TOP GEAR PICKS

Best Backcountry Skis: Our Top Seven Picks

skiing 2
Sean Nelson
Written by Sean Nelson

Backcountry skiing is a fantastic sport with lots of fun. The decision to choose equipment to enhance your experience is a daunting proposition.

Proper equipment is a joy to use and seamlessly becomes an extension of your body. Making a poor choice, backcountry specific skis can become difficult, strenuous, and downright dangerous to the user.

Our full review covers a list of the best backcountry skis to help you make the right choice.

Types of Backcountry skis

The best touring skis come with varying weight. The weight of a ski is a primary variable in the way it goes up the hill. Lighter skis are easy to carry. Further, weight is both directly and indirectly correlated to ski performance downhill.

skiing people

The weight of skis helps push them through varying snow conditions. And with fewer weight restraints, the material can be further fine-tuned to enhance performance.

Ultralight

Those in this category weigh under about 6 pounds. With new touring boots and bindings, skis in this category seem almost to glide along up hill, especially as compared to resort gear. These skis are relatively specialized and fragile.

However, with more research and development, plus liberal use of modern materials like carbon fiber, there’s improvement in the performance level of these products.

Standard Weight

Weighing at between 6 and 7.5 pounds, these skis strike a balance between ultralight weight and downhill performance. Being at the lower of the spectrum, the gear stays out of the way uphill. Up 7 pounds, skis begin to approximate the performance of resort equipment.

Heavyweight

Resort skis, mostly those designed for all-mountain use, seem to average just over 9 pounds. In that realm, backcountry specific skis are primarily competing with resort skis.

Woman skiing

It is between 7.5 and 9 lbs that skis are considered too light for all-mountain resort use but heavy in the backcountry. For some, this is their choice, as they wish to save energy over lugging resort gear, but make compromises on the downhill performance.

Selecting the Best Backcountry Ski

There are some very important factors you should be considering before making up your mind on the type of skis for your backcountry adventure. Those factors are ski ability and style, application, size and fitness of objective etc.

Ski ability and style

The resort skier type descriptors rarely serve our backcountry purposes. In-bounds it’s as simple as a beginner, intermediate or expert experience. Only expert skiers can ski in the rough backcountry terrain. The easier backcountry terrain and snow conditions are harder.

Skiing

Be honest with yourself about your level of experience. Tough it certainly pertains to your selection of gear, it has an even larger bearing on your choice of partners, mentorship, terrain, objectives, and conditions.

Application

The first thing you should do to narrow down the field is to consider your actual or anticipated usage patterns. Even within the smaller ski touring area, there exist preferences in condition, terrain or regional differences.

Many ski tourers can do with a few trips a year. Keeping the endeavors to a few hours in familiar places. Others get out a lot on weekends, travel once or twice a year, and get into more dangerous terrain on occasion.

Size and fitness of objective

Physical capacity has a significant impact on a person’s experience in the wilderness, because if you plan to spend a lot of time uphill, one’s strength and preparation for that is paramount. More so, how far do you intend to go? Light weight is important to fewer fit skiers. Lightweight equipment is also more important to skiers who wish to go great distances.

Heli ski

Ski mountaineering objectives requiring technical skills and equipment to access, usually give lighter and versatile skis. Struggling with small skis on one’s back is easier than with big guns.

Because of the steep nature of this terrain, it is done in lower avalanche hazard conditions. More moderate avalanche risk conditions are correlated with firmer snow. In this case, both snow conditions and logistical demands encourage and allow the use of smaller, lighter equipment.

Type of objective

Do you ski similar soft terrain? Or you look out for the high and wild, always checking a new horizon? Do you love to ski the super techy and steep? Probably, it’s possible to be all of those.

This article is here to tell you anything about backcountry skis best chosen for versatility putting your objective in focus.

Snow type

What kind of snow would you prefer, and what kind of snow will you get? There are some regional differences in snow type. Perhaps your backcountry endeavors are not often, and you go to the backcountry only after the lifts have closed for the season.

Couple skiing

Here, you’re apt to be skiing in firmer spring conditions and can select skis appropriately. Sometimes your backcountry endeavors may be after the skiing in-bounds have dried up between storms and you head out for scenery and adventure.

Here, you apt to ski a greater proportion of breakable and unusual conditions, so proper selection is paramount.

Ski construction and shape

Ski materials, construction, and shape are necessary when putting all together. However, at no point is it suggested that you seek out a particular attribute or material to attain a certain goal.

Ski shapes

In backcountry skiing, weight and durability matters and so do a downhill performance. Weight and strength are products of construction quality and material. Lighter skis are not strong enough, and vice versa.

