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Best Backcountry Skis of 2021

Lead test editor guiding a ski ascent and descent of Wyoming's Grand T...
Photo: Adam Fabrikant
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor
Wednesday March 10, 2021
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We sent our passionate and accomplished team to test over 30 of the best backcountry skis through the last six years. The 2021 update includes 13 of the top performers. We tested them, side by side and in a whole host of "real world" backcountry skiing situations. We employed a team of ski guides and recreational users of all levels. We have skied in all hemispheres and from 20000 feet to sea level. Most of our testing is in skiing just like you seek; deep pow, wild landscapes, steep bowls, and dreamy couloirs. We also buckle down to make objective, lab-style comparisons, and evaluations.

Related: Best Backcountry Ski Bindings of 2021

Top 13 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 13
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Awards Top Pick Award     
Price $900 List
Check Price at REI
$649.95 at Amazon$679 List$948.95 at Backcountry$750 List
Overall Score
67
69
59
71
65
Star Rating
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Pros Floaty fast powder performance, stable at speed and through tough snowSolid all around downhill performance, compatible with excellent Dynafit SpeedSkinsBig, stiff, heavyStable, predictable downhill performance in all snow types and terrainSturdy, versatile design and performance
Cons Heavy, high leverage in steep and firm conditionsHeavier than averageHeavyHeavyPoor “factory” mounting position, heavy
Bottom Line Skis on the absolute heaviest end of what we’d consider suitable for backcountry skiing, these offer the best downhill performance in our reviewTouring skis for he or she that prefers downhill performance to uphill efficiencyOnly the most downhill oriented backcountry skiers will choose a product this heavyA nouveau classic touring ski in a time when the market is moving lighter for the same downhill performanceAfter we resolved a real and frustrating mounting position issue, we found these to be predictable and solid, albeit heavy, touring skis
Rating Categories Black Crows Corvus... Dynafit Beast 98 G3 Roamr 108 Kastle TX 103 Faction Agent 3.0
Weight (25%)
2.0
6.0
1
5.0
5.0
Firm Snow (20%)
6.0
7.0
6.0
7.0
6.0
Powder (20%)
9.0
7.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Crud And Poor Snow (20%)
9.0
7.0
8.0
8.0
7.0
Stability At Speed (15%) Sort Icon
9.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
8.0
Specs Black Crows Corvus... Dynafit Beast 98 G3 Roamr 108 Kastle TX 103 Faction Agent 3.0
Weight Per Pair 8.0 lbs 6.8 lbs 8.5 lbs 7.6 lbs 7.9 lbs
Measured Length 181 cm 183 cm 185 cm 180 cm 179 cm
Manufacturer Length 183 cm 184 cm 185 cm 181 cm 180 cm
Available Lengths 175, 183, 188 cm 170, 177, 184 cm 171, 178, 185, 192 cm 165, 173, 181, 189 cm 172, 180, 188 cm
Claimed Dimensions 136/109/120 mm 136/98/117 mm 139 / 108 / 124 mm 138/103/120 mm 134/106/24 mm
Measured Dimensions 139/108/114 mm 126/97/116 mm 140/107/123 mm 138/103/120 mm 134/105/124 mm
Weight Per Ski grams 1820g, 1825g, average: 1823 g 1541g, 1553g, average: 1547 g 1958g,1908g, average: 1933 g 1727g,1708g, average :1718 g 1772g,1795g, average: 1784 g
Weight Per Pair 3645 g 3094 g 3866 g 3435 g 3566 g
Weight Per Surface Area Ratio, g/cm^2 0.84 0.75 0.85 0.79 0.82
Construction Type Sandwich Cap Hybrid Sandwich Sandwich Sandwich Sandwich
Core Material Paulownia and poplar wood, fiberglass, carbon fiber Ash/poplar wood 3D-shaped poplar, paulownia blend, triaxial glass, 7000-series aluminum Paulownia,poplar Karuba
Waist Width 109 mm 98 mm 108 mm 103 mm 105 mm
Radius 21 meters 21 meters Not reported 19 meters 21 meters
Rocker/Camber Rockered tip, camber underfoot, raised tail Double Ellipse Rocker Tip rocker Tip rocker, camber underfoot Tip rocker, camber underfoot


