2023 Volkl Mantra 102 Ski Review - Chairlift Chat (2023)

I remember getting on the all-new Volkl Mantra 102 way back in the day. As a new model for 2020, the Mantra 102 created a bit of distance between the Mantra M5 at 96mm underfoot, and the outgoing fully-rockered Mantra at 100 mm in the waist. By widening the ski incorporating their new 3D Radius, and utilizing the titanal frame technology of the M5, the Mantra 102 set a new standard for wide all-mountain skis. My initial impressions of the Mantra 102 were that the ski was beefy, strong, and insanely stable. The good news, especially for skiers who value those qualities in skis, is that the 2023 version continues those trends. Even better, the new updates for the Mantra 102 increase the balance, turnability, and maneuverability—a few characteristics that I thought the ski could use. With slight changes in shape and construction, we’re getting a lighter swing weight and a more responsive Mantra 102—one that still loves to be operated at a high level on the feet of advanced and expert skiers.

From a construction perspective, the Mantra 102 starts with Volkl’s multi-layer wood core made from poplar and beech stringers. The beech is certainly a culprit for the higher weight of the ski, but in-bounds skiers who love stability and dampness in a ski will get along quite well with this ski’s foundation. With a full sheet of titanal below the core, the Mantra 102 gets Volkl’s new Tailored Titanal Frame on the top. This metal laminate was first implemented in the Mantra M6 and Secret 96 last year, and now in the Kenja and Kendo 88 and Mantra 102 for 2023. The twist here is that the frame is "tailored” appropriately to length, so each size ski gets a different shape of metal frame. The width of the frame is also altered, so rather than a static laminate shape as we had in years past, the new Mantra 102’s titanal frame is wider in the mid-body zones both fore and aft, while being thinner over the edges in the very tips and tails. The central part of the frame, located underfoot, has articulating slits at the ends, in addition to extending into the framed portions, allowing the ski to flex naturally while keeping the ski firmly grounded on the snow. For a ski that’s 102 mm underfoot, this construction creates a sublime carving experience even on very firm surfaces. Also inspired by the Mantra M6, the 102 gets tailored carbon tips. By inlaying carbon stringers in a cross-hatched format in the shovel of the ski, the turn initiation quickens and becomes more precise. The carbon application, in lieu of wider metal in the tip like we saw in previous Mantra 102 builds, lightens and energizes the initiation phase of the ski, increasing responsiveness. When combined with a slightly different shape, it increases the turning performance of the ski.

AT A GLANCE

2023 Volkl Mantra 102 Skis

2023 Volkl Mantra 102 Ski Review - Chairlift Chat (1)

AVAILABLE SIZES

TURN RADIUS

SIDECUT

WEIGHT

170, 177, 184, 191 cm

30.2 m / 18.9 m / 27.4 m @ 184 cm

142 / 102 / 124 mm

2209g @ 184 cm

Speaking of different shape, the Mantra 102 retains the waist width, but widens in the tips and tails. With the implementation of Volkl’s 3D Radius Sidecut, this makes for a turnier 102. Now we’re looking at 142/102/124, gaining 2 mm in the tip and 1 in the tail, resulting in 3 radii of 30, 19, and 27 meters in the front, middle, and back of the ski. If you want this beast to rip some short turns, stay centered and press hard, and it’ll come right around. If you want to let it run at higher speeds, keep the pressure in the front or back, and you’ll be rewarded with clean, long, and smooth carves with dampness and stability. It’s more of an intuitive way of skiing rather than something that needs to be focused on, and we’ve been impressed with the results of this shaping technology in M6, 102, and Kendo models over the past year or so.

Profile and taper stay pretty much the same. There’s some decent rocker, although it’s low, leading to minimal splay, especially in the tail. This adds to the longer effective edge while the ski is being flexed, even slightly, into a turn, resulting in a super-smooth ride. While the profile does lend to flotation in terms of rocker, the build and stiffness of the ski balance it out to create more of an on-trail character and personality. The taper shape definitely leans to the all-mountain side of freeride, again highlighting the ski’s preference to be used in non-powder formats.

