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

2017-2018 4FRNT Raven

Jonathan Ellsworth reviews the 4FRNT Raven for Blister Gear Review

4FRNT Raven

Ski: 2017-2018 4FRNT Raven, 184 cm

Available Lengths (cm): 184, 190 cm

Blister’s Measured Length (straight tape pull): 182.8 cm

Stated Weight per Ski: 1770 g

Blister’s Measured Weight per Ski: 1745 & 1747 grams

Stated Dimensions (mm): 120-104-112

Blister’s Measured Dimensions (mm): 121-103.5-112

Stated Sidecut Radius: 29 meters

Tip & Tail Splay (ski decambered): 67 mm / 22 mm

Traditional Camber Underfoot: 0 mm

Recommended Mount Point: 86.0 cm from tail

Test Locations: New Zealand, Colorado, & New Mexico backcountry

Boots: Salomon MTN Lab, Salomon MTN Explore, Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD 130; Salomon S-Lab X-Alp

Bindings: Marker Kingpin

Days Tested: 17

Intro

Well the time has come to finally say more about one of our favorite touring skis.

But just to recap:

(1) The Raven received one of two ‘Best Of’ awards that we handed out for touring skis in our 16/17 Buyer’s Guide. And — spoiler alert — since the Raven comes back unchanged, and since we have subsequently put a lot more time on it over this past season, the Raven is the recipient of another ‘Best Of’ award in our 17/18 Buyer’s Guide.

We’ll be saying more about the 17/18 Guide very, very soon — sign up for the weekly Blister Newsletter, and look for it in your inbox tomorrow morning.

(2) We also wrote a glowing report in our initial Flash Review of the Raven, and pretty much every impression we wrote about in that Flash Review has been confirmed with more time on snow.

So why do we think the Raven is so good? We’ll get to that in just a second, but first, a bit on the evolution of the Raven and a few details…

Jonathan Ellsworth reviews the 4FRNT Raven for Blister Gear Review

Jonathan Ellsworth on the 4FRNT Raven. (photo by Nate Murray)

Evolution of the Raven

I talked to 4FRNT Skis founder, Matt Sterbenz, about the various iterations of the Raven, and this is how he summed it up:

“The first year Raven (2014-2015) had a dual radius sidecut with carbon laminates edge to edge in the tips and tails. While Hoji [4FRNT skier and part owner, Eric Hjorleifson, who worked on the design of the Raven] was absolutely slaying on this ski, we got some complaints that:

  • The dual radius made the ski feel unbalanced on edge.
  • The full-width isolated carbon laminated segments of the tip and tail was throwing off the even-flexing feel of the ski.
  • The ski wasn’t light enough.
  • It was only offered in a 184 cm length, and that was too short for some skiers.

So In response, we introduced a new 190 cm length in year 2 with a singular, 29 meter sidecut with the same construction.

So it goes:

14/15: 184 cm Raven, with dual sidecut geometry + carbon tip and tail.

15/16: Same 184 cm Raven, but we introduced the 190 cm Raven — but with a single geometry — and both the 184 cm and 190 cm models were built with the first year Raven’s carbon tip and tail.

16/17: New 184 cm Raven – the 184 now has the single geo mould, so gets made to ski like the 190 cm Raven 190. We also introduced a new lightweight core and laminate construction, now with full-length carbon stringers tip to tail, and no longer edge to edge.

17/18: The 184 cm and 190 cm Raven are the same as the 16/17 Raven.

And the camber profile of the ski stays steady throughout all of the iterations of the ski.”

Good recap, Matt.

And to be clear, we have been testing the 16/17, 184 cm Raven, which comes back unchanged for next season.

(And here’s to not changing skis that you have finally dialed in over the years.)

Flex Pattern of the 16-17 / 17-18 Raven

Hand flexing the ski, I would sum it up like this:

Tips: 6

Shovel: 8-9

Underfoot: 10

Behind the Heelpiece: 10-9

Tails: 8.5-8

While the Raven has a very accessible tip, the ski gets quite stiff through the middle, and softens up a bit through the tails. The tails are still pretty stout, but they are not eyebrow-raising stiff — in all of my time on the Raven, it’s never struck me as a particularly stiff ski, and certainly not a demanding ski. At all. This flex pattern just works, and it works perfectly in concert with the shape and rocker profile of the ski.