Best Overall Backcountry Skis


Movement Alp Tracks 100


72
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weight 9
  • Firm Snow 6
  • Powder 8
  • Crud and Poor Snow 7
  • Stability at Speed 5
Weight: 5.6 pounds | Measured Dimensions: 131/100/118
Light
Versatile
Solidly balanced downhill performance
Expensive
Have a "speed limit" downhill

The Movement Alp Tracks 100 recently entered our review and has quickly risen to the top. Mainly, it nails what we have concluded is the sweet spot in backcountry ski gear. It balances uphill efficiency and downhill performance in a way that is ideal for the vast majority of human-powered skiers. If we had to pick one ski for all-season, all-conditions human-powered travels, this award winner would be the choice.

1271 grams for each ski is an excellent "weight point" to reach, as long as downhill performance is good. In the case of this Movement ski, the downhill performance is very well balanced. It does not excel in any one venue or condition, but it can do it all. You'll pop in powder, edge confidently on the firm, and survive the tough stuff. At higher speeds, this ski is a little overwhelmed, but not as much as you might fear, given the gossamer weight. We've got a full season on the Alp Tracks, with no durability concerns yet. Nonetheless, it would be absurd to expect something in this weight class to hold up like something beefier. You don't choose these for a decade of service or for huge cliff drops.

Read review: Movement Alp Tracks 100

Also Best Overall


Black Crows Camox Freebird


72
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weight 6
  • Firm Snow 8
  • Powder 7
  • Crud and Poor Snow 8
  • Stability at Speed 7
Weight: 6.7 pounds | Measured Dimensions: 130/97/115
Forgiving in poor snow
Solid at speed
Versatile in powder
Heavier than direct competition
Expensive

The Black Crows Camox Freebird took some time to grow on us. It also took expanding and further improving our test team to see its award winner status. We skied half a season on it and liked it. We kept it around for the first half of the next season and got it on even more and even more authoritative feet, and the conclusion became quite clear. This winner strikes all the right balances of downhill performance, versatility, and uphill weight.

We granted the Camox a top award along with the Alp Tracks 100. In a direct comparison, these two models ski very similarly. Both are great in all conditions and extraordinary in some. The Movement is lighter (by more than a pound for the pair), but the Camox is more durable. All will get more mileage out of the Camox than out of the Movement. For bigger skiers or those that ride with higher energy, this might mean the difference between making them last through a trip or a season. Both models have their place in our award circle. Further differentiation is in price. The Black Crows is a little less expensive than the Movement.

Read review: Black Crows Camox Freebird

Best Bang for the Buck


Salomon MTN Explore 95


70
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weight 6
  • Firm Snow 8
  • Powder 7
  • Crud and Poor Snow 7
  • Stability at Speed 7
Weight: 6.8 pounds | Measured Dimensions: 130/95/116
Versatile downhill
Reasonable weight
Affordable and widely available
Ski "short."

Most of the team tested the Salomon MTN Explore for weeks before knowing its price. We were nearly done with our testing and tentatively considering the MTN Explore for some sort of award. The core of the team couldn't decide whether they liked the MTN Explore or the Black Crows Camox Freebird better. Both were clearly great skis. We put our heads together and realized we still hadn't handed either of these skis to one particular authoritative and trusted tester. We agreed to a "tie" and then entrusted Joel to break the tie. We didn't really tell him what was on the line. Joel used both of these top contenders, back to back and in tough dry-spell conditions on Teton Pass, for almost a week. He endorsed them both but gave the tough-snow nod to the Camox. This edged it ahead, overall, and bumped the Salomon from top honor.

