On most of Las Leñas’ wide open, mid-mountain terrain (including the runout below Pénelope) we found 4-5” of slightly wet, heavier, lightly tracked powder. Here and there, where the wind had blown some of the newer snow away, you were likely to ski through sections with loose, partially covered, tennis ball-sized chunks of crud, or into the occasional well-seated, railroad tie-size block of ice.
I wasn’t hauling through this stuff. I didn’t want to lay the skis over too hard (for fear of unexpectedly smearing sideways into an icy ridge), but I did try to open things up when possible. While skiing slowly in the smoother, deeper snow, the deep rocker line in the Countdown 3’s tip was very evident, and the tapered tail seemed to come into play more. The skis floated well all-around—I never felt inclined to try and help the tips plane up in softer conditions at slow speeds, and was always comfortable assuming a standard, forward stance (though the ski responds well to a more upright stance, too).
The Countdown 3’s flex feels pretty stiff, particularly through the tip and tail, and felt ready to run over and through that odd crud without much chatter. Skiing a wide-open aspect on Eduardo Variante with some decent speed, I found myself running into and over some of those mostly hidden, compacted ridges. The shovels took the impacts well, with no real deflection, but the skis remained relatively damp underfoot, too.
The Countdown 3 provides a sturdy ride that inspires confidence at speed, there’s no doubt about that, but it’s far from a bone-jarring plank. I’m really looking forward to showing this ski some cliffs back in the U.S.—the combination of a deep tip rocker line, a sturdy, stiffer flex in the tips and tails, and a more forgiving feel underfoot seems like it could be great for taking airs on a pow day.
As the snow on the lower mountain became heavier and more tracked out, conditions began to turn from a funny mix of powder and ice chunks, to more very demanding mank / crud. Having gained some confidence in the Countdown 3, I tried opening things up in the lower section of Pantalla.
The skis had done well running over and through ~4” of wet, heavy chop during big, sweeping turns, but here I noticed a slight loss in stability when I tried to engage in a tighter smear turn or threw the skis sideways to shut down speed. The shorter effective edge and very minimal camber (Down says it’s ~2mm, but it looks to be even less than that) presented no real problems when conditions were relatively smooth or soft, but became more noticeable in the harder, demanding coral when there was a lot of intermittent, varying edge contact along the ski.
To be clear, these were some nasty, fairly jarring conditions where to really ski hard I would have liked to be on an all-out charger like the Katana, and that’s not what Down says the Countdown 3 is. It’s marketed as a more “playful” charger, a ski that is stable at speed but also has a willingness to pivot like a more “fun-shaped” ski would. Knowing this, I wasn’t so concerned by the slight lack of stability I noticed in set-up crud—the fun has to come with some compromise, and crud busting barges aren’t always the funnest ski on the mountain.
In search of lighter, fresh snow, we hiked Cerro Martin and headed for a chute on the lookers-left side, called Banana. With no more crud to worry about, I committed to some fast, long GS turns down the apron in the runout, which was dusted with 3-4” of rippable, “cream cheese” snow.
Those big turns were smooth and stable. Similar to the way I found the Countdown 3 to respond on groomers, the shovels of the skis didn’t feel like they wanted to do much but to run straight down the fall line. Yet, with the help from a little sink in the tail, it wasn’t all that difficult to initiate and maintain big, race-style arcs, or lock-in slightly shorter smeared ones. Really, the ski just felt stable, predictable, and cooperative in any turn shape at speed.
For those who find the idea of a super stable ski appealing, but who aren’t sure that they need or want to deal with the crud-busting burl of a 187 Moment Belafonte, 191 Völkl Katana, or the late Salomon El Dictator, the Countdown 3 offers a similar, stable feel and make-any-turn-shape-you-want handling in fresh snow, but without the I’ll-kick-your-ass-if you-slip-up, stiff feel through the tail.
* Third & final side note: With a more substantial girth through the tail, and slightly softer overall flex, the Salomon Rocker2 115 is an interesting alternative approach to this idea: it has a big-mountain feel and capability, but also brings some with some real carving capability and forgiveness at slow speeds to the table.
So far, I’ve found the Countdown 3 very comfortable at high speed in soft conditions, yet it definitely seems willing to pivot and surf as long as you tell it to with some authority. At this point I don’t feel inclined to say that the CD3 only does “big-and-fast” well. I need more time with the ski to experiment more with shorter, turn shapes in some deeper powder and trees on a storm day this upcoming season where ‘ll be able to see how surfy the Countdown 3 will get. You’ll read about that in the Update to this review.
After four days of testing in a lot of demanding, variable conditions and some fresh snow in Las Leñas, I don’t yet know the full range of this ski’s strengths and weaknesses. I’m going to need some more time on the Countdown 3, and I’m certainly excited to continue to do so.
It’s been easy for me to begin to think about the Countdown 3 as a serious, damp big-mountain ski—it smears similarly to one on firm snow and can track like one in wide open, soft conditions at high speeds. (I’m sure this ski will suit you well if you’re looking to cut big, fast turns on a pow day, or whenever conditions are relatively smooth and light.) Of course, so will quite a few others, so the value in the CD3 will depend on just how well Down has paired this “serious” stability and speed with surfy “fun.”
So far, I’m inclined to call the Down Countdown 3 a soft-snow-oriented ski with the turn shape and feel of a more forgiving, big-mountain board that’s capable of smearing and surfing turns when you ask. I think that’s pretty damn cool, and look forward to testing the more playful side of this ski in tighter terrain and more jib-friendly conditions.
You can now read my Update on the Down Countdown 3.
NEXT PAGE: ROCKER PROFILE PICS
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