2020 Volkl Mantra 102 Ski Review: // Ski Reviews
Um, yeah, so if you're one of those people who didn't like the new Mantra M5 because you thought it was too narrow or was toned-down too much, you're going to get your wish in the new 2020 Volkl Mantra 102. This thing is a beast. The Titanal Frame construction from the new Kendo 88 and the Mantra M5 filters up to the 102, and in a really good way. The design makes the skis more playful and less planky while still retaining the high-performance edge control and power of the more traditional Mantra/Race-style build. When the Mantra 102 was invented, the Titanal Frame was a natural match. While some fans of the 100mm underfoot, fully-rockered Mantra were unsatisfied with the narrower M5, they won't have to show their disappointment for long. Those skiers should get on a Mantra 102 as fast as possible. Speaking of fast...
I skied these at the end of March, on a nice spring day that was firm and fast in the morning, and a bit mushy later in the day, but still with hard, icy snow covering most of the mountain. The Mantra 102 did not care. I kept thinking of that quote from Game of Thrones when Tywinn says that "A Lion does not concern itself with the opinions of sheep." The Mantra 102 is the Lion in this analogy, and the rest of the mountain is the sheep. The Mantra simply seemed to not care what was in front of it or beneath it. It just went. With the additional 8 mm of width as compared to the M5 Mantra, the 102 ends up being quite a bit heavier and burlier. Over the course of the 184 centimeters of ski, that 8 mm of width adds up and bulks the 102 up to heavyweight proportions. That said, and as substantial as it felt on my feet (noticeable on the chairlift), the Mantra 102 is a pretty nimble ski. It reacts quickly to input and, due to the Titanal Frame and 3D Radius sidecut. This sidecut shape makes it easier to vary up your turns depending on where you pressure the ski. In the tips and tails, the ski has a longer radius, so is better at going faster and straighter. In the middle of the ski, the radius is a bit shorter, so when you're making quick turns, you want to make sure your pressure is centered underfoot. Sounds weird, but it works. So yes, it is a heavier ski, and certainly meant more for inbounds and lift served terrain versus touring or backcountry, but the performance is far from brick-ish.
I took them into the moguls, which were pretty hard and fast. The Mantra 102 did not care. They did not flinch. They were a bit of extra work when the lines tightened up, but for a stiff 102 mm underfoot ski, I could wiggle them around pretty well. This is not what they are designed for, by the way, so any mogul skiing being done on the Mantra 102 should be taken with a grain of salt. That said, the fact that they turned quickly (with pressure on the middle of the ski reducing turn radius) was very promising.
How about the woods? I couldn't help but think that if I decided to ski the Mantra 102 directly into the trunk of a tree, that it would take the tree down. I didn't, and it wouldn't, but the point is that the Mantra 102 feels like it will literally conquer anything. It's a fantastic tree ski that will go where you point it. When the woods get tight, sure, a nice light wood core twin-tip would be a better choice, but we're looking at the overall picture here, and in that regard, the Mantra 102 is a totally competent ski in the woods. Again, this was a relatively hard snow day, so I was staying right on top of the surface. With fresh or softer snow, I'd expect the 102 to totally shine. They have the width to float, for sure.
I didn't get to test them out in powder, because it's hard to just phone in a pow day, but I'm willing to bet (and we can re-visit this later) that they're going to do just fine. There's not a lot of tip and tail taper, much like the M5 Mantra, and the rocker isn't terribly pronounced, but they're still 140 in the tip and 102 underfoot, so just based on surface area calculations, they'll float. Once that snow gets cut up, though, watch out. These things light up the crud and chop. Again, they simply do not care what's in front of them. They are some of the most un-wavering and stable skis that I've ever been on, and their ability to hold the edge regardless of the snow quality or condition, is unlike anything else I've experienced.
Back to the speed, and the ski's ability to make different turn shapes depending on pressure, the Mantra 102, for a wider ski, carves like a dream. It's a Cadillac out there, just motoring along not caring about anything else in the world. I was hesitant to point them down some of the steeper terrain here at Stowe, but it didn't take me long to realize that was a ridiculous thought. It was an "A-Ha" moment when I finally understood what was on my feet and what they were capable of. The sidecut makes a difference, because as you lean into the turn and increase speed, it's natural to want to move your pressure back from the forebody and into the underfoot and tail. You can really feel the ski pick up speed, mostly because the turn radius is increasing as your pressure moves back in the ski. In the transition of the turn, be ready to get back to the tip of the ski, because I'm pretty sure these things will take you for a ride if you're just turning from the midfoot back all day. But when you're balanced and when you figure out the 3Dimension Radius (there is a bit of a learning curve), you'll wonder why anyone would want a narrower ski for groomers and smooth terrain.
Best suited for skiers who are looking for a high-performance ski and who equate weight with stability, the 2020 Volkl Mantra 102 is a ridiculously amazing ski. The width, combined with the build, combine to create a ski that's an absolute blast to rip around on. It has pretty surprising slow-speed ability, so you don't have to be on it all the time, but good luck finding the speed limit on this thing. I'm 6'2" and 220 pounds all geared up, and I was on the 184. I think the 191 would be on the long side for me, especially here in the east. For a wide-open western ski, I'd most likely size up. But that 184 felt pretty good on my feet, and I think a whole lot of skiers are going to have the same experience. If you're at all serious about the sport of skiing, check out the Mantra 102 and don't be afraid to floor it.