The most honest and in-depth reviews of outdoor sports equipment on the planet.

2013-2014 Surface Live Free

Review of the Surface Live Free, Blister Gear Review

13/14 Surface Live Free

Ski: 2013-2014 Surface Live Free, 181cm

Dimensions (mm): 146-110-130

Sidecut Radius: 22 meters

Weight (181cm): 8.6 lbs. (set)

Boots/Bindings: Black Diamond Stiletto / 22 Designs Hammerhead

Mount Location: 6cm back from recommended

Test Locations: Alta Ski Area, LCC backcountry

Days Skied: 8

By modern ski standards, the Surface Live Free doesn’t stand out as revolutionary in terms of its shape and design. But because it is a backcountry-oriented ski made by Surface, a company probably more well known for freeride and park skis than anything else, it has inherited some progressive elements compared to most backcountry skis.

Most notably, it has a more abrupt tip rocker than you’d find on a pair of backcountry skis made by, say, Voile or G3. It also has a slight amount of rocker in the tail, and is not a true twin tip; it has a lot more taper at the end of the tail compared to the majority of flat, blunt tails you see on backcountry skis.

And with rocker, camber, and dimensions somewhere between a fat and a mid-fat ski, there are very few conditions that the Live Free can’t handle.

Groomers

As a 5’6”, medium-build girl, I usually choose and am quite comfortable on skis in the mid-to-upper 170cm range, but the Live Free comes in only 181cm and 191cm lengths. So I went with the 181, and, to be honest, my first thought when I grabbed this ski was, These are big! I was nervous that they might take me for a ride. But I strapped them to my feet, got on the lift, and down I went.

Any new ski takes a few turns to get used to, and I wasn’t expecting much out of a mid-fat backcountry ski on groomers. But once I got moving, I was surprised by how quickly I felt in control. The Live Free has a fairly long turning radius (22 meters) and is too wide (110 mm) to be called a truly great groomer ski, but the camber underfoot certainly helped on the firm snow. I definitely wasn’t properly carving, but I was ripping the groomers fast and steady. The few times the skis did wash out on me was when I really tried to dig into a turn, where I’m sure the light weight of the ski didn’t help matters any. But overall, I was pleasantly surprised with the skis’ performance, and ended up feeling like the added length was an asset that gave me more speed and a power.

Chalk

Awhile later I went up to High Boy, where to my happy surprise l found a chalky, fairly smooth ride down. I could make quick alpine turns to maneuver around features on the entrance, and once I got going, I was able to really trust the ski to power me through each turn. Again, I definitely didn’t feel like these were the conditions the Live Free was made for, but I was pleasantly surprised with how reliable it felt. And although the ski is soft-snow oriented, the fact that it is only 110mm underfoot means that it is not too difficult to get on edge.

By the end of the day, I was largely having a blast on the ski. The only time I felt otherwise was when things got too bumpy. Some of the upper and lower sections of the trail had formed the smooth, chalky snow into small moguls. Here, the skis’ long turning radius and width made navigating through the bumps tough. But, again, given that the ski is intended for backcountry use where moguls are non-existent, I hardly felt disappointed.

Powder

The next storm to arrive delivered a thick, heavy blanket of graupel, six or so inches of hero snow. The length of the ski, its long turning radius, its stiff camber under foot, and its rockered tip all came into play here. Given the right conditions, the Live Free is truly an aggressive, charging ski, perfect for chasing friends at high speeds down a perfectly smooth Eagle’s Nest, Stone Crusher, and West Rustler. This day and this ski were perfect together: fast, fun, and stable.

And the snow didn’t stop. The next day was a classic Alta pow day: the snow was soft and light and easily plowed through. In most of the wide-open spots, the ski preformed well, floating lightly through the snow and keeping the fast and fun reputation it was earning.

Kate Hourihan, Surface Live Free, Blister Gear Review

Kate Hourihan on the Surface Live Free, Alta.

These are not, however, the most “floaty” skis I have tried. The rocker in the tip helps to stay on top, but in pow, these didn’t feel like more than a 110mm-underfoot ski. The ski makes less surfy turns than something like the Armada JJ or a Megawatt, which are much wider and more rockered. But the Live Free’s ability to float and be fun in light powder was certainly proven.

 

6 Comments

  1. Jonathan Gibson November 24, 2013 Reply

    Hello, after spending several days reading countless reviews on your site and being very impressed with the level of knowledge about skis I thought I would ask for your help. I am looking for a new pair of skis to use for Ski Patrol. Surface makes a pair for Patrolers called Save Life but I cannot find any reviews on them. I have a pair of frontside skis that I am happy with but want something more versital, something better for heavy PNW snow but can still hold a carved turn on the groomers. After reading many reviews two skis that seem interesting to me are the new Soul 7 and the 185 Cochise. I bought a used pair of of 195cm Pro XXL last year, hated them, too much work, they just wanted to be pointed down the fall line and go fast, I like to go fast, but prefer more turns to less. I am 6’1″ tall, 180lbs, strong skier that loves the whole mountain.