Dimensions

After narrowing down your search to the right kind of skis, you will have to determine how long you want it to be. If you’re at all downsizing, shorter skis are lighter, easier to tour with and simpler to turn.

They float a little less and are somewhat less stable at speed, but the pros outweigh the cons in most cases.

Choose From the Best of the Best

Here is our list of the top seven skis you can select for your backcountry activity.

Black Crows Corvus Freebird

Weight: 9.6 poundsBlack Crows Corvus Freebird

Sidecut: 139/109/122

Radius: 21 m

Dimensions: 69 x 6 x 3 inches

Design features:

  • Rockered tip
  • Raised tail
  • Camber underfoot
  • Construction: semi-cap with ABS sidewalls

Best use: Big tours

The Black Crows Corvus Freebird has a heart of a big-mountain charger and the backcountry chops of a lighter ski, including a carbon-fiberglass layer under a wood core. The subtle “beak and a half” profile pairs rocker up front with a more traditional albeit still turned-up tail for edge hold.

With a design that’s similar to the original Corvus, except a lighter core, the Freebird’s capable of ascending big lines. However, it excels with a blend of underfoot camber, tip rocker, and powerful laminates. Black Crows built it on a Paulownia and poplar wood core, which is light, lively, and energetic.

Black Crows also laid up to have a stiff and sturdy feel not easily found in the rest of the touring skis. Balance weight and power, Black Crow decided to build the Freebird with a semi-cap construction, after combining ABS sidewalls underfoot plus a tapered cap in the tip and tail.

You can have tons of torsional stability and edge bite while also digging the smooth-turning and lightweight feel of the ski’s extremities.

The smooth tips and tails allow you smooth out rough and variable alpine conditions. The tip rocker helps you float over snow. The gently raised tail enables you to get sideways without compromising excellent turn finishing and power.

Lastly, the Freebird features a flat tail with a small skin notch, so the way up will be as smooth and easy as the way down.

Related: Similar products with similar capabilities include Dynastar Cham 97 2.0 Ski – Women’s, Salomon Q-Lab Ski, K2 Men’s Wayback 88 Skis, Volkl V-Werks Katana Skis, Armada Declivity Ski and the Line Sick Day Ski.

Check the price on Amazon

DPS Wailer 112 RP.2 Tour1 Ski

Weight: 6.8 poundsDPS Wailer 112 RP.2 Tour1 Ski

Sidecut: 141/112/128

Dimensions: 72 x 6 x 4 inches

Design features:

  • Wide profile Rockwell 48 edges
  • Pure Prepreg Carbon Laminates and Nanotech Resins
  • Hosts fastest and hardest Austrian World Cup race bases
  • Special designed Aspen wood core which mates with the carbon build
  • Finer ISO Polyamide tops and burly UHMW sidewalls

Best use: Pillaging low-angle midwinter snow

With an 112 mm waist, the DPS Wailer 112 RP.2 Tour1 Ski construction allows it to compete for lightest-in-class honors as well. Credit carbon laminates and a balsa wood rod core, plus cap construction to shed more grams. Resulting in10 percent weight saving off an already lightweight ski to make climbing very enjoyable. Tip and tail rocker keeps the feathery ski afloat in deep snow.

Touring skis are  60-80 mm toothpicks designed for fast ascents and regimented skin tracks. The best-untracked snow is worth walking for. This award-winning Wailer 112 Tour1 weighs less than most significantly narrower traditional fiberglass touring shapes.

Still, it delivers carbonate inherent power benefits in deeper and mixed snow. Go high for days with this super light uphill supercharger. It’s one of the most soft-snow versatile and easiest skiing shapes in the history of the sport.

They can pretty much do anything, and shine anytime there is some snow to push around. Even if it’s a few inches of wet corn or a few feet of blower. On the other hand, if you like making tight turns, full turns, big turns, and little turns, carving turns, hop turns, just about any corner you can think of, this ski is best for you.

It’s very forgiving, has an enormous sweet spot and is a playful ski to ski. The Tour 1 construction saves all the weight and gives up nothing in performance.

Related: Similar products from the same manufacturer include DPS Wailer 112 RP.2 Pure3 Skis, DPS Wailer 106 Tour 1 Ski, DPS Wailer 99 Pure3 Skis, and DPS Wailer 99 Hybrid T2 Ski.