It was only then that we began to more closely prepare the final content. When our lead test editor stumbled onto the price of the Salomon MTN Explore, it quickly became clear that these would snag a budget award. If a product only narrowly misses the EC award but costs significantly less than average, it is an easy bargain choice. Shop with confidence.

Read review: Salomon MTN Explore 95

Best for Ultralight Big Missions


K2 Wayback 80


58
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weight 9
  • Firm Snow 7
  • Powder 4
  • Crud and Poor Snow 5
  • Stability at Speed 2
Weight: 4.8 pounds | Measured Dimensions: 113/80/100
Ridiculously light
Amazing technical firm snow performance
Virtually no support for high-speed skiing
Require meticulous survival skiing in tough snow

You might not even fully realize just how much you want a ski like this. For high volume ski touring, steep-and-rowdy firm-snow ski mountaineering, and work-week, headlamp exercise skinning, a lightweight set-up based on the K2 WayBack 80 is just the ticket. The featherweight construction flies uphill. The narrow and stiff construction grabs on the steeps but gets bucked around in tougher snow.

This is a specialized tool. You won't pick these for day-to-day backcountry skiing. Deep, perfect powder snow is enjoyable, but bigger guns will be even more fun. Any sort of poor snow (breakable crust? Slop?) is better handled by a bigger and heavier option. All small skis are under-equipped for tough snow, but the K2 does better than most. It is this ski's more forgiving tough-snow performance that edges it ahead of other close competitors.

Read review: K2 WayBack 80

Best for Downhill Performance


Black Crows Corvus Freebird


67
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weight 2
  • Firm Snow 6
  • Powder 9
  • Crud and Poor Snow 9
  • Stability at Speed 9
Weight: 8 pounds | Actual Dimensions: 139/108/114
Fast, big powder turns
Confident, tough snow riding
Slick and clean graphics
Heavy
Expensive

We aim for symmetry in our specialized award selections. The K2 WayBack 80 is as far from "average" as the Black Crows Corvus Freebird is. Realize that the weight and size of the Corvus Freebird set it well apart from the more typical current backcountry skis for human-powered efforts. Despite reviews elsewhere (and manufacturer catalog copy) that persistently refer to the Corvus as "lightweight", this is a heavy set of skis. They are lightweight as compared to resort skis but heavy as compared to your typical contemporary skis for human-powered skiing. The Corvus Freebird is a stable, damp, long-skiing tough snow machine.

With that weight, you get truly better downhill performance. In deep snow, at speed, and in tough snow, the girth and mass of the Corvus Freebird blasts through and rails hard. Confidence, speed, and versatility mark your experience with this set of hot rod sleds. Only in slow and technical icy skiing and in the tightest of trees will the limited maneuverability of the Corvus Freebird hold you back. These are excellent downhill performers.

Read review: Black Crows Corvus Freebird

Compare Products

select up to 5 products to compare
Score Product Price Our Take
72
$1,200
Editors' Choice Award
If you have to pick one backcountry ski model for full seasons and all conditions, this is the one we recommend, as it's carefully tuned for all conditions
72
$740
Editors' Choice Award
There is nothing remarkable about these skis, and that is a good thing
71
$950
Goes downhill very well, we just wish it was lighter
70
$700
Best Buy Award
Well-balanced, all-around skis for the human-powered skier looking for durable and lasting value
69
$700
The Beast leans decidedly in the downhill performance direction; they are heavy by comparison and for the dimensions, but they ski better than most
67
$900
Top Pick Award
You get amazing downhill performance with a significant (comparably) weight penalty
65
$750
We encountered a mountain position issue with these skis; once that was resolved, we enjoyed solid and average downhill performance and greater than average weight
64
$700
A perennial favorite, especially for its value
60
$880
If you ride a ton of powder snow and really, really prioritize your downhill experience, check this ski out
59
$679
They ski darn good, but you need to be pretty motivated to skin skis this weighty on a daily basis
58
$900
Top Pick Award
If your tastes tilt to the high, hard, steep, and fast, you need a pair of these
57
$800
You can use these in all conditions, but you’ll enjoy their attributes the most in firm, high, and steep terrain and tours
27
$470
Top Pick Award
For casual explorations in fresh snow and very mild terrain, these are the best on the market

