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Best Backcountry Skis 2019 – 2020

There's a huge variety of touring and backcountry skis out there. We get our heads around the best of them

Beyond your (obviously flawless) technique, skis are the first thing that will influence your ability to ski in certain conditions. To the uninitiated, there’s a confusing amount of shapes and constructions on the market; each of which give the ski certain characteristics to suit specific snow conditions.

While the right pair of skis have the potential to inspire confidence over the entire mountain, the wrong pair of skis have the power to strike fear into the hearts of those unable to take full control of them. It’s therefore vital that we make the right decision on our choice of skis, based on things like ability, end goals, and build.

“We’re now seeing some incredibly high-performance skis that barely tip the scales”

Not only do touring skis need to be damp, responsive and stiff in order to ski well, they also need to remain lightweight for when you’re earning your turns. Recent developments in ski technology has meant that we’re now seeing some incredibly high-performance skis that barely tip the scales. 

Although many of the skis in this roundup have been classified as backcountry, many of them aren’t out and out skis solely designed for ski touring. You could, for example, still happily slap an alpine downhill binding on many of the more traditionally built skis, such as the Faction Dictator 3.0 and Blizzard Rustler 10, and they’d still perform just a regular ski. If you do want to experience the huge variety of terrain and endless amounts of fun offered by ski touring however (and why wouldn’t you, it’s the best), you’ll need to mount a touring-specific binding on these things.

Camber

Lay a pair of skis flat on a surface and you’ll most likely see the ski rise up from said surface. The rise, most prominent from the waist, is something we call camber. This rise means that when the ski is weighted, it will have an even distribution of weight throughout the whole length of the ski rather than exclusively at its midpoint. If you’re looking for skis with a lot of bite in firm snow, then look for skis with a liberal use of camber underfoot. 

Rocker

Rocker is traditionally used in the tips and tails to promote float in fresh snow. By rising the tips and tails of the ski up off the snow, it means that the tips don’t have a tendency to ‘tip-dive’ into fresh snow even when the skier is weighting the tips. Rocker also shortens the contact length of the edges, making the skis easier to turn in fresh, whereas a ski without rocker might just sink / plough through the fresh snow. 

Fully ‘rockered’ skis will have minimal contact points on the snow, as the tips and tails are heavily raised above the surface. This makes for an extremely manoeuvrable ski at the cost of bite on firm snow, due to a lack of edge contact through the length of the ski. 

Camber/Rocker Mix

It’s common to see Rocker-Camber-Rocker blends in ski design these days. Take a look out for our ski profile shots found within each ski review to see how much camber and rocker the ski in question carries. 

“If you do want to experience the huge variety of terrain and endless amounts of fun… you’ll need to mount a touring-specific binding on these things”

Sidecut

Usually presented in the format of ‘126 / 100 / 108’ this figure shows the width of the tips (first number), waist (second number), and tail (third number). When combined, the sidecut also gives the radius of the ski in question. 

This radius is the distance the ski would travel to make a turn, if you were to put it on edge and follow the shape that the sidecut creates. For example, the set of numbers above represent a radius of 25 metres for 180cm ski. 

Width

Waist widths are important for backcountry skiing as the more surface area you’re carrying underfoot, the more chance you have of floating through fresh snow. On the flip side, smaller waist widths have more bite on firm snow as power from your boot can be directly driven to the edges of the skis.

The waist width of a ski will give you a very rough understanding of what the ski is most suited towards. In modern skis, widths of 90 – 110mm are great for all mountain riding (depending on your style) whereas widths of 110mm + become a little more focused towards powder riding.

Blizzard Zero G 95

Sidecut (mm): 127 / 95 / 127 (178 cm)
Radius: 23m (178 cm)
Weight (per ski): 1250g (178 cm)
Price: £545

Website: blizzardsports.com

An impressively lightweight pair of skis that’s able to perform well. That’s the best, most simple, way of rounding up this ski and it’s part of the reason why ski mountaineers Hilaree Nelson and Jim Morrison chose it as the go-to tool to be used on their mission to to climb and ski the 8,516 metre-high Lhotse – the world’s fourth highest mountain.

