Gear Reviews Latest

2022-2023 Nordica Unleashed 98 W Review

Unleash your Unleashed puns.

Along with many of my fellow lady rippers, I am a big fan of the Nordica Santa Ana series. There’s a little something for everyone. I’d happily ride the uber-versatile 104 Free and 98 most days here in Colorado. The 88 and 93 would be top picks if I dealt with more firm snow. Their partial metal construction balances a stable and predictable ride, while remaining lively. Not to mention, for a so-called “women’s specific construction”, they charge. When Nordica announced the Unleashed— a new freeride ski line—I was psyched to see how it’d fit into Nordica’s line, and the many fun all-mountain skis in this class. In this Nordica Unleashed 98 W review, we break down how it compares to a crowded all-mountain freeride scene and differences between the sister Santa Ana.

nordica unleashed 98 w on snow
I took the Nordica Unleashed 98 W out for some casual Chet’s laps at Loveland Ski Area early this season.

Nordica Unleashed 98 W Review: Field Notes

The name describes the ski well. A partial metal sheet plus rockered tips and tails equals a ski that wants you to paint outside the lines and “unleash your creativity”. It also inspires many “unleashed” jokes on the hill. Towards the end of my day when I was getting a little loose, my ski crew would yell, “woah! Getting a bit Unleashed over there!”

The Unleashed W series comes in a 90 and 98, with a nearly unisex construction to the men’s (just a slightly thinner wood core). You’ll find sizes running from a 156 to a 174. If you’re looking to bump up to the next length (or the fatter, more soft snow oriented 108), you can check out the Unleashed 108.

Instead of the two sheets of metal found in the Nordica Enforcers, the men’s and women’s Unleashed features a single sheet of “terrain specific metal” found in the Santa Ana series (the ladies’ all-mountain compliment to the Enforcers). Nordica adjusts the amount of metal in the ski depending on the width to make it feel more playful, while maintaining stability. The wider you get, the shape of the metal gets smaller, so the wider models feel lighter and livelier in soft snow. With the tips, tails, and underfoot having the most metal coverage, these skis feel a bit different than your Rustler/Sheeva and Mindbender, with softer tips and tails.

nordica unleashed 98 w profile
Nordica Unleashed 98 W side profile, with nearly symmetrical tip and tail rocker.

Unleashed vs. Santa Ana

You might look at the shape and say, “huh. That looks an awful like the Santa Ana 104 Free,” and you wouldn’t really be wrong. Compared to the “regular” Santa Anas, there is a more playful, twin-tip-esque shape. You’ll find a few differences though. The 104 Free has deeper rocker, with a shorter contact length with the snow. The Unleashed moves the contact points out closer to the tip and tail , but gave the tips and tails more dramatic rise and splay from the snow. The idea is you have an easier time spinning and releasing these tips and tails, but have extended contact with the snow while carving. The best of both worlds, perhaps?

The Unleashed is also a touch lighter, but only by about 100 grams between the 156cm 104 Free and 158cm Unleashed 98. Given the slight size difference, I think they shake out to feel pretty similar on snow in that regard.

I’m 5’8″ and around 130lbs. I skied the 168cm, but with this style of ski, I happily would ski on the 174cm. With the more playful shape, I’d typically prefer to be on a longer length, but I was surprised to never feel like I needed it.


The Unleashed 98 W totally smashed my expectations on-piste with plenty of stability and a smooth ride over firm snow. For a ski with such a playful shape, you wouldn’t expect it to carve the way it does. It feels locked into the snow and doesn’t wash out of turns, unless you want to. My overall takeaway after a few laps was “predictable”. It doesn’t feel like a traditional carver like the Santa Ana 93 or 98 with a flatter tail that wants to tackle the fall line, but still holds an edge well. The more playful shape just allows you to ski a bit more centered and slide your turns if you want.

Where the Santa Ana 98 feels very planted and glued to the snow, the Unleashed pops and brings a bit more energy to the table. I thought it was a really energetic carver, and felt easy to flex into. It’s not the quickest or most responsive in this category (I think about the Elan Ripstick 102 and even the Blizzard Sheeva 10), but it makes up for it in smooth transitions that link up turns easily.

The Unleashed really lets you do what you want. Sized appropriately, an expert could ski this at reckless speeds and be content. At the same time, the shape lends itself to easily skid or slide your turns. I think that makes it a great option for a progressing intermediate who might still be dialing in technique. The stability on firm snow also feels confidence inspiring to ski a little harder and faster. That can be hard to come by in a ski this forgiving.