The right skis make all the difference. Choose wisely and your time...
The right skis make all the difference. Choose wisely and your time in places like this will be focused on everything but your gear.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Why You Should Trust Us


For many seasons now, Jed Porter has led our backcountry ski testing team. He tests all the skis, administers sharing and comparing in the rest of the team, collects the data, and prepares each final report. Jed is, first and foremost, an adventure skier. He has tromped through winter wildernesses since the mid-1990s on three continents, millions of vertical feet, countless face shots, and a handful of first descents. He is also a full-time, year-round Mountain Guide.

About half the year, he takes people on gritty, human-powered, steep-and-wild ski adventures, and the other half is spent in all types of climbing. Jed's guiding acumen is recognized in certifications from the American Mountain Guides Association, International Federation of Mountain Guide Associations, and the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education.

We collect a passionate team of skiers to help Jed and to complement his perspectives; dozens of skiers have helped over the years. Currently, the entire team, including Jed, is located in the Teton Region. We ski Grand Teton National Park, Teton Pass, and the Targhee backcountry close to home and venture further afield into the various ranges of the Greater Yellowstone region.

Mount Shasta&#039;s Hotlum-Wintun ridge and ski testing. We cover...
Mount Shasta's Hotlum-Wintun ridge and ski testing. We cover millions of vertical feet of real backcountry skiing, mainly for fun but also to generate reputable review content.
Photo: Jediah Porter

We test all winter, spring, and early summer (with periodic visits in Austral spring to South America) to have excellent and relevant reviews ready for the beginning of the North American ski season. This means that all our testing, unlike some other reviews, is done on production equipment that we purchased, and that has seen a full gamut of conditions and terrain. It also might mean that we just can't get you a full review of this year's "hot new" product before it's released.

Related: How We Tested Backcountry Skis

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Click to enlarge
Click to enlarge

Analysis and Test Results


As the sport's popularity explodes, gear increases in both quality and quantity. To sort through all the options is a bear of a task. We narrowed an expanding field of skis by selecting those intended for use in moderate to steep backcountry terrain, designed to be general-purpose mountain tools, and of moderate width and weight, relatively speaking. Shapes and designs vary, but all of our tested skis are lightweight, forgiving of a variety of snow conditions, and sized between 78 and 109 mm underfoot.

We targeted general-purpose equipment rather than specialty products. We tested the skis with modern, tech-style alpine touring bindings, boots, and technique. This style of skiing and equipment allows the user to climb with heels free and descend with them locked. These skis can also be used with telemark equipment and technique, but this style is less popular. We did not test skis with telemark bindings.

In doing this formal testing (and collecting a team with hundreds of years of accumulated experience), we have learned a great deal about what constitutes a great backcountry ski. We have also discovered that there is a significant number of great products on the market. Backcountry skiing is strenuous, at times dangerous, and takes place in a fully uncontrolled environment. As our primary interaction with the snow, our skis can have a significant influence on our experience. Every ski we reviewed is excellent, some are better in certain ways and under certain circumstances, while a select few truly stand out from the rest.

Some tested skis, from left to right: Dynafit Beast, G3 Findr, BD...
Some tested skis, from left to right: Dynafit Beast, G3 Findr, BD Route, Black Crows Corvus, Kastle TX 98, Atomic Backland UL (previously tested), Blizzard Zero G, Fischer Hannibal.
Photo: Jediah Porter

To organize our thoughts and help you understand each ski a little better, we have divided our assessment into five different metrics. Weight is a proxy for uphill performance, while downhill performance is assessed for stability, firm snow grip, powder snow performance, and turning ability in poor snow. When we mathematically assess each of these and mash them together, properly weighted, we find that the higher scoring skis are also the ones we simply like more.

