2020 Rossignol Black Ops 98 Ski Review: // Ski Reviews
Progressive riders. Full send mode. Push the boundaries. Athlete-driven development. No release date. If you open up the 2020 Rossignol catalog, that’s just about all you’re going to read about the Black Ops 98. It’s the narrower of two athlete-inspired freeride twin-tip skis, with the other going all the way up to 118 mm underfoot. The Black Ops 98, on the other hand, is a more versatile (you guessed it) 98 mm underfoot. At first glance, it looks super sleek. Blacked-out graphics are embossed with a panther graphic, snarling with attitude. It looks like a ski that wants to slay the whole mountain. In our opinion, the Black Ops 98 tends to fly under the radar, partly due to the fact that Rossignol doesn’t release much information about them, and that you don’t see a tremendous amount of them on the hill. If you’re the type of skier that values powerful versatility combined with playfulness and a progressive shape, however, you should be paying attention.
The Black Ops skis (both the 118 and 98) are largely inspired by Chris Logan and Parker White, two long-time Rossignol athletes. Both skiers are known for their freestyle and backcountry prowess, bringing new tricks with an aggressive skiing style into new zones. They both ski with a combination of style and power that’s hands-down impressive and arguably some of the most well-rounded skiing on the planet. As it turns out, that’s a good way to describe the Black Ops 98 as well.
While the Rossignol catalog or website doesn’t give you much information, we were able to do some digging and found some more details about the Black Ops 98. We already know it’s 98 mm underfoot, uses a wood core, has tip and tail rocker, extended sidecut, and a twin tip shape. You can learn those things basically just by looking at the ski. What you can’t learn from the catalog or by holding a pair in your hand, however, is that they use a partial metal laminate underfoot and rubber tip and tail inserts. The metal underfoot stiffens the ski in that area and not only provides stability, but also gives the ski a progressive flex as the tips and tails are allowed to be softer. Those rubber inserts help smooth out the ski and provide additional vibration damping, but are lighter than metal, which brings the swing weight down. It’s really cool construction and results in a pretty unique feel overall. Part of us thinks Rossignol would be better off making the construction and design details more available to the public, because skiers are smart and like to know these things, but we also like the secretive nature. It makes it feel exclusive and special.
And to be completely honest, special is a good way to describe the Black Ops 98. There aren’t many skis with this feel. On groomed trails, they feel exceptionally smooth and much more powerful than most twin tip skis. I personally wish more manufacturers made twin tips with metal, and maybe that’s something we’re going to see more of down the road (Nordica Enforcer 104 falls into that category and seems to already be gaining a strong following). Regardless of why we don’t see them often or whether we’ll see more, it’s a lot of fun. The extended sidecut and the fact that the rocker profile is relatively low rise gives you really good edge grip, not just for a twin tip, for anything. You can ski the Black Ops fast and aggressively on groomers and it’ll hold just fine. The carving turn shape feels pretty long, and it’s stiff enough that it’s pretty challenging to get it to flex into shorter radius carves. If you’re carving, it prefers longer arcing turns, that’s for sure. Its ability to pivot, smear, and slash, on the other hand, is mind-blowingly easy. It’s not an energetic, quick pivot, rather a slow, smooth smear. In fact, this is a good time to mention that nothing about the Black Ops 98 feels particularly quick, but considering there is a whole slew of ultra-lightweight, flimsy twin tips to choose from, that’s perfectly okay with us.
When we think about how Parker White and Chris Logan ski, this performance makes a lot of sense. You can make these high-speed, long, smearing, slarving turns where you’re closely manipulating speed, and you can do it through any kind of snow conditions. Those two skiers spend a lot of time in the backcountry, so having the ability to moderate speed through a sketchy line, while still skiing in a way that’s aesthetically pleasing for the cameras that are likely focused on them is very valuable. The stability and the ski’s willingness to release the tail edge is perhaps what sets it apart from other freeride, all-mountain twin tips above anything else. There are other skis that feel as stable, but not as easy to ski, and on the contrary, there are plenty of skis that are this easy to maneuver, but don’t feel as smooth. Of course, that comes along with a little extra weight, which makes the Black Ops 98 more demanding than those lighter, softer-flexing skis, but once again, that’s just fine by us.
There are bound to be skiers who want to use the Black Ops 98 to cross over between freeride/all-mountain skiing and into dedicated terrain park use. That’s a good application for it, but not for a beginner or intermediate skier. Its performance in the park is particularly challenging for anyone without fairly accomplished ability or plenty of confidence. The heavier feel on your feet requires more skier input for just about anything in the park. It’s not the quickest, jibbiest ski, but it’s perfectly capable. For me, as a 33 year-old who used to compete in slopestyle, a ski like this is just about perfect. I can still ski in the park, I can still do tricks on jumps and slide rails, but I’m likely not doing any switch 1080s on it or multiple switch ups on rails. As my perception of the risk/reward ratio changes, I’m perfectly happy to trade some “trickability” for stability at speed and performance around the rest of the mountain.
Without a doubt, a skier like myself is a good candidate for the Black Ops 98. That said, you definitely don’t need to have a terrain park background to enjoy its performance. We put a whole slew of testers on it throughout this past ski season, most of which don’t ski in the park at all, and there was overwhelming support and high-praise for this ski. All of our testers and staff who skied it appreciated its blend of power, stability, maneuverability, and playfulness. It’s hands-down a good option as a one-ski-quiver for the type of skier that likes to ski everything and doesn’t want to make significant sacrifices in any application. It carves, it smears, it plays, and it floats. It’s also incredibly predictable. During a long media day with the Rossignol crew, I opted for the Black Ops 98 as the ski I used while filming follow-cam skiing. Stable at speed, I could easily dump speed when I needed to without paying much attention to the ski, and heck, I looked darn good while doing it.