    • Hey, Jonathan – thanks for the kind words. Either ski could work. My only concern is how well the Soul 7 will handle deep, tracked, wet pow at speed. In untracked, I’d imagine you’ll love them, and they’ll be a million times easier to ski than your XXLs. The Cochise is a great chop & crud ski, but it’s not a “floaty” ski – but maybe that’s okay. Some other skis to consider: Blizzard Gunsmoke; 190cm Moment Deathwish; LINE Sick Day 110; ON3P Jeffrey or Vicik (though we haven’t reviewed these yet). Check out those reviews, and we’ll do our best to answer any further questions. But if you still like the sound of the Soul 7 or Cochise, I wouldn’t try to talk you out of those. Just hoping to find the best fit for you.

  2. Jonathan Gibson November 25, 2013 Reply

    Jonathan,

    Thank you for your reply and insights. I wonder if you might have some thoughts about the Save Life ski, perhaps from its dimensions and shape, you might expect it to be similar to some other ski or likely to have certain strengths or weaknesses? I need to stick to considering Volkl, Rossignol, Dynastar, Blizzard, Nordica or Head skis, but can’t talk about why ;-) so actually trying to avoid reading too many good things about some of the other skis

    Thanks again,
    Jonathan Gibson
    Summit Central Ski Patrol

  3. Ed December 17, 2013 Reply

    Hello Jonathan, I was wondering if you could provide some input. Based on Kate’s review of the Live Free at 181 with -6cm mount. Was the -6cm BSC from the recommended 85cm? If so that would put BSC at 79cm and if assuming she uses a the BD boot with a center of around 130mm – 14.5mm duckbill pin, that would put her BSC add point at apporx. 115mm; or 11.5cm added to the BSC she marked on ski at 79cm. This would equate to 90.5cm for binding mounting point (pin line point). If this is close to her setup, then she should be running at about CenterCord CC (181/2 = 90.5). Unless the 181 ski pulls a cord-line of less than the 181cm claimed length due to tip and tail rise as with most skis. If so I would think that she set her bindings up at about +1cm of CC which should put BSC at -6cm of recommended Classic Alpine.

    Can you tell me exactly where she set her bindings and her boot size? If I have that I can translate that calculation to my ski and see what the setup would be like.
    I ask all this because I just drilled and mounted my Walk Free 186cm (cord length 184cm) skis based on advice from the guys over at Surface. They told me that their Tele Park guys like running 84.5cm from tail which is -2.5cm from Classic Alpine recommended (only setting for that ski). Based on the provided info and assuming that park guys stick to the Piste, I knew I needed some additional setback, as this ski will be my designated backcountry/wilderness ski. I set my skis at -3.25cm from recommended (approx. -1.25cm from Park Guys) and after one run I can’t stand them. I have skinned in them and the more centered mount point made that easy, but the down was the pits. I used them in 4’ wind effect fresh pockets on the northern edge of Brian Head resort the other day and they never felt right. Felt like I was over the bars one moment and pushing hard to control from the backseat the next. Needless to say they worked great on the Piste back to the truck to retrieve my 191 EHP’s. I ski the EHP’s closer to recommended mount point, but that is a very different bird from the walk free. For that fact the Live Free is a bit different too with the higher rocker and the tail rocker than the Walk Free. The Walk Free uses a more traditional square tail, but still has tip/tail rise.

    Sorry for the long text, but I can’t stand making Swiss Cheese out of a new pair of skis and based on my assumptions of Kate’s Live Free mounting point being very close to CC; I’m wondering if I too should pull that far back. I don’t think I should go all the way to pins on CC, even though the ski has some traditional designing. I think I should play it safe and stay +1 to +2.5 of CC for pin line. If I have all her setup info that would show exactly where she put pin and I could go somewhere in there.

    Other option is to pull my binding s before drilling the ski again and just move it while it still has value to someone else. After reading her review and two others, I think the 191 Live Free would have been the better choice. I generally ski 193-196cm and the 186 (unfortunately the longest length) feels rather tiny. Then again smaller skis are confidence inspiring when dealing with tight rocky backcountry spaces. I’m about 6.2 @ 240 and 49 years old football player build. I went with the Walk Free as first choice because I have the EHP’s for roadside backcountry access, but needed something more tour oriented, as my normal ski route has about a 7 mile, 2000’ gain one way trek to toe-of-slope from the truck; then the climbing begins.

    If you can give me any info or if she can email me that would be a major help. Thank you, Ed

  4. Tomaz January 2, 2014 Reply

    Hi Ed, this is probably too late, but 86,0cm (0,5 cm back from classic alpine) seems just fine for me on Walk Frees 186 with Dynafit Radical FT bindings and mainly BC skiing. I use wider Live Frees 191 for deeper days though, with same Dynafit bindings. Maybe for deep days Walk Frees could go on 84,5 as it was also suggested on last years edition of Surface mounting guidelines. This year they changed that, also for last year skis, so …

  5. Tomaz January 2, 2014 Reply

    Just another opinion .. -6 is way to much for Live Frees. I tried those in several positions while on demo bindings last fall and figured out -3 is a sweet spot on those skis when talking BC skiing. More back = much less control and less float due shorter tails, more fwd = lack of forward float on deep days, but one can adapt to 0,0 if needed …

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

*