Salomon is making a definitive leap into the touring market next year with their MTN series, which we've been testing at various events throughout the winter. The lineup includes several touring boots, 3 backcountry-specific skis, and a glueless skin developed in conjunction with Pomoca. The ski lineup features th 114-underfoot MTN Lab, as well as the MTN Explore 95 and 88. For most folks, 95 is a great workhorse touring width, offerig versatility and function in the wide variety of conditions ski touring offers up. After 5 days of testing the Explore 95 and associated skin on everything from Mt. Bachelor groomers to North Cascades powder, here's our report.
First off, the Explore 95 is firmly in the lightweight touring category. It weighs in at a claimed 1400g per ski in a 177, and features a wood core overlaid with a strip of carbon fiber/flax blend. The result is a ski that chatters minimally for such a lightweight chassis, along with a smooth flex patter with no perceived "hinge points." The carbon also makes it fairly poppy and playful for it's profile, which features a slight, but just-long-enough, tail rocker, camber underfoot, and a smooth tip rocker. The shovel is generous for a 95 underfoot ski at 130 mm, but the 17.7m turning raduis never felt hooky or unpredictable while holding long arcs at speed.
Ski it back to back with a Volkl Mantra or a Line Supernatural, and you'll realize that it's impossible to escape the benefits of metal and mass in a ski. But, compared to other skis in the burgeoning weight-weenie world, the Explore 95 stood out as a ski that can hold its own at speed, and enjoys being powered through a variety of turn shapes. Put too sharp a weight cap on a ski and relagate it to "touring -only," as many manufacturers have now done, produces a unsurprising number of duds. The Explore 95 stood out in our testing as a ski that exceeds performance expectations, while still offering great uphill chops. The ski does have a farily engaged tail, and likes to be driven through a finished turn shape. You can cut a slash when needed, but don't expect to be cranking tail butters and skiing off your heels. However, it never feels like a handful, and the runing stabiity is nice at speed. A subtle design knock: the topsheet teds to hold snow more than I'd like. This was the ony true complaint I had. The bottom line: If you're looking for one touring ski to slap a tech binding on and go tour the northwest year year round, with occasional big days and overnight trips, the Explore 95 will fit the bill nicely.
The "glueless" Pomoca-derived skin is an interesting innovation. Even after 5 days, I'm not at a solid verdict. The huge plus here is that transitions are a breeze, with no muscle-busting efforts to split the skin from itself or remove it from your hiar/dog/nearby trees/etc. Transition 5 times in a day, and suddenly you realize how awesome this is. It just sticks to the ski. The plush is decent, with slightly less gide than a BD mohair mix, but also slightly better grip. Tip and tail attachment were flawless, I never had one fall off during even the sportiest skinning. The skins also pack down very small, which is great. The skins' only unknown is how they might perform on deep storm days, where the bottom of the skin might become contaminated with water. Any significant moisture will render the ski-skin bond useless. A quick wipe alleviated this issue on a few problem areas, but it's hard to say how effective this would be on large scale. For what it's worth, the skins did fine on a day of continued slush/rain, as well as cruising through boot-top cold and dry and snow.