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2nd Look: 2013-2014 Nordica Hell & Back

2013-2014 Nordica Hell & Back, Blister Gear Review

Ski: Nordica Hell & Back, 185cm

Dimensions: 138-98-125

Actual Tip-to-Tail Length (Straight Tape Pull): 184.02 cm

Sidecut Radius: 21 meters

BLISTER’s Measured Weight: 2056 and 2060 grams

Boots/Bindings: Lange Super Banshee/ Marker Jester (DIN at 10)

Mount Location: Recommended Line

Test Location: Stowe, Vermont

Days Skied: 8

In Jonathan Ellsworth’s review of the Nordica Hell & Back, he writes, “Everything about the Nordica Hell & Back makes sense: the flex pattern, the tip shape, the tail shape, the camber profile, the tip rocker line, the amount of splay in the tip rocker, the whole bit.”

I agree.

I’ve spent seven days on the Hell & Back at Stowe, Vermont, and I’ve I skied everything on it—slush, groomers, powder, cut-up pow and crud, and yes, some ice.

And what I’ve learned is that the Hell & Back could easily become a daily driver for skiers looking for a precise, active, powerful ski that is still relatively easy to ski.

Flex Pattern

Jonathan noted that the Hell & Back’s tips hand flexed pretty stiff, though not as stiff as the metal-topsheeted Volkl Mantra. I would agree – the Mantra’s tip does flex stiffer and feels as though the rebound is slightly slower. The Hell & Back’s rebound feels snappier.

The Hell & Back flexes mid-stiff through the center of the ski and noticeably stiffer in the tails than the center and tips. This is something that I would notice repeatedly while skiing them: the Hell & Back will finish turns with a vengeance, and rocket you into the next one. This is not a drifty, vague sort of ski. It’s precise and snappy.

Shape and Camber Profile

The Hell & Back has a simple shape: the widest part of the tip is as far forward as it can get, then tapers back from 135mm to a 98mm waist, then finishes with the widest part of the 125mm tail very close to the end of the ski (see the profile pics on the last page).

Jonathan notes that this traditional tip design can sacrifice quickness (compared to skis with more heavily tapered tips), but I didn’t feel like it was much of a sacrifice on the Hell & Back—this ski is still quick; short-radius turns in variable conditions were no problem. And because the tips are relatively stiff and wide, they suffered from very little deflection in chop. (Note that I chose to ski the Hell & Back on the recommended line, while Jonathan moved his bindings up 0.5cm from the recommended line.)

The subtly splayed tip transitions to traditional camber underfoot that extends all the way to the tail. In theory, this helps the ski float in deeper snow or rise up over chop, yet still preserves enough camber for groomer-ripping. In practice, I found the Hell & Back to do just that: the tip isn’t splayed to the point where you lose significant effective edge and compromise groomer performance, but it is also forgiving enough in un-groomed conditions to allow the ski to rise up and over variable surfaces.

Groomers

I skied the Hell & Back on a lot of groomers at Stowe, and I even started ‘testing’ the groomers for hardness. I skied the Hell & Back on days when I could (1) bury the tip of my ski pole up to the basket, (2) on days when I couldn’t get more than an 1/8” into the slope, and (3) everything in between.

Dana Allen on the Nordica Hell & Back, Blister Gear Review

Dana Allen on the Nordica Hell & Back, Stowe, Vermont.

The Hell & Back skied these conditions really, really well. They’ll reward an attentive skier driving forward into the tips and setting high angles for hard turns. They’ll make long-radius turns well, but will also slalom remarkably well. And on more than one occasion, I found myself launched into the air after finishing a turn—the combination of a light ski and stiff yet snappy tail. They were explosive.

Chop

For me, this is where the Hell & Back was most surprising—in a good way. Jonathan calls them “Solid. Predictable. Good.”

Yes, Yes, and Yes.

We’ve been fortunate to have a few good early season pow days at Stowe. But by 10 AM, all the pow is gone (when you can’t get into the trees, that is), so then it’s crud-and-chop busting for the rest of the day.

The Hell & Back killed it in choppy conditions down Gondolier, Lift Line, Nosedive, and Hayride. I found a slightly more neutral stance allowed the ski to ride over the chop, thanks to that subtly splayed tip. Skis with soft tails can tend to throw you into the backseat in conditions like this, but the Hell & Back doesn’t have a soft tail. They were more than capable of holding up to the conditions, and would even correct for some user-error. And their 98mm-underfoot provided a good, supportive platform to balance on.

Slush and Refrozen Slush

Because the east coast ski gods love us and want us to be happy, I got to ski in the rain one day. For those of you who’ve never had the pleasure, rain skiing is some of the best skiing out there. It beats the hell out of icy, cold, windy days when the groomers are shinier than Mr. Clean’s dome.

Yet again, the Hell & Back was awesome in slush. I skied Liftline at Stowe, a good double fall line run that I usually avoid as it gets skied a lot and is poorly groomed. That day there were little slush piles and remnants of snow-making whalebacks. On my first two runs the slush was soft, but on the third lap, the temperature dropped and the slush crusted over hard. The Hell & Backs still performed well, biting into the uniform sections of trail and were very stable when I hit the frozen chop. For a ski that has so much active rebound, I expected them to bounce around more as soon as the tips hit the rough stuff, but I didn’t experience that. The skis simply smoothed things out more than I would have otherwise expected.

Powder

Yep, 6-10” of super light, cold pow came in on Thanksgiving day, so the Hell & Back got another workout. The snow was light, with crust underneath. The Hell & Back handled these conditions well enough, and really shined when I’d punch through all the soft and get down to the hardpack.

