The Atomic Backland UL 78 is an outlier product. It sits way outside the main pack, on the lightweight end. Just as far outside the other end of the pack are heavy skis that are likely high on your list, while this end of the bell curve goes unnoticed. We think that dedicated ski tourers should be considering skis in this general category; super light tools for high-volume, rowdy missions.
Atomic Backland UL 78 Review
Cons: Slow downhill skiing, tough times in tough snow
Compare to Similar Products
Our Analysis and Test Results
These are definitely an outlier product in our overall review. As narrow, short, light ski mountaineering skis, these could be seen as one of the most specialized product we have assessed. Only the Top Pick Black Diamond Glidelite Snow Trekkers are more purpose built. We hope, though, that we can paint a positive picture that broadens the appeal of these skis and others like them. On the spectrum of backcountry skis, these are actually as useful and important as much heavier skis. Skis like the Black Crows Corvus Freebird are also outliers but are far more popular than the Backland UL 78. We look critically at this trend and find the Backland skis to be very useful.
Yes, these are specialized tools. They earn their spot here in our review though. They perform well, fill a niche, and are something that likely should be more prominent on your radar. Super light alpine touring ski gear gets better all the time, and it has applications in many different types of backcountry skiing. If most of our skis sit in the center of the bell curve of what is available, the Backland UL 78 is as far one direction as the other Top Pick Black Crows Corvus Freebird is in the other direction. This shows in a variety of ways, except in public perception. We know that you are far more likely to investigate the Corvus (and skis like it) than you are to consider the Backland. Let's spell out why that may be faulty logic.
Weight is king. It is the primary determinant of uphill skiing performance. The majority of your backcountry skiing day is spent going uphill. We feel that we wouldn't be wrong to prioritize this scoring metric at greater than 50%. However, that would be aggressive and a bit controversial, so we weight our metrics the way we have; downhill attributes make up 75% of the score, with uphill attributes making up 25%. If we flipped that script (more in line with how you spend your time backcountry skiing), the Backland UL 78 would come out on top of the whole chart, easily. Light skis are easier to move up the mountain. If its easier to move them up the mountain, you have more energy and more time to go downhill. If you can go downhill more, isn't that a win? Of course, we realize the flaws in this logic, but we also know the advantages of truly super light backcountry skis.
No skis in our test come close to the Atomic Backland UL 78. Only randonnee race skis and other such specialized equipment exceeds the weight advantages of these. The next heaviest skis ski downhill better, at least in some conditions. We'd argue, though, that the overall downhill performance of the Top Pick DPS Wailer 99 Tour1 isn't any better than the Atomic. It weighs more, and skis powder better, but is worse than the Atomic on firm snow. The Best Buy Blizzard Zero G 95 weighs a little more than a pound more, but skis everything better than the Atomic does.
Stability at Speed
You don't choose these skis to go downhill fast; these are for going uphill fast. These might enable an ascent rate of 1.5x your typical ski touring set up. However, that typical ski touring setup will go downhill at 2x the speed of these Atomic award winners. If downhill speed is important to you, these are not for you. The lightweight, short length, and narrow platform needs to stay on edge and under angulation. These are not particularly fast skis.
Every other ski in our test is more stable at speed, at least in one or two types of snow than the Atomic Backland. The closest comparison is to the DPS Wailer 99 Tour1. The DPS, in tough snow and in powder, is way more stable. When it gets firm, though, the comparison flips.
As long as you keep the speeds reasonable, these are great ice skis. Hard snow rewards patience and narrow skis; you provide the patience and technique, and these little rockets will edge all you need. The steepest ski lines ever ridden, at least those done in firmer conditions, have been done on skis of these dimensions. We took advantage of a January 2019 high pressure spell to ski 50 deg couloirs on the Atomic Backland 78. We noticed literally no disadvantage with these skis when the snow was hard.
We draw a distinct line between the performance of the UL 78 on hard snow. If it is slow and technical, these are right in the mix with the others. If it is faster carving, the big guns will do better. Hop turns on ice in steep terrain are exactly where the UL 78 excels. In fact, none do better, though the Kastle TX 98 and Blizzard Zero G come close. These two also enable higher speed firm carving, with mass and girth to dampen the ride.
Powder skiing isn't why you choose these skis. However, we are absolutely certain that you would be surprised at the performance of the Backland UL 78 (in truly perfect powder with technique that is sound… both of these things are rarer than you might first think). Of course, if it is deep and heavy enough, or flat enough, bigger skis will float and cruise better than the Atomic Backland UL 78. Those conditions and that terrain, though, isn't the perfect powder slope we look for. On 25-40 degree, light, graduated powder slopes (the sweet spot, for sure) and with good, centered powder skiing technique, you might not be able to distinguish the short radius turns of a skier on these vs. on bigger skis.
Of course, bigger skis are going to perform better in powder. Every other ski in our test will be more forgiving and faster in true powder snow. We can't quite say that bigger skis are more "fun", because any powder snow basically pegs the fun meter.
This is the real Achilles of these little wonders. Light and narrow is the exact opposite of what makes for high-end bad snow performance. Atomic adds rocker and side cut, but they're just going to get pushed around no matter what. It is your patience and technique that will get you down and through breakable crust and bottomless slop. You'll revert to snowplow and christie turns between long traverses, and you'll like it. Or else.
The big and heavy Top Pick Black Crows Corvus Freebird is the exact opposite of the Atomic. All that mass and material blasts through the crud. Closer to the Atomic in weight, but performing much better in tough snow are both the Editors' Choice Kastle TX 98 and the Best Buy Blizzard Zero G 95. On slopping spring ski tours, exiting through the shaded forests of lower altitude Teton Pass, Wyoming, the Atomic Backland dives and bogs down where the longer and wider options float higher.
These are for high-tempo high-volume skiers. "If skiing is good, more skiing is better". The light weight of these skis enables you, with commensurate improved efficiency and fitness, to ski twice or three times as much terrain as you might have imagined. If skiing Mount Rainier is a big day, imagine doing it before lunch. If you skied the Grand Teton, these will support a mission to ski the Grand-Middle-South. Like the Haute Route? How about doing it all in one day? Our lead test editor took these skis on a recent tour in which he and (similarly equipped) partners racked up nearly 12000 vertical feet of human powered skiing. Try that on your 8 pound hard chargers.
These aren't super expensive, but they are specialized tools. Dedicated, high-tempo ski tourers will justify these as a quiver tool for those massive vertical days.
With good downhill technique, we know you will be pleasantly surprised at the performance of these skis, and guarantee that you will dig the uphill efficiency.
— Jediah Porter