A massive high pressure system was parked over most of the West and it hadn’t snowed for about a month when I tested the Volkl M6 Mantra. What I encountered was a smorgasbord of wind-scoured hardpack, gunpowder, and ice with the occasional smattering of soft corduroy down low and wind-buff above treeline. It wasn’t what I’d consider “good” conditions, but it was the kind of mixed bag you want to get a good idea of what a ski like the M6 is capable of—more on that later.
Based on specs alone, the M6 Mantra is my idea of a true all-mountain ski. The midfat 96mm waist is just wide enough to ski the entire mountain, without sacrificing too much on-piste performance. And the subtle rocker lines and traditional camber underfoot are exactly what I want when it hasn’t snowed in a while. I was also intrigued by Volkl’s new Tailored Titanal Frame and Carbon Tips, both of which are billed as a kind of custom damping system tailored to the specific length of whichever M6 you choose. Even after just a few cursory glances, it was clear the M6 was a ski with an enormous amount of engineering and testing behind it.
Unless you’ve been living under a rock the last few decades, you’ve probably heard a thing or two about the Volkl Mantra, and I’m willing to bet that most of what you heard was positive. The Mantra has been a staple of the Volkl lineup for well over 15 years and a mainstay of liftlines and ski walls here in Park City since its inception. Over the course of those years, the Mantra has gone through quite a few different iterations, with it even having a stint as a full reverse camber ski at one point in its past. But through all of those different designs, the Mantra has remained true to its original intent: aggressive all-mountain skiing.
Without doing a full rundown of the Mantra line through the ages (someone could probably write a book on it by now), I’ll stick to comparing the latest Mantra to its most recent predecessor, the M5. Like the M5, the M6 has a Titanal frame and carbon fiber in the tips, with the main difference being that both are “tailored” in the M6. So what does that mean? Simply put, the engineers at Volkl developed a way to customize the amount of metal and carbon in each length of ski. That means the M6 in a 184 is going to have more metal in it than the 177 to accommodate a bigger, heavier skier. The opposite is true of the shorter lengths to better suit a shorter, lighter skier. Because of this, the M6 has slightly less metal in it than the M5 and uses carbon strands in the tip very strategically. In fact, the tailored carbon strands are one of the more noticeable components of the new M6.
Another major departure from the M5 is the incorporation of Volkl’s 3D Radius Sidecut in the M6. This means the M6 utilizes three different radii, with a long 30-meter radius in the tip, shorter 18-meter radius through the middle, and a longer 24-meter radius in the tail. The idea is that the combination of three different sidecuts enables the skier to make a variety of different turn shapes, from long, powerful arcs to short, precise turns. The M6 maintains the same solid multi-layer wood core as its predecessor and the same rocker-camber-rocker profile. This rocker profile is fairly subdued with pretty minimal tip and tail splay and a moderate amount of camber through the midsection of the ski.
Testing a ski as lauded and loved as the Mantra is always a challenging proposition for me. With so much history and, well, hype behind it, how do you put all that aside to get a real sense of the ski based on its individual merits and on-snow characteristics? Well, short of covering the top sheets with blank tape and doing a true blind test, I’ve found it’s helpful to not put too much stock in what I’ve heard or read about a ski before testing it for myself. I’ve also found that it’s helpful, at least for me, to not go out without too many expectations and simply ski how and what comes naturally to the ski I’m testing. So what comes naturally of the M6? Quite a bit it turns out.
My first few runs on the M6 were mostly warmups on-piste. I don’t typically use skis with as much metal in them as the M6, so I was interested to see just how easy the M6 would be to manipulate and get different turn shapes from. Out of the gate, turn initiation was intuitive, but I wouldn’t go as far to say that it was effortless. I was able to easily transition from edge-to-edge making short-radius turns down a moderately steep slope. And as I came over a steep roll, I found myself almost instinctively rolling the ski further and further over on-edge, where the Mantra hooked up and accelerated into the next turn with a good balance of power and finesse.
After about ten long-radius, high-speed turns, I reluctantly came out of a more active stance and glided across a fairly flat cattrack, wishing the run I had just skied was a few hundred feet longer. From there, the mountain I was skiing funnels a few different runs into one steep groomer through a gully that’s typically pretty scraped out with a decent amount of hardpack and ice from the few snow guns they operate there. I came into this last pitch with a good amount of speed, and the Mantra remained unflinching as I set an edge and let it run through whatever variable snow I encountered. No chatter, no rattling, no need to hurry and scrub speed to regain composure—just high-speed fun down some pretty marginal snow.
After a few laps down the frontside, I decided to traverse out to an open bowl, where I could see the wind swirling and depositing snow in a few favorable locations. In this wide-open terrain and less predictable snow I wasn’t sure how the M6 would do. My skepticism quickly dissipated, though, and the Mantra shined as I made sweeping turns down the open bowl. What surprised me most was just how easily I was able to transition from long-radius turns to more short-radius turns when I came into more variable snow and bumps towards the end of the shot. What was even more impressive was just how powerful the Mantra felt without being overly punishing or unforgiving. As I put more into the Mantra, the more I seemed to get from it, but I also never felt like if I eased up on it or slipped into the backseat that I was going to have a bad time. Even towards the end of the day as my legs began to wear down, the Mantra maintained a fun, lively feel—even though I wasn’t able to drive it quite as hard as I would have liked. Curse those early season legs…
Drawbacks & Shortcomings
It’s hard to dock the M6 Mantra when considering the type of ski it is. It’s a directional all-mountain ski intended to make the most of variable conditions. In that sense, it is an excellent ski. Is it the ski I’d reach for for deep storm day skiing? No. Is it a super playful ski for noodling turns through aspen trees and jumping off natural features? Not at all. What it is is a technical ski that advanced and expert skiers will appreciate when conditions are less than ideal. It’s also a ski that thrives in a wide variety of terrain and snow conditions—from steep wind-blown bowls to more moderate groomers. If I have to dock it points in any one area it would have to be powder performance. Given its subtle tip rocker, it’s not a ski that’s going to float through deep snow all that well. But that’s also what gives the M6 that planted, powerful feel you want in firm snow, so it’s really a bit of a catch 22. The biggest thing to keep in mind is that it’s important to consider what type of ski it is and what it’s designed to do—with that in mind, the M6 is exceptional.
After my initial test day on the M6, I found myself reaching for it the very next morning without really thinking too much about it. And I believe that’s really just a testament to how well the M6 skis. I’ll also admit that it’s found a slot in my personal ski quiver, as my between-storm-days ski. I’d been looking for a ski to make groomers fun again, and after a few laps on the M6, it was clear this was the ski for me. It’s also a ski that I can have a lot of fun with off-piste. Overall, I highly recommend this ski to any advanced to expert skier that wants a powerful all-mountain ski that doesn’t demand your full attention 100% of the time, but will pay back dividends on everything you put into it.
Jans 2021/22 Ski Wall At-a-Glance