Ski: 2015-2016 Atomic Automatic 109, 189cm
Stated Dimensions (mm): 135-109-125
Stated Sidecut Radius: 19.5 meters
Blister’s Measured Weight per Ski: 2,116 & 2,139 grams
Boots / Bindings: Fischer RC4 130 / Marker Jester (DIN 10)
Mount Location: Factory Recommended
Days Skied: 4
[Editor’s Note: Our review was conducted on the 14/15 Automatic, which was not changed for 15/16, except for the graphics.]
The Atomic Automatic has been around for two full seasons now, and our review of the 186cm Automatic is one of the most popular on Blister. In short, the Automatic is a very easy, quick powder ski that remains surprisingly versatile in variable conditions. As such, it accommodates a wide range of skiers, from intermediates to experts.
For the 2014-2015 season, two narrower versions of the original Automatic have been introduced to Atomics’ line: the Automatic 102, and the Automatic 109.
We opted to take the wider of the two new skis down to New Zealand, since the Automatic 109 represents Atomic’s entrance into the popular (and stacked) class of lighter, playful, ~108mm-underfoot skis—like the Rossignol Soul 7, the Line Sir Francis Bacon, and the Salomon Rocker2 108.
I’ve now put four days on the Automatic 109 in some pretty demanding conditions, the sort that tend to make you dial your speed back on even decidedly stiffer, more directional skis made to excel in variable conditions (like the new DPS Wailer 105, Blizzard Cochise, and Armada Invictus, which we’re also testing on this trip).
So the conditions we’ve been skiing have been far from favorable for a ski like the Automatic 109, but so far, I’m pretty impressed by what I’ve found, and I’m definitely looking forward to putting more time on the 109 to tease out its strengths against others in its class.
Forgiveness / Maneuverability / Stability
Our first couple days on snow were spent at Canterbury’s Broken River Ski Area, which has a number of short but fairly steep chutes off of its highest rope tow. Conditions in the chutes were generally quite firm, but the snow in them hadn’t seen as much direct sunlight as other areas of the resort, so it was still chalky and provided some good edge hold. In the three days we spent skiing Broken River, this area was the most useful in getting a sense for both (a) how forgiving and maneuverable the Automatic 109 is at slower speeds and (b) its stability at speed.
Though the terrain presented some bumps to negotiate, they were small and spaced far enough apart to let me make short, quick turns wherever I liked, and allowed me to keep the skis on the snow rather than having to air from mogul to mogul or pivot the ski around on hard ridges in the snow.
The 109’s shovels and tails feel like they have a pretty middle-of-the-road, medium flex to them; they’re not soft, and they’re certainly not what I would call stiff, or even medium-stiff.
This forgiving, even flex, combined with the Automatic 109’s tip and tail rocker, make the ski relatively easy to bend through any turn. The ski will not snap from edge to edge as quickly as something that’s ~ 98mm underfoot (or narrower), but for its width, tipping the Automatic 109 on edge, engaging its sidecut, and driving it across the fall line does not require you to make a very strong, assertive turn.
The 109s are happy to be skied from a more upright, balanced stance, but don’t require it. By comparison, a ski like the 190cm Salomon Rocker2 108 (which is actually 111mm underfoot), practically demands that you ski with a more centered stance, or else its tails will wash out, especially in firm conditions on steeper terrain. That is less true of the Automatic 109s.
At both low and high speeds around the chutes off the top of Broken River, I felt like I could lean into the shovels of the 109 with a more forward stance and still get some decent stability from the ski.
To be clear, you can’t drive the shovels of the 109 or rely on the support of its tails in the same way you can on a stiff, directional, all-mountain ski like the Moment Belafonte or Blizzard Cochise—the Automatic 109 sits in different class all together. But if you throw the ski sideways to scrub some speed, it will provide a decent amount of support—a little more than it seems like it should, in fact.
Again, for the sake of comparison, the Rocker2 108 is also surprisingly stable relative to how light and seriously playful it is, but I would say that the Automatic 109 is a little more stable and a little less playful—though it’s still quite playful in its own right. How much stability the Rocker2 108 will provide in firm, variable conditions depends, in part, on how balanced you can remain over the center of the ski, and how much of its drastically shortened effective edge you’re able to utilize.
The Automatic 109 isn’t quite as picky in this respect. If you stay light and balanced over the ski, you’ll get the most stability out of it at speed in variable snow while pressuring the edges heavily. However, if you do happen to lean over its shovels or get kicked back on the tails, it’s not set to fold up on you. Relative to how manageable the ski is at slow speeds, I’ve been a little surprised at how hard I’ve been able to ski it in such firm conditions.
Refrozen, Rough Hardpack
Apart from the firm, relatively smooth chalky snow we skied at Broken River, we worked our way through quite a bit that had seen some afternoon sun, but never really softened up (think bulletproof hardpack and with very shallow chunky, breakable coral fused to the top of it). Here, it was pretty easy to find the Automatic 109’s speed limit, though our reviewers who were on burlier skis like the Blizzard Cochise and DPS Wailer 105 weren’t steamrolling this stuff, either.
The Automatic 109’s shovels and tails aren’t stiff, so they began to flap around without too much speed, and when thrown on edge, the ski would get rattled and overwhelmed. Again, no ski feels wonderful in these conditions, but something with a stiffer overall flex and more effective edge in the tail would have been preferable.
Old, Sun-Softened Snow
While I’ve been surprised by how predictable and stable the Automatic 109 has been when going fast in firm, bumpy conditions (given how intuitive and easy it feels at slower speeds), I’ve also been pretty impressed by how well it’s done in some much softer but very sticky snow.
After a quick hike from the top of Mt Cheeseman to the Tarn sidecountry, we looked down a long, pretty steep pitch with some heavily sun-affected snow that had softened up a bit throughout the afternoon.
But the heavy, dense, snow hadn’t been warmed thoroughly enough to become uniformly soft and smooth, and it was beginning to freeze again at the surface. The Automatic 109’s tapered tips and tails did a really nice job of tracking through this grabby, sticky stuff as I cut turns down the face. Sometimes the tips of the skis would deflect or fold up a bit as I hit a denser area of snow, but in general, the skis held up better than I had expected. I was able to begin turns down the slope without the tips or tails hooking up too badly, and while I was careful to keep my speed under control, I felt comfortable enough to open things up quite a bit and make some fast, large turns down the face.