Related: Buying Advice for Backcountry Skis

Related: Best Climbing Skins of 2021 for Backcountry Skiing

Related: Best Backcountry Ski Bindings of 2021


Value


At OutdoorGearLab, we're keen on making sure we test the best of the best. The cream of the crop, if you will. For good measure, and because we all like high-value gear, we highlight the products that score toward the top of the pack while also providing a massive bang for your buck. As such, the Salomon MTN Explore 95 packs a punch at a reasonable cost.

In general, ski shopping for value is a little tilted. The very highest cost skis are indeed at least a little better. However, ski performance at the lower and middle price ranges is largely independent of cost. There are good skis and poor skis across the lower to middle price ranges.

Weight


Weight is the only criterion that directly correlates to uphill performance. It is no coincidence that it is also the single most heavily prioritized criteria in our assessment. You will spend a great deal of your backcountry skiing day and career going uphill. In evaluating weight, we did more than simply cite weight. First, we did weigh the skis without bindings on them. Because of manufacturing differences and marketing pressures, claimed weights are sometimes different than actual. Even two different skis of the same make, model, size, and pair can have different weights.

Much of your ski day is uphill. Choose gear understanding this...
Much of your ski day is uphill. Choose gear understanding this important point.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Of the pairs we tested, there was up to four percent difference in weight from left to right ski. Even after we scoured the market for the best lightweight backcountry-specific skis, we still ended up with significant variability in ski weights. The heaviest product in our test is 167 percent the weight of the lightest. Before you dismiss lightweight skis as only for "touring dorks", consider that essentially all the rowdiest classic ski lines on the planet have been skied with "skimo" race gear. You have to adjust technique and ride more slowly, but the lightweight gear can go a long way.


Weight scores were distributed based primarily on measured weight, but also consideration was given to color and width. The wider the ski is, the wider (and thus heavier) the skins need to be, and the more snow can accumulate on its top sheet while skinning. Dark-colored skis heat up more than lighter skis in even partial sun. This warmed top sheet melts a little bit of snow into water, which can accrete and freeze even more snow. The ultralight performance pick K2 WayBack 80 is only 1093 grams per ski but has a relatively dark top sheet. The Movement Alp Tracks 100 is most impressive for its balance of uphill weight (1271g per ski) and all-conditions downhill performance.

&quot;Ski Mountaineering&quot;... you might picture one thing, but this is...
"Ski Mountaineering"... you might picture one thing, but this is sometimes the reality; rappelling, with skis on, while spindrift pummels you right in the face. You don't want to be thinking about your skis in this situation. Or before it. Or after it. Choose wisely.
Photo: Jediah Porter

The K2 WayBack 80 is one of the ultra-lightweight models tested. The newly added Movement Alp Tracks 100 and Fischer Transalp 90 Carbon, both around 1300 grams, are solidly in this weight class. Their dimensions and performance lend them higher all-around performance than the ultra lighters.

Tested ultralight skis in their element. Ski mountaineering in Grand...
Tested ultralight skis in their element. Ski mountaineering in Grand Teton National Park.
Photo: Jediah Porter

In the middle of the pack weight-wise, is the Black Crows Camox Freebird, Salomon MTN Explore, Volkl VTA 98, the Dynafit Beast 98 and Fischer Hannibal 96. These represent, currently, your standard touring ski. Light enough to lug around, wide enough to power through poor snow, and versatile enough to take anywhere. It is at this weight class that solid, reliable performance meets reasonable weight. If and when this degree of downhill performance trickles down to even lower weights, we'll be even more stoked (we're seeing exactly this with the high scoring Movement Alp Tracks 100; its downhill performance belongs with the skis in this paragraph, but its weight earned it a spot back up the page!).

Light skis make long distance touring more reasonable. Lead test...
Light skis make long distance touring more reasonable. Lead test editor in the middle of the Wapta Traverse, right on the British Columbia/Alberta border.
Photo: Jeff Witt

Finally, the heaviest skis, all coming in over 1600 grams for the pair and listed in order from light to heavy, in our test are the Black Diamond Helio 105, Kastle TX 103, Faction Agent 3.0, and Black Crows Corvus Freebird. The G3 Roamr 108 is a big step heavier than all the others; it is more different than the next closest than almost any other adjacent pairings in our weight list. These are each solid performers but live in a weight class that preempts acclaim in the human-powered backcountry world. These heavier ski models are good to excellent downhill skis that are branded to tour.

