THE K2 EXCAVATOR PACKS THE POWDER AND CARVING PROWESS OF THEIR MODERN WIDE BOARDS INTO A NEW ALL-MOUNTAIN SHAPE
The K2 Excavator is a directional all-mountain carver, new for the 2022 season. If it wasn’t clear enough from the shape, K2 describe the Excavator as intended for “digging deep trenches on groomers and displacing powder after the storm cycle”. This sums up the highlights of most riders’ days and this distinctive shape has found itself a favorite under the feet of quite a few Japanese K2 team riders.
Having ridden and reviewed several of K2’s Volume Shifted boards with similar waist widths, from the the 51 Simple Pleasures to the 56 Niseko Pleasures, I’ve come to love the dynamic carving and float of these modern wide shapes. With this in mind, the Excavator obviously caught my eye as potentially offering the same carving sensations but with a more adaptable shape. While the all-new and ultra-wide K2 Special Effects is a quiver board specifically for deep days, the new shape of the Excavator had me wondering if this could the best all-mountain board for someone addicted to both the carving fun and the float of modern wide boards?
The K2 Excavator is built around K2’s Bambooyah™ Pro core. Through the translucent topsheet you can see the “X” of Aspen and Bamboo angled across the board under each foot for aggressive edge to edge response. Also visible are the tip-to-tail carbon stringers which give the snap and powerful response of a stiffer board without it actually needing to be that stiff all over. Having said that, K2 rate the Excavator as an extreme-sounding 9/10 on their flex scale. A hand flex shows it is definitely stiffer than the similarly-wide Niseko Pleasures, which K2 give a 6/10. However, the 9/10 rating seems to really describe the tail flex which is really stout, but as you move forwards there is a more lively feel longitudinal flex between the feet and into the nose.
Carbon Power Forks™ lie under the darker topsheet in the tail and lighter weight Paulownia wood is mixed into the nose and tail to reduce swing weight – a nice touch in a modern wide shape – and K2’s top-of-the-line Carbon Infused 5500 Sintered Base wraps things up underneath. The volume-shifted shape of the 158 promises massive float from the 268mm waist and 324mm wide shovel nose. Turn initiation is helped with 20mm of taper and a sidecut blending from 6.3m to 7.7m radius, and the 158 packs in 118cm of effective edge.
While the K2 features list has the profile as straight up ‘Camber’, the profile image and board itself show there is what can be called ‘early rise rocker’ in the nose. While camber is the dominant partner in this profile, unweighted it starts at the bottom of the K2 logos on the topsheet (around where the sidewall blends into the cap construction of the nose) and weighting the board lifts the early rise about another 5cm. With the Excavator coming in sizes from 142 to 162, in 4cm increments, K2 rightly label this as a unisex board. I went for the 58 for a slightly sized-down board with the feeling of a bigger freeride board, but could equally have taken ridden the 54 or even the 50. More on that later…
HOW DOES IT RIDE?
On firm snow the Excavator lives up to its name. The combination of wide waist, taper and snappy flex make carving on the Excavator a blast. One thing K2 always seems to do really well is sidecuts, and the Excavator is no exception. The Excavator has a much more aggressive feel to its edge hold than the Niseko Pleasures. The longer camber zone means that edge hold starts further up into the nose too, so you can really drive into turns and lay out high speed Euro carves. The carving feeling of this is more ‘burly and assertive’ than ‘delicate and flowing’ but you can still get your snowsurf style on. While I chose the 58 Excavator for its freeride potential, I was concerned it would be a lot of board for tighter terrain. Although it rides longer than its length, there is a nice amount of lively flex between the feet that allows you to bend and pump the board through tight spots and mogul runs, and you can make quick slalom turns just by engaging the sidecut from the ankles.
What is it not good at? Buttering. The edge hold, camber and burly flex are all working against you there. The same goes for rails and hitting jumps switch. If you’re a park-focused rider, boards of this type probably won’t be your first choice as daily drivers. Outside the park though, the Excavator is a significant step closer to regular a freestyle board in its capabilities than the full-on powder and carving shape of the Niseko Pleasures. The camber plays a big part in this, giving really solid pop from the tail. On sidehits, load the the tail up and there’s plenty of pop to give you that floaty boost feeling. K2 have been doing bamboo cores for a decade now and they’ve got a nice balance of lively flex and just enough dampening. On speed runs in resort the Excavator feels planted and stable. The big shovel nose and stiff tail both give confidence in mixed snow and difficult terrain. When the powder is tracked out, it’s happy blasting straight or carving GS turns through the chop. Either way, the 58 always feels like its whispering “go faster!” It’s not overly damp – which is a plus for me – and pushing the tail through choppy bumps at speed, it flexes without giving way on you, springing back with a ‘thwack’ against the next bump.
