Ski: 2016-2017 4FRNT Madonna, 172cm
Available Lengths: 158, 165, 172, 179 cm
Actual Tip-to-tail Length (straight tape pull): 171.1cm
Stated Dimensions (mm): 123-98-118
Stated Weight per Ski: 1814 grams
Sidecut Radius: 17 m with a 119cm effective edge
Core Construction: Ash/Beech + Fiberglass Laminate
Boots / Bindings: Dalbello Krypton KR2 Kryzma I.D. Ski Boot / Tyrolia AAAtack 13 Demo (DIN at 7)
Mount Location: Factory recommended (-6cm from true center)
Test Locations: Alta Ski Area, Snowbird
Days Skied: 33[Editor’s Note: Our review was conducted on the 14/15 Madonna, which was not changed for 15/16 or 16/17, except for the graphics.]
The 4FRNT Madonna is the women’s version of the Cody (renamed the Gaucho for 14/15), a ski billed as an all-mountain, one-ski-quiver with a “quick and nimble shape.” However, the Madonna is not just the Gaucho with a different topsheet, offered in shorter lengths.
4FRNT tweaked the design of the Cody / Gaucho in the attempt to better suit female skiers. So the thickest part of the Madonna’s contoured core is shifted rearward 5cm relative to its position on the Gaucho. 4FRNT says that this caters to a women’s lower center of gravity, allowing gals to drive the shovels of the Madonna the same way that guys can the Gaucho’s. The mounting point is also moved back 1cm from the Gaucho’s.
As with the Gaucho, 4FRNT says the Madonna’s tip and tail rocker provides flotation and yields quick, smooth turns in soft snow, while its camber underfoot provides hard, crisp edge hold on firm snow. But no one-ski-quiver can do everything equally well, and they all have their own unique performance biases.
So what are the Madonna’s? And how does the Madonna stack up to some other women’s “do-it-all,” all-mountain skis? I headed to Alta to find out (rocking my favorite Madonna playlist, of course).
Flex Pattern (and Comparisons)
Hand flexing the Madonna reveals that it’s not a particularly stiff ski. The Madonna is slightly softer in both the tip and the tail than the Armada VJJ, and in general, I would say that the VJJ has a medium flex, while the Madonna’s is more medium-soft.
Next I compared the Madonna to the 2012-2013 Atomic Millennium. The Madonna has a slightly softer tip than the Millennium, while its tails are slightly stiffer than the Millennium’s.
The 2014-2015 Volkl Aura (review coming soon) is much stiffer than the Madonna, especially in the tails. I’ll call the Aura’s tails decidedly stiff — a 9 on a 1-10 scale, and I’d call the Madonna’s a 6.
In comparing the flex pattern of the Madonna itself, the shovels are somewhat softer than the tails, so with the tails at a 6, I would say the shovels are around a 4—the difference in flex between the Madonna’s shovel and its tail is noticeable, but not drastic.
Of course, hand flexing a ski doesn’t always tell you how a ski will feel on snow, but in the case of the Madonna, its flex pattern proved to be in line with the way the ski actually performs.
Untracked Powder: Light/Dry vs. Wet/Heavier
The Madonna is lively and floats well in powder. In about 12” of very soft, fresh snow in Keyhole, the skis were responsive and easy to maneuver. I didn’t have to work too hard to keep the Madonna’s tips up, which is pretty impressive for a 98mm underfoot ski in a foot of powder. Of course, the Madonna doesn’t feel quite as surfy as the much wider (115mm underfoot) Armada VJJ and slightly wider Moment Bella, but they’re a fun ride in powder, nevertheless.
I still noticed a little looseness in the tail of the Madonna thanks to its tail rocker, where the more directional Blizzard Samba wanted to track a little straighter in powder and provided more stability at higher speeds.
Still, the Madonna can handle lighter, fresh powder very well, whether it’s 3-4 inches of dust, or 12” of blower.
In older, heavy, sun-affected snow, the Madonna’s softer flex limited its performance. It didn’t float well atop hot, spring powder that had solidified in the strong spring sunshine. Stiffer, heavier skis with less tail rocker (like the Samba and Aura) are more stable and powerful in thicker, untracked snow. I would imagine the Blizzard Sheeva, which Julia Van Raalte says has a heavier, stiffer feel (but also has a considerable amount of tail rocker, like the Madonna), would do a bit better here as well, but I’ve yet to ski the Sheeva myself.
Since I’m often skiing on the wider Moment Bella or Armada VJJ, the Madonna felt significantly more responsive and enjoyable on groomers. The ski’s 98mm waist and ash and beech wood core give it a very poppy feel edge-to-edge.
The Madonna has a relatively tight 17 meter sidecut radius, and the ski did prefer shorter radius turns. It would also throw me from one turn to the next, almost like a slalom ski.
Long radius turns required a bit more effort when finishing out the turn, but the they still felt solid and dependable. I felt more stability on the Blizzard Samba (which has less tail rocker and a stiffer tail than the Madonna) at top speed, but the Madonna never gave me cause for concern. The skis still felt stable enough to let me comfortably blitz around Alta on groomed snow and hardpack.
Soft Chop & Crud
Considering the soft flex of this ski, I found it surprisingly dependable and predictable in both chopped-up snow and nastier, firmer, cruddy conditions. I felt confident and stable on the Madonna, found that the tips did not deflect or chatter, and it certainly performed better than the wider, more tip-and-tail rockered VJJ.
I had the Madonna out for a day at Alta when the conditions simply could not make up their mind. I found ice, crud, softer graupel and eventually powder, and the Madonna held its own through it all. I was expecting this ski with such a soft flex to really struggle in those tougher conditions, but it performed just as well as the Atomic Millennium, and a little better than the VJJ. The Madonna was not as damp nor as stable in those rough conditions as the Samba, the Bella, or the Volkl Aura, but there was never a moment when I felt uncomfortable on the ski.