Also see: Our 2016 review of Volkl VTA88.
In truth, I’m uncomfortable starting a multi-day trip on skis I’ve never skied — doing so is like hauling untasted mystery food to high camp on Denali. Sometimes you can get the second best surprise of your life, otherwise… What caused me to renege on such personal life rules is I realized while we were embarking on a big ski tour, we’d be hitting mostly mellow terrain, lots of low angle, time off for photography stops…and it would probably be wise for me to ski on gear from the folks who are helping me out with the trip. Fair enough. I don’t think I’ve ever skied on a pair of Volkl planks that were less than excellent, so full speed ahead.
Due to weather and snow cover, our trip in the Jotunheimen morphed into something different than the hippy pow-fest Stian had sold me on (he and the pro skier photo models ended up doing all sorts of terrain). But my personal version of the trip was still fairly mellow what with being able to pick my way down a few easier lines, as well as feeling no pressure to ski for the camera (which is pretty much impossible for me anyway on a pair of short, thin touring boards.)
In any case, the Volkl VTA88 is being promoted as another “one kilo class” light touring ski. My testers were a 170 cm, decorated with Marker’s take-the-world-by-storm freeride tech binding: Kingpin. To date I’ve used this rig for the Jotunheimen trip as well as four other days, several being big tours that truly worked the gear.
Let’s begin with the Kingpin. Other than being a bit heavy for the style of skiing I normally practice, they performed flawlessly. I never had a brake accidentally deploy in touring mode (something I’ve heard of but never experienced), no accidental releases at low release settings, toe pins did not loosen. Once or twice I wanted a way to switch to touring mode without removing a ski (which perhaps can be done with a few awkward moves, but not for me.) So, enough about Kingpin. They work. On to the skis.
The VTA88 LITE is exactly that, light. I have not verified exact weight of this particular pair, but no doubt the 170 cm length weighs near 1,000 grams each.
LITE is the carbon version branding. A non-carbon model is offered as well that weighs about 200 grams more. Also see our first coverage of these at Ski touring gear at ISPO 2015.
Dimensions of the 170 are 127-88-106 for what has become in my opinion the “euro” touring width. I’m not sure where I stand on that. I enjoy narrower planks when the snow is good, but find a wider ski is notably easier to handle in variable conditions or junk snow. Uphill on 88s with slick mohair skins and light bindings, however, is definitely fun and perhaps worth a bit more work on the down.
VTA is rockered at the tip but not at the tail. I found myself initiating my turns with assistance from the front rocker, but instead of a relaxed tilt and curve I found myself wanting to apply more power to the tails to finish the turn comfortably. I got used to this, but the feeling was definitely different (the stability of the Kingpin heel probably helped). This whole process was magnified in breakable crust, but not that big a deal in hero powder. Indeed, in soft consistent snow I loved the snappy energy and quickness of this carbon skinny stick, so no issues there.
Main scientific finding (just joking) was that a ski this lively, non-damped and has a speed limit. At least in my Atomic Backland boots with no tongue, I was most certainly “educated” by the VTA88 for exceeding lawful numbers on hard snow: the resultant chattering could have caused a binding pre-release or lost edgeset. Solution, a quicker edge-to-edge style (at slower speed) eliminated the skittering vibration, another factor showing these are most definitely a touring ski in the European sense.
Yes, I like white or light colored skis. In my experience they ice up less on top when used in cold loose snow conditions. Thus, I can’t complain about the VTA88 coloration. That said, they would perhaps shed snow better with a glossy finish instead of mat, but that’s just a guess.
During our Jotunheimen touring Stian and I spent at least 18 hours discussing ski top coloration (really, what other issues are there in life?). His take seems to be that what works best is condition dependent, and that pale/white is NOT the end-all-be-all. I’d tend to somewhat agree, with the qualifier that breaking trail in deep cold powder can be strenuous, and if a light colored ski is best in those conditions to prevent ice, then wider skis designed for powder laps should probably have the pale coloration. On the other hand, a black ski such as Volkl BMT is a plank you will enjoy in just about any conditions — in some of such situations it probably ices _less_ than a white ski (due to heating by the sun). So while I’ve indeed beat the drum about white skis, perhaps I should recant my fanatical position? Readers?
Other items: Note that just as the now famous Volkl BMT skis have the H shaped binding mount reinforcement, so do these. Result, only reliable binding mounts on the VTA will be wider footprint bindings. You can get away with fudging this a bit on the BMT due to it being an overall beefier ski, but I would not recommend trying to cheat the VTA (that pertains to user installed inserts as well). That’s sad, because this one kilo ski begs to be run with a brakeless ultralight grabber.
(One other thing about the ‘Pins: I did have to install heel adapters on my Atomic Backland boots. These worked flawlessly as well, even without the side screws. Nonetheless I don’t like the idea of modifying boots for what’s supposed to be a retail “stock” configuration of boot and binding. With that in mind, as the Kingpin is overkill anyway for a boot such as Backland, a better pairing would be Kingpin with a beefier boot having a DIN heel shape not requiring the adapter.)
I can STILL say I’ve never skied on a pair of Volkl skis that were less than excellent. Yes, VTA88 is a lightweight touring ski with a speed limit. Pair with mohair skins, it is a perfect ski for thousands of classic routes worldwide and I’d imagine will be quite popular once it goes to retail. Kingpin? Like I said, flawless.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.