The All New2019 Volkl M5 Mantra: Ski Review: // Ski Reviews
The Volkl Mantra is an iconic ski. Since its introduction in 2005 it's had a strong following and has had a huge influence over how we perceive all mountain skis. It arguably inspired a whole new segment of skis. In 2005 it had a 94 mm waist width and was practically marketed as a powder ski, but its ability to mimic the performance of narrower skis at the time really turned some heads. These days all mountain skis in the 90-100 mm waist width category have become one of the most popular and important segments of skis. We're sure that you can list a few off the top of your head. Some of the most popular skis on the market right now (think Bonafide, Enforcer 100, etc, etc) arguably owe their existence to that very first Mantra. While it's always been positioned as a high performance, hard-charging ski, it's undergone a series of changes since its introduction with different construction techniques, waist widths, rocker profiles, and more. For 2019 we have a brand new Mantra, which marks the fifth version, and it's aptly named the M5 Mantra.
The M5 Mantra has some significant changes compared to the previous version. The current Mantra uses two full sheets of metal, a fully rockered (reverse camber) profile, and a 100 mm waist width. You've probably seen us talk about it plenty of times in different comparison articles and reviews. Now, brace yourself, because the M5 Mantra doesn't use any of those things! Okay, okay, it's still in the same category, but there definitely are some big changes. The new M5 Mantra uses a brand new construction called Titanal Frame, Volkl has brought camber back giving it a rocker/camber/rocker profile, and the waist width has actually been decreased slightly to 96 mm underfoot. The turn radius is a little smaller too coming in at 19.8 m at 177 cm instead of 23.7 m. The same lengths are available ranging from 170 cm up to 191 cm.
Let's go into a little more detail about this new construction because that (along with the fact it now has camber) is a very important change. The theory behind Titanal Frame is that you don't necessarily need two full sheets of metal to unlock the performance and feel that metal provides. We saw a similar theory with their Titanal Band, which was introduced in the Confession and Kanjo, but Titanal Frame is quite different. The easiest way to think about it is to imagine two elongated horseshoe shaped sheets of metal that sit along the edges and through the end of the ski on both the tip and tail. While we've seen some similar ideas from other companies, Volkl's is unique as these two sheets of metal don't actually connect underfoot. In fact, there's quite a bit of ski underfoot where that metal doesn't connect, and that's important. By locating these sheets of metal along the edges of the tips and tails Volkl is trying to give the ski power along the edge where you need it, retain longitudinal damping, but give the ski a bigger sweet spot and a more natural flex under foot. They've also integrated carbon tips and tails to give the ski a light, strong feel.
The other most significant change to the Mantra, which we mentioned above, is its camber underfoot. The full rocker shape of the current Mantra has a very unique feel. It's easy to pivot for a ski with two sheets of metal, is very stable and powerful, but requires high speeds and/or a pretty aggressive skier to unlock its full potential. By giving the ski a rocker/camber/rocker profile Volkl is looking to increase performance at slower speeds (even the most aggressive skiers aren't always skiing fast), boost responsiveness on firm snow, and it's all designed to work hand in hand with the new construction. We think it's also important to note the slightly narrower waist width of 96 mm compared to the current ski's 100 mm width, although compared to the changes in construction and rocker profile we think that's a relatively minor change. The industry across the board is actually trending a little narrower (we'll talk about other examples of that in plenty of other 2019 skis), so we're not surprised to see the slightly narrower waist width.
Okay, on to performance. We were lucky enough to meet up with the Volkl crew on January 3, 2018 at Stowe Mountain Resort for some early testing on the M5 Mantra. If you happened to be at Stowe on that random Wednesday you'll likely remember the 12 inches of blower powder that miraculously fell overnight. Sometimes we get lake effect storms that aren't forecasted, and this was one of the best we could remember. Sunny skies, super good snow, and a wide variety of terrain and conditions in which to test the Mantra made for an absolutely perfect day.
The first thing we noticed on the Mantra was the overall sweet spot and balance point of the ski. The reverse camber Mantra was often described as a ski that preferred to be skied off your heel to really get the best performance. This was largely due to the reverse camber shape, while the two full sheets of metal and stiffer flex pattern played into it as well. The new M5 Mantra, on the other hand, has a beautifully large sweet spot that feels like it's right under your foot. You can ski with a more forward stance on the M5 Mantra and really can manipulate the tip and the overall flex of the ski. Give it a little more skier input and you can really feel it flex into a shorter turn shape. The reverse camber sometimes felt like it wanted to make one turn shape more than others, while the M5 Mantra feels allows you to really play around with turn radius because of the slightly softer flex underfoot and the more balanced feel. We were able to get the ski to flex and react in really soft snow more so than the previous version. It also did really well in the deep snow. 96 mm isn't a powder ski by today's standards, but none of us were wishing we were on wider skis despite about a foot of fresh pow.
As the day went on and the trails got skied out we were really able to put the longitudinal stability and the skis ability to track over bumpy terrain to the test. Anyone that's skied a Mantra can tell you this is an area in which the ski has always excelled. You've always been able to just point it down the fall line and just go with the utmost confidence. You definitely still can. It still has a very stable, confidence inspiring feel when you're mobbing through chopped up snow conditions. The softer flex right underfoot does give it a more playful feel overall, but you can still ski it really aggressively and the ski responds very well. In a way you can ski it more aggressively as you really can put more skier input towards the tip of the ski thanks to the larger sweet spot and more balanced feel. Even though it doesn't have two sheets of metal anymore, if you're a hard-charging skier rest assured you can still get up and go on the Mantra.
Stowe did a good job grooming out the fresh snow on certain trails during our test day, which gave us some good terrain for testing the ski's performance on firmer snow conditions. When you're linking carving turns on groomers you can really feel the ski's ability to make different turn shapes. Give it a little gas pedal or a little more of your weight into the tip and you can effectively get the ski to carve a shorter radius turn. It makes you feel like Ted Ligety. You can lay it over and really get the ski to flex, while it still delivers a stable, powerful, distinctly Mantra-like feel. The shorter turn radius overall does give the ski a snappier, more responsive feel, but it's not so short that it doesn't like you make bigger, sweeping, almost Super-G-style turn. Maybe the best way to describe the ski's feel on groomers is that it just puts a smile on your face. It's more approachable and a little more user-friendly than the current Mantra, but still can handle high speeds, aggressive skiing, and still has that Mantra "feel."
So, what do we think of it overall? The best way for us to describe the ski is that is has a more playful feel, it's a little more versatile in terms of turn shape and how you can ski it, and that it has a really nice sweet spot that feels like it's right under your foot. On the other hand it still feels powerful, it still has excellent vibration damping, can hold an edge with the best of them, and has that high performance feel that Volkl skiers (and especially Mantra skiers) have come to love. It seems like Volkl has really come up with something special in their new Titanal Frame construction and we anticipate them using similar construction techniques in other skis down the road. The new women's Secret also uses Titanal Frame, which we'll be covering in a full review. Overall we're very impressed by the new M5 Mantra and are excited to see what other skiers think of it. For a ski that's entering its 14th season and is one of the most well-known names in the industry, we're happy to report that we think the new M5 Mantra offers a whole new chapter, but carries on the traditional of the Mantra family.