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2014-2015 Atomic Theory

Will Brown reviews the Atomic Vantage Theory, Blister Gear Review.

14/15 Atomic Theory

Ski: 2014-2015 Atomic Vantage Theory, 186cm

MSRP: $500

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

Test Locations: Broken River Ski Area, Taos Ski Valley; Telluride

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.

Flex

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.

Will Brown reviews the Atomic Vantage Theory, Blister Gear Review.

Will Brown on the Atomic Theory, Broken River Ski Area.

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.

Will Brown reviews the Atomic Vantage Theory, Blister Gear Review.

Will Brown on the Atomic Theory, Mt Cheeseman Ski Area.

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.

21 Comments

  1. Maciej October 8, 2014 Reply

    This ski seems pretty light and versatile. How would it do mounted with some tech bindings as a backcountry ski? Will you mount/try them in those conditions?

    • Author
      Will Brown October 18, 2014 Reply

      Hi Maciej,

      Probably not, but that’s not to say you couldn’t. I would hesitate to use the Theory as a touring ski, not so much because of weight, but because they skis aren’t going to provide great flotation, and will get kicked around in variable snow. To that end, if you’re going to be skiing fast and aggressively in the backcountry, I would recommend something wider, for sure, with a bit more tip rocker (both for breaking trail and for planing over wind and sun affected snow). Hope this helps you.

      WB

  2. Ian October 9, 2014 Reply

    Great informative review Will. Have you skied or do you have any plans to ski the Head Rev 98, the Alibi or the Atomic Automatic 102 ? I think the Automatic line is meant to be more soft snow biased than the Vantage line but I am curious to see how they would compare. You also do not appear to have any reviews on Head skis on Blister. Is there a reason for this ? thanks Ian

    • Author
      Will Brown December 10, 2014 Reply

      Hey Ian,

      I’m very sorry in being so late to get back to you – lots of comments to keep track of this time of year.

      You’re correct, we haven’t reviewed any skis from Head, mostly because we’ve been busy getting on skis from other brands that readers have expressed a stronger interest in. However, we are working on getting on some skis from Head’s REV and All-Mountain lines this season. Stay tuned.

      As for the Automatic 102, I haven’t skied it, but given what I know about the Auto 109, I think you’re right that it is more soft-snow oriented than the Theory, given more rocker in the 102’s profile. I would also guess that it’s going to feel a bit softer and more forgiving than the Theory, but it is slightly wider, and that could give the ski a bit more stability, so I might be wrong about that – it’s very hard to say.

      Cheers,

      Will B

  3. Blister Member
    Steve October 18, 2014 Reply

    From what I can tell, this ski appears to have been selling about $100-$200 below it’s direct peers, since its debut a few years ago. Is it a true under-the-radar bargain or is it decidedly lacking in some way, relative to its peers, that warrants the lower price?

    • Author
      Will Brown December 10, 2014 Reply

      Hi Steve,

      You’re definitely right – the Theory is priced very, very reasonably in comparison to other skis in its class. And honestly, I’m not sure why. It has strengths and weaknesses, like any ski, but it doesn’t seem particularly weak or especially under-gunned in any respect; the construction seems totally solid. The Rossignol Scimitar (no longer produced) is another ski that used to sell for around $500 as well, and it had a foam/wood composite core that (one would think), might have had something to do with the low MSRP. But the Theory has a full wood core. Part of the reason may simply be that Atomic sells a LOT of these skis and can afford to lower the price on each pair.

      They’ve told us it’s their best selling ski, and I believe it; I’ve seen it in most of the shops I’ve been in in the last few months, and I do think it’s a ski that many people can get on and enjoy, especially intermediate/advanced skiers and that ski ~10 days a year (which is the vast majority of the consumer market).

      Best,

      Will

  4. Andres December 11, 2014 Reply

    Great article. Any thoughts on this vs the Atomic Nomad series for an Intermediate+ skier on groomers? Thanks!

    • Author
      Will Brown January 7, 2015 Reply

      Hi Andres,

      I haven’t skied any of the Nomad line, unfortunately, but it would seem like those skis are even more on-piste oriented than the Theory, or other skis in the Vantage series; none of them have tail rocker. So for an upper intermediate skier, the Vantage series is, arguably, going to be better suited because the more rockered profile will allow for easier turn initiation on groomed snow, while still providing a good amount of edge hold. Skis in the Nomad line, I would assume, will be a little less forgiving in this way; they will require a stronger body position to be arced cleanly.

      However, all this depends a little on the conditions we’re talking about. If you’re dealing with really icy, firm conditions, than that extra edge hold that a ski in the Nomad series might be helpful to an intermediate skier; it will be more supportive and predictable in slick spots.