We also calculated the weight-to-surface area ratio of each ski in grams per square centimeter of ski base surface area. This ratio helps to compare construction methods and materials because it normalizes for actual ski size. Long and wide skis will be heavier than short and narrow. If you wish to compare skis of radically different dimensions, this number can help sort them out. Elsewhere on the web, you will also see surface-area-to-weight numbers generated.

We confine our discussion of ski performance to notes on ski...
We confine our discussion of ski performance to notes on ski performance. It would be easy to attribute performance to construction attributes, materials, and dimensions, but this oversimplifies the matter.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Stability at Speed


A ski's stability determines the user's comfort at speed and the rider's security when landing steep jump turns. These seemingly different activities reward the same attributes. Damp (basically, damp skis deflect from their path less readily than less damp ones), stiff and heavy skis are the most stable. In our testing, the same skis we wanted to go fast on were the same ones we could jump around on in steep, chunky snow. Not surprisingly, the heavier skis like the Black Crows Corvus Freebird and G3 Roamr 108 are more stable than the lighter ones. These two are both outliers, weight wise. We have to note the admirable stability of each at top speeds; weight and stability are closely correlated. Again, the greatest determinant of stability (and other downhill performance attributes, for that matter) is weight. The mass of a ski is part of its downhill performance.


Tempering the stability for the lighter skis is the inclusion of carbon fiber. Carbon fiber stiffens the ride without dramatically increasing the weight. Heavy-ish skis with carbon fiber in them, like the Faction Agent, replicate the stability of the heaviest skis at a lower mass. In times past, lightweight skis would noodle around terrain and snow conditions. Modern, lightweight skis built with carbon fiber, like the Hannibal and Black Crows Camox Freebird, can push right through almost as well as the more massive ones. No matter what technology is included in a ski, mass has a relationship to stability. The lighter skis won't be as stable as the heavier ones, all else equal. A carefully constructed light ski, of course, will out ski a sloppy heavier one.

Up high, windswept snow, big wilderness. OGL editor Ian McEleney...
Up high, windswept snow, big wilderness. OGL editor Ian McEleney making a cameo.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Firm Snow Performance


Firm snow in the backcountry is formed by melt-freeze metamorphosis, and we call it corn, or it is formed by wind transport, and we call it wind board. (As the backcountry becomes more and more crowded, we're also seeing firm snow in the wild as a result of "skier compaction". Weird times) The firmest expression of these can be called ice (unless you ski on the East Coast of the US. There, "it's not called ice unless you can see fish underneath"). Corn snow, in its softer phase, is one type of hero snow. Turning in perfect corn snow is almost effortless. Like in perfect powder, differentiating between skis on corn snow is difficult; all are fun. In the firmer manifestations of snow, ski performance varies drastically. Stiffer is better, while narrower feels more predictable and less strenuous. Weight helps.

Firm snow isn&#039;t always steep and extreme. This long-distance...
Firm snow isn't always steep and extreme. This long-distance, rock-hard spring tour was quite the test for hard snow performance, and we never skied "no fall" terrain.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Our favorite firm snow skis were narrow. The Fischer Transalp 90 is narrow and stiff but ultralight, and performs reliably on firm snow, and inspires great confidence when it is steep and hard. The ultralight ski mountaineering specialist K2 Wayback 80 did really well on an early season, firm-conditions descent of the Grand Teton. The Dynafit Tour 88 is narrow but heavier than the others in this size range. It is probably the best firm snow ski in our recent test roster.

