2020 Volkl Kendo 88 Ski Review: // Ski Reviews
We’ve been busy over the past couple months testing a lot of new 2020 skis, and we’ve got another exciting one to share with you this week: the Volkl Kendo 88. As expected, the changes to this iconic ski follow the changes we saw for the M5 Mantra last season, but there are some differences too. We’ve had this ski in a lot of different snow conditions and it’s been passed around throughout our staff, which gives us a lot of different perspectives. We’re going to break down different performance characteristics and how the ski can be different things for different people in the second half of this article, but before we do that, let’s take a look as construction, shape, and all those nitty gritty details.
As you’ve probably guessed, the Kendo 88 now uses Titanal Frame. This was a new concept for this current ski season (2018/19) in the new M5 Mantra. If you haven’t seen our review of that ski, definitely check it out, as a lot of the same concepts carry over. The idea behind Titanal Frame is that it’s positioning metal where you need it most, instead of just using two full sheets. Along the base, there is still a full sheet of metal, but under the topsheet the metal is sectioned into two horseshoe shaped pieces that run along the edges and do not meet underfoot. By positioning metal along the edges, the ski feels powerful, stable, and has great vibration damping when it’s on edge. It also sheds weight, which is a desirable trait in an all mountain ski for most skiers. As we mentioned in the M5 Mantra review, by not connecting the metal underfoot, you get a really big sweet spot. It’s undoubtedly easier to ski than the Kendo it’s replacing, yet still has the characteristics we expect out of a ski with the Kendo name. The ski flexes more naturally under your feet, but still feels like a Kendo. Volkl also uses their Carbon Tip, which helps boost torsional stiffness when initiating turns and also helps keep the swing weight down.
Now, shape is where we start to see some differences between the M5 Mantra and the Kendo. The new shape concept for 2020 is 3D Radius Sidecut. We see this in the Kendo 88 and Mantra 102 for 2020 (yes we’ll have a review of the Mantra 102 this season as well), but we don’t see it in the M5 Mantra. It’s a cool concept, and something that you can definitely feel in the performance of the Kendo 88. The easiest way to describe this new shape is there’s three different turn radii in each length. The tip, underfoot, and the tail all have a different turn radius. Take the 177 cm length, there’s a 30 m turn radius in the tip, 17 m radius underfoot, and a 24 m turn radius in the tail. The idea is that this allows for multiple different turn shapes more easily than a ski that uses a single turn radius. Does it work? Yes, yes it does, and we’ll talk more about it when we get to performance. The other notable trait in the shape of the Kendo 88 is the rocker profile. The rocker is relatively long, although it doesn’t rise too high off the snow. This design retains long edge contact for good edge grip on firm snow, but also helps the ski feel a little more forgiving and maneuverable when you get into softer snow conditions, un-groomed terrain, etc. So, that’s the idea behind this new Kendo 88. Titanal Frame and the 3D Radius Sidecut are the two most important concepts to wrap your head around. Okay, let’s switch gears and talk performance, after all, that’s probably why you’re reading this article.
The first thing we want to say is the Kendo 88 definitely feels like a Volkl. Their skis have traditionally had a precise, performance-driven feel, and the Kendo 88 carries that forward. On firm snow, the ski can do a lot of different things. With the long rocker profile, it doesn’t feel like it takes you into a turn before you want it to, but it still feels very precise and responds to skier input really well. The construction behind the Kendo 88 gives it a distinctly responsive feel. In fact, it reacts to what you’re doing quicker than just about anything else in this width range on the market. Intermediate skiers or more timid skiers may find it’s actually too responsive, but realistically this isn’t a ski that’s geared towards timid intermediate skiers. Titanal frame is a great construction and really has some notable performance benefits. You do get really good stability on edge and good vibration damping, but the ski feels lighter on your feet than the previous Kendo. This is, in my opinion, a big reason why it feels so responsive. There are other skis in this category that feel heavier on your feet and more tank-like. Combine the slightly lighter feel with the torsional stiffness provided by this construction and you get that level of responsiveness I keep coming back to. If you like a precise ski that responds to skier input right away, chances are you’ll love the Kendo 88.
Now, let’s talk about 3D Radius Sidecut. I’ll admit I was slightly skeptical of this idea, and I’ll also admit that it look me more than just one test run to really get a feel for it, but it definitely works. If you’re initiating your turns laterally and you’re not driving the tip of the ski, you can arc what feels like a Super-G turn, and that’s an important concept for this ski. If you like a long carving turn, you can do it on the Kendo 88. If you’re not flexing the ski a lot, you’re never getting into that shorter turn radius underfoot, at least I wasn’t. As soon as you start initiating turns in more of a traditional fore/aft style, you find you can gas pedal the ski into shorter turns. Now, we talked about this quite a bit on the M5 Mantra. Even though that doesn’t use 3D Radius Sidecut, the fact that the metal doesn’t meet underfoot allows you to flex the ski into shorter turns relatively easily. The Kendo 88 makes it even easier. Now, I mentioned at the beginning of this article that the Kendo 88 can be a lot of different things for different people. I’m about 150 lbs, maybe 160 lbs with ski gear on. We had another tester on the Kendo 88 who probably has 70 pounds on me, and he felt the shorter turn radius much more often than I did, and that makes sense. A heavier skier won’t have to give the Kendo 88 as much skier input to get it to shorten up a turn as much as a lighter weight skier. In our talks, he had a harder time getting it to make a longer radius turn than I did. Something to keep in mind if you’re considering a Kendo 88. Skier weight, level of aggressiveness, and overall technique go a long way in how the ski is going to react.
The Kendo 88 is an all mountain ski, so we expect it to perform reasonably well in off-piste scenarios too. In my opinion, this is where the long, but low rise rocker comes into play. When riding a flat ski it’s fairly easy to get the Kendo 88 to pivot and smear. It’s not as easy as some skis that are lighter, use higher rise rocker, have softer flex patterns, etc, but considering the power it can achieve on firm snow, it’s pretty maneuverable off-piste. There are some skis in this width range that feel like wide carving skis more than anything else. I do think the highlighting performance of the Kendo 88 is how it reacts on firm snow, but it has a more even mix of performance characteristics than certain skis in this category. The first time I skied it, in fact, was down some pretty steep un-groomed terrain (the steepest portion of Pico, if you’ve ever skied there). There was some soft snow, and some firm moguls too thanks to wind. There’s definitely a mix of precision, power, and maneuverability in the Kendo 88. On the firm sections the ski did want to catch and carve, especially if I was skiing with a high edge angle, but it only took me a few turns to learn its subtleties. A small amount of skier input can go a long way in un-groomed terrain on this ski. The better your technique, the easier time you’re going to have on the Kendo 88 when off-piste. At times you’ll need to unweight the tail to get it to swing around, depending on the snow conditions you’re in, but it’s not too demanding overall.
To summarize, do we think the Kendo 88 is better than the previous version? Simply put, yes. It’s slightly more accessible to a wider range of skiers. It feels lighter on your feet, yet still is a powerful ski, as we’d expect from anything that says Volkl Kendo on it. It’s more forgiving than it’s ever been before, but you’re not really giving up any precision or power. In fact, you could argue that this new ski is more precise and responds to skier input better than the previous version. I’d argue that all day if you want to try me. 3D Radius Sidecut is a really cool concept and something that we’re going to be talking more about throughout the season (it’s also on the Mantra 102, Deacon 84, Deacon 80, and others). Overall, if you’re a fan of Volkl skis and the Kendo specifically, you’ll be psyched with the new one. If you didn’t like the older Kendo, you should at least give this new one a shot, it’s worth your attention.