Hands-on Gear Review

Atomic Backland FR 109 Review

Best Buy Award
Price:  $600 List | $419.93 at REI
Compare prices at 2 resellers
Pros:  Floaty, lively, ready to stunt on everything
Cons:  Squirelly at speed
Bottom line:  The FR 109 is a super playful powder board that can also charge mixed terrain.
Editors' Rating:   
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Tested length (cm):  189
Weight Per Pair:  8.4 lbs
Available Lengths (cm):  175, 182, 189
Manufacturer:   Atomic

Our Verdict

New to Atomic's freeride lineup is the Backland FR 109. This backcountry-friendly model takes design cues from the Bent Chetler pro-model like HRZN Tech rocker and a carbon backbone but also features a narrower waist and extended camber underfoot. The result is a very responsive and accurate ski that can execute tight turns as well as it floats in deep snow. The step-down ABS sidewalls and a lightweight construction make it reliable on mixed snow conditions while the rockered tip and tail allow for playful floatation in the soft stuff. With a shorter effective edge and quick turn radius, the Backland FR 109 tends to get shaky at speed. Though, it performs very well as a playful powder ski that can also get you back down on piste.


RELATED REVIEW: The Best Powder Skis for Men of 2018


Our Analysis and Test Results

Review by:
Rob Woodworth

Last Updated:
Tuesday
March 13, 2018

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Year after year, Atomic continues to improve their freeride arsenal. The shape, sidecut, and composition of this ski follow in the footsteps of previous model-years of the Backland family. The FR 109 is the mid-fat offering in their backcountry lineup. We tested it in the 189cm length.

Performance Comparison


The Atomic FR 109 is a very noodly  soft ski. But in the right conditions  those  attributes might be just what you're looking for.
The Atomic FR 109 is a very noodly, soft ski. But in the right conditions, those attributes might be just what you're looking for.

Stability at Speed


The relative stability of the Backland FR 109 is seemingly dependent on what surface you're skiing. In softer snow, they can cruise at high speeds while remaining reliable and accurate underfoot. But when driving through bumps or gripping in on hard crusts, they tended to lose any semblance of a smooth turn shape. This isn't uncommon for a powder ski, though we'd expect the longer effective edge and reduced rocker of the FR's (compared to the very similar Bent Chetler) to be more confident on variable hardpack.


When you consider the primary function of the Backland 109 is freeride-oriented powder skiing, they seem to have hit the mark. Carbon stringers keep them dependable and responsive in most snow conditions. However, they lack the dampness and overall stability that some other models have to carry you through high-speed turns with ease.

Carving


One of our reviewers claimed that the FR 109 felt like a "powder-hungry slalom ski". We found this title to be oddly fitting. While skiing on-piste, these Atomics are capable of bringing around medium-to-tight radius turns without demanding much of the rider.


Though they can sluggish to initiate (what powder ski isn't?), these skis generate quite a bit of power to exit turns with. This backend gusto makes the FR 109's a zippy, fun ski even when not in powder.

The soft-flexing FR 109 is a super playful powder ski.
The soft-flexing FR 109 is a super playful powder ski.

While this ski is quite nimble, larger and more aggressive skiers may find that the agile turn shape of the Backland FR 109 can become a bit unpredictable when linking turns on hardpack at speed. Again, the previously described conditions aren't exactly what the Backland series is intended for, but it's worth noting. The calculated turn radius in the 189cm length is 19.5m, though we felt it skied more like a 15m slalom ski when driven on hard snow. They tended to load up and make erratically quick turns if not kept under control; not necessarily a bad thing if you like to relive your glory days as a racer while chasing down some pow.

Crud


While it may be squirrely at speed, this ski is very agile through tracked out or bumped up crud.


The patented HRZN technology in the tip and tail of the Backland series give them increased surface area to help break through and track over variable snowpack. Their relative lack of dampness means that they won't blast through mogul bowls with reckless abandon, but the FR 109's can undoubtedly eat up chunky snow while providing a smooth ride.

