Ski: 2013-2014 Volkl Mantra, 184cm
Dimensions (mm): 132-98-118
Sidecut Radius: 25.8 meters
Actual Tip-to-Tail Length (straight tape pull): 183 cm
Blister’s Measured Weight per Ski: 2058 & 2071 grams
Boots / Bindings: Atomic Redster Pro, Nordica Patron Pro & Salomon X Pro 120 / Marker Jester
Mount Location: Boot Center / “0” Line
Days Skied: 12
The Volkl Mantra has seemingly been around forever, and it seems to be a ski that everybody knows. So why bother to review it?
1) Without question, the Mantra is a benchmark ski in the class of “all-mountain,” ~100mm-underfoot skis.
2) We keep seeing skis we love get tweaked when we feel like they were dialed, or discontinued when we feel like they were just starting to get attention. We’re sick of this.
But in fairness to the ski manufacturers, once a ski has been around for a while, it can become old news; everybody wants to hear about the shiny new products. And great skis either stop getting talked about, or never get the attention they deserve.
We love checking out the shiny new stuff, but we also want to help create an environment where companies get credit for dialing a product, then don’t feel pressured to screw with it just to drum up fresh interest.
If you’ve seen our Blister ‘Best Of’ Awards, you know that we’ve already paid homage to the Mantra. I don’t think the Mantra should change at all, and this review will try to explain why. On that note, let’s move on to reasons 3-5 for this review:
3) There are people skiing the Mantra who probably shouldn’t be—they’d be having more fun on something else.
4) There are people skiing the Mantra who think it rules in all conditions, which isn’t true.
5) There are people who have never skied the Mantra (and who have never considered skiing the Mantra) who should consider it.
So basically, I want to try to (a) locate this excellent ski that isn’t excellent at everything; (b) get some people who’ve never considered skiing it to reconsider, and (c) get some people who are skiing it to understand that just because this is probably the best selling ski in the universe doesn’t mean that it’s best suited for them.
And if I play my cards just right, it seems that I’ve got a good shot at ticking off every single Mantra-Lover or Mantra-Hater who reads this review. Only one way to find out…
What’s the Mantra For?
Volkl calls the Mantra, “One of the most versatile skis ever,” and goes on to say:
“The wide profile floats in powder, while the carefully matched early rise shape pulls into the turn and maneuvers in all snow conditions with ease. For good skiers who want a powder ski that you can also ride when the mountain turns icy, the Mantra is an easy decision.”
In my preliminary review of the Volkl One, I praised Volkl for their accurate description of that new ski. But this description of the Mantra feels either wrong, or like it will require a lot of asterisks and qualifiers and footnotes.
But before we get to those asterisks and qualifiers and footnotes, let’s talk about the Mantra’s flex pattern, shape, and camber profile.
The Mantra is stiff. But at my weight, at least (~185 lbs. / 83 kg), the ski doesn’t feel stupid stiff.
And while I happen to like stiff skis, the best and most noteworthy thing about the flex pattern of the Mantra, I would argue, is its consistency.
I’ve said it before: I’d rather ski something that’s either stiffer than I need or softer than I like if the flex pattern is simply consistent and progressive. Skis that abruptly transition from soft tips to stiff shovels (or go from soft to stiff abruptly in the tails) generally create a smaller sweet spot on the ski, making skiing a trickier balancing act. And skis with soft shovels but stiff tails feel like you’re riding two different skis, depending on whether you’re forward on your toes or back on your heels. No bueno.
In this respect (only), the Mantra reminds me of a much softer, very different ski: the LINE Sir Francis Bacon. The Bacon is much softer than the Mantra, and it’s designed to do different things than the Mantra (e.g., ski switch and trick). But it has a beautiful, consistent flex like the Mantra. And in that sense, both are predictable, “easy” skis to ride, and I really like them both, because I know what I’m getting—the skis don’t feel like they have a split personality.
Point is, while the Mantra may be stiffer than a lot of skiers need, I’m giving Volkl a hundred points for the flex pattern.
Shape & Camber Profile
This should come as no surprise: I really like the tip shape of the Mantra. 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 Mantra 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.
The 184cm Mantra has a rocker line that is 14 centimeters from the tip. When decambered, the rocker line is about 32 centimeters from the tip. (See rocker pics on the last page).
The Mantra has traditional camber underfoot, and that traditional camber extends far back, about 6cms / 2.5″ from the end of the tail. (For comparison, the 180cm Blizzard Bonafide has a rocker line that starts about 19cms / 7.5″ from the tail when the ski is decambered.
Speaking of that tail, I love it. No pintail here. And like the Nordica Hell and Back, 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.
Stable vs. Forgiving
But while the Mantra is stable, I wouldn’t call it forgiving. It was not designed to allow you to ski on your heels, easily making windshield-wiper turns at slow speeds (think Rossignol S7). If you do not like to drive your skis, there is very little reason for you to consider the Mantra, unless you are a very big person who would benefit from such a substantial ski.
But in general, if your preferred style is “mellow”—either mellow terrain or mellow speeds—then it’s probably best to look elsewhere, because the Mantra will probably feel like overkill.
All-Mountain (as in, The Entire Mountain, Not Just the Nicely Groomed Parts)
This is where I’ll make my most passionate case for the Mantra: it’s a ski for those who spend a good bit of time skiing off piste in firm-to-variable conditions. If you mostly stick to the groomers when the mountain hasn’t seen any fresh snow in a while, I won’t try to talk you into the Mantra.
But where I really came to appreciate the Mantra was at Taos last spring. The mountain was in a freeze / thaw cycle, and it happened to be a day when things didn’t warm up enough to get soft. Stauffenberg was shiny ice, and nobody was skiing it. I decided it would be a good test, so I headed up there … and ended up lapping it most of the day.
The steep entrance was windscoured clean, with huge moguls through the first quarter of the run. The moguls then mellowed out toward the middle of the run, where there was more ice that had been blown clean—it was conducive to big, fast turns, so long as you could maintain an edge. Stauffenberg then ends in a very fast runout through bumped-up terrain. (You don’t have to ski it fast, but it’s fun to.)
Through the steep, icy, big bumps with deep troughs at the top, the Mantra provided plenty of bite and a stable platform. Confidence inspiring. And actually, that was the story for the rest of the run, too. And that’s why I kept lapping Stauffenberg that day.
It’s also why I say that, the worse the conditions, the better the Mantra gets. The Mantra isn’t a “fun” ski, it makes skiing in tough conditions more fun.
More Evidence: Off-Piste, Variable Conditions
In low visibility during a snow storm in Canterbury, New Zealand this past August, the Mantra was totally predictable in ankle-to-boot deep pow, provided a stable platform, and offered no unwelcome surprises. I couldn’t see well, but I could stand on the ski and trust that the shovel wasn’t going to fold on me or buck me in transitions from soft to variable to ice.