Features, stories, and reported articles written by Julie Brown.

The Skis of the Year

From the 2017 POWDER Buyer's Guide

Published in POWDER Magazine (45.1) | September 2016

Allow me to make a few introductions to skiers in the powder union.

Hannah Victory stepped into skis for the first time at the age of 1. A few years later, she joined the ski team at Mammoth Mountain. Racing is how she was raised, skiing every day until 10 p.m. when the shuttle took her home. Her mom would pack her two sack lunches. Racing took Victory, now 29, across the country and Europe, to the U.S. Development Team, the Europa Cup, the World Juniors, and finally, to Big Sky, where she’s since retired from racing and stepped into another world of skiing—that of the local Big Sky ripper.

Wally Phillips, 36, also grew up bashing gates. He raced at Seven Springs, a ski resort near Donegal, Pennsylvania. His parents put him in rear-entry boots, which he promptly broke while skiing the mountain between training runs. That was the beginning of Phillips’ obsession with gear, which led him to Utah where he landed a job helping others find the perfect ski set-up at Backcountry.com.

Dave Stergar arrived at Big Sky in 1992. He worked the graveyard shift as a bellman at The Huntley, a job that freed his days to explore the mountain. He fell in love. Now, at 49, Stergar teaches science to seventh graders in Helena, two hours away. But he may as well still live at Big Sky. He spends every day off lapping the tram, skiing big runs like the Dictator Chutes in 10 turns or fewer. Stergar is an animal.

The other 30 skiers on the Powder Union have their own great stories. Jed Donnelly is a 37-year-old snowcat driver from Butte, Montana. Tyler Bradford, 32, is a California boy who skis bumps at Heavenly and has won the Ironman three times for most laps at Glen Plake’s Gunbarrel 25. Every skier on the Union has oriented their lives around being in the mountains. They are influencers in their community, selected to the Powder Union for their dedication to skiing and knowledge of gear. They are also the voices in this guide. 

Powder Week arrived at Big Sky Ski Resort the second consecutive year at the end of February. Every morning and afternoon, skiers were paired with a ski brand and sent to the mountain to get the feel for the next crop of boards. They provided their feedback on every ski they took out on the hill. The second largest resort in the United States, Big Sky offers all terrain imaginable, from blistering groomers to massive rock-lined couloirs to exposed fields of wind-blown chalk. It’s the kind of mountain that tests not just your equipment, but your skiing. 

The Powder Union gravitated toward skis with strong and durable construction, thick sidewalls, and trustworthy edges. Out of more than 200 skis, 11 rose to the top with positive reviews across the board. Those top skis are separated from another 55 skis that also won favorable marks, listed in order of increasing width. The skis selected in this guide are not for the faint of heart, nor the privileged who only go out when conditions are perfect. They are for skiers who spend their lives getting after it on steep, technical terrain every day. They are recommended by Victory, Phillips, Stergar, Donnelly, Bradford, and the other Powder Union members. They’re skis for the ex-racers, the diehard weekenders, the locals, the middle school teachers. For skiers just like you. —Julie Brown