SNOW SPORTS

Best Backcountry Skis: Finding the Right Gear for the Slopes

Best Backcountry skis
Jerry Mueller
Written by Jerry Mueller

If you consider yourself to be quite the thrill seeker, there’s a good chance that you’ve tried skiing before. Typically, skiing takes place on groomed trails with the added benefits of a ski patrol for the interest of safety.

However, more hardcore skiers have found another way to pump up the thrill with backcountry skiing. Basically, it involves skiing in more remote areas that are unmarked or unpatrolled, and are generally outside the boundaries of a ski resort.

If you want to get into backcountry skiing, it’s absolutely essential that you invest in quality skiing gear and equipment. Fortunately, with the increasing popularity of the sport, finding the best backcountry skis shouldn’t be that much of a challenge, even for a beginner.

But if you do find yourself having a bit of difficulty when it comes to finding the perfect skis for you, don’t be afraid to ask for help from a professional or someone with more experience in the field. You don’t want to get stuck with skis that won’t serve you very well out on the snow.

Getting Started on Your Gear

If you are into alpine or freeride snowboarding, transitioning into backcountry skiing may prove to be quite intense. You’ll require a good understanding of how to use your bindings and skins. Equipment failure is something that you can’t afford and can have dire consequences.

Getting Started on Your Gear

Since you are skiing on a remote area, you can’t just take off your boots and relax because there is no lodge. The bottom line: your gear needs to be on point if you want to even think about backcountry skiing.

One of the most important parts of your backcountry skiing gear are, of course, your skis. Here are some important things to consider when choosing your backcountry skis:

  1. What type of skiing are you planning to do while touring? Do you plan to do something intense with lots of air? Or would you rather go for mellow powder turns? Perhaps a little bit of both?
  2. What type of trips are you planning to use these skis on? Multi-day trips in remote areas? Short day trips or sidecountries? A different type of ski is recommended for various kinds of trips.
  3. What’s your ability level? Are you having difficulties with your alpine setup? Or perhaps you think you could use lighter or narrower gear?
  4. Are you planning to use your ski for both touring and lift-served? Can you afford to maintain both an AT setup and alpine skis?
  5. Consider the type of skins you intend to use alongside your skis as well as the type of connection they have.

Once you’ve answered these questions, then you’re on the right track to figuring out what you should be looking for in your touring skis.

Why is it important to find the ideal backcountry ski setup?

The key here is to find the right balance between down skiing performance (generally in highly variable snow) and uphill performance (involves skinning and climbing with your gear). Light and narrow skis are preferable when climbing, which makes up the majority of your backcountry skiing time.

Backcountry ski setup

Wide and heavy skis are ideal for difficult snow terrain and handling speed. For your ski boots and bindings, one should take into account their personal and terrain choice. Other factors to take into account include motivation, skill level and fitness.

The idea here is to strike a perfect compromise between skiing performance and light weight. One good solution is to find the best touring skis that you can rely on for all snow conditions. In order to gain a bit of maneuverability and lose some weight, it might be a good idea to drop down a size. Then, you can just add the right AT binding and you’re good to go.

Alpine touring specific skis

Many known manufacturers make touring skins with molds that are identical to their well-known alpine skis. The main difference is that they utilize a lighter core and remove a metal layer or some laminated parts in order to save on weight.

Alpine touring specific skis

Smaller touring ski-focused companies provide nimble and light skis with an assortment of widths. When shopping for skis, it’s always a good idea to try out those that might spark your interest or ask for feedback from people you trust.

Arriving at a good compromise between lightweight and ski-ability might require some transition over time. This is true amongst backcountry skiers who have tried going from heavy to light. Our best advice is to go with something that you are familiar and comfortable with and just go touring. Over the years or sooner, you will eventually hit that right combination.

Rocker and AT skis

Experienced backcountry skiers will likely agree that the “early rise” or tip rocker is beneficial both for skiing and skinning.

Rocker shaping

AT specific skis generally feature a rather mild tail rocker or even none at all. Although tail rockers can provide the much-needed maneuverability during sideslips, uphill kickturns and skin attachment can become tricky. This drawback is quite obvious when you are planting the ski tail while booting or setting snow anchors.

At the end of the day, the suitable backcountry skis for you will depend on your personal preferences and the type of ski touring you are planning to do.

What Are The Best Backcountry Skis Available?

If it’s your first time shopping for backcountry skis, it’s understandable if you feel overwhelmed, especially considering the number of choices out there.

To help you out, we are going to highlight some of the best reviewed backcountry skis out there. Hopefully, this should give you a fair idea as to which skis are right for you.

Volkl V-Werks BMT 94 Ski

Volkl V-Werks BMT 94 Ski

Weight: 1570 g

Dimensions: 186 cm Length

Features: Multi Layer Light Wood Core, 3D Ridge, Full Carbon Jacket, Tapered Shape

Best Use: Winter sports, backcountry skiing, alpine touring

Description: When it comes ski manufacturers, Volkl has always been a highly regarded company.