Check the price on Amazon

La Sportiva Vapor Svelte skis

Weight: 1050 g/1165 g/1175 gLa Sportiva Vapor Svelte skis

Sidecut: 126/96/113

Dimensions: 168 cm, 178 cm, 188 cm

Design features:

  • Ultra durable P-Tex 5000 bases having minimal die-cut inlays
  • Carbon Nano-construction
  • Unparalleled torsional rigidity
  • Unmatched durability and lifespan

Best use: Ski mountaineering

The La Sportiva Vapor Svelte skis, at 96 millimeters underfoot is a great deal narrower and has slightly less tip rocker. Making it the best option for going fast uphill and then powering back down. It’s super light with guts and a backbone. It’s confident in crud than many skis with wider waists.

It’s astonishingly impressive on the downhill given its weight. The SVELTE utilizes the Carbon Nanotube Technology from the award winning Vapor Nano. In a thinner waist and overall geometry to make it an all-year-around ski mountaineering tool for your backcountry pursuit.

This mid-fat made in the USA ski can bust through crud, lay down arcs on the hardpack and float through waist deep powder.

This ski is 40% lighter than most skis of this size and lasts seasons longer than other wood core skis. The prepreg resin matrix backed by Carbon Nanotubes deliver a performance which leaves your ski partners gasping for air as you ski up for another lap.

Related: A similar product from the same manufacturer is the La Sportiva Vapor Float Ski.

Check the price on Amazon

K2 Pinnacle 95 skis

Weight: 10 poundsK2 Pinnacle 95 skis

Sidecut: 132/95/115

Dimensions: 170, 177, 184, 1910 cm

Design features:

  • All-Terrain Rocker
  • Tapered Tip
  • Freeride Baseline 2.0
  • Tapered Tip and Tail
  • Nanolite Konic Core

BEST USE: Going fast no matter the conditions

The K2 Pinnacle 95 Skis is ready to go no matter what you have planned. Considered a day earning your turns, the Nanolite core replaces wood in the center with an aerospace grade composite. Thus reducing weight which makes every uphill step easier.

Sticking to the lifts, the titanal Metal Perimeter Laminate backs up the Aspen Wood at the edge to achieve smooth and stable turns even on hardpack. A perfect mix of powder ski and groomer ski, they are fun on any terrain.

Metal Perimeter Laminate strengthens Konic technology for precision handling as the Tapered Tip design extends contact to the centerline. Thus improving turn initiation up front and release in the tail. K2 built a new line of mountain freeride skis to rip downhill.

A metal laminate matches the edges of the composite core, making for superb stability and energy transfer at high speeds albeit with a small weight penalty.

Combine that construction with long, gradual tip rocker and light tail rocket. What you get is a small board that blasts through crud, carves down the ice, and surfs amazingly well in deep powder. Some called it nimble, speedy, and “a highly tuned thoroughbred” of a board.

Unless you ski powder every day and which is impossible, this could be the only ski you need. It can perform brilliantly on both sides of the ropes.

Related: Similar products from the same manufacturer are the latest 2017 K2 Pinnacle 95 Skis and K2 AMP Rictor 90 XTi Skis.

Check the price on Amazon

Dynastar Cham 2.0 97 skis

Weight: 7.5 pounds

Sidecut: 133/97/113

Dimensions: 133 x 97 x 133 cm

Design features:

  • Paulownia Wood Core
  • Fiberglass Construction
  • Progressive 5-Point Sidecut
  • Classic Camber Design

BEST USE: Short tours close to the resort

The Dynastar Cham 2.0 97 skis offer an impressive evolution of the flagship series you’ll love. These skis come with a new blend of rocker, sidecut, and construction. The Cham now offers a more moderate Rocker design to provide better tracking with increased control.

As the maneuverability and float in the deep pow have been enhanced with a more forgiving rockered Pintail shape.

This year, Dynastar exchanged the metal in its Cham for a paulownia wood core. It offers a lighter and more forgiving ride. It further reduced the amount of tip rocker giving the ski increased control at speed, and added rocker to the tail, making executing quick turns even easier.

Swift and springy underfoot, it’s ideal for the skier seeking soft snow and spring corn. This ability gives me a chance to be stable study stable Ski is back and better than ever.

Related: Similar products from the same manufacturer are Dynastar Cham 97 2.0 Ski – Women’s and Dynastar Cham High Mountain Skis.

Check the price on Amazon

Blizzard Zero G 108 Ski

Weight: 9.6 poundsBlizzard Zero G 108 Ski

Sidecut: 133/97/113

Lenght: 71 cm, 178 cm, 185 cm, 192 cm

Turn radius: [185 cm] 27 m

Dimensions: 136/108/122 mm

Design features:

  • Rocker tip & tail,
  • Camber underfoot
  • Constructed with sandwich compound sidewall

Best use: Doing it all.