Chosen for the 2019/20 Mpora Backcountry Ski Guide – Take a closer look at the Blizzard Zero G 95 here

Faction Agent 2.0

Sidecut (mm): 127 / 96 / 117 (179cm)
Radius: 20m (179cm)
Weight (per ski): 1570g (179cm)
Price: £649

Website: factionskis.com

A blend of a lightweight Karuba wood core and carbon stringers have meant that Swiss-based Faction skis have created a relatively lightweight ski that’ll still be able to hold its own through tricky conditions. Mount a mid-weight touring binding on the Agent 2.0, like the Marker Kingpin M-Werks, or the Dynafit ST Rotation 12 and you’ve got yourself a great quiver of one touring setup for when you’re unsure of what the mountain is going to throw your way.

Chosen for the 2019/20 Mpora Backcountry Ski Guide – Take a closer look at the Faction Agent 2.0 here

Volkl Mantra V-Werks

Sidecut (mm): 135 / 99 / 117 (178 cm)
Radius: 20.8 (178cm)
Weight (per ski): 1680g (178 cm)
Price: £900

Website: voelkl.com

Volkl have taken the classic Mantra shape and handed it over to their V-Werks department in an effort to shave weight from it whilst retaining the majority of its performance. As a result, we’ve got this, the Mantra V-Werks – slightly wider than the Mantra M5  but, with that, Volkl have managed to create an all-mountain touring rocket.

Chosen for the 2019/20 Mpora Backcountry Ski Guide – Take a closer look at the Volkl Mantra V-Werks here

Black Crows Solis

Sidecut (mm): 126 / 100 / 108
Radius: 25 m (180 cm)
Weight (per ski): 1950g
Price: £680

Website: black-crows.com

There’s no other company out that that you’d wish to create a steep skiing specific ski than Chamonix’s Black Crows. The Crows have blended an extremely damp ski, with minimal rocker and camber and a moderate sidecut, creating a long turn radius. The result is the Solis, a ski that excels in extremely steep terrain.

Chosen for the 2019/20 Mpora Backcountry Ski Guide – Take a closer look at the Black Crows Solis here

Blizzard Rustler 10

Sidecut (mm): 133 / 102 / 122 (180cm)
Radius: 17.5m (180cm)
Weight (per ski): 1800g (180cm)
Price: £549

Website: blizzardsports.com

Whilst it’s great to see brands shaving weight from their touring lineup, we also can’t fault the good old traditional way of building skis – with copious amounts of metal. A full length of Titanal stretches the length of the Blizzard Rustler 10, giving the ski a damp and lively feel. The use of rocker in the tail improves the planks’ playful nature.

Chosen for the 2019/20 Mpora Backcountry Ski Guide – Take a closer look at the Blizzard Rustler 10 here

Faction Dictator 3.0

Sidecut (mm): 133 / 102 / 122 (180cm)
Radius: 17.5m (180cm)
Weight (per ski): 1800g (180cm)
Price: £549

Website: factionskis.com

‘Dictator : one holding complete autocratic control : a person with unlimited governmental power.’ Make no mistake, the Faction Dictator 3.0 is a ski that will hold the control of your direction if you’re not able to stay on top of it. However, if you are able to ski with poise and precision then the Dictator 3.0 is going to reward you with speed and stability in an ideal all-mountain package.

Chosen for the 2019/20 Mpora Backcountry Ski Guide – Take a closer look at the Faction Dictator 3.0 here

DPS Wailer 106 Tour 1

Sidecut (mm): 133 / 102 / 122 (180cm)
Radius: 17.5m (180cm)
Weight (per ski): 1440g (180cm)
Price: £549

Website: dpsskis.com

DPS have brought all their powder ski shaping knowledge and toned it down into a fantastic all mountain shape in the Wailer 106. This, the Wailer 106 Tour, has been built using DPS’ Tour 1 construction; bringing it down to an astonishing weight of 1440 grams in a shape that’ll be poised to tackle all sorts of conditions found across the mountain.