Mid-width, "all-around" skis can do pretty well in firm stuff. It is especially important with these mid-fat skis on firm snow to pair them with beefier boots. You can get away with light boots in soft snow, but harder snow requires stiffer boots. We'd put the Movement Alp Tracks 100, Kastle TX 103, Black Crows Camox Freebird and Faction Agent 3.0 in this category. You wouldn't choose any of these for pure firm snow skiing, but you won't be let down when you encounter that with these. However, none of us were super impressed with the firm snow hold of the Black Diamond Helio 105

Athletic pace, early morning, firm snow. Sometimes skiing is more...
Athletic pace, early morning, firm snow. Sometimes skiing is more about the exercise and place than it is about the ripping turns. For that, light gear goes a long way.
Photo: Jediah Porter


The wide and light skis exert great leverage without the mass and stiffness to back it up. These are best kept to slow speeds when the firm is encountered. All the skis in the middle of the weight and width spectrum, like the Dynafit Beast 98, do pretty well.

Powder Performance


All the skis we tested are a ton of fun in powder snow. This is a reflection of the nature of powder skiing and the fact that modern skis are so well designed. Wide or narrow, stiff or floppy, rockered or not, good skis combine with good powder snow to make for a transcendent experience. We must give a mention here of the no-longer-included Voile V6. This fully cambered, stiff, relatively narrow ski excelled for us in powder. It was a lively ride that positively popped up and out of the fluffy between each silky turn. The enjoyable performance kicked cold pow in the face of convention. "Common knowledge" would hold that the camber, narrow waist, and stiff construction would be a liability in the soft. Not so, in our experience. This single data point hints at the issues with generalizing dimensions and construction type.


While every ski did well in the powder, we have to give a special mention to the dedicated powder tourers. The Movement Alp Tracks 100 are ultralight tools with above-average girth and dimensions tuned for soft snow. They perform very well on good snow and do so with absolute minimum weight. For your overall touring day, ultralight construction is a significant advantage.

Refueling and reskinning to head back up for another powder lap on...
Refueling and reskinning to head back up for another powder lap on the all around Kastle TX 103
Photo: Jediah Porter

The Movement Alp Tracks 100 snaps quick powder turns and rails higher speed soft snow carves. We tested it in a relatively short 177cm length. For steep skiing and firm snow, this was just the right length. At high speed in soft snow, we found ourselves wishing for more length. With that length would come even better float and stability. If you are on the fence between two sizes of these, consider our experience as you choose.

It is a rough job, but someone needs to do it. Testing skis in Grand...
It is a rough job, but someone needs to do it. Testing skis in Grand Teton National Park.
Photo: Nancy Bockino

The big gun Black Crows Corvus Freebird charges long radius powder turns like a train on tracks. If you want or need to slow it down and make three-dimensional, bouncy, short-radius turns, the Freebird requires more input than some of the others.

We all love perfect powder skiing. Pretty much all modern...
We all love perfect powder skiing. Pretty much all modern backcountry skis love perfect powder skiing.
Photo: Jediah Porter

Crud/Poor Snow Performance


This is our favorite review category. And that is not because we like skiing crud and poor snow. It is here that a product can truly make itself known. As mentioned above, in great snow, whether powder or corn, all modern skis are fun and perform well. At speed and in the steeps, stable and firm-snow tuned products start to stand out. However, it is when the snow inevitably gets breakable or sloppy that separates the wheat from the chaff. This applies to skis as well as skiers. We can't change your skiing over the internet, but we can help you get products that smooth the rough.


Overall, we found a significant range in poor snow performance. We separated our scoring into breakable crust and slop or mashed potatoes. Generally, those that did well in one did at least ok in the other, and vice versa. Both of these general snow types reward similar attributes. The rider wants equipment that comes up reliably out of the snow and turns gently and readily. Tips, tails, and edges must engage and disengage with the snow smoothly with little grabbing or hesitation. We can make some construction generalizations but must do so cautiously. The wide, heavy, and rockered Black Crows Corvus Freebird performs amazingly in bad snow. However, the narrow, light, and more traditionally profiled Salomon MTN Explore 95 also compares favorably, especially considering the respective weight of each.

