Reviews You Can Rely On

Best Backcountry Skis of 2022

We tested backcountry skis from K2, Black Crows, Black Diamond, Dynafit, Movement and more to find the best for your next adventure
Lead test editor guiding a ski ascent and descent of Wyoming's Grand T...
Photo: Adam Fabrikant
By Jediah Porter ⋅ Review Editor
Friday October 8, 2021
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We've been formally testing backcountry skis for six years and have decades of experience prior to that. Our team has released our 2021 iteration of the best backcountry skis, in which we've identified 13 of the top models. We accumulate thousands and thousands of vertical feet of real backcountry skiing on each model. We then describe, in real terms and with an understanding of actual performance attributes (avoiding the all-too-common tendency to conflate performance and construction matters…), weight and how it is balanced against downhill performance in terms of powder, bad snow, hard snow, and at speed. The result is a useful, comprehensive discussion of skis that have been well-tested by a dialed, relevant team of testers.

Related: Best Backcountry Ski Bindings of 2022

Top 13 Product Ratings

Displaying 1 - 5 of 13
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Awards Top Pick Award Editors' Choice Award Top Pick Award Best Buy Award Editors' Choice Award 
Price Check Price at Backcountry
Compare at 2 sellers
$1,200 List
$1,175 at Backcountry
$795 ListCheck Price at REI
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$739.95 at REI
Compare at 3 sellers
Overall Score
58
72
67
72
72
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Pros Light, narrow, better than you’d expect in powder and poor snowLight for the uphill, balanced downhill performance for all conditionsFast float, incredible weight (for the size), acceptable poor snow performanceAll-around performance, damp, inexpensive, available, sweet spot weightStable, damp, predictable
Cons Narrow, fragileExpensive, generalized downhill performanceAbysmal, scary firm snow performance, specialized applicationSoft and dampMid-weight, no real stand out performance
Bottom Line Very specialized skis for high, firm, and fast missions; you'll have to ski downhill carefully and with attentionChoose this ski for all-year, all-purpose human-powered skiing in any region of the worldPerhaps the most specialized skis in our test, it's optimized for the deepest of days in the deepest of regionsInexpensive, proven all-around performance that's suitable for a wide variety of backcountry skiers and ski conditionsGood skis for good skiers in all kinds of conditions; the definition of all around backcountry skis
Rating Categories K2 Wayback 80 Movement Alp Tracks... Voile HyperDrifter K2 Wayback 106 Black Crows Camox F...
Weight (25%) Sort Icon
9.0
9.0
8.0
7.0
6.0
Firm Snow (20%)
7.0
6.0
2.0
7.0
8.0
Powder (20%)
4.0
8.0
10.0
8.0
7.0
Crud And Poor Snow (20%)
5.0
7.0
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Stability At Speed (15%)
2.0
5.0
7.0
7.0
7.0
Specs K2 Wayback 80 Movement Alp Tracks... Voile HyperDrifter K2 Wayback 106 Black Crows Camox F...
Weight Per Pair 4.8 lbs 5.6 lbs 7.0 lbs 6.9 lbs 6.7 lbs
Weight Per Ski 1094g, 1091g, average: 1093g 1270g, 1272g, average: 1271g 1545g, 1585g, average: 1565g 1518g, 1557g, average: 1537g 1510g, 1509g, average: 1510g
Weight Per Pair 2185g 2542g 3130g 3075g 3024g
Weight Per Surface Area Ratio, g/cm^2 0.63 0.62 0.64 0.71 0.71
Measured Length 177cm 176cm 177cm 179cm 182cm
Manufacturer Length 177cm 177cm 178cm 179cm 183cm
Available Lengths 163, 170, 177cm 170, 177, 185cm 171, 178, 186cm 172, 179, 186cm 162, 172, 178, 183cm
Claimed Dimensions 113 / 80 / 100mm 132/100/120mm 155/121/138mm 135/106/124mm 130/97/115mm
Measured Dimensions 113/80/101mm 131/100/118mm 154/121/138mm 135/107/123mm 137/97/117mm
Construction Type Sandwich Cap Cap Sandwich Cap Hybrid Semi-cap
Core Material Paulownia, carbon, fiberglass, Titanal Karuba Paulownia Paulownia Paulownia, poplar
Waist Width 80mm 100mm 121mm 107mm 97mm
Radius 18m 19m 19m 22m 18m
Rocker/Camber All terrain rocker Tip rocker, camber underfoot Tip rocker, camber underfoot Tip rocker, slight 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: 1271 grams | Measured Dimensions: 131/100/118 mm
Light
Versatile
Solidly balanced downhill performance
Expensive
Have a "speed limit" downhill

