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.
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.
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.
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.
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.