      Best,

      Will

  5. eric December 11, 2014 Reply

    Thanks, Will, for (yet another) insightful review! It is a direct product of reviews such as this on Blister that I have started thinking far more critically about my skis and my skiing. Today on the slopes I was thinking carefully about what forces I was exerting on the ski, and how it was, and was not, responding. And so a question: you talk about how quick the ski is from edge to edge, and imply that a narrower ski will be quicker edge to edge then a wider ski. I thought this made perfect sense, but then…. Here is my thinking: no matter how wide or narrow a ski is (even a mile wide!) as soon as you angulate your leg/foot, the ski will respond, more or less, instantaneously to correspond with this angulation. The wider the ski, the further the edges (and the rest of the ski) needs to move to effect the change edge to edge. This will mean the wider the ski is, the more work (in the physics sense) you need to do to make the movement, and the more inertia you need to overcome. But these are a function not of width per se, but of weight. So, all things equal (that is two skis with the same weight-per-unit-width), a wider ski will be slower edge to edge, but if my reasoning here is correct (and I may be speaking out of my hat, or in this case, my helmet, it would not be the first time!), a lighter ski, even if wider, should be quicker edge to edge. So, for example, the Atomic Theory is heaver then a DPS Wailer pure at the same length, and so (I think!) the DPS would be quicker edge to edge, even though it is wider (I have not figured out how side cut, and the fact that the forces you put on the ski are not equally distributed, may effect all this). In your opinion, does experience bear this out (you and others ski on many, many more skis than I do!)? I am just spending too much time reading reviews here? (well, I know the answer to that one!) Feel free to file this one under “eccentric question which merits no reply!)

  6. Tom December 19, 2014 Reply

    Hi Will,

    Really enjoyed the review! thanks

    I’d also be really interested to hear what you guys think of the automatic 102. I’ve skiied it and it felt really fun and nimble compared to the atomic panic (vantage series but at 87mm underfoot). I didn’t manage to get the automatic out in bad conditions and have a feeling the ski would perform less well than the thoery when the snow is firmer.

    Tom

    • Author
      Will Brown January 7, 2015 Reply

      Hi Tom,

      Thanks for reading. I think you’re right; the Theory is probably the better ski on firm snow than the Automatic 102, but I would estimate the 102 will be much better in fresh and bumpy, chopped up snow. We’ll work on getting on the 102 this season, as well posting an update to my initial review of the Automatic 109 asap.

      Best,

      Will

  7. Chalky December 25, 2014 Reply

    This is an awesome ski my only regret is I bought it in 177 instead of 188. Size up if your buying it imo. I have Dukes on mine and tour on it but its great for up hill part but not so hot for deep powder. Still if you ski hard and fast doesn’t matter you can plough though most stuff.

    Does this ski similar to the 117cm automatic as I am thinking about getting a set for the new pure pow skis.

    • Author
      Will Brown January 7, 2015 Reply

      Hi Chalky,

      The Theory and Automatic are very different skis, and ski quite differently due to their difference in width, mostly. Of the skis in more of an all-mountain class (like the Theory), the Automatic 102 and 109 (which I’ve written an initial review of), are more similar to the original, powder-oriented Automatic.

      Cheers,

      Will

  8. Matt January 23, 2015 Reply

    I have been enjoying the alibi for a few years now. It’s my favorite bump ski due to the same reasons you listed above, but the metal seems to make it a better ski when some speed is involved. I have skied both and feel it’s a more versatile tool. The tapered tips still will get deflected a bit in choppy stuff, so there still is a speed limit on those days.

  9. Matt January 30, 2015 Reply

    A few days after typing the above comment, I was enjoying a demo day. After a few skis I saw the theories sitting on the rack and decided to update my perception of the ski. Maybe it was a bad tune or a bad day when I tried them out a few seasons ago? Im not sure why, but they really impressed me this go around. I spent some time A/B the alibi and theory and decided I like the theory better. The 10% less rocker isn’t noticable when smearing, but is on edge in firm snow. It seems to be just as pivoty but with better firm grip. The less tapered tips weren’t knocked around as much, and the additional camber made it more poppy.

    I was skiing the 186 theory/187 alibi on very firm bumped up steeps on the north face and softer moguls with an inch of wind blown powder on the South. It’s definitely my favorite firm day/steep/bump and tree ski right now, and I think I’m going to apply my demo money to a pair the next time I’m up there.

    It seems like the alibi is more designed for days when I would be reaching for a wider or stiffer ski anyway.

