The holy grail of winter gravity is the ski or snowboard that flourishes in all kinds of terrain and in every snow condition. They haven't created perfection yet, but manufacturers have come a step closer: Ski makers are marrying the deep sidecuts of shaped skis with the wide waists of powder sticks, while snowboard manufacturers are tweaking materials and designs to shed ounces and add responsiveness without sacrificing power. This gear will give you quick edge changes on firm snow, stability in huge turns, and magic-carpet flotation in powder.
We've included only all-mountain equipmentthere are no bump skis or halfpipe specialists in the bunch. Still, which is right for you depends on factors that include your weight and how aggressive you are on snow. So be sure to demo before you buy. The winning gear is the stuff that helps you ski or ride better than ever before.
Steve Casimiro and Scott Willoughby
Dynastar Big 4X4
Lengths: 178 to 194 Centimeters
This is an aptly named ski: "Big" because it has a large surface area, and "4X4" because its construction handles everything from huge Alaskan slopes to widely spaced trees. The key is the oversize footprint (115-85-107 millimeters for the 194-centimeter ski), which makes riding the 4X4 feel more like snowboarding or surfing than skiing. You need to be aggressive and willing to ski fast to get the most out of these boards.
The Dynastar is built with an acrylic-and-wood core and is lighter and wider in the tail than its closest all-mountain competitor in terms of powder performance (the Rossi XXX). It carves exceptionally well for a big ski, but buy it only if you ski more fluff than hardpack. U.S. $695; +1 802 655 2400; www.dynastar.com.
Lengths: 178 to 194 Centimeters
The Supermountain could be the archetype of the new all-mountain ski; it offers a finely balanced blend of hard- and soft-snow performance that's somehow right down the middle of the road without ever being bland.
Like most Salomons, it has a foam core that provides a light, glassy feel that contrasts with stability-oriented skis such as the Atomic Betaride 9.22. Its monocoque titanium frame helps the Supermountain edge precisely, a feature much appreciated in steep chutes. And yet it's never squirrelly, unlike some other foam-core skis. Finally, the wide, 78-millimeter waist (110-78-100 millimeters) offers excellent flotation in powder and crud. U.S. $695; 877 272 5666 [U.S. and Canada only]; www.salomonsports.com.
Rossignol Bandit XXX
Lengths: 178 to 193 Centimeters
A version of the XXX has been in Rossignol's line for five years, and the model's performance has been ratcheted up each season, to the point where the Bandit XXX is now the choice of many of the strongest, most aggressive freeskiers. In fact, some skiers will find these skis too demanding.
Ultrawide dimensions (115-85-104 millimeters) and two sheets of stabilizing metal for the longest model mean it's happiest when the powder is deep and the speeds are high. Translation: Consider the XXX only if you spend most of your time in the [U.S.] West and/or in soft snow. U.S. $739; +1 802 863 2511; www.rossignol.com.
Atomic Betaride 9.22
Lengths: 160 to 200 Centimeters
Although better known for its World Cup skis, Atomic brought the first fat ski to market a decade ago. Those specialized powder skis revolutionized the all-mountain category, but Atomic's ski-everywhere boards never quite caught fire the way those from other brands did. This season, Atomic has tapped its World Cup expertise to build a new all-mountain ski.
The result is the Betaride 9.22, which uses two full-length half-moon "betacore" channels that give the ski an almost magnetic connection to the snow. The aggressive Atomic race feel has been tempered by a moderately wide footprint (110-72-102 millimeters) that helps versatility. U.S. $689; 800 258 5020 [U.S. and Canada only]; www.atomicsnow.com.
Arbor Muñoz Signature Series
Lengths: 154 to 170 Centimeters
Arbor's Mickey Muñoz signature model bridges the gap between long boarding the North Shore and free riding the North Face. In other words, its directional design provides a stiff tail for riding deep powder and a snappy, slingshot effect out of turns on firm snow.
A reduction in the amount of fiberglass used in this year's model helps give the Muñoz a butter-smooth roll from edge to edge, while the beautiful, exotic resin blend implanted into the walnut-and-Hawaiian-koa topsheet dampens rough snow. The Muñoz is one of the smoothest-riding boards for just about any condition save Eastern boilerplate and for just about anyone but the strongest and heaviest riders. U.S. $459; +1 310 656 3268; www.arborsports.com.
Lengths: 159 to 173 Centimeters
The goal with Burton's Cascade was to provide consistent, smooth response in all conditions for heavier, stronger riders. To get there, Burton built the board with a tip-to-tail wood core and carbon laminates that provide torsion resistance. To increase heel-toe edge control, beneath the bindings the grain of the wood core is oriented at 90 degrees to the rails. This gives the Cascade more strength and less flex underfoot, reducing chatter.
A slightly stiffer tip than tail bucks the current trend in snowboard design but helps the nose power through deep, heavy snow; the board also provides excellent edge hold on hardpack. The Cascade is remarkably smooth, but get it only if you prefer a dampened ride over electrically quick carving ability. U.S. $460; 800 881 3138 [U.S. and Canada only]; www.burton.com.
K2 El Dorado
Lengths: 155 to 174 Centimeters
Five years after its introduction to the market, this popular backcountry model continues to assert itself as the board of choice for many powder riders. That's because K2 has steadily improved the El Dorado, adding features such as rear torsion forks for directional stability last year and a new sintered graphite base for increased speed this year.
The Eldo excels in the deepest fluff; its Kevlar-reinforced wood core provides enough muscle to fight through wind slab and ice. This is a big-mountain free rider; that makes it very fast but not so forgiving as boards like Burton's Cascade or Arbor's Muñoz. U.S. $419; 800 972 4038 [U.S. and Canada only]; www.k2snowboards.com.
Lengths: 156 to 168 Centimeters
Just because you wear a size-13 boot doesn't mean you have to ride a snowboard made for Patrick Ewing. Yes, the W5 is wide enough at the binding to keep your toes off the snow, but it comes in shorter lengths than other wide boards. Plus, the narrowest point on the W5 is actually forward of the midpoint, which helps it roll over with the snappy edge-to-edge precision of a narrower plank.
Salomon meets the need for extra stability that larger riders bring to the table by beefing up this board's birch core with carbon glass links. U.S. $500; 877 272 5666 [U.S. and Canada only]; www.salomonsports.com.
Photographs by Steve Casimiro