Ski: 2016-2017 Salomon X Drive 8.8, 184cm
Available Lengths: 165, 172, 179, 184 cm
Actual Tip-to-Tail Length (straight tape pull): 182.6cm
Stated Dimensions (mm): 131-88-117
Blister’s Measured Dimensions (mm): 131-88-117
Blister’s Measured Weight per Ski: 2131 & 2141 grams
Stated Sidecut Radius: 19 meters
Core Construction: Poplar + Basalt Fiber + Carbon/Polyamide Laminate
Tip & Tail Splay: 57 / 18 mm
Traditional Camber Underfoot: 5 mm
Mount Location: Recommended Line (81.3cm from tail; -10.0cm from center)
Boots / Bindings: Salomon X Pro 120 / Marker Jester (DIN at 11)
Test Locations: Taos Ski Valley, Copper Mountain
Days Skied: 13
[Editor’s Note: Our review was conducted on the 14/15 X-Drive 8.8 FS, which was not changed for 15/16 or 16/17, except for the graphics.]
At first glance, the Salomon X-Drive 8.8 FS looks like a pretty traditional, straight-forward ski. It’s not fat, and it doesn’t have a weird camber profile, or a ridiculous amount of rocker.
But out of everything I’ve skied this past winter and spring, it’s one of the most interesting and most surprising skis I’ve been on, and I’m looking forward to getting a whole lot more time on it this coming season.
Four primary reasons:
1) It has a totally coherent, cohesive design.
2) Of current skis, this might be my new favorite “bad conditions” ski, a title that’s been held by the 13/14 Volkl Mantra. If you don’t like to slow down in demanding terrain and nasty, firm conditions, then you should definitely keep reading this review.
3) On a related note, while I will compare this 88mm-underfoot ski to a couple of other well-known 88mm skis in its class (the Volkl Kendo and the 13/14 Rossignol Experience 88), I kept finding myself comparing the X-Drive 8.8 to other 98mm-underfoot skis, particularly the 13/14 Volkl Mantra, not other 88mm-underfoot skis.
4) On another related note, this is the first sub-90mm underfoot ski I’ve been on that I would feel very comfortable heading into big, steep, off-piste terrain in firm / nasty conditions.
So now let’s flesh out those points a bit:
A Coherent Design
This might not sound like a big deal, but if you spent your entire winter and a portion of your summer on a slew of skis that too often don’t feel this way, I imagine that you, too, would get excited about this.
We often get on skis that very much feel like they were designed by committee, like some marketing people came in with a bunch of bullet points and insisted that a ski have qualities X, Y, and Z—regardless of whether X, Y, and Z actually make sense for this particular type of ski.
The X-Drive 8.8 FS definitely doesn’t perform like a product that got screwed up by someone in the marketing department. Salomon came up with a coherent design, then executed it perfectly.
There are no hinge points in the X-Drive 8.8’s flex pattern. The overall weight of the ski works very well with the flex pattern of the ski. And the rocker profile works well with the dimensions of the ski. In short, every element of this ski is in concert with every other design element of this ski, which again…see the first sentence of this section.
The X-Drive lineup & the X-Drive 8.8 FS
Salomon’s “X-Drive” lineup consists of three skis: the 8.8 FS, the 8.3 FS, and the 8.0 FS (those numbers = width in centimeters), and Salomon describes this category as “All Mountain Frontside.” And even if “All Mountain Frontside” sounds like a bit of a contradiction, it actually sort of works here.
Of the X-Drive 8.8 FS in particular, Salomon says that it “blurs the line between high performance frontside carver and backside shredder.” Yep, it does. And while we’ve all probably read a million product descriptions of skis that claim the same thing, this is the only 88mm-underfoot ski I’ve been on that actually does what the company says it does.
The X-Drive 8.8 has a subtle amount of tip rocker, and an even subtler amount of tail rocker. But for a “high performance frontside & all-mountain ski,” a very small amount of tip rocker goes a long way; same with an even smaller amount of tail rocker and tail taper.
So why are those details about the tip rocker, tail shape, and tail rise particularly interesting?
Flex Pattern of the Salomon X-Drive 8.8 FS
Because Salomon decided to make the 184cm X-Drive 8.8 FS a very stiff ski. They also gave it a very consistent, excellent flex pattern.
The X-Drive 8.8 FS is evidence that you can combine a very stiff flex pattern with subtle amounts of the above elements to produce a ski that can be pushed extremely hard (think 13/14 Mantra), without being terribly difficult to ski. On snow, I’d call the 8.8 roughly as accessible / demanding as the 13/14, 184cm Volkl Mantra.