The Blizzard Zero G 108 Ski will get you to the top of your line with fresh legs. You will have some juice left for a decent primary. One of the lightest skis in its class, the Zero G will utilize it’s carbon frame to save weight. And ensure a predictable flex and torsional rigidity throughout the ski.

The lightweight paulownia wood core also keeps weight down while maintaining stability. It has a playful feel for the descent, so you don’t get a noodley fee which is common with lightweight touring skis.

It’s the widest ski in Blizzard’s new Zero G line. The 108 is neither the lightest nor the hardest-charging ski. The Paulownia core and carbon-fiber frame matches with a relatively wide waist. It’s early rise had testers raving about the floaty ride in powder.

On icy steeps, it holds its edge and carved quick turns, with traditional camber underfoot and sidewall construction. It sails through variable conditions, too, with embedded carbon from tip to tail dampening vibrations through chunder. It’s ideal for the best performance-to-weight ratio.

With this ski, you go-to boards on backcountry powder for days. Let’s not say they cannot take on chalky chutes, melt-freeze crusts. Or whichever fun surface conditions the backcountry can throw at you during the season.

A rockered tip and tail keep them afloat when you’re making pow laps on really deep days. And a sandwich construction with compound sidewalls makes for a stable feel.

When you’re arcing big, and you turn down open aprons, faces, or groomers on the resort. Flipcore technology complements the internal components of the ski to the ski’s mold shape. Providing a more natural flex, better float, and increased skiability

Related: Similar products from the same manufacturer are Blizzard Gunsmoke Ski and Blizzard Samba Ski – Women’s.

Check the price on Amazon

Alpina Control Jr Touring Ski – Kids’

Weight: 1.4 pounds

Lenght: 100 cm, 110 cm, 120 cm, 130 cm, 140 cm, 150 cm, 160 cm, 170 cm

Dimensions: 54 / 48 / 52 mm

Design features:

  • Poplar core
  • 48mm waist
  • Accepts any flat-mount binding
  • Cut MG base
  • Polyethylene top sheet

Best use: Nordic touring

For youngsters getting started into the sport of cross country skiing, the Alpina Kids’ Control Jr Touring Ski is a perfect choice. It’s wider than Alpina’s race models and narrower than other backcountry models.The aptly-named Control is ideal for providing young skiers with simple control plus gliding stability.

The Control Jr comes with a poplar wood core for flexible, fluid, and smooth flex.  Meaning a young skier won’t have to fight the ski to get optimal performance. A cut waxless base enables it to glide freely while sustaining balanced control.

Unlike Alpina’s backcountry models, the Control doesn’t have metal edges. A polyethylene top sheet adds a layer of tough durability for many years of use.

Related: Similar products include Snowman Children’s Nordic Skis Waxless 70cm, Lucky Bums Kid’s Beginner Snow Skis and Poles, Madshus Raceline Wax XC Skis Kid’s and Madshus Butterfly Wax XC Skis Kid’s.

Check the price on Amazon

Final thoughts

Winter is the season when it is harder to sport, but it is only in this season that we have skiing, which is certainly one of the most fun sports of all. At least for me. The market is offering all kinds of skis and it is up to you to make the right choice depending on your needs, your body and certainly, the price.

Have you looked at different skis before? What do you look for with backcountry skis? Where do you like to go skiing?

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Sean Nelson
Sean Nelson

Sean was backpacking since he was 7. He was born close to the RMNP and his father was a ranger, so life surrounded by mountains and wildlife is a norm for Colorado. He likes to explore, but prefers to stay in USA. In his opinion, there are too many trails and options in US to go abroad.

  • John Millard

    I got the DPS Wailer 112 RP.2 Tour1 Ski last season and it quickly became my new favorite. They really do well when you have some snow to push around. They can make any turn you can think of: light, wide, big, little, hop, carving, whatever. They’re also really forgiving with a huge sweet spot.

  • Sean Nelson

    Hey there John! You’ve got another winner on this one. The DPS Wailer 112 RP.2 Tour1 Ski really delivers and a lot of my buddies are proud owners of these. Worth the money and this will last through the years – which is a great investment, right?
    Thanks for dropping by!

  • Jean Antos

    I kept seeing a lot of the Black Crows Corvus Freebird out on the slopes this year so I finally decided to pick it up for myself. I’ve turned into a huge fan of this ski. I agree it does a great job smoothing out the rough spots you hit!

  • Sean Nelson

    Thanks for sharing your experience with the Black Crows Corvus Freebird.
    This pair of ski is pretty slick, offering smooth sailing for everyone. This is largely because of it stellar feature – a flat tail with a small skin notch so going up or down will not pose any difficulties.

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