  10. Don March 16, 2015 Reply

    I’ve skied 30 days (Flumserberg, Switzerland) on the Theory this year in everything from great powder days, crud, hard pistes, mogals and the ski is just super in every condition. I can not fault it. I’ll never take my carving skis out again the Theory is so good on the piste. Even on tight steep black runs, so long as you initiate a turn fast with a good pole plant and shifting weight on to the uphill ski they just pop along on every turn.
    Before getting these skis I would have said I was an Advanced skier but the Theory has really shifted me into the expert category and I am pretty proud of a nice short turn and carving technique that the ski has opened up for me. As for 10-30cm of powder, just relax and let the ski rip.
    I’m 177cm and 70kg and was really worried that the 177cm ski would be too big for my size and weight as I often ski with my kids and for this an agile shorter ski is better, but in fact I would say it is perfect size for me. It could even be 3-5cm longer for me and it would still be fine.

  11. Sam Apoc June 9, 2015 Reply

    Hey guys, love the reviews! Very thorough and fun to read. Hoping to get your take on a ski recommendation as a daily driver for the east coast.

    A little background info, I’m a 6′-0″ 185 advanced skier with a racing background currently living near D.C. “Home mountain” is in WV. Past couple of years I’ve been riding my Fischer racestock slalom skis exclusively and now I’m looking for something to round out my quiver. Not looking to replace/replicate the feel of the SL’s. I’ll keep those for the really firm days or the days I just feel like ripping groomers.

    Really just looking for something that doesn’t feel out of place on groomers and can lay over an edge when I want to (not expecting race ski performance, but still should be fun on groomed conditions), but also has the ability to drop into the park, hit a few jumps, the occasional box/rail. And I’d also like it to be versatile enough to ski bumps/trees and the occasional light powder day (nothing very deep). And I’d like it to have enough width underfoot that I can take it to the northeast or the occasional trip out west and it can still hold its own (on something other that a big pow day).

    So far I think I’ve narrowed it down to the following, in no particular order:
    Blizzard Regulator
    Atomic Theory
    4frnt Gaucho
    Nordica Soul Rider

    I’m also somewhat considering these but fear they may be geared more toward the soft snow that we don’t always get here in the southeast:
    Faction Prodigy
    Volkl Bridge
    Rossi Scmitar
    Line Sick Day 95

    Possibly the K2 Shreditor 92, though it seems more geared toward freestyle/park than all mountain. On the other end of the spectrum, the Kendos and Brahmas look like nice skis, but probably aren’t playful enough for what I’m looking for.

  12. Ian June 10, 2015 Reply

    Kastle mx88 would be ideal, a fantastic all mountain ski with two layers of metal, very damp, super smooth, holds a great edge and will work in all but the deepest conditions. Powerful ski but with a big sweet spot and versatile, a great all round ski.

  13. Zak July 16, 2015 Reply

    I am a big dude, over 50, raced for years, but still want to rip it. I searched for a ski to replace my beat Volkl G4s for 2 years, possibly looking for something easier on these legs.
    Demo’d the Theory for 2 days in Summit County and WOW…..
    I felt like I was 30 again and had no trouble making the quick turns on the chutes of Copper or the ultra steep of A Basin. Trees were fun again.
    I do not know why, they should be soft, but they are not, they responded to my 290 lbs. at will and even made quick cuts when jumping cornices…just 3 footers though.
    All in all, I was/am thrilled and bought a pair for next season.
    I tried the Brahma’s (unresponsive), Rossi S (sloppy), and several Volkl’s…not as responsive as G4s.
    They also held speed pretty well, but I was not confident enough on them yet to bomb them at Mach 2.

    For an aggressive back bowl visitor who hangs alot on groomers…this is it.
    As mentioned, it is likely that you will need a pow ski…but that is why they made Pontoons

  14. Daniel October 24, 2016 Reply

    Hey I have these in 177 and love them. I’m only intermediate level so carving skill limited but find these great with skidding turns.
    My question is I’m going to Japan in January and wondering if these will be ok for on piste and toward the back end of the trip taking them into some softer/deeper stuff.
    Would love your opinion. I’ve been reading up on the soul 7’s and armada tst’s as an alternative.
    What’s your opinion on their suitability for Japan. Hakuba to be exact.

    Cheers guys.

  15. Jordan April 25, 2017 Reply

    I’ve owned a pair of Theory skis for a couple years now, and I just want to say that I think this review is absolutely spot on! I believe you’ve identified this ski’s strengths and weaknesses very precisely. This is a pair that really helped me advance from an intermediate to nearly an expert. The versatility of this ski really allowed me to push my boundaries along the way.

    Unfortunately, now I believe I need another set, specifically to counter this ski’s weaknesses. I think I’m starting to ski faster, steeper, and deeper than what the Theory’s are comfortable with.

    Would you have a recommendation for a ski that is more stable when the conditions are mixed and can handle deeper snow, but that responds similar to the Theory in the moguls?

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