The Volkl BMT 94 is perfect for those who are looking for a middle ground in terms of size and light weight. At 1570 grams, these are one of the lightest skis in the market.

It has a relatively narrow profile which usually means that its skins are light as well. Volkl knocks it out of the ballpark in terms of construction. Many skiers will surely love the solid and reliable feel of these skis, especially when they hit higher speeds. In powder, this model is fast, floaty, and very stable.

If you are the type of person that skis all year round and in all conditions, you will want to have a ski like this. In general, backcountry skiing would be better with larger, heavier skis but they tend to suffer in firm snow. With its versatility, these skis simply doesn’t have that problem.

Fischer Hannibal 94 Ski

Fischer Hannibal 94 Ski

Weight: 1262 g

Dimensions: 170 cm, 177 cm, 184 cm length

Features: Paulownia wood core with Air Tec milling, Sandwich construction with ABS sidewalls, Carbon stringers and Titanal laminate, Aeroshape design, Tour rocker, Sintered base

Best Use: Backcountry skiing, alpine touring, winter sports

Description: The Hannibal 94 has the distinction of being one of the lightest and narrowest skis in the market. As mentioned, backcountry skis have emphasized mass and width over the years. Thus, it’s really good that lighter and narrower models are making a comeback.

As for its best application, it’s safe to say that the Hannibal 94 is a classic all-conditions touring ski but with a modern twist in terms of dimensions and materials.

For an ultralight product, it’s a pleasant surprise that this ski has managed high speed cruising and big jumps.

Another main selling point of the Hannibal 94 is definitely its price point. Skis are expensive in general but with such a good performance in all conditions, this ski is one of the least expensive ones out there. In terms of pure value, you can’t go wrong with these.

Dynafit Cho Oyu Ski

Dynafit Cho Oyu Ski

Weight: 1248 g

Dimensions: 125 / 88 / 111 mm

Features: Flex tip, Carbon speed stringer, Dual radius, Micro side-wall, Scoop rocker

Best Use: Backcountry skiing, alpine touring, winter sports

Description: At 1248 grams on average, Dynafit’s Cho Oyu Ski is, so far, the lightest ski on this list. You’ll immediately notice that the Cho Oyu has a very narrow profile. This leads to benefits like lighter skins and less likely to collect snow so it can stay light.

In terms of stability, the Cho Oyu holds up fairly well.

Sure, it doesn’t have the solidness and stability of larger, dedicated backcountry skis but it still feels stable despite its narrow dimensions. This can be attributed to the tough and stiff construction that makes it able to handle steep, technical terrains.

With its narrow profile, the Cho Oyu should excel in performance when you’re skiing in firm snow.

For its price point, you are certainly getting a lot of value in terms of durability and performance. Overall, it’s a very solid product and is highly recommended for spring skiers.

G3 Synapse Carbon 109 Ski

G3 Synapse Carbon 109 Ski

Weight: 1563 g

Dimensions: 137 / 109 / 125 mm

Features: Flyride construction combines stiff carbon with tough sidewalls, Lightweight, energetic poplar paulownia wood core, Stealth Rocker, Freeride touring

Best Use: Alpine touring, winter sports, backcountry skiing

Description: Now, here’s a ski that’s big and burly, but still manages to be lightweight. The Synapse Carbon 109 hits that sweet spot between width and weight.

One of the most standout things about these skis is the excellent weight-to-surface-area ration.

They doesn’t have any issues when going fast, thanks to the reverse cambered construction.

With that said, the Synapse Carbon 109 excels when it comes to poor snow performance, so if you are looking for a ski that will deliver in breakable, variable conditions, you just can’t go wrong with them.

Overall, the lightweight construction along with the excellent soft snow performance should warrant a look even from the most experienced backcountry skiers.

Voile V6 Ski

Voile V6 Ski

Weight: 1712 g

Dimensions: 133 / 101 / 113 mm

Features: Traditional camber underfoot with a rockered tip, Slightly raised tail, Aspen core, Carbon fiberglass laminate, Tapered tail

Best Use: Alpine touring, winter sports, backcountry skiing

Description: The Voile V6 is one of the heaviest skis that we’ll highlight in this section of the article. Despite the weight, it is also a fairly narrow ski. However, due to its greater weight, it leads to some significant performance benefits as well.

For example, the extra mass and mid-stiff construction allows for an extremely stable ride at speed, even when used on a tough terrain. The extra weight also proves to be quite a boon when skiing on firm snow.

On powder, the V6 is a joy which can be attributed to its fully cambered construction and rockered tip. If budget is an issue, you’ll be happy to know that the V6 is a very affordable ski.

Combine that with the solid firm snow and powder performance and durability, it’s hard not to see that it provides some serious value. Overall, these are great skis if you’re skiing in an area with great powder and short approaches.