A quick swing weight and short effective edge on the FR 109 make it a nimble ski that is sometimes shaky at speed.
A quick swing weight and short effective edge on the FR 109 make it a nimble ski that is sometimes shaky at speed.

Wood/carbon hybrids (like the Backland FR 109's) are regarded as a solid option for saving weight while still providing stability. Though, compared to wood/metal hybrids, carbon stringers don't have quite the same shock absorbing capabilities due to their torsional rigidity. In layman's terms: the stiff nature of these skis will make them bouncy on harder, re-frozen crud. Though in softer conditions, their rockered design and large surface area will allow you to cruise through mixed terrain with no problem.

Float


The Backland FR 109 shines in the soft and deep. The dual rocker design and HRZN Tech shape are designed to provide unparalleled float capabilities when skiing powder.


The FR 109 tracks well on top of deep snow while still maintaining a lively feel that isn't often found in such fat skis. From a neutral position, you'll be able to glide effortlessly atop deep snow and snap a quick turn with serious panache.

We were really fond of how the FR 109 performed in soft snow.
We were really fond of how the FR 109 performed in soft snow.

The Backland series was designed for freeride powder skiing. And the FR 109 is certainly most at home in that canon. They effortlessly crank out slurpy pow turns and seem to always rise to the top after bottoming out in fluffy snow. We weren't at all surprised that this ski was most responsive and reliable when driven through powder. Regardless of the terrain type, skiers of all abilities will enjoy riding these boards through the deep stuff.

Playfulness


The freeride-oriented nature of the FR 109 means that it favors pop and agility to speed and stability. As a result, it's a very fun option for skiers that are looking to stunt their way around the mountain.


Our testers were keen to grab the FR 109 when heading out to crush laps on terrain with lots of hit-able features and drops. They are soft and forgiving but have enough strength to backup larger sends as well.

Big airs and buttery turns. That's what the FR 109 does.
Big airs and buttery turns. That's what the FR 109 does.

The lateral rocker of the HRZN Tech will be enjoyed by skiers who like to butter in and out of turns and will also prove valuable in slaying a variety of turn shapes. With a relatively centered mounting point, the FR 109 has a quick swing weight allows you to surf and slarve with the best of 'em. Even outside of their natural powder habitat, these skis are a super fun and playful ride.

Versatility


Across the board, the FR 109s are a pretty solid ski. They are notably lacking in high-speed stability and shock absorption, though we consider floatation to outweigh those performance metrics. It carves about as well as you'd expect for a powder ski and would have no trouble getting you around the entire mountain. While we wouldn't call it a daily driver, the Atomic Backland FR 109's do offer a fair amount of versatility.


Best Applications


This ski is no doubt made for skiing powder. And though it has a preference for quicker turns and pillowy lines, the FR 109 can hold its own getting back to the chair as well. It is both forgiving and capable, making it a good option for a variety of skier types who are looking to get after it on the next blower powder day. It's certainly light enough to be used as a touring ski but seems most suited for in-bounds pow laps.

The FR 109 is comfortable both in the air and on the snow.
The FR 109 is comfortable both in the air and on the snow.

Value


The price of the FR 109 is a little below average for a powder ski. And when we also consider the performance, reliability, and overall quality of this offering from Atomic, it seems like a pretty solid deal. Precisely why we crowned it the Best Buy powder ski of 2018.

Conclusion


Great slashing power on the FR 109's.
Great slashing power on the FR 109's.

We're overall very pleased with this ski. It had stellar performance in all the areas we would expect a powder ski to perform and even managed to impress us in less-than-ideal conditions. While it caters to a crowd of skiers who would prefer to get rowdy in the slackcountry, we believe that the FR 109 would be an excellent option for in-bounds powder skiers as well.

Other Versions and Accessories


This review was performed on the 189cm FR 109. The Backland series also boasts a narrower FR 102 and a fatter FR 117. Each respective model has similar sidecut but different flexes and construction.
Rob Woodworth

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Most recent review: March 13, 2018
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