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-Max 130 / Marker Jester (DIN at 10)
Test Locations: Whitefish, MT
Days Skied: 4
[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.]
Jonathan Ellsworth reviewed the X-Drive 8.8 FS a little over a year ago, and came away impressed. He calls it his current favorite “bad conditions” ski, and he’s reiterated that point in a number of recent conversations that he and I have had about the ski.
But while I generally agree with Jonathan’s characterization of the ski, I’m a bit less enamoured with it than he is, and I’ll try to spell out why in the hopes that you will get a better sense of whether your experience might be closer to Jonathan’s or mine.
The X-Drive 8.8 is, without a doubt, a stiff ski. I’m usually happy on skis that are at the stiffer end of the spectrum, but I was surprised by how stiff the X-Drive 8.8 really is. This isn’t to say it’s that much stiffer than a number of other skis on the market, but for (a) a ski of this width and given (b) the type of skiing that I’m realistically doing with it, I found myself fighting the ski in some situations.
In large part, I think I just don’t weigh enough to flex this ski properly. I weigh ~155 lbs, so Jonathan has around 20-25 lbs on me. I felt like I had to get going fairly fast before I could put enough energy into the ski to even start to make it do what I wanted.
Length (and More on Stiffness)
Jonathan did caution against going long with this ski, and said it is a ski that can easily be downsized. I’d agree with that advice.
I think I would have had a lot more fun on the 179—or even the 172 cm length. And to provide some points of reference, every other ski I use on a regular base is in the 185 cm range, so while I would happily downsize on the X-Drive 8.8, ~185 cm skis are my “normal” point of comparison. It’s also worth noting that I’ve thoroughly enjoyed some longer, stiffer skis in the past, so this isn’t to say that I always downsize stiffer skis. But on the X-Drive 8.8, I think I would.
Another reason why I think I haven’t been wild about the X-Drive 8.8 is that I’m not sure that it’s the best ski for a place like Whitefish, Montana, where I’ve been skiing it. Whitefish has a lot of tree skiing, it doesn’t have much alpine terrain, and it’s a relatively warm hill. So “bad conditions” at Whitefish most often include: refrozen chunder, or heavy, slushy glop, or some variation in between.
In these particular types of “bad” conditions, it was rare that I could get the X-Drive 8.8 up to a speed where I felt like the stiffness was an asset rather than a burden. But at a resort where there’s (a) a bit more room to let the ski run, or (b) more ice or wind-scoured slopes & steeps, I can see the X-Drive 8.8’s potential.
Short Turns and the X-Drive 8.8’s Sidecut
When I say I was “fighting” the 8.8 a bit, getting them to make short turns in any situation is the first thing I mean. And this was true when skiing trees, moguls, avoiding out of control children, etc.
I had trouble flexing the 184 cm 8.8 enough to make them go where I wanted to, and they’re certainly not a smeary ski. Of the stiff skis that I’ve enjoyed the most over the years, while all of them were stiff and damp, the ones I liked best had at least some ability to break the ski loose without a ton of effort. That combination allowed me to open the ski up and take advantage of its stiff flex, but also throw it sideways and shut it down when needed. On the X-Drive 8.8, I had a lot more trouble getting the ski to do that, even after some rigorous de-tuning of the tips and tails.
Despite some minimal rocker at both ends of the ski, they were decidedly disinclined to slide around in the high-moisture-content, chopped-up mank that’s typical of Whitefish’s “off” cycle. It’s noteworthy that in the context of ice and windscour, Jonathan found the X-Drive 8.8 to be pretty easy to disengage and slide / feather turns—but I didn’t get them into those sort of conditions. In all the conditions I skied, I found the 8.8 to really prefer locked-in carves.
And aside from the particular conditions I had them in, a large part of the reason for this, I think, is the tighter sidecut radius of the ski.
The inverse comparison that springs to mind is something like the old Dynastar Legend Pro (97 mm underfoot). With that ski (which had a much longer sidecut radius), I could pretty easily alternate between longer radius turns up on the ski’s edges, or shorter, looser, bases-flat turns when needed.
On the X-Drive 8.8, I had a hard time changing up the turn shape in chunky, tracked up, heavier snow.
