2014-2015 Atomic Theory


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.

Will Brown reviews the Atomic Vantage Theory, Blister Gear Review.
Will Brown on the Atomic Theory.

What’s Left?

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.

Will Brown reviews the Atomic Vantage Theory, Blister Gear Review.
Will Brown on the Atomic Theory

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.

Bottom Line

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.


22 comments on “2014-2015 Atomic Theory”

  1. This ski seems pretty light and versatile. How would it do mounted with some tech bindings as a backcountry ski? Will you mount/try them in those conditions?

    • Hi Maciej,

      Probably not, but that’s not to say you couldn’t. I would hesitate to use the Theory as a touring ski, not so much because of weight, but because they skis aren’t going to provide great flotation, and will get kicked around in variable snow. To that end, if you’re going to be skiing fast and aggressively in the backcountry, I would recommend something wider, for sure, with a bit more tip rocker (both for breaking trail and for planing over wind and sun affected snow). Hope this helps you.


  2. Great informative review Will. Have you skied or do you have any plans to ski the Head Rev 98, the Alibi or the Atomic Automatic 102 ? I think the Automatic line is meant to be more soft snow biased than the Vantage line but I am curious to see how they would compare. You also do not appear to have any reviews on Head skis on Blister. Is there a reason for this ? thanks Ian

    • Hey Ian,

      I’m very sorry in being so late to get back to you – lots of comments to keep track of this time of year.

      You’re correct, we haven’t reviewed any skis from Head, mostly because we’ve been busy getting on skis from other brands that readers have expressed a stronger interest in. However, we are working on getting on some skis from Head’s REV and All-Mountain lines this season. Stay tuned.

      As for the Automatic 102, I haven’t skied it, but given what I know about the Auto 109, I think you’re right that it is more soft-snow oriented than the Theory, given more rocker in the 102’s profile. I would also guess that it’s going to feel a bit softer and more forgiving than the Theory, but it is slightly wider, and that could give the ski a bit more stability, so I might be wrong about that – it’s very hard to say.


      Will B

  3. From what I can tell, this ski appears to have been selling about $100-$200 below it’s direct peers, since its debut a few years ago. Is it a true under-the-radar bargain or is it decidedly lacking in some way, relative to its peers, that warrants the lower price?

    • Hi Steve,

      You’re definitely right – the Theory is priced very, very reasonably in comparison to other skis in its class. And honestly, I’m not sure why. It has strengths and weaknesses, like any ski, but it doesn’t seem particularly weak or especially under-gunned in any respect; the construction seems totally solid. The Rossignol Scimitar (no longer produced) is another ski that used to sell for around $500 as well, and it had a foam/wood composite core that (one would think), might have had something to do with the low MSRP. But the Theory has a full wood core. Part of the reason may simply be that Atomic sells a LOT of these skis and can afford to lower the price on each pair.

      They’ve told us it’s their best selling ski, and I believe it; I’ve seen it in most of the shops I’ve been in in the last few months, and I do think it’s a ski that many people can get on and enjoy, especially intermediate/advanced skiers and that ski ~10 days a year (which is the vast majority of the consumer market).



    • Hi Andres,

      I haven’t skied any of the Nomad line, unfortunately, but it would seem like those skis are even more on-piste oriented than the Theory, or other skis in the Vantage series; none of them have tail rocker. So for an upper intermediate skier, the Vantage series is, arguably, going to be better suited because the more rockered profile will allow for easier turn initiation on groomed snow, while still providing a good amount of edge hold. Skis in the Nomad line, I would assume, will be a little less forgiving in this way; they will require a stronger body position to be arced cleanly.

      However, all this depends a little on the conditions we’re talking about. If you’re dealing with really icy, firm conditions, than that extra edge hold that a ski in the Nomad series might be helpful to an intermediate skier; it will be more supportive and predictable in slick spots.



