2020-2021 Parlor Skis Cardinal 100

Parlor’s Custom Process

It’s always a little tricky to review custom skis, since (in the case of Parlor) you can work with them to get your own graphic, flex pattern, core type, camber profile, etc.

But as is usually the case with custom ski manufacturers, you needn’t be an expert on ski design, you just need to have some idea of what type of ski you are looking for, where you want the ski to truly shine, and where you are willing to make some performance compromises. You can start that conversation with Parlor by clicking here and filling out their custom fit process page.

But for this review, I decided not to have Parlor tailor a ski specifically for me, but to review their “stock” skis—the skis that they would take to a demo day—to get a sense of how soft or stiff, how demanding or easy they think a stock 185cm Cardinal 100 or stock 178cm Cardinal 100 should be.

Flex Pattern

The flex pattern of the 177cm Cardinal 100 I tested is softer overall than the 15/16, 180cm Blizzard Bonafide, and the 15/16, 184cm Volkl Mantra.

I’d call the shovels of the 177cm Cardinal 100 a ‘soft medium’ flex, and the tails a ‘solid medium’ or ‘medium+’ flex.

The 185cm Cardinal 100: solid medium shovels, stiff tails. (And in the tails, the flex pattern keeps stiffening up till the very end of the ski.) It’s not a meek flex pattern, but the shovels aren’t all that stiff—the 184m Volkl Mantra has much stiffer shovels—call it ‘stiff+’, and very similar (but slightly stiffer) tails that don’t finish as stiff as the 185cm Cardinal 100’s.

So really, it’s the tails of the 185cm Cardinal 100—flex pattern + tail shape—that make it more than a laid back, easy-going ski.

Groomers

As I’ve mentioned, this ski likes to carve. Given the lack of traditional camber undefoot, you can smear either the 177 or 185 Cardinal 100 around at pretty low speeds, so these skis don’t insist that you get your race face on.

But they’re cool with it if you want to.

The 177cm Cardinal 100 was easy to bend, and at my weight, was happy to make a variety of turn shapes.

I don’t really know how willing the 185cm Cardinal 100 was to make a variety of turn shapes, because it was too fun making big, fast, more GS-style turns on the ski so I didn’t experiment too much. Skiers much heavier than me (I’m ~180 lbs) may miss the lack of metal in the Cardinal 100, but I really didn’t—which I found impressive, since I often like the ride that metal provides, especially on a ski where I really care about its carving performance at speed.

Moguls

No mystery here, but you will like the Cardinal 100 more the less time you spend in the backseat in bumps, especially big bumps. And if you’re trying to ski slowly on the tails of these skis … other skis out there will be more forgiving.

But stay strong and forward, and the tails will be just fine in bumps—and you’ll have a better time carving these when you get back on the groomers than many “easier” mogul skis that have more tail taper and that are more willing to let you slowly slither through the bumps.

Steeps

Again, even though these are flat underfoot, those fatter tails are useful for digging in to wind-scoured steeps, and I never had any reservation dropping into very firm entrances off of Taos’s West Basin.

Slush

Ah, slush. Slush is pretty much the best. There is so much built-in suspension in the snow that most 100mm+ skis ride nicely in it.

Jonathan Ellsworth reviews the Parlor Skis Cardinal 100 for Blister Gear Review
Jonathan Ellsworth on the Parlor Cardinal 100, A-Basin, CO.

And while the Cardinal 100 doesn’t have a loose tail design, the spring slush around Taos and A-Basin pretty much meant that you could run more bases flat and pivot around at ridiculous speeds all you wanted on the Cardinal 100, but you could still also set the ski on edge and rail.

Open Bowls

Hauling ass down Arapahoe Basin’s Montezuma Bowl, I was pretty impressed by both the 177 and the 185 Cardinal. While I will almost always opt for a longer ski if all I’m doing is making big turns at very high speeds, the 177cm Cardinal 100 felt in line with both the 177cm Mantra and 180 Bonafide. All of these skis are on the more substantial end of the spectrum, and in open terrain, while I’d prefer the stiffer Bonafide and Mantra (and their metal), the Cardinal 177 was quite capable when going real fast.

And yes, the 185cm Cardinal provided a stability bump, which made the ski even more fun to rally.

Deep Pow?

While I didn’t get the Cardinal 100 in much of the standard cold, dry pow, I did get it in plenty of hot pow—thick, deep spring slush. In short, I don’t have reservations about the Cardinal 100’s performance in pow vs. other skis in the category. And the lack of metal of the Cardinal 100 only bodes well for its ability to plane up in fresh snow rather than tip dive.

Comparisons:

Volkl Mantra vs. Parlor Skis Cardinal 100

• 177cm Mantra vs. 177cm Cardinal 100

This one is close.

