Ski: 2013-2014 Nordica Hell & Back, 185cm
Dimensions (mm): 135-98-125
Sidecut Radius: 21 meters
Actual Tip-To-Tail Length (Straight Tape Pull): 184.02 cm
Blister’s Measured Weight Per Ski: 2,056 grams & 2,060 grams
Mount Location: +0.5cm from Factory Line
Boots / Bindings: Nordica Patron Pro / Marker Jester (DIN at 10)
Days Skied: 7
Sometimes it seems that more and more skis are being designed by committee: a handful of marketing people, a couple of engineers, a few notes from several athletes. By the end, you’ve got a ski that has a bunch of talking points, but those talking points don’t necessarily add up to a design that works very cohesively.
But in my opinion, everything about the Nordica Hell & Back makes sense: the flex pattern, the tip shape, the tail shape, the camber profile, the tip rocker line, the amount of splay in the tip rocker, the whole bit. So I’ll talk about that and draw some comparisons to several other well-known skis.
A little hand flexing reveals that the tips of the Hell & Back are pretty stiff, though less stiff than the metaled-out Volkl Mantra (a ski I’ll be talking about a lot). The Hell & Back’s tips then transition to more of a medium-stiff flex in the forebody before stiffening back up through the tails with a beefier flex pattern than the tips. The Hell & Back is no noodle.
In comparison to the Armada TST, both skis have comparatively stiff tails and tips, but the TST goes soft pretty quickly down from the tip into its forebody. The Hell & Back doesn’t get nearly as soft as the TST through the forebody, and the transition seems less abrupt than the TST’s.
On a different note, the flex pattern feels a bit stiffer through the tip, forebody, and tail than the Moment PB&J and surprisingly similar to a three-year-old, well-worn pair of 182cm Moment Belafontes (that have possibly softened up a little bit after a lot of use and abuse).
Shape & Camber Profile
I really like the tip shape of the Hell & Back. Nordica positions the Hell & Back as a lightweight ski that can still charge. And if you want a ski to charge, then it often helps to keep the widest section of the tip close to the top of the ski. The Hell & Back does. With such a design, you’ll generally sacrifice a bit of quickness to skis that have heavily tapered tips (like the Armada TST, DPS Wailer 99, etc.), but you’ll generally gain an increase in stability and a decrease in tip deflection.
I also like the traditional camber underfoot—there’s a good bit of it, and it extends pretty far back to the very wide tail.
Speaking of that tail, I love it. No pintail here, it’s a big old fat tail that will serve as a great anchor in the backcountry (the Hell & Back’s tail has a notch for easy skin attachment), and, similar to the tip, the widest section of the tail is very near the end of the ski, giving the ski a good amount of effective edge, producing a very stable, un-skittery ride. Nice.
But it also means that the Hell & Back was not designed to allow you to ski on your heels, easily making windshield-wiper turns at slow speeds (think Rossi S7).
Initially, I was surprised to see how deep the rocker line runs into the forebody of the Hell & Back, but in another design decision of which I approve (especially when rockering a relatively narrow, firm-conditions-oriented ski), while the Hell & Back has a deep rocker line, it has only a modest amount of splay. In general, the skinnier the ski—and the more you want to preserve the ski’s hard pack performance—then the deeper the rocker line, the more subtle the amount of splay ought to be.
Look again at that tail … and that tip … and that camber profile, and guess what this ski is really good at?
Ripping the @#!& out of groomers.
On anything softer than bulletproof, I will put this ski up against some of the best 98mm carvers that I’ve skied to date, namely, the Rossignol Experience 98 and the Volkl Mantra. Given the metal in those skis, they feel more damp than the Hell & Back when those groomers begin to get bumped up, but in terms of pure carving performance, the Hell & Back is at least as fun, and easier to bend deeply than the Mantra or Experience 98.
These skis were not designed to drift or slarve turns, they were designed to maintain edge hold and allow you to finish your turns powerfully.
In high-speed, high-angulation carves, the Hell & Back would launch me out of turns into the next like I was being shot out of a cannon. They produce a ton of rebound. They were easier for me to bend than the metaled Mantra, so where I found myself making bigger turns and taking more time on the Mantra to really bend the ski, I could more quickly get deep into the flex of the Hell & Back, launching myself from turn to turn down the mountain. It’s a good time if you’re into that sort of thing.
But if you’re not, the skis are happy to take mellower edge angles and slower speeds to get you back to the lift. (But you’ll be missing out.)
Moguls (and Mount Points)
One of the biggest surprises for me is that a ski with a big, flat-ish, fat tail was as good in the bumps as the Hell & Back is. I never felt like I was getting my tails hung up in bumps, and I never detuned the tails at all, which I thought for sure I’d want to do.
(For that matter, I didn’t detune the Hell & Back’s tips, either. The factory tune on this ski felt perfect to me.)
The rocker profile and flex pattern of the tips allowed me to confidently drive the shovels of the Hell & Back in bumps without worrying that I would spear the tips into moguls.
There are certainly skis that have a lighter swing weight (e.g., skis that have a more tapered tip), but the Hell & Back never felt slow to me when zipperlining. It’s not the quickest ski out there, but I loved skiing these in Taos bumps, and I personally wouldn’t trade the tip shape just to quicken the ski up a little bit.
I did, however, move the bindings forward a bit—just half a centimeter—which had no adverse effects, but it also didn’t suddenly make this ski lightening quick. If quickness is a high priority for you, I think you’ll be fine going +1. I’m sticking with +0.5.
On a late-morning spring day at Taos, conditions on Castor were firm—Castor had been going through repeated freeze / thaw cycles, and things hadn’t yet softened up. The bumps were big and steep and firm.
The Hell & Back handled the conditions very well. Its tips felt a bit softer than the Volkl Mantra here, but the Mantra is a heavier ski with metal. The Hell & Back has no metal and is lighter, and I found them to be easy to negotiate the big, firm bumps. The tails never got hung up, and the ski stayed very predictable so long as I just stayed forward. And the shovels were stiff enough that I could stay forward without fear of the shovels folding up on me.
When talking about skis that can charge but that don’t kick your ass, we’ve talked a lot about the 108mm-underfoot Blizzard Cochise.
In the 98mm class, I’ll nominate the Hell & Back as a contender. You can push these skis quite hard (harder than other ~98mm skis like the Rossi S3, Rossi Scimitar, DPS Wailer 99, Armada TST), but you don’t have to. Just don’t expect to be able to sit back on your heels and simply slither around at slow speeds on the Hell & Back.
I found these skis to have a large sweet spot and very supportive tails. But if you do get too backseat on these, those tails will come to life. You can definitely ski these from a centered / neutral stance, or you can pressure the hell out of the shovels, but this isn’t a ski designed to lollygag around on your heels.