Ski: 2014-2015 Atomic Vantage Theory, 186cm
Stated Dimensions (mm): 132-95-121
Sidecut Radius: 19.9 meters
Actual Tip-to-Tail Length (straight tape pull): 184.1cm
Stated Weight per Ski: 1,970 grams
Blister’s Measured Weight per Ski: 2,019 & 2,048 grams
Boots / Bindings: Fischer RC4 130 Vacuum / Marker Jester Demo (DIN 10)
Mount Location: Factory recommended
Days Skied: 5
The Vantage Theory is one of Atomic’s best selling skis, and it comes with a low price tag. Its full retail price is $500 USD, making it a serious value for a ski that has a full wood core and is marketed to upper-intermediate and expert skiers.
So we decided to check out this popular all-mountain ski and see what it could do.
The Vantage series is positioned as Atomic’s most versatile skis in their men’s All-Mountain line. The 95mm-underfoot Vantage Theory sits right in the middle of the lineup, wider than the Vantage Panic and Vantage Revival, and narrower than the Alibi and Ritual.
Atomic’s product copy on the Theory sounds like most manufacturers’ descriptions of their all-mountain, one-ski-quivers: it does great in all conditions, anywhere on the mountain.
If you’ve read other reviews of all mountain skis on Blister, you know that these kinds of “it’s amazing everywhere, all the time” statements always require some qualifying, so that’s what we set out to do—find the Theory’s relative strengths and weaknesses.
Camber / Rocker Profile
The Theory does have some tip and tail rocker, but relatively little, all in all. When the ski is de-cambered, its tip rocker line runs about 9” / 22cm from the tip of the ski toward the center. In other words, the contact point in the Theory’s shovel is about 22cm behind the tip of the ski.
The Theory has less tail rocker. The rocker line is about 7” / 18cm from the end of the ski.
Relative to the entire material length of the ski (measured at 184.1cm), the Theory’s total effective edge is about 143.5cm, meaning 75% of its entire length is traditionally cambered.
Not surprisingly, the Theory doesn’t feel like a heavily rockered ski on snow, and it doesn’t feel like a particularly soft ski, either. I would say the Theory’s tail has a “medium/stiff” flex. Moving from the tail toward the tip of the ski, the flex stiffens up a bit underfoot, but the shovel is a little softer than the tail.
The Theory’s flex profile is very similar to the Fischer Watea 96, which I’ll talk about more below. The only noticeable difference is that the Watea 96’s shovels are a little softer than the Theory’s.
The combination of the Theory’s camber profile, supportive flex, and full wood core give it a nice, solid, quality feel on snow. In short, the Theory doesn’t at all feel like some price point ski even through it’s considerably cheaper than the Watea 96, which retails for $750.
Firm, Chalky Snow
Broken River Ski Area, in Canterbury, New Zealand, has a number of short but fairly steep chutes off of its highest rope tow. Unlike much the of the resort, the snow in the chutes didn’t receive much direct sunlight, so it was quite firm but still cold and chalky, providing some good edge hold.
The terrain at the top of these chutes presented some bumps to negotiate, but they were small and spaced far enough apart to let me make short, quick turns wherever I liked, allowing me to keep the skis on the snow easily, rather than having to air from mogul to mogul, or pivot the ski around on hard ridges in the snow.
These were essentially the typical sort of hardpack conditions you’ll find in Colorado or Utah after it hasn’t snowed for a week or two—times when you’re very likely to be reaching for a ski like the Theory—and I didn’t find anything about the way the Theory performed to complain about.
The Theory’s 95mm waist makes it quick edge-to-edge, while at the same time, when scrubbing a turn with the skis pointed across the fall line, the ski never felt unstable or washy. Again, the Theory has a relatively small amount of tip and tail rocker, and while this seemed to make it a bit easier to initiate turns and break the skis’ tails free, I also always felt like I had a good amount of effective edge to work with in these firm conditions.
When things got a little more bumped up in the chutes at Broken River, I was able to gain a better sense for the supportive nature of the Theory’s flex. Given how the ski felt in the decidedly rougher, harsher, refrozen conditions elsewhere on the mountain, I wouldn’t call the Theory “damp” (I’ll talk more about that in a moment). But at the same time, “playful” wouldn’t be the first word I’d use to describe the Theory, either; it doesn’t have an initially smeary or particularly loose feel.
The Theory’s firmer flex helps give it a supportive, sturdy, and dependable feel on hard, smoother snow. “Quick and snappy, yet decidedly supportive” feels like a not-very-pithy but appropriate description.
Refrozen, Rough Hardpack
If you’re looking for a directional ski in the ~98mm underfoot class that excels in cruddy, variable conditions, the 13/14 Volkl Mantra is still our first recommendation, and the 14/15 Mantra still probably gets the nod over the Theory. However, the Mantra has some metal in its core construction that lends it that stability and dampness. The Theory doesn’t have the heavier, damp feel of skis like the Mantra or even the Blizzard Bonafide.
Again, the Theory has a nice, depedable feel on chalky hardpack, but I found its speed limit pretty quickly in nasty, rough conditions. No ski will totally smooth things out in cruddy, refrozen snow, but even with its more supportive flex, the Theory’s 95mm waist, conservative tip rocker, and relatively light, snappy feel result in some lost stability in these conditions, where other skis might have felt more composed.
Of the skis I’ve been on, the Fischer Watea 96 is probably the most comparable to the Theory. In similar variable conditions, I mentioned that “I didn’t feel as though I was pushing the Watea 96s way out of their element… So long as I didn’t weight the skis too heavily, and kept my turns relatively light and smooth, I could confidently take more aggressive, fall-line routes through rough, cruddy patches of snow.”
While I wasn’t able to drive the Watea 96s too hard in variable conditions, for the most part, they felt pretty well composed—I could manage to take more aggressive lines if I picked my routes well. I didn’t feel the same way about the Theory, however. When conditions were harsh and variable, I enjoyed making shorter, slower, dynamic turns on the Theory rather than big sweeping ones. Speed your turns up too much, putting a lot of pressure on the ski, and it can start to feel chattery and get kicked around quite a bit.
This difference seems to be due to the combination of the Watea 96’s slightly longer sidecut radius (22m compared to the Theory’s 19.9m), significantly more pronounced tip rocker, and a flat, un-rockered tail. The Watea 96s aren’t heavy and damp by any means, but the splay in their shovels seems to let the skis plane over bumps and inconsistencies in the snow better than the Theory.
With all this in mind, the way the Theory handled in softer, thicker spring slush shouldn’t be too surprising.
Softened, Spring Snow
The skier’s right side of Broken River’s main bowl would soften up nicely in the afternoon, which let me get an initial sense for how the ski does in soft, chopped conditions.
The Theory didn’t have the same chattery, squirrely feeling in this sort of snow, but I did need to concentrate on keeping my turns smooth and controlled, guiding the skis through the slushy, choppy snow. If I ever picked up too much speed and wasn’t able to do this well, the Theory’s shovels were likely to get deflected by or caught up in the more prominent, heavier piles of snow.
In drier, colder powder, the Theory shouldn’t feel quite as touchy as it did in those heavier, spring conditions, but I don’t think they’re going to float or plane as well as the Watea 96s do in either fresh snow or soft chop. (I’m still waiting to confirm this.)
However, when it comes to skiing moguls, the Theory brings some things to the table that I think gives it the upper hand over the Watea 96.