Thursday, March 13, 2014

Voile Charger Review: The Best Value in a Backcountry Powder Ski?

You can just see one of the skis in this picture.
I expected the 191 Voile Chargers to be a challenge to ski. I've spent much of the last few years on much shorter backcountry oriented skis and picked the chargers up for a great deal used in a really-to-long-for-me size thinking they'd be a fun ski for open slopes, powder days and high speeds inbounds. Instead I've found them downright playful and surfy. Mounted with Dynafit Vertical st's they have been a blast in variety of conditions both in bounds and out.

I swear they're in this one too somewhere in the cloud of cold smoke.
They are a joy to whip back and forth in tight trees and carve surprisingly well. They are a similar width to my 175 Black Diamond Justices (114 mm vs 111 mm)  but have much more tip rocker and a slightly tighter turn radius (25.4  m vs 31 m). At first I found this tighter radius a bit hooky but after adjusting to them and detuning the tip and tales a bit I've decided I like it. They are still on the long side compared to many skis but they seem to lock in carved turns better than the Justices. The chargers aren't particularly quick from edge to edge but make it easy to carve big arcing turns down groomers when you need to get back to the lift and can be made to make tighter turns with some tip pressure.

Meadows and glades. 

Of course it is in the soft snow where they truly shine.  Even on the lowest angle slopes they just skim over the snow. They are the perfect ski for the high avalanche danger conditions we've had this year, I'm able to have a blast in meadows and glades that would be too flat to ski on skinnier skis yet they are nimble enough to pick their way through tight trees or make quick small turns down a ridge line when the safe route demands it.

The Chargers on an inbounds day!
They also make short work of the variable windslabed conditions that can prevail on the upper slopes of our local ski area. They roll over the transition from surfing soft snow to edging wind slab and back with ease. They can get chattery at high speed on variegated hard snow but I've never felt out of control because of it. They are quite stable and I find myself straight lining chopped up heavy snow through the runouts at bottoms of runs just because I can. The tapered tips seem to just spear through the snow staying right on track.

Cutting through wind effected powder with ease at Lost Trail.
I cut some discount backcountry.com rebranded g3 climbing skins in 130mm xl skins for mine. This is a lighter weight and thinner nylon skin with good glide and I've found the combo quick enough on the up track. I've done a fair amount of trail breaking this winter and the Charger's big rockered tip just floats up to the top of deep snow, turning the chore from an off balance lurching huff to something that can be done with a bit of cadence and rhythm.   

Perhaps the most impressive thing is about the Chargers is that they are made from carbon fiber in Salt Lake City in the USA yet at $595 cost less at full retail than many comparable foreign made skis do on sale. As with any light backcountry ski the top sheet is thin and mine already had a few chips when I bought them used, but the bases and edges are holding up well despite a few rock and log strikes. Voile has really figured out how to make a great, lightweight ski on a budget. Someday I'd love to try the skinnier Voile Vector or rando race oriented WSP for spring and summer ski mountaineering style. 

Charger's breaking trail in their natural element.

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