On March 21st, I visited Stowe, VT and experienced a long desired demo with the Volkl Mantra (177cm). Sporting a Radius of 20.3 and a sidecut of 130/94/113, the Mantra is billed as ideal one ski quiver for those that enjoy front side and back side skiing. My opinion is that the Mantra compromises too much to be an East Coast quiver of one. Ironically, I found the ski was more akin to a wider Supersport in having excellent carving ability while lacking in the powder and tight turns required of East Coast tree skiers.
Prefacing my full review are my personal preferences, physical specifications, current quiver, and testing conditions. I stand tall at 6’1″ and tip the scales at 210 pounds. My build is athletic but not bulky and despite my size I prefer finesse to power although I am an ex-college racer that at one time preferred brute force. My favorite terrain includes all natural snow terrain but most specifically New England tree and glade skiing with a preference towards powder. I have the ability to carve serious arcs when powder is scarce and I can bash bumps with the best of them. My current ski quiver includes the Dynastar Legend 8000, Dynastar Intuitiv Big, and Volkl P50 Motion. Testing conditions included a bit of everything including groomers, wind blown hard pack, bumps, soft natural snow, powder, trees, etc.
I really wanted to like this ski. It is one helluva ski. It really is. And even though it was not the right ski for me, I recognized instantly the skis’ power and prowess. It is an interesting feeling being both amazed yet disinterested in a ski at the same time.
My motivation for this demo is seeking a fatter replacement for the Intuitiv Big which essentially has a similar tip and tail to the 8000 with a fatter waist (89mm). Not enough difference and the Intuitiv Big struggles in the trees as a tree powder ski due to limited side cut and a strong desire to straight line rather than turn. A great ski but I was hoping to find something a tad fatter with better tree performance.
No shortcoming of praise for the Volkl Mantra, this is one of the hottest skis on the market today. My worst fears were realized though that this ski seems to aim at being a one ski quiver. I already have a one ski quiver in the Legend 8000 and have no need for something that excels on the groomed. I find many fat ski reviews tend to focus on hard pack performance and it boggles my mind. I guess fat is the new mid-fat in the ski world, but I am keeping my 8000s, thank you very little.
Initial impressions of the demo began taking the ski down Perry Merrill to Nose Dive. After dialing in the groomer performance, I really opened these skis up. WAY UP. Nearly edge to edge, huge GS turns coming down Nose Dive and they were ripping. I was amazed as it has been a long time since I have tried a ski that handled the groomers so well. Not quite at the level of say the Volkl Six Star which is truly a formidable weapon on the groomed, but that same damp and beefy feel with that deep sidecut powering the railroad tracks. This was somewhat unexpected but not the aspect of the ski I wanted to be wowed by. It was one dimensional though on the groomed, it wanted big arcs laid on full sidecut edge and it wanted them fast. Certainly a great thing for the person looking for the one ski do it all quiver, but this was points off in my book because ripping groomer power might indicate less finesse and nimble aspects of the groomed. This is definitely a ski for someone looking to power and drive hard. That was me at one point, but I am dialed back into a more subtle style at this point.
Next up was some more hard pack into a bump line. No surprise as all other reports have confirmed this ski is terrible in the bumps. El Sucko. For a ski that would only get taken out on powder days and for tours, this might not be a problem and could be overlooked. But things bump up even on powder days, and I was hoping for at least a more mediocre performance but was truly let down in this performance aspect even though I expected sub-par performance.
Tight tree slots on packed snow was next on the agenda. I did not feel comfortable in tight slots trying to make quick turns. This is of course not the skis specialty, but I had expected better considering the ski is not excessively heavy. It just wasn’t swinging around right.
As an aside, I honestly think some of these issues could have been the result of the binding mount. The demo bindings set the boots at the boot center mark and from what I have read, 1-2cm’s back is standard for this ski. I found the skis had not enough tip and too much tail so I might have had slightly difference impressions, especially on the tight turns, with a better mounting point. One of my beliefs with ski equipment is mounting position is the most under rated aspect of ski performance and not discussed enough. I will blame the mounting point for some of my issues with the ski. Not all though.
Finally, into the powder. Yum, these skis enjoyed the powder. About boot deep often tracked up but occasional untracked. These skis just wanted to go go go. I couldn’t quite dial these things in while skiing in the trees. The ski had different instincts than I did, we were not on the same wave length. I appreciated the really wide tip and the feel of the ski on the soft powder but felt I was working for the turns. I don’t want to work for the turns while in the trees. I prefer a slightly more subtle, responsive, and nimble approach. While I was prepared to compromise on my approach somewhat with a fatter and heavier ski, I couldn’t quite get what I wanted out of the Mantra even on the powder where it excelled.
So my conclusion on the Mantra is the ski is amazing when it has the right pilot. Excels on groomers and loves powder. Terrible in the bumps and not impressive when tight turns are required. Really loved skiing steep natural snow chutes as it tended towards bigger turns. Would probably love this skiing in Tuckerman Ravine, Hillman’s, Gulf of Slides, etc. But in that aspect, it was on par with my Intuitiv Bigs which are softer and easier to ski in the woods and powder. Mounting point may have been a substantial issue as I really didn’t like the tail and wanted to have more ski in front of my boots. Mounting backward from center point seems like it should be standard for this ski. A damp ski that wants to be driven with power and authority that tries to be a one ski quiver for a powder lover that doesn’t fit in well while not doing powder or groomers. Great ski for the right skier, but that skier is not me.