The shovels of the 177 Mantra are stiffer than those of the 177 Cardinal 100 I skied—but you can adjust that with Parlor’s custom flex process.

The Mantra has metal, the Cardinal 100 doesn’t. But the Cardinal 100 has a fatter tail. I can’t honestly say which of then will clearly be the better performer on very firm groomers because of those two differences, but I do believe that the Cardinal 100 will be less prone to washing out on really firm stuff, even without the metal bite.

Pow? I suspect it would be close to a draw, especially if Parlor does give the Cardinal 100 a bit more tip and tail splay.

Variable conditions at speed? I can’t say definitively yet, but if I had to choose, I’d pick the Mantra and its metal. But like I said, given the lack of metal and the not-burly shovels of the 177 Cardinal 100, I found I could push that ski quite hard.

• 184cm Mantra vs. 185cm Cardinal 100

I wrote about my surprising experience on the updated 184 Mantra in my review of that ski (and especially surprising given that the 13/14 184cm Mantra is one of my favorite skis of all time), but I’d have to say that I’d take the 185 Cardinal over the 184 Mantra for all situations other than skiing wide open terrain at very high speeds in variable conditions. (And still, I can’t say with certainty that the 184 Mantra would clearly outshine the 185 Cardinal, but again, I like metal in variable conditions.)

So yeah, if you offered me the 184cm Volkl Mantra or the 185cm Cardinal 100, I’d opt for the Cardinal 100. I found that the 184cm Mantra gave up too much quickness to the 177cm Mantra, while not providing enough of a stability bump to offset that lack of quickness…

• 177cm Cardinal 100 vs. 185cm Cardinal 100

… and that’s not how I felt about the difference between the 177cm and the 185cm Cardinal 100.

A/B-ing the two Cardinal 100s around Taos and Arapahoe Basin, the 177s offered a good mix of stability, quickness, and edge hold. The 185cm Cardinal 100 definitely felt more ‘game on,’ and when skiing hard and fast down the big bumps of Reforma, you don’t want to get lazy, or get in the backseat to allow those stiff tails to punish you, or to weight those fat tails and start getting them hung up on the sides of big moguls.

In short, the version of the 185cm Cardinal 100 that I skied wanted you to actually ski it with some power and precision, not just lollygag around.

Blizzard Bonafide vs. Parlor Skis Cardinal 100

The new-for-15/16 Bonafide is a very nice, solid ski. It looks great, it’s well-finished, it has an excellent flex pattern, etc. It’s great.

Still, I spent a lot of time A/B-ing the 180cm Bonafide against both the 177 and 185 Cardinal 100, and the Cardinal 100 kept up. As in, if you and I are out skiing, I can’t think of any situation where I’d be sketched out (or would just have a less fun time) having to ski the Cardinal as opposed to the Bonafide.

So a couple of obvious things to say: if you don’t like metal in your skis, then Cardinal 100. If you don’t like traditional camber, then Cardinal 100. Or if you find the Bonafide to be too stiff for your liking, then you can adjust the Cardinal and go with a softer flex pattern.

Nordica Enforcer vs. Parlor Skis Cardinal 100

The stock 177cm Cardinal 100 and the 185cm Nordica Enforcer have similar flex profiles (roughly: “medium” shovels, “medium/stiff” tails), though the 177cm Cardinal 100 has a slightly stiffer tail.

(The stock 185cm Cardinal 100 is much stiffer than the Enforcer, so I really think the more apples-to-apples, on-snow comparison here is the 177 Cardinal to the 185 Enforcer.)

What impressed us about the Enforcer was that, for being such a relatively easy, undemanding ski, you can push it quite hard. I.e., it has a fairly big top end for how easy it is, and how well it works at slow speeds.

While you can tweak the Cardinal 100 to be either a relatively easy-going ski or a pretty balls-to-the-wall rocket ship, that fat, flat tail of the Cardinal 100 means that I would be quicker to put a newer skier or a low intermediate skier on the Enforcer. But for edge hold on firm conditions? I’ll take the Cardinal 100 over the Enforcer, in large part because of its tail shape—the Cardinal 100 has less tail taper (and less tip taper) than the Enforcer.

Bottom Line

The Cardinal 100 is a very good all-mountain ski, and I was happy skiing both the 177cm and the 185cm Cardinal 100 against some of the best skis in this category.

Given how young Parlor is, that’s saying something.

But for those interested in the ability to personalize the flex pattern, graphic, camber profile, etc. of their 100mm-underfoot all-mountain ski, the Cardinal 100 begins to separate itself from the pack. And it will stand out even further if you like the idea of your ski being made in Boston, by a couple of smart, passionate skiers.

NEXT: ROCKER PROFILE PICS

6 comments on “2020-2021 Parlor Skis Cardinal 100”

  1. This is nearly a bang-on sidecut duplicate of the old Enforcer/Hell & Back, with a more modern camber/rocker line. I do love me some fat tails! I will be watching for a chance to try a demo pair, though that seems unlikely “out west”.