Shape + Rocker Profile

This is a pretty straight ski, and I’ll say more below about why I (and reviewers Paul Forward and Brian Lindahl) tend to like straight ski shapes in the backcountry.

The tip of the ski exhibits very little tip taper (another bonus, in my opinion), but there is a long, subtle amount of taper at the tail — the widest point of the rear of the ski 26-27 cm from the end of the ski. So it’s a long, subtle tail taper, and we never found the ski to lack support or stability, which can become an issue with more heavily tail tapered + tail rockered skis.

Jonathan Ellsworth reviews the 4FRNT Raven for Blister Gear Review

Jonathan Ellsworth on the 4FRNT Raven. (photo by Jamie Autumn Bobb)

Speaking of rocker, the Raven has a pretty subtle and quite beautiful tail rocker line.

The tip rocker line is less subtle, which is probably a good thing — and one of the reasons why the Raven fairs pretty well in deeper snow.

So What’s the On-Snow Result?

The Raven is a very easy ski to ski.

It is also proved to remain remarkably predictable in really horrible conditions, i.e., chewed-up, bulletproof coral reef. On the particular day I’m speaking of, this was awful snow, and it was horrible skiing. But the flat camber underfoot and solid flex profile of the Raven made it easy to avoid having the ski hook up unwantedly in these conditions.

(In such conditions, I wouldn’t want to have a lot of traditional camber underfoot, and I wouldn’t want to have a ski with a lot of sidecut that would be more prone to getting caught and hooked by the frozen-apocalypse chunks.)

And in warmer, weird, punchy / grabby conditions, the Raven’s rocker profile also makes skiing pretty predictable and easier than it would be on skis with a lot of camber underfoot and very flat, fat tails.

Here’s what we wrote about the Raven in our 16/17 Buyer’s Guide:

“The Raven’s weight to downhill performance is excellent, and it is also probably the easiest ski in this section to ski. So everyone from newbies on up to experts, take note. Its lack of camber makes it easy to smear this ski around in funky, backcountry snow, and its relatively large sidecut radius helps keep this light ski from feeling twitchy or hooky. The result is that we were all surprised by how relatively hard we could push the 184 Raven, earning it a spot in our “50 / 50” section.”

A Couple Notes + Another PSA

Those of you who insist on skiing lightweight skis inbounds should have the Raven on your radar. And especially if (sigh) the trend continues for inbounds skis to become lighter and lighter, then in a year or two, the Raven will look even better as an inbounds tool.

(Public Service Announcement #4,246: dear skiers, regardless of what the entire industry keeps telling you, weight is not your natural enemy; in the right circumstances — and in many circumstances — weight can be your best friend.)

For my money, however, if you took the exact shape of the Raven, built it with heavier materials, and bumped its weight up from ~1750 g per ski to, say, 2150 g per ski … I would be extremely interested in the Raven for inbounds duties. Of course, 4FRNT is already making a somewhat similar ski called the Devastator, and you might want to check it out.

But while going lightweight with your skis when you’re lazily riding chairlifts can be a very overrated thing to prioritize, when you have to drag those skis up a skin track, that’s a different story, and we are always looking for skis that offer the best combination of low weight + downhill performance. And that’s where the Raven is hard to beat.

What about Good Conditions?

I’m glad you asked. But the reality is that in really nice, light pow or on really smooth, clean chalk, you will pay far less of a penalty for being on a lightweight ski. So in a beautiful, fresh, 12-24” of powder, there are any number of ~105mm-wide skis with tip and tail rocker that are going to allow you to have an amazing day. But far fewer skis can come in at ~1750 g per ski, perform wonderfully in good conditions, but then also perform as admirably as the Raven in less-than-wonderful conditions.

And that’s why I’ve spent so much time above talking about the less-than-wonderful stuff.