But the Hell & Back would not be my first choice for a pow ski. The subtle tip rocker that serves so well in harder conditions and minor chop/crud is a bit too subtle to really let the ski float up in deeper snow, nor does the tail profile or flex pattern lend itself to pressing into them to make the tips rise. And 98mm underfoot isn’t my personal sweet-spot for a pow ski. But I can say this: they will ski the hell out of a shallower pow day, and will probably work alright for a deeper one, too.

Trees (If Only…)

I’m eager to get the Hell & Back in some trees but we’re not quite there yet this season. My hunch is that they’ll work well, since they are light, provide a decent amount of flotation, and won’t fold up when skiing through the inevitable troughs that form in our Eastern woods. However, given that these skis like to carve rather than slarve, I’m not sure how quick they’ll be in the woods. East Coast tree-skiing often requires a drifty style with a lot of backseat tail-gunning for tight sections, and that’s not what the Hell & Backs were designed to do.

Bottom Line

Nordica has made a ski that is a very solid performer in a lot of categories. They accomplished this by staying away from ski-design gimmicks. Jonathan calls it “classic,” and I won’t disagree.

The Hell & Back skis groomers (of virtually every hardness) very well. It will take you from first-chair untracked pow (on ~12-18″ days) through to the afternoon’s chop. And it accomplishes this in a sub-2100 gram package that won’t leave you feeling like you’re dragging around a whole lot of ski.

I think Jonathan is right that the Hell & Back is probably too much ski for beginners, though it is surprisingly easy to ski for how substantial it is. More advanced skiers will be happy with the Hell & Back’s versatility, and ought to love the fact that they won’t outgrow the ski as their own skills advance. And experts with excellent technique will appreciate how precise and powerful this ski is without being punishing.

In short, this is a very good, versatile, stable, ski that is also fun, intuitive, and snappy in most conditions.

NEXT PAGE: ROCKER PROFILE PICS

9 Comments

  1. David Spiegel January 9, 2014 Reply

    I got to demo a Hell & Back last year. I agree with much of the review– I think a lot of skiers will feel really comfortable with the ski on day 1 in a variety of hard packed conditions. I would simply add that the tail and camber had me wishing for a more nimble ski in the trees. In wide open spaces the ski was great because the goal is to carve a nice turn. In tight spaces, I felt like these aspects of the design kept me from really throwing the ski around like I wanted to. This impression is just from a couple of runs with the ski on a cold/icy day with no new snow at Stevens Pass.

  2. Bob January 15, 2014 Reply

    I have the Enforcers and love them. They are definately more damp than the Hell and Backs, and are snappier than the Mantras. Awesome crud ski for midsize GS turns and railing on hardpack. I am 190lbs and ski it in the 186. They are findable online for cheap and worth it. The rocker in mine look a little less than the Hell and Backs. I think the Enforcers were only rockered the last two years of production.

    I trade back and forth with a buddy the has the Hell and Backs. The crapper the snow gets the more he likes the Enforcers.

  3. TM January 19, 2014 Reply

    After your second look at the hell and backs, in any soft snow conditions like moguls, trees, crud, powder would you choose to be on a kabookie, bonafide or that Hell and Back? Pretty much a no brainer that the hell and back must just tear apart groomers with that profile but if looking for some thing with a broader range of versatility what do you think?

    • Dana January 23, 2014 Reply

      Hi,
      I haven’t skied those other skis yet but they ARE on the hit list. That said, I found the Hell and Backs to be pretty versatile in soft snow and crud. I didn’t get to ski trees with them yet, but those fat, stiff tails, they might not be the easiest ski to slide and pivot around in the trees. For a primarily groomer-oriented ‘all-mountain’ ski, they’ll do pretty well in softer, beat-up snow. If I get on the Blizzards, I’ll try to add a note of comparison.

  4. Chuck January 25, 2014 Reply

    Great follow up review! As an east coaster I am happy to see this ski reviewed locally. I ski more in southern VT, Stratton, Okemo, Killington… I am now leaning toward the Hell and Back for my next ski and was almost certain that the 185 would be the right length for me but every time I go to a local shop they either say I should go to the 177 or don’t even carry the 185 as they consider it a “west coast” length. (I’m in CT). It’s making me second guess my first instinct. I’m 6′ 220’ish lbs with my gear and ski somewhat aggressively (for an aging man). I’ve always preferred GS type skis in the past. Do you have any advice based on your experience? Thanks in advance! I was also considering the Bonafide but I’m not sure I’m ready to give up a more traditional tail design.

    • Author
      Dana January 30, 2014 Reply

      Hi Chuck,
      177cm for you sounds crazy. I’m 5’10”, 185#, and would feel like I was on snowlerblades. Well, maybe not that bad, but I don’t think that a 185cm would work all that well for me. If you WANT to make really fast and small turns, then downsize, but I think that you’ll find you overpower those puppies pretty quick. Sounds like your shops are giving you the run around – there are tons of shops up in the Stowe area that sell and stock the 185cm.

      Dana

  5. Chuck February 4, 2014 Reply

    Thanks Dana,
    I appreciate the input. I have fallen behind the times in ski design and sizing. One of the local shops has a pair of 185’s down here and is having a sale next week. I’ll check them out then and if they’re sold out ill head north to find a pair.

    Thanks again,
    Chuck

  6. Blister Member
    jack September 26, 2014 Reply

    Thoughts on sizing … 5’10”, 165#, expert skier. I ski a mix of open bowls and moderately tight trees (Summit County, CO), so I want something that i can charge on but is still maneuverable.

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