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2nd Look: Nordica El Capo

Review of the Nordica El Capo, Blister Gear Review

14/15 Nordica El Capo

Ski: 2014-2015 Nordica El Capo, 185cm

Dimensions (mm): 137-107-125

Sidecut Radius: 25 meters

Actual Tip-to-Tail Length (Straight Tape Pull): 186.0cm

BLISTER’s Measured Weight Per Ski: 2,421 & 2,420 grams

Mount Location: Factory Recommended Line

Boots / Bindings: Tecnica Cochise 130 Pro / Marker Jester (DIN 11)

Test Locations: Alta Ski Area, Brighton, Brian Head, Solitude, Mt. Baker, Whistler Blackcomb, Revelstoke, Jackson Hole

Days Skied: 20

[Editor’s Note: Our review was conducted on the 13/14 El Capo, which is unchanged for 14/15, except for the graphics.]

In my review of the LINE Influence 105, I described that ski as “a perfect all-mountain ripper” for my style of skiing. Jonathan was curious to find out how similar or different the 105s were to another all-mountain ski with metal that he reviewed last spring—the Nordica El Capo—so he sent the El Capos my way to get my take on them.

Flex Patterns & Rocker Profiles

Before even putting the skis on snow I noticed some obvious differences between the El Capo and the Influence 105. The El Capos are just a touch softer underfoot, but abruptly change to be quite a bit softer at the tip and tail, and are clearly softer than those of the Influence. The El Capo also has a larger sidecut radius than the Influence 105 (25 meters and 19.8 meters, respectively), a smaller amount of splay at the tip (~9cm and ~13cm, respectively), and a subtly rockered tail (whereas the Influence 105 has no tail rocker).

Powder

My first day on the El Capos was opening day at Alta, and the mountain delivered with about a foot of dry, fairly dense, recrystallized powder.

As I made my some of my season’s first lift-served turns through pow stashes in the trees off of Wildcat, I quickly noticed the first major difference between the El Capos and the Influence 105—even in powder, I would drive the shovels of the Influence 105s, which would cause the tips to plane just under the snow, creating a smooth ride but definitely not providing a surfy feeling. But when I tried driving the shovels of the El Capo in powder, the tips dove and I was nearly bucked over the handlebars. A few turns later, when I shifted my weight into a neutral stance, the tips rose to the surface and I was impressed by how floaty and surfy the El Capo felt in soft snow. This neutral stance that Jonathan also noted in his review of the El Capo was an important discovery in the process of figuring out how best to ride these skis.

With a neutral stance, the El Capo feels smooth and surfy. That surfiness (also noted by Jonathan in his review of the El Capo) makes it easy to initiate a variety of turn shapes, even at slow to moderate speeds. I felt equally comfortable making tight turns through trees, large GS turns in open bowls, and releasing my edges to slide / smear a turn in the new snow.

Brett Caroll reviewing the Nordica El Capo, Blister Gear Review

Brett Carroll on the Nordica El Capo. (photo by Carl Heath)

This characteristic also leads me to describe them as “playful”, as I enjoyed flowing through everything from tight trees to open bowls making turns of any shape I chose. I say playful with some hesitation, as many people associate “playful” with “poppy,” and being able to bounce from turn to turn by building elastic energy in the ski. The El Capo is not a poppy ski, and favors smooth transitions between turns over more bouncy, elastic ones.

Overall, I agree with Jonathan’s assessment of the El Capo’s powder performance, as a surfy, versatile, easy ski to ride—so long as they are skied in a neutral stance.

Soft Chop / Crud

Most of my ski days at Alta this year fall into the “soft chop / crud” category. After reading Jonathan’s review, it seems that our experiences in these conditions differed a bit.

Jonathan was disappointed that he couldn’t drive the shovels of the El Capo harder through choppy snow. I agree that I felt uncomfortable charging through chop with a forward stance, driving the shovels; so if you prefer skiing with this type of style, these skis might not be for you. However, after my experience in powder I decided to try riding the El Capos through chop with a neutral stance—with great results.

When I shifted my weight into a neutral stance, the stiff section underfoot became a stable platform for riding over the chop. Rather than having the shovels feel like they were folding up on me, the softer tips helped to absorb the bumps in front of me.

The El Capo’s Tails (Why Semantics Matter)

Jonathan describes the softer tails of the El Capos as making the skis less forgiving—by virtue of creating a smaller sweet spot on the ski—than stiffer all-mountain skis like the Moment Belafonte, Blizzard Cochise, or Volkl Katana. I have a slightly different take on this as well, as I found the softer tails of the El Capo to be more forgiving than, say, the stiffer tails of the Influence 105. When I get in the backseat on the Influence 105s I feel like it takes a lot of strength to pull them back under me again. But when I end up in the back seat on the El Capo, I press back on the tails, and allow the elastic energy from bending the tails to push me forwards again.

