I ended up finding a Cannondale Scalpel SE in-stock at a bike shop in Utah (I was driving cross-country after an extended visit back east to visit family; driving seemed more practical and economical than flying, risking COVID exposure in the airport and then having to rent a car for two months).
Anyway i had been agonizing over the decision of whether to get an XC race bike like the base scalpel or a more “trail” focused rig like the SE, finally decided on the SE and found that . . . it is basically an XC race bike.
On the minus side, it is not as confidence-inspiring on the more-puckering gnar as I had expected, so it won’t really be a true quiver-killer. I think once i get my legs under me with it i’ll be able to ride quite a lot, but i won’t be bombing double-blacks, I don’t think. Rather i will be making careful line choices like a person who has to go to work the next day.
But that is okay, because the thing is an absolute rocket ship. It is insanely fast. It pedals so much better than my old aluminum hardtail (higher-end stumpjumper HT, from a model year where it was like a low-end Epic HT) that it’s insane and I don’t know how it’s possible. It pedals better on chunder but also on pancake-flat roads on the way to the trailhead.
So for the real high-consequence shredding i might want something different, but i am extremely happy with what i’ve got.