn has a snap to it that is like glass hitting the floor or a hammer hitting a cartridge. It is the most explosive ride I have ever been on! I feel I could end this review on that alone, but there is more to this board then just its TNT snap.
Thanks to its 17.5 mm waist, it is questionably the quickest board edge to edge on the market. If you have large feet, the angle you will need might be so steep you get into unstable territory. For me and my 24.0 boots it is fine at 50/55 without any drag. This of course, allows for a lot of toe and heal pressure to be applied, so as to push the free carves to rib gage dragging level, A funny thing about Virus unlike any board I have ever been on, they seem to want you at steeper angles, to ride the same as you might on other boards, at softer angles. I pushed mine a bit forward to 55/60, and the end effect is a ride that is wicked quick, side to side yet vary stable running full speed. Another thing I found is that this board excels in powder, steeps and bumps. I would not have guessed a skinny 17.5 waist could float, but it does, and punches through everything! It does not get hung up in soft bumps. It’s also my first choice for out of bounds extreme steeps. On hard pack, it holds nearly as well as the Kessler, but it’s got glass like snap off the tail, and metal like damping. I have no idea how Frank builds his boards, I just know for me if I had only one board this is it! But keep in mind I am a very aggressive rider, who at any moment, will be riding trees, launching off something into new powder, then a few runs in the bumps before I hike out of bounds for some extreme steeps. This after several morning runs on ultra firm snow in the gates. It’s not as comfy as the Coiler, nor as fall line trusting as the Kesser, but its close in both regards. The board rides great with all bindings tested, but for me the F2’s were the ideal match.
By far, the best do anything, at any moment, board I have ever been on! Sadly it’s the most expensive of the bunch, yet for my money, well worth it! If it were an Audi it would be the R8. It is crazy fast and light. A killer on a demanding track, that has few equals. Laguna Seca here I come, I mean chair 6 here I come.