Jonathan and I spent a lot of time discussing why our opinions of the El Capo’s tails differed quite a bit, even though we both weigh about 180 pounds. What we came up with was, given my racing background and strong preference for a forward stance, what I think of as “back seat” may be what Jonathan describes as “getting back a little”—which he notes is a position where the El Capo does, in fact, still feel supportive. (In his review, Jonathan wrote that it’s if and when your hips get behind your heels that the tails of the El Capo seem to vanish.) But he and I agree that if you rarely find yourself in that definition of the “back seat,” then the issue isn’t an issue.

Furthermore, Jonathan prefers to make big, fast turns through firm, bumped up conditions, with lots of time spent in the air between turns and frequent landings in uneven snow. I like to ski this way through softer, shallower chop, but once the bumps reach a certain size, I prefer to shut it down and ski a little slower with more precise turns. This is probably also why, after 20+ days on the El Capo, I never found the softer tails to be a liability.

While the El Capo is not especially energetic, elastic, or “poppy,” I also found it to absorb most of the energy of riding through chop. This allowed me to feel comfortable skiing fast through soft, uneven snow, as I never had an issue with the skis getting bounced around or having the tips feel like they were folding up or deflecting.

Finally, the combination of subtle tip and tail rocker and a larger sidecut radius made me feel comfortable making a wide variety of turn shapes at all speeds. I felt confident making quick slalom turns and fast GS turns, all while knowing that I could release the edges and smear out a turn any time I wanted. These skis also felt solid while running bases flat, as the combination of these features minimize the risk of these skis getting hung up on uneven terrain.

Moguls

I completely agree with Jonathan’s take on the El Capo in bumps. As he describes, their weight (2400+ grams per ski) and construction help absorb the impact of each mogul, while their softer tip and tail keep them from getting hung up on the bumps or in the troughs. And I, too, found the El Capo to handle bumps best at slow to moderate speeds with more precise turns, rather than raging through them with fast GS turns.

Firm Chop / Frozen Chunder

Luckily I haven’t had too many days so far this season that I would put in the “Firm Chop / Frozen Chunder” category, but the El Capos have handled well the few runs that I have taken through some chop with a thick sun crust.

Here again, the El Capo prefers to be ridden with a neutral stance through firm chop. When skied this way, its stiffness underfoot provides a solid platform from which I could ski confidently. While its tips and tails are relatively soft, I never had an issue with them noodling out.  Although softer, they are still very damp, and I felt like that characteristic helped the ski absorb a lot of the impact of riding over firm, uneven snow.

9 Comments

  1. Blister Member
    Vince January 16, 2014 Reply

    Hey Brett can you enlighten me on what you mean by “neutral stance”? Thanks.

    • Author
      Brett Carroll January 17, 2014 Reply

      For sure. By neutral stance I mean that my weight is evenly distributed between the balls and heels of my feet, and that my center of gravity is directly over the middle of my foot.

  2. Mogsie March 13, 2014 Reply

    Hi!
    I’m a 210 ponds, 6 feet advanced skier and I’m wondering if I should go with the 185 or the 177 as they run long… I want them for skiing mostly in the north east ( lets say Jay Peak) the day after the storm on groomed, mogul field and tight trees…Any advice?

  3. Blister Member
    Richard de Garis March 30, 2014 Reply

    Thank you (Brett and Jonathan) so much for your thoughtful, detailed and lucid comments on the El Capo. This was very influential in my decision to purchase these skis and i’ve enjoyed evey run down the slopes of Vail and Beaver Creek.
    There are many reviews of the El Capo, with an almost universal conclusion of ‘big and burly’. They all got it wrong. You guys got it right. Thank you!

    • Author
      Brett Carroll March 30, 2014 Reply

      Glad to hear you’re enjoying the skis. Thanks for the kind words!

  4. Pete February 24, 2015 Reply

    How do these compare with the Helldorado (which I own and love) ? I can get these for a steal and would love to have another mid-fat to switch out with the Helldo’s

  5. Will September 13, 2015 Reply

    Hey, I was wondering if you or Jonathan have any experience on the Vagabond? I’m wondering how the El Capo compares to the Vagabond and which ski excels in different areas Specifically on groomers, in crud and in powder. Thanks!

  6. Dana November 28, 2015 Reply

    Brett, do these ski long or short? At 6’5″ 230lbs should I definitely be looking at the 193 cm?

  7. Gord February 5, 2016 Reply

    I have to say you guys are wrong about this ski at least from the way I have found them – they are great. I think too that Brett may have liked them more than he was saying. I really like them – maybe I was just lucky about the way I ski.

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