2nd Look: Salomon X-Drive 8.8 FS

Noah Bodman reviews the Salomon X-Drive 8.8 FS for Blister Gear Review
Salomon X-Drive 8.8 FS

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.

Stiffness

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.

Location

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.

Groomers

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.)

Roughed-Up Groomers

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.

Bottom Line

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.

5 comments on “2nd Look: Salomon X-Drive 8.8 FS”

  1. Noah,

    Good review. These are very stiff and length makes a huge difference: I demoed the previous verson (850 something or other) in a 171 and loved it, but really wanted a ski in the high 170’s (I’m 5’9, 170 lbs, expert skier, but not super strong), and the 177 was just too stiff for me. Same thing: I need to manuever quickly in tight spaces, etc. So it wasn’t the ski for me. I could have skied the 171 on hardpack, but I wanted extra crud stability and such. I can’t even imagine trying to ski a 184 in a ski like this. My current ski, Kastle FX84 in a 176, is just about perfect: not too stiff, but incredibly stable and comfortable at all speeds.

  2. Noah,

    Good review. I agree with your insights about skier weight and ski performance. I am the opposite end from you, 245lb, 6’4″ and I have a hard time finding a ski that can hold a carve for me on hard conditions. I like WC race skis and skis like the X-Drive for that reason. I have no trouble bending them and getting them to do what I want. A 160 lb friend and I skied a FIS GS ski (187cm) back to back. He couldn’t turn it and I loved carving it. Exactly what you were talking about.

    The turn radius of the ski is certainly important for how it performs. Another major factor is the “tune” on the ski. Base bevels and side edge angles can transform a skis performance on hard pack as well. If you are talking soft snow performance, which you probably were, then the tune is not much of a factor and the turn radius is the major factor. I tend to prefer small turn radius skis, which probably makes sense given our size difference.

    I am interested to know how well the X-Drive floated you in mashed potatoe snow? Did it allow you to ride up over it or did you sink into it and ski very grabby? Finding a ski that is good on groomers and doesn’t sink in wet soft snow is a challenge for me.

    Keep up the good work, and I enjoy your mtb reviews as well.

    • Hey Scott,

      Yup, agreed that the tune matters a lot. When I first got the skis, they were decidedly dull. I think Jonathan had pinged them off of pretty much every rock in Taos. They were a lot easier to smear sideways, but a lot less fun on firm groomers. I ended up putting some fresh edges on with a 1 degree base, 2 degree side and detuning heavily in the rockered portion at the tips and tails.

      As to your question re: float in mashed potatoes. I’d say they actually do pretty well, for a stiff, 88mm underfoot ski. And that caveat matters – I wouldn’t say they “float.” But in tracked up heavy snow they did well – a good combination of riding up over larger patches of snow, but punching through little clumpy stuff. I briefly got them into some *very* heavy untracked snow, and they did surprisingly well for such a narrow ski. Which is to say, they were fairly predictable, easy enough to control, and the tips weren’t overly inclined to dive under and hang up. I’d still much rather have something wider and with a bit more rocker in those conditions, but the X-Drives certainly weren’t terrible.

  3. I skied the 184cm X-Drive 8.8’s today in some spring corn snow with lots of big, tight moguls. I also found them hard to make short turns on. I would agree they don’t like to pivot easily in heavy wet snow. On the positive side, they track well in corn and are very stable. On wider spaced moguls or smoother terrain they are very easy to ski in heavy snow. They seem to have a combination of riding over the big stuff and bull dozing the small stuff. My skis need a grind and some sharp edges, so they weren’t carving too well either. They did smear turns quite well, but bases flat did not loosen them up on the snow and make them pivot at all. They are one burly ski, I can see how they will bust crud like a sledge hammer on a finishing nail. (crush it).

  4. Thought I would report back after two seasons on the X-Drive 8.8’s. I’m 240 lbs and an expert skier and I now completely agree with Noah that these skis are difficult to make short radius turns on. Even at my weight I can’t bend them into short radius turns. They do medium and large radius really well, and I don’t have to be going really fast for that. They do a lot of things better than almost any other ski, basically both Noah and Jonathan were spot on with this ski. I like em on ice , and almost any other snow in open area’s or groomers. I fight them in tight trees and moguls where I need to make short, quick turns. I put a race tune on them (0.25/4.0) and carve them all the time. The rocker is so minimal that I don’t think these will ever work for a pivoting style, so I just maximise their strengths and my ability to carve them. They go fast and stable, hold an edge, bull doze crud and rough groomers and carve med and large turns very well. Just don’t ask them to make quick short radius turns in the 184 cm length. You can slide them and feather them on really hard smooth surfaces, but not in soft snow.

    I think the shorter lengths will greatly improve the ability to make shorter turns, but I have no experience on them.

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