Coming into the 2010/2011 season, I figured my quiver was pretty much set with the addition of my new Never Summer SL (along with my Slackcountry and Burton shit stick). After a month or so, I realized there was a noticeable gap in performance between my SL and Slackcountry. Wjo;e tje S: was a playful, fun board, it lacked the stability and stiffness for some of the riding that I do. On the other end of the spectrum, the Slackcountry was just too much board for the days that weren't nips deep powder. I needed something to split the difference and fill that gap.
A few days after starting my search, I found a Highlife 161 for a great deal that I couldn't pass up. The first ride was at Stevens a variable condition day; the second at Baker on a nice powder day. I was sold, and just like that the Highlife climbed the ranks to my top board preference, no matter the condition.
I had spent some serious time admiring the new-to-2011 Ride Highlife at a couple local shops early in the season. The camber profile was very intriguing: flat through the bindings and tail, with a bit of rocker lift in the nose. I was especially drawn to the flat tail profile, which effectively eliminated the washout issues I had with riding the Slackcountry outside of deep powder and on some landings. The stiffness was there too, perhaps a tad stiffer than the Slackcountry. The cherry on top was the awesome Spacecraft graphics.
It's also worth noting that this board was on a bunch of people's radars after Jake Blauvelt's bit in Absinthe Films 2011 release "Nowhere" with Nicolas Muller, as the Highlife is Jake's choice for backcountry assault. If you haven't seen the clip before, check it out. It is definitely one of my favorite video parts from last season.
My first thought on the board was how smooth, fast, and stable it was on pretty much any condition. It was easily stiffer than both the SL, as well as the Slackcountry (but not by much). THe stability was key though as I found the rocker camber combo on the SL to be a bit 'wonky' sometimes when landing a bit off balance. I attribute this to the amount of rocker found directly between the bindings, creating a pivot point. Despite being so smooth and stable, the Highlife was still playful and quite nimble for a 161.
I will give one downside on the ride though. Because of the flat base through the bindings, there's a lot of contact area that can ultimately slow the board down a bit when dealing with 'grabby' snow conditions. I experienced this a bit in Colorado riding Beaver Creek in sub-zero temperatures where the snow crystals can be quite abrasive. Slushy spring conditions also attributed to a bit of base suction. Next season's Highlife (2011/2012) adds a bit of camber between the bindings that will eliminate this issue, as well as add a bit of stability and control to the ride.
As I noted earlier, the flex is a bit on the stiffer side. I think Ride gave it an 8 out of 10 on their flex meter. I'd say that is a pretty good representation. The responsiveness is there too. This combination can really be felt when ripping a huge turn and really putting your weight into it. Pushing off the tail results in immediate response and feedback.
I mentioned in my Slackcountry review that the Slimewalls Ride uses really dampen and smooth out the ride, and the Highlife is no different. It powers through anything you throw at it. Despite the stiff and damp ride, it doesn't feel 'dead' like some damper boards. There's still a good amount of feeling that translates up through the bindings so it's not like your riding blind to the conditions.
Ride employed their PopROds 2.0 in the board, which give it a good overall pop off rollers, lips, and jumps while also providing a good snap through turns. It's not over the top pop like I though the SL had, but it's enough to have some good fun with. A perfect compliment to the board, if you ask me.
Through the season, I rode the Highlife with two different binding setups. THe first was the Rome Targas I had on my Never Summer SL. The Targas felt like a great match out of the box for what I was riding on the Highlife. They had enough stiffness and response to match the Highlife's level of performance. As the season went on, I started running into problems with the Targas. Bolts started loosening up left and right, no matter how much Loctite I applied. After awhile, I became fed up with having to check my bindings every few runs and switched to the Ride CADs I had on the Slackcountry. The swap in bindings really turned up the notch on aggressiveness for the Highlife and really pushed me to ride it harder than I had before. The CADs do take away a bit of the playfulness though, so perhaps a better alternative would have been a set of Ride Alphas.
Before I knew it, the Highlife was the board I was always reaching for when I was heading up to the mountains and easily put more days on it than any other board in my quiver. It fit my riding style perfectly and could shred just about anything I threw at it. I rode park laps at Breckenridge on it. I hiked Cowboy Ridge at Stevens Pass and shredded some gnarly sidecountry on it, and super tight technical tree lines at Vail. I rode it in all conditions from icy January days to deep late season powder days in April. I rode it on anything and everything while my also brand new Never Summer SL gathered dust in the back of the garage.
While it might not be for everyone given its stiffness, the Highlife is a phenomenal all around board with very few flaws from my point of view. If you're someone who likes to make the whole mountain your own terrain park, strap on your gnar boots and give the Highlife a try.