The Movement Alp Tracks 100 quickly rose to the top of our test roster. Mainly, it nails what we have long 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.  We've long found that efficiency and downhill performance optimize around this weight point. Performance keeps improving at all weigh points but seems to be optimized against weight right around 12-1300 grams. 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 couple of full seasons now 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: 1510 grams| Measured Dimensions: 130/97/115 mm
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 don't rest, in any way, on the OGL backcountry ski gear test team. We first 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


K2 Wayback 106


72
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weight 7
  • Firm Snow 7
  • Powder 8
  • Crud and Poor Snow 7
  • Stability at Speed 7
Weight: 1537 grams | Measured Dimensions: 135/107/123 mm
Long pedigree
Balanced downhill performance
Optimal weight
On the wide side of versatile
Super damp

Our latest value recommendation for all-around, all-season human-powered backcountry skiing is this K2 Wayback 106. It offers well-balanced performance across the entire spectrum of backcountry conditions, comes in at a reasonable, competitive weight, and is priced and available for optimal value. The dimensions are relatively wide for all-around backcountry skiing, but performance keeps up, and many of you are accustomed to skis in this size range for all-season use. A few millimeters narrower would save weight and increase versatility, but we aren't really complaining.

Identifying backcountry ski values is a tough proposition. First, original retail prices don't vary with skis as much as they do with other consumer goods. Skis range from roughly x to 2x in price. Other outdoor goods can range from x to 5x or more. Ski prices are rather consolidated, especially in recent years. Further, the regular changes in models and graphics mean that older skis are often turning over at great prices. Nonetheless, for this award, we look for a good intro price, all-around performance, relative durability, and wide availability. The K2 Wayback 106 checks all those boxes. Others do too. Shop wisely.

Read review: K2 Wayback 106

Best for Super Deep Powder


Voile HyperDrifter


67
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weight 8
  • Firm Snow 2
  • Powder 10
  • Crud and Poor Snow 6
  • Stability at Speed 7
Weight: 1565 grams | Measured Dimensions:  154/121/138 mm
Huge
Familiar and predictable in soft snow
Wicked light, for the size
Abysmal, terrifying hard snow performance
Require big, heavy skins

The Voile Hyperdrifter is the biggest ski in our test (by quite a lot) but is in the center in terms of weight. This is a great balance if you seek (and actually find) enough truly deep powder snow to justify dedicated powder skis. If you are fortunate and good enough to track down that amount of soft snow via human power, you can't do better than the Hyperdrifter. As the biggest ski we have tested, it stands out. We love it for the deepest of days, and any time the pitch is low, and the snow is soft.

Many, many skis make excellent powder skiing enjoyable. But let's look at what makes excellent powder skiing. It has to be steep enough to carry speed, and the snow needs to be deep, soft, graduated, but not so deep as to bog you down. There are some caveats baked in. First, "steep enough" can often overlap with overly hazardous avalanche risk. Big skis like the Hyperdrifter can help you carry speed on gentler terrain and, therefore, better enjoy those days that you've gotta stay out of the steeper country. Next, it can actually be too deep to ski sometimes. On those rare (and comical… and strenuous…) days, huge, light skis like the Hyperdrifter will set you upright. These are pretty narrow circumstances. And circumstances in which your all-around backcountry skis will also function. You choose these Hyperdrifters to complement all-around skis and have to learn exactly when they benefit you and when they don't.