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Car analogies work great when describing the performance of a ski, and with the Mantra 102, options like an Audi RS Q8 come to mind—something that’s nimble, powerful, smooth, and grippy. It’s interesting to talk about a 102-mm waist ski and its groomer performance as a priority, but that’s where most skiers are going to use these things. If you like an M6 Mantra in terms of carving, but want a wider platform, the 102 is going to be right in your wheelhouse. They are totally and completely unflappable at speed—you can stand on them with confidence, leaning into each turn as hard or soft as you want. Thanks to the updated shape, the speed minimum has decreased, allowing for a broader range of velocities and edge angles. At the same time, the top end of the ski has not been encroached upon, which is great news for aggressive skiers who want to point this thing straight down the fall line. To be sure, it’s still quite a handful for a lot of skiers. At about 2200 grams per ski, and stiff, it’s burly at best and abusive at worst. You have to be ON IT to make it really sing. Just like having that RS Q8 and never fully flooring it, you’ll never know what you’re missing out on. Personally, I had more fun on this ski at medium speeds and in mid-radius turns, mainly because it takes a lot of work to carve subsequent turns going really fast, but that’s just me.

Off-piste, the Mantra 102 is very much at home in crud and chopped snow. It’ll plow through powder rather than float on top of it, and that’s fine, but there are certainly floatier ~100’s out there. When that snow gets slightly packed, busted up, and manky, that’s where the Mantra 102 separates itself from the pack. Windbuffed, chalky snow is no match for this ski—it rips through it like it wasn’t even there. You can feel the metal frame come to life in these applications, offering precision and stability to the edges while leaving the middle portions of the ski amenable to the variable conditions and terrain. It’s impressive how supple the skis can feel when the snow degrades, giving skiers the proper tool for the job at hand. That said, let this thing run. When you try to shorten the turns in chunky snow, you have to earn the performance. If you’re up for it, go for it, but the ski operates better when you just stand on it and allow the ski to do what it’s naturally made to do. Fit and aggressive skiers can pull off dynamic turns off-piste just fine, but that’s not really a majority of skiers out there. Bumps are a challenge, but not impossible. Respectfully, an Atomic Bent Chetler 100 is way easier and more fun to ski in moguls than the Mantra 102, so if you’re looking for a slithery and agreeable ski in the zipper lines, you may want to look elsewhere if that’s a ski priority for you. The same can be said for the trees. The wider and powderier, the better. The tighter and firmer, the more work you have to put in. Again, if you’re looking for one ski to do it all, and you’re cool with the effort it takes to make it work, then fine, but this ski does not reward hesitancy.

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I certainly wouldn’t go so far as to call this an “everyman’s” ski, but it does have a ton of upside for higher-end and aggressive skiers looking for an amazing and impressive blend of power, precision, and strength. There are better options for friendlier and more playful skis for sure, but there aren’t many better choices for top-shelf stability. You don’t have to floor it all the time, and the upgrades make that even more apparent, but when you do, you’ll be rewarded with endless performance at any speed on the new Volkl Mantra 102.

My first introduction to this updated Mantra 102 was out in Sun Valley in early January. The main focus of that trip for me was the new Kendo 88, which we spoke about at length a few months ago. The Mantra 102 essentially received the same changes, however, so naturally our group of skiers found ourselves basically trading back and forth between the Kendo and Mantra 102 over the course of two great days. After a quick warm up run down a mellow groomer, we opted for some open terrain with 8-10 inches of fresh snow. While I was on the Kendo on those first runs, Gordy Megroz was on the Mantra 102 and I opted to point a camera at him to take advantage of the fresh snow conditions. I was delighted to see him bounce around on the Mantra 102. I’ve had some challenging experiences on the previous Mantra 102 in similar snow conditions, and this ski looked to be more agile and less fatiguing. I was able to confirm that for myself later in the day when Gordy and I switched skis.

That afternoon, we planned a little photoshoot with a smaller group for both the Kendo 88 and Mantra 102. I was on the 102 still and we were focusing on carving photos. At first, I was a bit nervous about how well I could get the ski to come across the fall line. Historically, I’ve been able to do that on the Mantra 102, but it takes a lot of work. I was pleasantly surprised by how well this ski arcs into shorter radius turns. I give a ton of credit to the 3D Radius in both of these situations. In soft snow, you benefit from a less catchy, more intuitive feel thanks to the longer radii in the tips and tails. On a groomer, you can access the smaller radius underfoot and the ski makes quicker, more responsive turns than it ever did before.

Written by Bob St.Peirre on 05/12/22

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