Bumps and Trees

If there’s one area where you want a ski to feel both predictable and forgiving, it’s bumps and trees. The Unleashed delivers here too. It felt very easy to link turns and get the ski to smoothly hold tight lines. The twin tipped shape allows you to flick the ski sideways easily. As a result, shedding speed and making a quick line change requires little effort on the Unleashed. I felt encouraged to tackle challenging lines, with the knowledge that I could shut things down if needed.

The Unleashed’s partial metal shape really helps contribute to that predictability off-piste. Metal underfoot finds extra bite and power if you need to take a quick turn. The stiff tips and tails keep them from wandering or doing something you didn’t expect. But compared to other skis with full sheets of metal, having it tapered in the space between your tips/tails and underfoot gives the ski less torsional rigidity and increased energy. For me, the Unleashed felt more lively in bumps and suited my dynamic style a bit better than something like the Volkl Secret 96 or Head Kore 97.

Compared to the Santa Ana 98, the Unleashed 98 offers a nearly similar level of stability, in an easier going package. It’s significantly easier to pivot the Unleashed sideways (especially in steeps), letting you reset or change your line if needed. The Santa Ana 98 can take tighter turns, it just requires a little more attention from the driver. I think this makes the Unleashed a great choice for solid intermediates looking for something that helps them progress off-piste, but don’t want to feel punished.

matt skiing the Nordica Unleashed 108
Matt skis the wider, Unleashed 108 through some skied powder, making it look much deeper than it was. PHOTO: Mitch Warnick

Mixed Snow and Powder

I haven’t had a chance to ski the Unleashed 98 W in deep snow, but I got to float in a few windblown inches during our Powder7 Ski Test last spring. It floats well for the size, maybe due to the exaggerated splay at the tip to help you get on top of snow quickly. I didn’t find it to float better than wider skis (or as well as the 104 Free), but it does have a surfy ride in deeper snow that feels manuverable. If the Unleashed 98 W were to be a one-ski-quiver, it’d handle the deep days just fine.

Mixed snow, however; requires a bit more work from the ski to stay smooth riding. I thought the Unleashed 98 held up in cruddy snow, and didn’t make any unpredictable deflections. At the same time, it didn’t stay as planted as I expected from riding it on firm snow. I didn’t find it as supportive for committing to a fall line as the Santa Ana series, but that makes sense with the more playful shape and construction.

Just like in skiing the bumps, the Unleashed 98 lends itself to skipping around a bit more and taking more turns with a dynamic style, rather than charging right through. For folks who like to charge at speed through crud, there are more stable options. For what it’s worth, skiing the longer length would likely solve this problem for me.

At the same time, there are more playful options that would make bouncing through choppy snow a bit more lively. Think about some skis without metal, like a Salomon QST Lumen 98 or Black Crows Camox Birdie. But the gain in playfulness comes a loss of stability, especially through firm snow. I think the Unleashed 98 W provides a great balance of fun and energy in a supportive package.


If you fall on the side of playful/dynamic or directional/charge-y, this ski may not give you enough of what you need. I do feel like if I sized up on the Unleashed 98 W to the 174cm length, I would gain a lot more stability in mixed snow and be able to drive the ski a bit more confidently.

While the Unleashed 98 W is most certainly a maneuverable ski, I wouldn’t call it the quickest or most nimble. I find skis like the Lumen 98, Ripstick 102, or even the Armada ARW 96 to feel a bit more quick and snappy underfoot. But those skis lack metal, and for navigating firm conditions, having something with more metal can feel more stable. It just depends on what you’re looking to prioritize.

Bottom Line

Overall, the Nordica Unleashed 98 W does a lot of things well, and I think fits a lot of skier types well. It’s maneuverable, really fun to carve on, and can still support aggressive skiing. I see this ski fitting best with progressing intermediates, who are looking to improve in the bumps, trees, and steeps, with a ski that won’t kick their butt as soon as they drop in. If you’re more in the advanced/expert arena, and you like the sound of a Volkl Secret, Santa Ana, or Rossignol Rallybird, but want a bit more energy and playfulness, I think the Unleashed 98 W would be a solid choice.

For a rundown on our other top picks for this year, look no further. We have more ski reviews, notes from testers, and pretty photos all in our 2022-2023 Buyer’s Guide.


Similar Posts