(The X-Drive 8.8 has slightly but noticeably stiffer shovels than the Mantra, and the 8.8’s tails are decidedly stiffer than the Mantra’s. In fact, the 8.8 hand flexes stiffer than virtually every ski we’ve ever reviewed at Blister.)
The 184cm X-Drive 8.8 will ask you to be on your game. Like any ski in this category, it is not that tolerant of backseat skiing, but it will allow you to drive the shovels as hard as you wish. And the wonderful, consistent flex pattern creates a big sweet spot, allowing you to ski this ski from a more neutral position, too.
Bucking the Trend: A *Truly* All-Mountain 88mm Ski?
There’s been a tendency among ski manufacturers to make the flex patterns of skis softer the narrower their skis get. For example, the 13/14 Rossi E88 is much softer than the 13/14 Rossi E98; the 14/15 ON3P Wrenegade 102 is softer than the ON3P Wrenegade 112; the LINE Supernatural 92 is softer than the Supernatural 100, which is in turn softer than the Supernatural 108.
In other words, “88mm” has somehow come to be viewed as an “intermediate” width. I’ve actually seen that term written in product descriptions before—”intermediate width”—and heard marketing folks talk this way. But of course, that’s dumb. Serious race skis are skinnier than 88mm.
Again, the X-Drive 8.8 is not soft. Salomon has bucked this “intermediate-width” trend and built an extremely capable, damp, stable, powerful 88mm-ski with a very high top end.
I want more time on this ski to substantiate this claim, but so far, this is the first 88mm ski I’ve been on that I can go ski hard and fast in firm conditions everywhere at Taos. I described the 13/14 Volkl Mantra as a phenomenal bad conditions ski, and that’s very much how I think of the X Drive 8.8—the tougher the conditions and the steeper the terrain, the more this ski shines.
That’s why in terms of (1) its capabilities and (2) where I would be inclined to use it, the best comparison I can make is to the 13/14, 184cm Volkl Mantra—a ski that is a full centimeter wider.
Weight (or, One Reason Why This Ski is So Good Off-Piste & on Roughed-Up Groomers)
The X-Drive 8.8 is a substantial ski on snow, and surprise, surprise: it’s got some weight behind it.
For your consideration: our 13/14, 184cm-long, 98mm-underfoot, metal-having Volkl Mantras weigh in at 2058 & 2071 grams. The 184cm-long, 88mm-underfoot X-Drive 8.8 FS weighs 2131 & 2141 grams.
Admittedly, Salomon touts the weight-saving, honeycomb tips of the X-Drive 8.8 FS, but thankfully, the tips didn’t feel “light”—by which I mean “twitchy”—at all.
Another smart move by Salomon was that, since they decided to honeycomb the tip (whatever that actually means, in terms of the amount of material and weight actually removed), they didn’t also heavily taper that tip. In my opinion, you should pretty much never do both of those things on a directional ski that is supposed to hold up at speed, off-piste or on-piste. So if you’re going to actively lighten up the tips, then don’t taper them, too.
So the X-Drive 8.8 is an extremely stable ski, the most stable 88mm ski I’ve ever been on, by far. (Note: there very well may be some similar 88mm skis out there that I simply haven’t skied yet—e.g., the Kastle MX 88?—so I’m open to suggestions.)
The 184cm X-Drive 8.8 is definitely more of a GS ski than a slalom ski. If you enjoy noodling around on groomers or making a lot of expertly carved, tight turns at moderate speeds, there are better skis out there. But if you enjoy high angle carves while charging hard—even on (or especially on) less-than-perfect groomers, then this is about as good as it gets for a truly all-mountain ski.
On groomers, the X-Drive 8.8’s dampness reminded me quite a bit of the 187cm, 13/14 Moment Belafonte, which is a ridiculous comparison given that the Belafonte is 106mm underfoot. But I was never able to overwhelm the 8.8 at speed down roughed-up groomers.
And on super-sticky spring snow in Colorado (it was some of the stickiest, grabbiest snow I’ve ever skied) I very much appreciated the stiffness of the X-Drive 8.8’s shovels. When the snow would grab and I’d get jerked out over the shovels, skis with a softer flex pattern would have folded up and had me going even farther forward. That never happened on the X Drive.
I keep focusing on the top end of the 184cm X-Drive 8.8 FS, because I think this is where the ski is truly special and unique. But again, this ski is not a bear at slower speeds—you can finesse this ski—it’s just that at slower speeds, I imagine that bigger skiers will be happiest on the 184cm model (see the note on the next page about sizing recommendations).