Chosen for the 2019/20 Mpora Backcountry Ski Guide – Take a closer look at the DPS Wailer 106 Tour 1 here

Atomic Vantage 107 TI

Sidecut (mm): 137 / 107 / 124 (182cm)
Radius: 18.4m (182cm)
Weight (per ski): 1980g
Price: £550

Website: atomic.com

Atomic have brought all their piste and race ski knowledge into creating this, the Vantage 107 TI – a ski that’s far from the lightest in the category, but surely one of the highest performance skis out there. The Prolite chassis has been designed to keep the weight down, yet retain performance where it’s needed most – quite like Volkl’s 3D ridge technology found on the V-Werks Mantra.

Chosen for the 2019/20 Mpora Backcountry Ski Guide – Take a closer look at the Atomic Vantage 107 TI here

DPS Wailer Alchemist 112

Sidecut (mm): 141 / 112 / 128
Radius: 15m
Weight (per ski): 2080g
Price: £1,150

Website: dpsskis.com

The original Wailer 112 from DPS has long been the go-to soft snow touring ski, due to its use of carbon to create an incredibly lightweight ski with an impressive mix of waist width and rocker which resulted in a ski that flattered many. Now, the introduction of the Alchemist carbon build looks to smooth out the chattery and twitchy nature of carbon skis in a much more all-mountain construction that’ll help it fair better when the going gets choppy.

Chosen for the 2019/20 Mpora Backcountry Ski Guide – Take a closer look at the DPS Alchemist Wailer 112 here

Head Kore 117

Sidecut (mm): 145 / 117 / 129 (189cm)
Radius: 24.6 (189cm)
Weight (per ski): 2000g
Price: £650

Website: head.com

Built with Koroyd (the shock absorbing stuff you find in helmets) and Graphene (the hardest material in the world), Head have managed to build an aggressive freeride ski, whilst still retaining a relatively lightweight build at 2,000g. Drill a Shift binding onto the Kore 117 and you’ve got yourself a weapon that’ll happily blast through all but the worst conditions.

Chosen for the 2019/20 Mpora Backcountry Ski Guide – Take a closer look at the Head Kore 117 here

Armada Tracer 118 CHX

Sidecut (mm): 144 / 118 / 135 (188cm)
Radius: 20m (188cm)
Weight (per ski): 1875g (180cm)
Price: £640

Website: armadaskis.com

Armada have taken the classic big mountain powder shape of the original Tracer 118 and stripped 8% of the weight off it to create the Tracer 118 CHX. Even though weight has been stripped from the ski, the Tracer 118 CHX is still a point and shoot weapon that retains an impressive level of dampness. This has been achieved  by using a Caruba/Poplar core, combined with ‘Adaptive Mesh’ – a fibreglass laminate that’s been weaved to optimise vibration dampening along the full length of the ski.

Chosen for the 2019/20 Mpora Backcountry Ski Guide – Take a closer look at the Armada Tracer 118 CHX here

Whitedot Ragnarok ASYM

Sidecut (mm): 147 / 122 / 134
Radius: 30m
Weight (per ski): 2220g
Price: £698

Website: whitedotskis.com

Did you ever laugh at your non-skier mates who would always ask if there was a left or right ski? Well now you can laugh no longer with the asymmetrical design of the Whitedot  Ragnarok ASYM meaning that there is now, in fact, a left and right ski. This ski has been designed with offset taper in each ski, creating an inside turning ski with a shorter effective edge. All of this equates to a pair of skis that are extremely ‘pivotable’, no matter how deep things get.

Chosen for the 2019/20 Mpora Backcountry Ski Guide – Take a closer look at the Whitedot  Ragnarok ASYM here

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