I’m a heavily directional rider in terms of riding style, and I found that I enjoyed the Excavator set back from the reference stance. The carbon and stiff flex in the tail means that even set back, there’s still plenty of power back there on firm snow. This is in line with where I would mount my bindings on a cambered regular twin board – pretty much all the way back – and I like to set and forget my stance. K2 Japan Team rider Ryuji Takai on the other hand, who has been on the 58 Excavator for two seasons, said that he likes moving his stance one insert pack forward of reference for more switch riding on freestyle days and further back freeriding and powder – giving him a range of ride capabilities from the same board.
“The Excavator is a beast of board, but it’s a playful beast.”
I was really pleasantly surprised with how easily this big burly shape was able to surf through a tight banked slalom course. Banked slaloms are a great test of a board’s carving and performance under pressure, and the Excavator really shines here. Even in the ‘barely sized-down’ 58 size, it responds really intuitively at speed, flows through tight turns and holds a smooth edge through chop. Not only is it fast, it feels so fun to ride too! Don’t just take my word for it – Japanese K2 team rider and backcountry guide Yu Takeo rode the Excavator to overall victory in the North Alps Banked Slalom series in Hakuba this winter, citing its ease of turning and strong edge hold making it so much more than a powder board.
I was looking forward to seeing how the shovel nose of the Excavator performed on super-deep days… and it didn’t disappoint. Compared to the “silky” smooth feeling of the Niseko Pleasures, the float of the Excavator feels more powerful and there is just so much volume and lift packed into it. First runs in waist-deep early season powder on low-angle resort terrain – ‘ just go straight’ conditions even for powder boards – and there was enough float to play around and hardly any need to lean back at all. The shovel nose planes so well, and in more featured terrain the squarer nose felt like an advantage over a pointier nose. As well as providing bucketloads of float, the Excavator’s big shovel nose is great for dealing with the unknown. It acts as an extra line of defense against powder landings that are a bit flatter than expected or natural transitions that aren’t as smooth as they look – both get smoothed out.Behind that big nose, the snappy but not-too-stiff flex in between the feet allows for more nimble changes in direction than you’d expect with a board that rides this ‘big’ in terms of float. While the tail shape and taper make the tail easier to push around when needed, the camber and powerful flex make the Excavator tail behave more like a traditional longer-tailed freeride board – in a good way! There’s stout support at speed in the tail, and plenty of pop off features and hold for landings and run-outs. I’ve loved the power and float of the 58 in powder and based on this experience, I’d have no worries about the amount of float if sizing down to the 54 or further. The shape floats so well, you can chose the size based more on your terrain and preferred riding style, rather than “will it float enough?”.
Float and flow: K2 Japan team rider and previous winner of the Tenjin Banked Slalom, Ryuji Takai, seen here cruising through the trees in his local Hide-Takayama area on his 58 Excavator – see how little the nose goes under, even in deep snow and rolling terrain:
The Excavator is a beast of board, but it’s a playful beast. It manages to pack the carving prowess of the popular Niseko Pleasures into a much more aggressive and adaptable all-mountain shape. It’s no surprise that the Excavator has been under the feet of so many K2 team riders in Japan this winter, and deserves serious consideration for anyone shopping for a high-end directional ride. With the sheer amount of edge hold and power – and float – on offer in this volume-shifted board, I recommend carefully sizing down to suit your local terrain and riding style. Go 3-4cm shorter than your usual size for a more big-mountain freeride and dominating carving feel, or size down 5-6cm for a more agile resort weapon. Either way you’re getting an incredibly floaty and carve-y board. If you ride forwards the majority of the time and want ride one board to devour everything in front you, from waist deep powder to carves and sidehits, the K2 Excavator is a powerful tool for fun.
Get more information on K2 Excavator on the K2 website here.
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Disclosure: The K2 Niseko Pleasures was provided by K2 Snowboarding.