The Theory has just enough tip and tail rocker to allow a little extra quickness and smear in moguls, without giving the ski a decidedly loose, slippery feel on edge. There’s just enough rocker there and the ski is narrow enough underfoot that flicking it edge to edge and pivoting it sideways is pretty easy. And at the same time, the Theory’s traditional camber and firmer flex give it a stable and supportive feel on aggressive, fall-line routes through moguls.
In short, I’d say the Theory feels very precise, intuitive, and confidence-inspiring in bumps.
I never complained about the Watea 96’s performance in bumps, but its flat tail is a little less forgiving than the Theory’s, so it can be just a bit more difficult to manage your speed on the Watea. If you get a little back seat on the Theory or make a weak turn in bumps, its tails may still release for you (without washing out abruptly), allowing you to get back on your line and keep your speed in check.
And even though it’s only 1mm narrower than the Watea 96 underfoot, the Theory does feel a little quicker edge to edge. I liked the Watea 96 for its responsiveness and energy, especially in firm conditions, but I think the Theory has a slightly better feel in moguls.
I’m still waiting to see how it compares to the Watea on groomers (see my Update section below), but I’m expecting the Theory to do very well there, too. The ski’s narrower width should make it quick edge to edge, and its firm, snappy flex ought to be a lot of fun through carves, requiring a little less speed to arc across the hill than the Watea 96.
Bottom Line (For Now)
The Atomic Vantage Theory has a supportive, energetic feel that lends itself to solid, snappy turns in firm conditions. These same qualities help make the Theory a great bump ski—it’s forgiving enough to make more manageable quick turns through any bump line, while still being stiff enough to remain supportive through more aggressive ones.
The Theory doesn’t offer the same level of stability in variable conditions as the Watea 96, and certainly not as much as a ski with a metal laminate core construction.
With a more conservative rocker profile, the Theory also doesn’t seem like it will float as well in powder as a ski with more tip splay, but this remains to be seen.
For now, I’ll say this: If you’re an upper intermediate, advanced, or expert skier with an athletic, energetic skiing style, and you spend a lot of your time in the bumps, then the $500 Theory is well worth a look. It’s easy to ski, and provides a pretty attractive blend of stability, predictability, and forgivingness.
Update – 12.11.14
I’ve now spent some time spinning some groomer laps on the Theory, and, in general, I’m not too surprised by what I’ve found.
To recap: the Theory wasn’t very stable or confidence inspiring in re-frozen, cruddy conditions. However, in bumps and on firm, smooth snow, what stood out to me about the ski was the even mix of stability, predictability, and forgiveness that it provided. With respect to how the Theory handled in bumps, I mentioned that it was “forgiving enough to make more manageable, quick turns through any bump line, while still being stiff enough to remain supportive through more aggressive ones.”
Basically the same thing can be said of the ski on groomers. The Theory’s ~20m sidecut radius doesn’t make it feel super quick, but it’s no slug, either. It is stable enough to let advanced and expert skiers enjoy making aggressive, high-angle carves (I certainly did), and yet I think it will still be accessible to intermediate skiers.
With a little speed, you can get some energy out of the Theory and bend it through a turn. It’s quite easy to get the ski on edge, but it isn’t so quick to pull across the slope that it feels like it’s doing all the work for you, or that pushing it through bigger, fast carves feels sketchy.
We didn’t include the Theory in our “Best Skis for Beginners” selections this year because I think it’s probably a little too stiff, doesn’t have quite enough rocker, and has a sidecut radius that’s a little long for a beginner skier. I wouldn’t say the Theory is “dead easy” to ski on groomers, but it’s not a bear by any means, either.
Furthermore, the Theory won’t provide the same kind of stability and confidence on roughed-up groomers as a heavier, stiffer ski with a metal laminate construction. The Theory is not a flimsy, wimpy ski, but it’s far from the burliest. If you are looking for a narrower (under 100mm underfoot), especially stout ski for ripping groomers and skiing variable conditions hard, I’d give Jonathan’s reviews of the Salomon X-Drive 8.8 and Blizzard Bonafide a read, and stay tuned for our upcoming review of the 88mm-underfoot Blizzard Brahma.
Although I’ve yet to ski the Theory on a powder day, judging from the time I put on it in thicker, softer, warm snow in New Zealand, I don’t think soft conditions are its strong point. There are probably skis in the same class that will do better in soft conditions, e.g., the Line Sick Day 95 or the Rossignol Sin 7.
A note on Mount Point
So far, I’ve only skied the Theory on Atomic’s recommended line, where it skis very well and provides a big sweet spot. On the line, I’ve been able to drive the Theory pretty hard from a forward stance, and yet, I haven’t felt like the ski demands this; you can ski the Theory from a more upright, less aggressive position just fine.
I am curious to move the mount point forward on the Theory and ski it like a more freestyle-oriented all-mountain ski. I feel pretty sure that its flex will make it a little too stiff to work as well as an all-mountain jib ski as the Nordica Soul Rider. But if you like a stiffer ski to spin on and aren’t trying to throw a lot of butters and presses, the Theory might be fair game.
The Theory is going to appeal to (a) intermediate skiers looking for a ski narrower than 100mm underfoot (i.e., that aren’t too concerned with soft snow or chop performance) as well as (b) advanced and expert skiers, so long as they aren’t expecting a heavier, damp feel optimized for cruddy conditions, or something that feels mostly like a race ski on groomers.
I don’t think I’ve yet been on a ski that I see as very comparable to the Theory. There are plenty of more demanding, directional skis out there that are ~ 95mm underfoot, and there are probably more forgiving, slightly more soft snow oriented skis of similar widths, too. But the Theory seems to sit in a class of its own as a ski that’s accessible, also rather substantial, and (not to forget) quite affordable.