And the funny part here is that this really shouldn’t be that hard; if touring skis are going to keep getting lighter and lighter, but you still need them to not suck / not be terrifying in shitty conditions, then just:

(1) Don’t over-taper the tip. The lighter you go, the less tip taper that ski needs.

(2) Go mellow with the amount of traditional camber underfoot. (You’re skiing the backcountry for goodness sake, you’re not running slalom gates on groomed slopes. You don’t need a ton of energy out of the turn.)

(3) Relatedly, you don’t need much sidecut. Again, unless you ski tour with slalom gates tucked away in your backpack and you set a course as you move up the mountain.

(4) Give the ski a nice, solid flex pattern. Especially with this shape, you’ll create a big sweet spot for the ski, and make the ski easy to stand on (as opposed to feeling like you’re struggling like mad just to maintain your balance) when conditions go variable — or horrible.

Are There Exceptions to This?

Of course.

(1) If you are often ski mountaineering on steep, super firm lines, then you have very good reasons to want a fat, flat tail and some (or a bunch) of traditional camber underfoot. I have yet to get the Raven on top of any super steep, super firm lines, and to be honest, I think the ski would perform okay (and predictably) on such lines. But the fact is, this design would not be my first choice. I’ll take the additional bite you’d get from a fat, flat tail and some traditional camber underfoot.

(2) If you really like to make a lot of turns — or if you are looking for a ski to be used inbounds and out of bounds — then the Raven is probably not the ticket. The Raven is straight enough and has a solid enough flex pattern that it definitely does not want to carve turns at slow speeds. I tried this a few times on different days, and it just doesn’t work. While you can pretty easily smear shorter turns on the Raven, to genuinely carve turns, you’ll need some speed and be okay making bigger shapes — and then, the Raven excels.

Jonathan Ellsworth reviews the 4FRNT Raven for Blister Gear Review

Jonathan Ellsworth on the 4FRNT Raven, Kachina Peak, NM. (photo by Jamie Autumn Bobb)

I happen to like making bigger turns at speed, so once again, the Raven is a good match for me personally, but your preferences may lean the other way.

Length / Sizing Recommendations

We have only skied the 184 cm Raven, and reviewer Paul Forward is dying to get on the 190 cm Raven (if you own a pair, lock them up if Paul’s around). But reviewer Brian Lindahl and I (who are both about 5’10” and ~175 lbs) have been quite content with the 184s — especially for touring — and we also think that advanced, much lighter skiers won’t have any problem handling the 184s.

But if you are on the fence w/r/t sizing, while we are pleased with the stability we’re getting out of the 184 Raven, none of us believe that the 190 will be a bear, and we wouldn’t caution you against sizing up if you are inclined to.

Bottom Line

The 4FRNT Raven is a dialed-in touring ski that was clearly designed with backcountry skiing first and foremost, as opposed to being an inbounds ski that was simply put on a diet. It is easy to ski, yet it also holds up as well as anything we’ve skied at this weight to hard, aggressive skiing.

It’s probably not really Eric Hjorleifsons’ style, but he and 4FRNT could have easily named this ski the Mic Drop.

Deep Dive Comparisons — 4FRNT Raven

To get our comparisons on the Raven vs the HEAD Kore 105, LINE Tourist 102, Volkl BMT 109, Black Diamond Helio 105, Blizzard Zero G 108, Faction Candide 3.0, Salomon QST 106, and G3 FNDr 102, become a Blister member or Deep Dive subscriber, then check out our Deep Dive Comparisons article.

NEXT: ROCKER PROFILE PICS

12 Comments

  1. Blister Member
    Lukas August 18, 2017 Reply

    Great review Jonathan, worth the wait. If I hadn’t a 95mm (Salomon MTN) and a 115mm (Bibby Tour) touring ski, I would want THIS.

    Keep healing!

  2. Matt Sterbenz August 18, 2017 Reply

    Thank you Jon. Thorough and on point as usual. Honored and grateful to have been able to contribute to your in-depth review and hopefully others feel the vibe and get out and enjoy our shared favs! Cheers bro.