  4. Thanks, Will, for (yet another) insightful review! It is a direct product of reviews such as this on Blister that I have started thinking far more critically about my skis and my skiing. Today on the slopes I was thinking carefully about what forces I was exerting on the ski, and how it was, and was not, responding. And so a question: you talk about how quick the ski is from edge to edge, and imply that a narrower ski will be quicker edge to edge then a wider ski. I thought this made perfect sense, but then…. Here is my thinking: no matter how wide or narrow a ski is (even a mile wide!) as soon as you angulate your leg/foot, the ski will respond, more or less, instantaneously to correspond with this angulation. The wider the ski, the further the edges (and the rest of the ski) needs to move to effect the change edge to edge. This will mean the wider the ski is, the more work (in the physics sense) you need to do to make the movement, and the more inertia you need to overcome. But these are a function not of width per se, but of weight. So, all things equal (that is two skis with the same weight-per-unit-width), a wider ski will be slower edge to edge, but if my reasoning here is correct (and I may be speaking out of my hat, or in this case, my helmet, it would not be the first time!), a lighter ski, even if wider, should be quicker edge to edge. So, for example, the Atomic Theory is heaver then a DPS Wailer pure at the same length, and so (I think!) the DPS would be quicker edge to edge, even though it is wider (I have not figured out how side cut, and the fact that the forces you put on the ski are not equally distributed, may effect all this). In your opinion, does experience bear this out (you and others ski on many, many more skis than I do!)? I am just spending too much time reading reviews here? (well, I know the answer to that one!) Feel free to file this one under “eccentric question which merits no reply!)

  5. Hi Will,

    Really enjoyed the review! thanks

    I’d also be really interested to hear what you guys think of the automatic 102. I’ve skiied it and it felt really fun and nimble compared to the atomic panic (vantage series but at 87mm underfoot). I didn’t manage to get the automatic out in bad conditions and have a feeling the ski would perform less well than the thoery when the snow is firmer.


    • Hi Tom,

      Thanks for reading. I think you’re right; the Theory is probably the better ski on firm snow than the Automatic 102, but I would estimate the 102 will be much better in fresh and bumpy, chopped up snow. We’ll work on getting on the 102 this season, as well posting an update to my initial review of the Automatic 109 asap.



  6. This is an awesome ski my only regret is I bought it in 177 instead of 188. Size up if your buying it imo. I have Dukes on mine and tour on it but its great for up hill part but not so hot for deep powder. Still if you ski hard and fast doesn’t matter you can plough though most stuff.

    Does this ski similar to the 117cm automatic as I am thinking about getting a set for the new pure pow skis.

    • Hi Chalky,

      The Theory and Automatic are very different skis, and ski quite differently due to their difference in width, mostly. Of the skis in more of an all-mountain class (like the Theory), the Automatic 102 and 109 (which I’ve written an initial review of), are more similar to the original, powder-oriented Automatic.



  7. I have been enjoying the alibi for a few years now. It’s my favorite bump ski due to the same reasons you listed above, but the metal seems to make it a better ski when some speed is involved. I have skied both and feel it’s a more versatile tool. The tapered tips still will get deflected a bit in choppy stuff, so there still is a speed limit on those days.

  8. A few days after typing the above comment, I was enjoying a demo day. After a few skis I saw the theories sitting on the rack and decided to update my perception of the ski. Maybe it was a bad tune or a bad day when I tried them out a few seasons ago? Im not sure why, but they really impressed me this go around. I spent some time A/B the alibi and theory and decided I like the theory better. The 10% less rocker isn’t noticable when smearing, but is on edge in firm snow. It seems to be just as pivoty but with better firm grip. The less tapered tips weren’t knocked around as much, and the additional camber made it more poppy.

    I was skiing the 186 theory/187 alibi on very firm bumped up steeps on the north face and softer moguls with an inch of wind blown powder on the South. It’s definitely my favorite firm day/steep/bump and tree ski right now, and I think I’m going to apply my demo money to a pair the next time I’m up there.

    It seems like the alibi is more designed for days when I would be reaching for a wider or stiffer ski anyway.

  9. I’ve skied 30 days (Flumserberg, Switzerland) on the Theory this year in everything from great powder days, crud, hard pistes, mogals and the ski is just super in every condition. I can not fault it. I’ll never take my carving skis out again the Theory is so good on the piste. Even on tight steep black runs, so long as you initiate a turn fast with a good pole plant and shifting weight on to the uphill ski they just pop along on every turn.
    Before getting these skis I would have said I was an Advanced skier but the Theory has really shifted me into the expert category and I am pretty proud of a nice short turn and carving technique that the ski has opened up for me. As for 10-30cm of powder, just relax and let the ski rip.
    I’m 177cm and 70kg and was really worried that the 177cm ski would be too big for my size and weight as I often ski with my kids and for this an agile shorter ski is better, but in fact I would say it is perfect size for me. It could even be 3-5cm longer for me and it would still be fine.

