Fatter shorter skis have revolutionized ski mountaineering — especially in Colorado. One of our biggest problems in this state is snow that may remain relatively unconsolidated through April, fully consolidates in May, but tends to melt off the big east faces by then. Hence, ski alpinists of yesteryear would try to get the big lines in May when their skinny skis would stay on top of the snow, but often failed because the snow would be sun hammered or patchy. It took a while to catch on, but the latest generation of ski alpinists appear to have figured it out: with modern gear and technique, late April might be the time for many of Colorado’s big descents.
(Don’t discount May, however. During a normal snow year, May can be a sweet time for the big north faces, has the most predictable avalanche danger, and is still the best month for classic corn skiing above timberline.)
Okay, fatter skis rule, but skinny “flaco” runts still have their place. Narrow skis are lighter, as are the climbing skins you use with them. More, compared to their gordo brethren, slim skis may feel quicker and have better edge hold on hard snow. Thus, toothpicks have their place. (By “skinny” we don’t mean widths of yesteryear, we’re just talking about skis that appear narrow compared to planks such as the Black Diamond Verdict or Atomic Kongur).
For our skinny guy in the “Fortnight of Planks” we’re listing the Atomic MX09. I’ve been out on this ski a few more times since my previous review, and still feel it provides good all-around performance in a lightweight and easily handled package. That said, my mission this winter was to downsize most of my skis to the 170 cm form factor. It seems that performance with shorter lengths is dependent on having some width, and I did feel my 170 cm MX09 could have used a few centimeters of extra length. But climbing is a joy with these lightweight sticks, so I wasn’t keen on adding length/weight (if you’re doing to do that, might as well use a different ski that allows you to stay short and go wider.)
Tuning the MX09 was interesting. I first used the factory bevel spec of 1 degree bottom and 3 degree sides, but found the ski too grabby and chatter prone on hardpack. I changed to 1×1 so the edge angle is 90 degrees, made sure the tip and tail were dulled a bit, and they now ski much smoother. Everyone has different tune requirements; for my soft boots and non-agro technique I need a different tune than that of a guy edging hard and rebounding from turn to turn. As I always say, if a ski acts funny, play with the tune before you give up on ’em. And by the same token, demand that magazine and web ski reviews test skis that have been recently shop tuned by an expert ski tech (not factory tuned), otherwise ignore their take.
Conclusion is to give the MX09 a demo if you’re looking for a lightweight setup. (After all, that’s what Atomic designed and built them for, and Atomic makes good skis). The MX09 has enough edgehold and performance to keep your smile turned up, and has a supple flex that works well in powder. But don’t forget the importance of width if you are skiing a mid-continental snowpack such as that of Wyoming or Colorado.
Weight is 45.8 oz (1298.5 grams) per ski, 170 cm
Dimensions: 106/72/97 (19 m radius)
Features: Fairly light, skin notch in tail protector, Atomic reputation.
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.