  3. Blister Member
    Dan August 18, 2017 Reply

    Great review Jonathan. I toured on the 2016-17 Ravens, 184cm with Kingpins last season. And I did get them out on some steep firm snow in the couliors of the Sawtooths. We did a four day hut trip out there with some pretty terrible snow.

    On the firm and steep north facing couloirs, the Ravens did great, easy and predictable like you described. We also skied two days of the worst breakable crust I have ever ridden. In those conditions, the semi pintail/long tail taper of the Ravens kind of sucked. It would lock the back half of the ski below the crust, making it almost impossible to turn. Now it’s important to note that I wasn’t the only one with this problem, even the guides were falling in these conditions.

    Still, it makes me wonder… what if the Raven had a little fatter tail, and/or shorter length of tail taper? Would it ski crust even better? It probably wouldn’t ski pow as well, but that would be a trade off I would take.

    P.S. Sterbenz, please make the Devastator in a 189cm goldilocks size!!! It’d be the best resort ski EVAR!!!

    • Author

      First of all, I really need to get out to the Sawtooths. Second, thanks so much for the feedback. Very interesting. And yeah, it’s hard to say how much better you would have fared on breakable crust if the Raven had a fatter tail. In my experience – and given that the tail taper on the Raven is pretty subtle – I am more inclined to blame the low weight and width of the ski. On breakable crust (which as you note is pretty horrible on all skis), I’d want something heavier and wider and with a ton of tip and tail rocker — get the tails far away from that crust. And in this sense, the DPS Lotus 138 is a pretty good breakable crust ski — your on a wide platform underfoot – basically standing on a wide disc – with super heavily rockered (and tapered) tips and tails that won’t sink or catch – the tips and tails tend to stay above the crust the whole time.

      So I’m not entirely sure that widening the tail of the Raven would really alter its performance on breakable crust. If you left all other variables the same, I’d think you’d mostly just want to rocker its tail even more – that doing so would have a more significant impact on breakable-crust performance.

      But thanks be to god, I don’t spend *that* much time skiing breakable crust, so I’m not certain that I’m correct about this. Mostly, screw you, breakable crust.

  4. Son August 18, 2017 Reply

    Hi,

    First, thank you for a great review! After a winter skiing the 184s I can completely agree your assesment of the ski. But since I got the skis I have always been wondering how they compare to the Hojis for touring. The 179 hojis weigh about the same as the 184 ravens, so wight is not an issue. I initially went for the Ravens because I tried to be realistic about what snow conditions I would encounter (Norwegian coastal touring), but my experience the past year is that a wider Hoji would probably do just as good in most conditions, espescially in refrozen crust an deeper powder. I have not skied the hojis, so I cannot say for sure. Do you have any possible insight regarding this comparison?

    Where would you pick the one over the other?

  5. Blister Member
    George August 19, 2017 Reply

    Would it be safe to say the Hoji 187 is just a fatter more powder oriented Raven 184 given the similarities in construction and shape? Any plans to review the new Hoji?

    • Author

      This is precisely what we’re wondering, George. We only skied the Hoji back in 2012, and that ski definitely did not simply feel to me like a wider, current edition of the Raven. So yes, we do hope to get on the current Hoji soon. But in a few hours, I’m going to be talking to Hoji about the Hoji, so I’ll ask him and get his take on this question. And that podcast will hopefully go live tomorrow.

  6. Author

    For anyone interested in hearing Hoji himself talk about the Raven vs. the Hoji vs. the Renegade, check out this conversation Eric and I had this past weekend:

    http://blistergearreview.com/featured/ep-51-eric-hjorleifson-ski-design-pillow-lines

  7. Blister Member
    Guy Anderson August 24, 2017 Reply

    4Front has summer sale not sure for how long with the 2 Co’s coming together….J SKIS & 4Front….great podcast a few weeks ago with 2 pioneers of the ski industry hosted by JE.

    IF my eyes serve me correctly $499 pre order sale ….WOW….hope the wife does not notice….gray ones blur together I hope. :)

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