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Best Backcountry (Touring) Skis Of 2021

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 (and in this case, backcountry / ski touring 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.

Not only do ski 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.

DPS Pagoda Tour 106 C2

Lengths (cm): 155, 163, 171, 179, 184
Sidecut (mm): 137/106/121 (179 cm)
Radius: 19m (179 cm)
Rocker Profile: Rocker-Camber-Rocker
Weight (per ski): 1,460g

BUY HERE

Taking design cues from Asian architecture, the DPS Pagoda Tour 106 manages to uphold phenomenal levels of downhill performance, with a very minimal weight penalty.

The name Pagoda is in reference to the Pagoda buildings found in Asia. These buildings featured wooden roofs that are layered on top of another. This is the exact principle that DPS has taken in creating their wooden cores; by layering two sheets of wood on top of each other, DPS manage to strike that sweet spot between torsional and longitudinal stiffness.

Of course, being a DPS ski, the Pagoda Tour 106 features a carbon laminate sandwich construction. This carbon layer has been tuned in an effort to improve dampening.

Chosen for our Ski 100 – Take a closer look at the DPS Pagoda Tour 106 C2 here

Atomic Backland 100

Lengths (cm): 164, 172, 180, 188
Sidecut (mm): 129 / 100 / 121 (180 cm)
Radius: 19.2m (180 cm)
Rocker Profile: Rocker-Camber-Rocker
Weight (per ski): 1,325g

BUY HERE

The Atomic Backland 100 is another new touring ski that’s able to offer a seriously impressive level of downhill performance, at not too much of a weight penalty. Featuring an ‘Ultra Power Woodcore’ – made from laminations of dense beech and lightweight poplar – with a hybrid core of a carbon backbone that runs for the full length of the ski. This combination gives the Backland a good deal of punch when releasing from turns.

When you combine this performance with a waist width of 100 mm, the Atomic Backland 100 is going to see you right no matter the conditions thrown your way. We here at the Mpora offices took the Backland 100 for a blast in typical Scottish Highland conditions (that’s ice, powder and everything in between), and they held up exceptionally well.

Chosen for our Ski 100 – Take a closer look at the Atomic Backland 100 here

Faction Agent 4.0

Lengths (cm): 171, 179, 185, 191
Sidecut (mm): 141 / 116 / 131
Radius: 23m (185 cm)
Rocker Profile: Rocker-Camber-Rocker
Weight (per ski): 1800g (185 cm)

The Faction Agent 4.0 was Sam Anthamatten’s daily driver while we were out in Zermatt with him, filming for the Backcountry Ski Guide. After spending a bit of time with Sam, we quickly learnt why these skis were his go to: Sam was able to take on everything in the Agents, from steep and exposed couloirs, to playful groomer ripping on the way back to the chairlift.

The Agent 4.0 is built around a lightweight Paulownia core, which also has a carbon/fibreglass laminate pressed over the ski (this covers the full length of the ski). Similar to the Agent 2.0 that we reviewed last year, we’ve found this combination is the ideal balance between weight and power for those who put emphasis on the downhill.

Chosen for our Ski 100 – Take a closer look at the Faction Agent 4.0 here

Line Vision 98

Lengths (cm): 172, 179, 186
Sidecut (mm): 172, 179, 186
Radius: 18m (179 cm)
Rocker Profile: Rocker-Camber-Rocker
Weight (per ski): 1,515g

Coming in at a staggering 1,515 grams, it’s fair to say that Line have pulled out all the stops in creating a dedicated touring ski. But, as you’d expect from a company like Line, the Vision 98 features some pretty impressive downhill performance to boot.

This performance is mostly thanks to Line’s use of THC in the construction. Before you ask, we don’t mean the psychoactive constituent of cannabis. What this is, in this context at least, is Line’s combination of Aramid, carbon and fibreglass.

The ‘Triple Hybrid Construction’ is stacked together and because the three materials vibrate at different frequencies, Line claims that this cancels out each other – leaving you with a damp build, minus the weight penalty.

Chosen for our Ski 100 – Take a closer look at the Line Vision 98 here

Volkl Blaze 94 W

Lengths (cm): 158, 165, 172
Sidecut (mm): 134, 94, 116 (165cm)
Radius: 25-14-33 (3 radius tech)
Rocker Profile: Tip and tail rocker
Weight (per ski): 1460g

Buy here

The all-new Blaze range from Volkl are designed for easy-going and intuitive alpine touring. They’re going to cater for beginner through to strong intermediate skiers who are discovering the joys of earning your turns.

The approachable nature is thanks to a non-metal build that instead makes us of a fibreglass laminate.

The lack of metal also helps the Blaze 94 W to remain light weight in the tips and tails. Given this no fuss construction, the Blaze 94 W weighs in at a slender 1460g – ideal for multi, or even single day touring missions.

Chosen for our Ski 100 – Take a closer look at the Volkl Blaze 94 W here

Black Diamond Cirque 84

Lengths (cm): 157, 164, 171, 178
Sidecut (mm): 117-84-105 (178 cm)
Radius: 20.5m (178 cm)
Rocker Profile: Rocker-Camber-Rocker
Weight (per ski): 1,100g

For winter 20/21, Black Diamond has weighed into the dedicated ski mountaineering ski market with their all-new Cirque range of skis. With a waist width of 84 mm the Cirque 84 is the widest of the range.

So what puts a ski into the ski mountaineering category? Well, first thing to note is, of course, that (lack of weight). Coming in at 1,100 grams per ski, the Black Diamond Cirque 84 is nothing short of featherlight. What’s even more impressive is that Black Diamond has managed to reach this weight limit while upholding a decent level of downhill performance.

Chosen for our Ski 100 – Take a closer look at the Black Diamond Cirque 84 here

Blizzard Zero G 95

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

Buy Here

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

Buy Here

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

Buy Here

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

Buy Here

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

DPS Wailer Alchemist 112

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

Buy Here

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

Armada Tracer 118 CHX

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

Buy Here

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

Buy Here

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

You May Also Like

The Mpora Backcountry Ski Guide

The Best Ski Touring Boots 2020 – 2021

Best All Mountain Skis

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