La Sportiva Vapor Nano Skis

La Sportiva Vapor Nano Skis

Weight: 1200 g

Dimensions: 130 / 103 / 120 mm

Features: Tip and tail rocker, camber underfoot, Carbon Torsion Box (cap construction), Kevlar Weave and paulownia core, Prepreg carbon nanotube laminate layers, Carbon fiber reinforcement plates, 103 mm underfoot width

Best Use: Backcountry skiing, alpine touring, winter sports

Description: Skiers who are in the market for a premium lightweight ski should definitely take a look at La Sportiva Vapor Nano.

It’s safe to say that they’re amongst the lightest skis in the market. Unlike most light skis, the Vapor Nano is quite wide.

In terms of weight and surface area, these are a trailblazer. The top sheet is pure white, so it’s less likely to collect snow and maintain its lightweight profile. This ski also handles speed and energy well, thanks to its weight, length and carbon construction.

It’s not the most stable ski out there, but its performance in speed is solid. It is clear that the Vapor Nano is a highly specialized ski with its ultralight, mid-fat profile. It’s certainly not a cheap ski but it easily delivers on most fronts.

Black Diamond Carbon Convert Skis

Black Diamond Carbon Convert Skis

Weight: 1417 g

Dimensions: 133 / 105 / 117 mm

Features: Tip and tail rocker, camber underfoot, Carbon Torsion Box (cap construction), Kevlar Weave and paulownia core, Prepreg carbon nanotube laminate layers, Carbon fiber reinforcement plates, 103 mm underfoot width

Best Use: Backcountry skiing, alpine touring, winter sports

Description: It used to be that backcountry skiing was all about having heavier, wider skis. However, that has clearly changed over the years as more lightweight products have hit the market and are gaining popularity among backcountry skiers.

The Black Diamond Carbon Convert is certainly one of the better lightweight skis that money can buy. The weight per surface area has a respectable ratio even with its additional width. At speed, this ski scores rather well, especially when it comes to landing steep jump turns.

For firm snow performance, the Carbon Convert manages to held considerably well but with lesser tenacity.

As with most skis, the Carbon Convert was a pure joy in powder thanks to its light weight and versatility. This ski would be a perfect option for an all-around backcountry ski touring. They’re lightweight enough to excel in uphill.

These are just some of the best skis that you can buy in the market today. Hopefully, you were able to find one that best fits your backcountry touring needs. If not, we hope at least that you now have a better idea as to which backcountry ski to go for.

A Few Last Words

As you can see, backcountry skis aren’t exactly cheap and are a significant investment for most people. Therefore, it goes without saying that you should choose a suitable ski for your intended usage and the kind of touring you are planning to do.

There is a plethora of choices when it comes to backcountry skis so it’s easy to become overwhelmed. However, that’s easily remedied by doing a bit of research on your own before making a purchase so that you can get the most for your money. Rent some skis at your local hill and see which ones feel the best.

Choose your backcountry skis

Get some advice from the renting company or from an assistant at your sporting goods store. Going into the shopping experience blind can lead to you not only wasting your money, but you’ll have a terrible time trying to get used to skis that don’t fit properly either.

Have you tried backcountry skiing before? If that’s the case, what is your favorite backcountry ski? Have we listed your favorite here? Sound off in the comment section. Finally, be sure to share this post with your friends and family who might be interested in backcountry skiing.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jerry Mueller
Jerry Mueller

Jerry ‘Boy Scout’ Mueller spends 99% of his time camping or teaching others how to live in the wild. He became an Eagle Scout which is the highest rank attainable in the Boy Scouting division when he was 17 and after that he still lives the scout life. Jerry always plans neatly every trip, takes leadership very seriously and if you listen to his tips and stories, you can learn tons of useful things.

  • Beatris Bronson

    I’ve tried it in a wide variety of terrain and snow conditions, and I will tell you something, Fisher Hannibal 94 is AMAZING! It strikes an excellent balance of weight! If you like light mountaineering ski, you’ll fall in love! It is not cheap, but the price really is reasonable, for this quality.

  • Jerry Mueller

    Yes to all of that and I’m pleased that you decided on a Fisher Hannibal 94. For many skiers, this baby is the perfect choice for them. It has everything you’ll want for a reasonable price and it’s built for the long haul, so you don’t have to worry about changing skis so often.

  • Richard Taylor

    I’ve only heard great things about the Cho Oyu’s. Supposedly extremely light and ski exceedingly well in the steeps and on firmer days though they’re not so great in slushy snow apparently. Will definitely consider these skis when choosing my next pair. Hired out the Voile 6’s however and they seem to be perfect in every condition! The V6 is a great all-rounder however they are quite a bit heavier than the Cho Oyu’s. Would still consider buying the V6’s in spite of the additional weight.

  • Jerry Mueller

    Hi Richard and thanks for the great comparison. Some skiers do prefer a heavier gear since it affects their performance for the better. For my part, I’m partial to heavier skis for its stability when going through rigid snow.

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