Human-powered skiing isn&#039;t always face shots and bluebird skies...
Human-powered skiing isn't always face shots and bluebird skies. Sometimes it is tough snow and flat light. For that, we assess skis for their crud performance.
Photo: Jediah Porter

While ski resort riders may spend a considerable percentage of their time on the same home mountain, backcountry aficionados are inherently explorers. Even in one's home range, the goal is often to see new terrain under new conditions. Not to mention, of course, the appeal of traveling further afield to backcountry ski. Even if, for argument's sake, one were to go to the same backcountry ski slope every time out, one would encounter different conditions each time.

The versatility of your backcountry equipment is crucial. In evaluating versatility on variable snow conditions, we looked at downhill performance in all kinds of snow. Most will want their one pair of backcountry skis to be able to shred powder on 25 degree Berthoud Pass laps just as well as ski off the summit of the Grand Teton. In any of these endeavors, you are likely to encounter poor snow, and your equipment must be ready for this.

The Movement Alp Tracks 100 is a breakable crust champion. The Black Crows Camox Freebird is in the same category. Its poor snow performance wins it another of our highest awards. We had a hard time in tough snow with the Dynafit Tour 88 and the Fischer Transalp 90.

Big spring ski mountaineering days mean skiing all the conditions...
Big spring ski mountaineering days mean skiing all the conditions. And at least some of those conditions will be difficult to poor.
Photo: Jediah Porter

The narrow and ultralight skis also battled in tough snow. Mass and girth, it turns out, help with tough snow. This isn't much of a surprise to most. The K2 WayBack 80 took a specialized award in this light and fast category.

Conclusion


There is a wide spectrum of conditions and users that backcountry skis are tailored for. The biggest are twice as big as the smallest, for instance. Further, branding and marketing copy makes them all sound excellent for everything. This isn't the case. We hope that our reviews and comparisons serve to smooth out your purchasing process.

We have been asked for an outline of our dream backcountry ski quiver. We test lots of skis and have many options at our disposal. We also ski a lot, in a variety of conditions and settings. Sometimes it feels as if we are faced with infinite options for skis and ski gear pairings. The answer to an "ideal" ski quiver isn't necessarily "infinite"; there is such a thing as too many skis. It takes some time to get used to skis, either when using them for the first time or when switching from a different option. Few people ski as much and in as varied of settings as our lead tester Jed Porter. Jed chimes in here with his ideal backcountry ski quiver, in general terms and with some specifics.

It would have to be a five ski system. First, "rec class" skimo race skis. These have the same dimensions as "World Cup" level skimo race skis (160cm long, 65mm underfoot) but are slightly heavier and more durable. He uses these for huge missions on relatively firm snow. Jed has done one skimo race (in 2005), but has worn out a few pairs of skimo race skis. They're weird, but when they are right for the job, it'll blow your mind.

Next, big-mountain "sending" skis. 80mm underfoot and around 1000g per ski. Right now, he's digging the K2 Wayback 80. These are what he uses for fast ascents and descents "in a day" in the high Tetons.

100mm underfoot, lightweight all-around skis. The Movement Alp Tracks 100 is great for everything from Shasta corn to bottomless January Teton Pass powder.

100mm underfoot, mid-weight all-around skis. These are what I use for day-to-day ski guiding in varied conditions and terrain. The Kastle TX103 will last for hundreds of thousands of vertical feet and can hang in absolutely any circumstance. They're heavier than what he wants for the longest days, but the downhill performance is hard to complain doubt.

Lastly, giant, lightweight powder skis. For a coming review update, he has been testing the Voile Hyperdrifter. It is almost 2cm wider than the TX103 but weighs about the same. On the absolute deepest days, especially when avalanche conditions confine us to low angle terrain, giant powder skis like this enable fast and floaty enjoyment. Skis this big perform well at almost any weight. Get 'em lightweight for more vertical. You'll hardly notice the low weight on the downhill.

Jediah Porter