I also found that if I let them run a bit and then brought them back across the fall-line to check speed, the tips felt hooky—they wanted to catch and spin me uphill, rather than gradually arc into a turn, or alternatively, smear sideways to check speed. And as I mentioned above, this issue persisted after some rigorous detuning of the tips.
To be sure, a lot of this has to do with the stiff flex. I think if I was either a much stronger skier—or if I simply weighed more—I might have had an easier time getting the ski to do what I want. But I also think the sidecut radius is a bit too tight for how I wanted to use these skis.
Looking back on all of the stiffer skis that I’ve liked, all of them have had a much longer sidecut radius than the X-Drive 8.8. For example, my now retired but still beloved Dynastar XXL’s are over 20mm wider at the waist, but have almost the same width tip as the X-Drive 8.8. And while those XXLs aren’t that much softer than the X-Drive, I had a far easier time skiing them at high speeds in chunky, cut-up snow (and in most other situations, too). Similarly, some other sub-100mm skis that had a reputation for being stiff crud busters were also a fair amount straighter than the X-Drive 8.8 (e.g., the Volkl Mantra and the aforementioned Legend Pro).
More recently, I’ve been spending a bunch of time on the Moment Tahoe, which is a fairly stiff ski that’s 96 mm underfoot. But unlike the X-Drive 8.8, it has a much straighter sidecut – it’s 8 mm wider at the waist than the 8.8, and 8 mm narrower at the tip. While the Tahoe doesn’t have the damp crud-busting prowess of the X-Drive 8.8, I find it much easier to make a variety of turn shapes.
To be sure, it’s abnormal for narrower skis to have a straighter sidecut. But when it comes to stiff skis that are good at going fast through cut up junk, I personally prefer a straighter sidecut, regardless of width.
As Jonathan reported, the 184 cm X-Drive 8.8 definitely likes to go fast and make long, arcing turns on piste. Given its dampness and stiff flex (and my weight), it felt pretty lifeless to me at anything less than around 40 mph. At lower speeds, I vastly prefer something like a 177 cm Volkl Kendo. On a ski like that, I can actually have fun laying trenches at more moderate speeds. (Go fast, however, and the X-Drive 8.8 comes alive.)
And on end-of-the-day groomers that are cut up and covered in random piles of snow, I would agree with Jonathan and can confirm that the X-Drive 8.8 is one of the best skis I’ve been on in recent memory. They truck through that stuff, and even plowing through lumpy snow at 50 mph, they’re rock solid. And on groomers, I’m much less concerned with the ski’s ability (or lack thereof) to check speed or make short turns.
But if we’re simply talking about hauling ass on groomers, I’d still take a dedicated GS ski over the X-Drive 8.8 – the GS ski will have better edge hold (largely since dedicated GS skis often tuned with more aggressive base and sidewall angles) and the better options are similarly unflappable. But the X-Drive 8.8 is a far more versatile ski, since it does well smashing through crud, too.
The 184 cm X-Drive 8.8 is an interesting ski because, while I didn’t really get along with it, I think it’s a very good ski for the right person in the right place—look no further than Jonathan, who really likes this ski for Taos. If I was quite a bit heavier, or if I skied the X-Drive in the 179 or 172 length, I think I would have liked it a lot more.
Ultimately, Jonathan is spot on that there aren’t many other skis at this waist width that are as capable all over the mountain, and not just on piste. I generally think of the sub-90mm waist category as being pretty dedicated to groomers, with maybe some moguls peppered into the mix.
But on the X-Drive 8.8, the vast majority of my time was spent off-piste. And even though it’s not my favorite ski in the bumps, or for plowing through chunder, or for billy goating through rocky chutes, the mere fact that I was even inclined to take it into those situations is a testament to its versatility.
When it comes to stiff, damp skis, my stated preference is towards skis with a much longer sidecut radius. They can be (when built correctly) every bit as stable when smashing through crud off piste, but I find them easier to feather and control than the X-Drive 8.8, and I like them better in moguls. But that straighter sidecut can make them a bit less interesting on groomers, so it comes down to a matter of prioritization: if you’re looking for a very substantial ski that’s not super wide, the X-Drive 8.8 is worth a look. Generally, I think that it’s bigger guys who ski fast and spend their time at places with more alpine and open terrain that will like the X-Drive 8.8 best.