    Great summer reading. Best of luck to these guys.

    • Thanks, Tom. And funny – your bringing up of the Hell & Back really caught me off guard, because I never thought of that ski once while skiing the Cardinal 100s. Which to me, really is evidence that fat tail / reverse camber creates a distinctive ride.

      And now, with Parlor’s option for traditional camber, those pining for the Hell & Back will be able to Bring it Back.

  2. I skied the Cardinal at a Taos demo day last year, where I spent most of the day on my Rossi E100s. I compared the two skis at EpicSki, and here’s my post. Bottom line, I friggin’ LOVED the Cards.

    I skied Taos yesterday, where there was a small demo day going on. All the usual suspects were there: Rossi, Salomon, Volkl, etc… I was skiing my Rossi Experience 100s, which were about the perfect ski for the conditions, so I had no desire to waste my ski time by trying out a bunch of demos… Until I noticed the Parlor tent. I had never heard of the brand, but they billed themselves as custom, hand built skis — how could I pass up taking a pair out? (I’m a sucker for bespoke goods)

    Anyway, I opted for a ski that had virtually the same dimensions as my E100, so I could really compare two similar skis. (The model was called Cardinal 100 in a 178, r=19m). Well, to cut to the chase, the Parlors were the most exciting pair of skis I have ever been on, flat out. There’s been an ongoing discussion on this board lately about the difference between “lively” and “damp” — this ski was massively damp but had more “pop” out of a turn than any other all mountain ski I’ve been on. The edge grip left the E100 in the absolute dust — no comparison, and that’s saying quite a bit because the E100 is no slouch when it come to railing turns.

    The Cardinal is not for everyone — it is a very demanding ski that will simply not let go of its tail. But for bombing down crud, soft bumps, and other variable terrain, and then making hero arcs on groomers under the chair lift, I have never been on anything better.

    So, with that said, I want to give a shout-out to Parlor skis. Here’s there website . Apparently, for about $1,000, they’ll make you a custom pair, which is expensive but not ridiculous for what you get, based on my limited experience.

    As for my E100s, I’m still very pleased with their performance, and I still think that they’re the right ski for where I ski and how I ski, but when held against the Parlor, I’m afraid there’s no comparison…

  3. With regards to Parlor Card 100 with traditional camber… heard from them and they indicated that there is no slight tip rocker or tail elevation/rocker. I don’t know why but there must be a reason ? I do like a little of tip / rocker for initiation and release of turn.

    Maybe next year they will meaning 17/18

  4. Hey Jonathan, I listened to the podcast and chatted with Mark about the Cardinals. With the RIP ff the Xdrive 8.8, what would you think of the comparative top end performance if the flex of the Parlors was stiff thoughout? Ballpark?

    • Hmmm, interesting question, though it’s hard for me not to view the X-Drive 8.8 & Cardinal 100 as a fairly apples-to-oranges comparison. The X-Drive 8.8 is a GS ski that can be used off-piste on the feet of a strong skier. (Keep in mind that I only skied the 184 cm X-Drive 8.8.)

      The Cardinal 100 is a true all-mountain ski (that I would be more comfortable skiing across a broader range of conditions off-piste than I would the X-Drive 8.8) that you can carve the hell out of.

      On roughed-up, end-of-day groomers, I still think the 184 cm X-Drive 8.8 beats most / all skis I’ve ever been on. On the fatter end of things, I’d say the same about the 184 cm Head Monster 108.) I think with a stiff flex, the Cardinal 100 could fare quite well, but the limiting factor would be the weight and lack of metal. They would do “well / fine” … but they aren’t going to have the absolute-best-I’ve-ever-skied stability & top end of skis like the two I’ve mentioned. And no surprise.

      Then again, if we’re not really talking about absolutely raging, then don’t worry about the difference. And if we’re talking about off-piste stability at speed in variable conditions, there are *many* instances where I would rather be on the wider Cardinal as opposed to the X-Drive 8.8. I’d only prefer the 8.8s on steep ice and windscoured terrain.

      On clean, even-slightly-soft groomers, I would happily ski any of these skis, and would probably want the 8.8 or Monter 108 only if we were nuking down very steep, very firm pitches, where metal and more weight are your friends.

      And finally, to offer one very apples-to-apples comparison … I would rather ski the Cardinal 100 over the Rossi E100 in any & all of the situations your describing. Both skis have awesome tails. But I’ll take the Cardinal’s tip, where (unlike the Rossi) weight was not removed to help ease turn initiation. When we’re talking about top-end stability, I don’t give a damn about ease of turn initiation, and I see it at odds with that top end stability.

      Sorry for the convoluted answer, but I hope it will let you triangulate in on the Cardinal 100.

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