Thought I would chime and give my impressions on two days of riding.
First a little about me...
Second year riding and between this year and last year, I've had 30+ days predominately on East Coast hardpack/ice. I believe I'm a solid intermediate, but also have no illusions of my own ablilty. I'm still trying to get the finer points of down unweighting as well as fore/aft movements to control my speed down the steeper runs. I thought I'd give a little insight from a second year rider b/c it seems most on this forum that have had or ridden this board have 10+ yrs experience.
On to the review...
I'm coming from an NS SL 153 and was wondering if the change to a 156 Raptor would be worthwhile, but I got insight from SnoWolf and others saying there is a HUGE difference in speed and carving ability. I just want to say that is ABSOLUTELY TRUE!
This thing just LOVES to grip Eastcoast hardpack! I thought I'd have a little more trepidation charging the steeps with this thing, but in fact, I'm a lot more confident in it than my SL. Now, don't get me wrong... I know that SL can charge the steeps fine too b/c my friend who's been boarding for 7+ seasons still goes down the mountain faster and in better control with his SL, but just strictly from a board to board comparison, this is exactly what this thing was built for. It's just a very stable, damp ride. It's damp, but gives you enough feedback to react to terrain. When you go over really rutted out groomers, my body doesn't jerk around as much and I can maintain a much higher speed. It just blasts through that stuff.
Compared to an SL I found this board really likes to point downward. When engaging the SL's sidecut, I found I was turning more perpendicular to the fall line than with this board. It took some getting used to because, of course, this leads to quicker acceleration and top speed.
When using this board compared to my SL, I've been able to ride a LOT more aggressively due to the stability and dampness, but at the other end of the spectrum, I've also had to pay a TON more attention to it as I'm riding it. This wasn't something I was used to and I've found myself in pretty scary situations because of it. I now know what people mean by this board getting you in trouble. I was charging down coming from a heelside to toeside turn, didn't pay enough attention to the terrain and got caught off guard by some big rutted out bumps. I didn't have my knees relaxed enough and got caught off balance. Luckily I was able to dig in last second and save myself from running into a tree line. Also, I'm kind of ashamed to admit that getting used to this board on the first day, I actually fell on my ass on some pretty flat greens. I just was not paying attention and hit some patches, plus I did not detune my tip/tail, so that might have had something to do with it. I rode the flats that same way I rode my SL, but it didn't let me get away with it like my SL did. Second day, had now issues lazily cruising along the greens with my wife.
This board certainly rewards technique because on runs where I'm "off" and don't down unweight and shift fore/aft properly, it felt a bit like a lumbering plank. The first day on it, I found myself ruddering more than I wanted to. You can say this for most boards, but more so this than my SL. So getting technique down is paramount. I'm a bit of a masochist though, so I like how it punishes you for bad technique. I hope with more experience, I'm able to be more efficient and ride this thing smoothly down the steeper terrain.
So, in short, coming from a second year rider, if you're starting to ride more dynamically down the steeps, this board is a blast and definitely worth owning. If not, then I suggest practicing, because I can't see this thing being fun at all doing static turns down mellow terrain.
Thanks for the review! I think you are right on the cusp of the ability level to truly appreciate this board for what it is. I'm glad you were able to spend your first year on an SL to learn on and 'graduated' to the Raptor in your own due time. Not to say the SL isn't capable... it is just a more forgiving freestyle board great for any rider level. The Raptor rewards experience and technique for hard-charging riders. I'm not sure this is the place to admit your masochism, though... might scare a few people away