Read review: Voile Hyperdrifter

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: 1093 grams | Measured Dimensions: 113/80/100 mm
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


69
OVERALL
SCORE
  • Weight 3
  • Firm Snow 6
  • Powder 9
  • Crud and Poor Snow 9
  • Stability at Speed 9
Weight: 1932 grams | Actual Dimensions: 142/107/118 mm
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  that persistently refer to the Corvus as "lightweight", this is a heavy set of skis. They are lightweight compared to resort skis but heavy 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
$700
Best Buy Award
These are great for a wide range of human-powered skiers and mountain conditions, and are affordable, with proven all-season downhill performance
72
$740
Editors' Choice Award
One of the best on the market, 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
$650
Leans decidedly in the downhill performance direction; they are heavy by comparison and for the dimensions, but they ski better than most
69
$900
Top Pick Award
Amazing, demanding downhill performance with a significant (comparably) weight penalty; pay close attention while skiing these
68
$1,300
DPS's best touring ski yet, it's "just right" across the board when it comes to weight and downhill performance
67
$795
Top Pick Award
Niche skis for the fluffiest, softest niche in mountain sports; the wicked deep days are the best days
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
59
$679
They ski darn good, but you need to be pretty motivated to regularly ski skis this weighty
58
$900
Top Pick Award
If your tastes tilt to the high, hard, steep, and fast, you need a pair of these
27
$490
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 with 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, pandemic allowing 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

Click to enlarge
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 121 mm underfoot.

main BIC photo
main BIC photo
Photo: Jediah Porter

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.

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 recently tested backcountry skis. From left to right: DPS...
Some recently tested backcountry skis. From left to right: DPS Pagoda Tour 100, K2 Wayback 106, Voile Hyperdrifter, Black Crows Corvus Freebird.
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.

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. He uses these 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.
The Movement Alp Tracks 100 on top of Mount Moran, Tetons.
The Movement Alp Tracks 100 on top of Mount Moran, Tetons.
Photo: Jediah Porter

100mm underfoot, mid-weight all-around skis. These are what he uses for day-to-day ski guiding in varied conditions and terrain. This is the ski, also, to travel with. This is as close as you'll get to a backcountry "quiver of one". 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. He loves 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.

Related: Buying Advice for Backcountry Skis

Related: Best Climbing Skins of 2022 for Backcountry Skiing

Related: Best Backcountry Ski Bindings of 2022


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 K2 Wayback 106 packs a punch at a reasonable cost.
The ski we&#039;ve currently chosen as the best value we know of. K2...
The ski we've currently chosen as the best value we know of. K2 Wayback 106.
Photo: Jediah Porter

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. Further, great deals are regularly available, mixing up any generalization one might draw from manufacturer's suggested retail price.

Weight


Weight is the only backcountry ski 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. We make that data available to you.

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

There was up to four percent difference in weight from left to right ski of the pairs we tested. 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, absorbing and freezing 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 is 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, K2 Wayback 106, Salomon MTN Explore, Voile Hyperdrifter, the Dynafit Beast 98 and DPS Pagoda Tour 100. 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  Kastle TX 103, Faction Agent 3.0, Black Crows Corvus Freebird, and G3 Roamr 108. These are solid performers but live in a weight class that preempts acclaim in the world of the human-powered backcountry. 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 DPS Pagoda 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 ultralight ski mountaineering specialist K2 Wayback 80 did really well on an early season, firm-conditions descent of the Grand Teton.

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, DPS Pagoda Tour 100 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. The K2 Wayback 106 does better on firm snow than its weight and width numbers would suggest.

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. We're mainly talking about the Voile Hyperdrifter. If you "luck" into hard snow on the Hyperdrifter, you will quickly revert to survival skiing skills and techniques.

All the skis in the middle of the weight and width spectrum, like the Dynafit Beast 98 and Salomon MTN Explore 95, do pretty well.

The big and wide Black Crows Corvus Freebird and G3 Roamr do surprisingly well on firm snow. All that weighty material lends stability and torsional stiffness.
Springtime means waning coverage and firmer snow. Go narrow or go...
Springtime means waning coverage and firmer snow. Go narrow or go heavy. Just don't try and ski wide and light skis on firm snow.
Photo: Jediah Porter

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 Voile Hyperdrifter. This cambered 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 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.   The huge Voile Hyperdrifter is a powder hog; just be sure to put it away when the snow gets tough or firm.

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, when the snow inevitably gets breakable or sloppy, it 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. You are likely to encounter poor snow in any of these endeavors, and your equipment must be ready for this.

This windswept day and peak in Western Wyoming was great testing of...
This windswept day and peak in Western Wyoming was great testing of skis' poor snow performance. The Black Crows Corvus is better than most.
Photo: Jediah Porter

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 Voile Hyperdrifter. These do well enough, but nothing special.

The DPS Pagoda Tour 100 does surprisingly well, especially for the weight, in tough snow conditions.

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.

Jediah Porter

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