  10. Hey guys, love the reviews! Very thorough and fun to read. Hoping to get your take on a ski recommendation as a daily driver for the east coast.

    A little background info, I’m a 6′-0″ 185 advanced skier with a racing background currently living near D.C. “Home mountain” is in WV. Past couple of years I’ve been riding my Fischer racestock slalom skis exclusively and now I’m looking for something to round out my quiver. Not looking to replace/replicate the feel of the SL’s. I’ll keep those for the really firm days or the days I just feel like ripping groomers.

    Really just looking for something that doesn’t feel out of place on groomers and can lay over an edge when I want to (not expecting race ski performance, but still should be fun on groomed conditions), but also has the ability to drop into the park, hit a few jumps, the occasional box/rail. And I’d also like it to be versatile enough to ski bumps/trees and the occasional light powder day (nothing very deep). And I’d like it to have enough width underfoot that I can take it to the northeast or the occasional trip out west and it can still hold its own (on something other that a big pow day).

    So far I think I’ve narrowed it down to the following, in no particular order:
    Blizzard Regulator
    Atomic Theory
    4frnt Gaucho
    Nordica Soul Rider

    I’m also somewhat considering these but fear they may be geared more toward the soft snow that we don’t always get here in the southeast:
    Faction Prodigy
    Volkl Bridge
    Rossi Scmitar
    Line Sick Day 95

    Possibly the K2 Shreditor 92, though it seems more geared toward freestyle/park than all mountain. On the other end of the spectrum, the Kendos and Brahmas look like nice skis, but probably aren’t playful enough for what I’m looking for.

  11. Kastle mx88 would be ideal, a fantastic all mountain ski with two layers of metal, very damp, super smooth, holds a great edge and will work in all but the deepest conditions. Powerful ski but with a big sweet spot and versatile, a great all round ski.

  12. I am a big dude, over 50, raced for years, but still want to rip it. I searched for a ski to replace my beat Volkl G4s for 2 years, possibly looking for something easier on these legs.
    Demo’d the Theory for 2 days in Summit County and WOW…..
    I felt like I was 30 again and had no trouble making the quick turns on the chutes of Copper or the ultra steep of A Basin. Trees were fun again.
    I do not know why, they should be soft, but they are not, they responded to my 290 lbs. at will and even made quick cuts when jumping cornices…just 3 footers though.
    All in all, I was/am thrilled and bought a pair for next season.
    I tried the Brahma’s (unresponsive), Rossi S (sloppy), and several Volkl’s…not as responsive as G4s.
    They also held speed pretty well, but I was not confident enough on them yet to bomb them at Mach 2.

    For an aggressive back bowl visitor who hangs alot on groomers…this is it.
    As mentioned, it is likely that you will need a pow ski…but that is why they made Pontoons

  13. Hey I have these in 177 and love them. I’m only intermediate level so carving skill limited but find these great with skidding turns.
    My question is I’m going to Japan in January and wondering if these will be ok for on piste and toward the back end of the trip taking them into some softer/deeper stuff.
    Would love your opinion. I’ve been reading up on the soul 7’s and armada tst’s as an alternative.
    What’s your opinion on their suitability for Japan. Hakuba to be exact.

    Cheers guys.

  14. I’ve owned a pair of Theory skis for a couple years now, and I just want to say that I think this review is absolutely spot on! I believe you’ve identified this ski’s strengths and weaknesses very precisely. This is a pair that really helped me advance from an intermediate to nearly an expert. The versatility of this ski really allowed me to push my boundaries along the way.

    Unfortunately, now I believe I need another set, specifically to counter this ski’s weaknesses. I think I’m starting to ski faster, steeper, and deeper than what the Theory’s are comfortable with.

    Would you have a recommendation for a ski that is more stable when the conditions are mixed and can handle deeper snow, but that responds similar to the Theory in the moguls?

  15. I bought these skis new…I worked at Kirkwood, grew up skiing A-Basin, Winter Park and Steamboat, pass since 1988 has been Squaw(Palisades) (as well as others) and these skis keep being grabbed by me and my kids. It is a bit crazy because we have a locker full of skis ranging from various Kastles (MX88’s included), Vokls, K2’s, Rossi’s, solomon, Head…. and my youngest son just asked me to set them to his boots… This was a better build than what was thought. We are not easy on skis and this has held up and you can beat them up. The top sheet has been great, but they do need to be waxed a bit. Cheers and keep your turns high and tight.
    El Sid

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