8 Best Backcountry Skis

Backcountry skiing is one of the most exciting ways to spend your time in the snow. It allows you to access untouched terrain that other skiers will never reach and always keeps you on your toes. And to handle the demands of the backcountry, you need good skis on your feet. 

I founded TheSkiGirl to be a valuable resource for all types of skiers. I have a lot of experience in the backcountry, and I want to share this knowledge with others so they can take advantage of every skiing opportunity available to them. 

The Armada Tracer 98 earns my pick for the best backcountry skis of the year. These hit a sweet spot that gives you plenty of performance in big mountain conditions while also coming in a lighter weight that won’t slow you down when touring. 

In this post, I’ll provide you with all of the top options for backcountry skis. Whether you just want to drop a gate outside the resort or venture far into the wilderness, there’s an option here for nearly everyone. 

Pick a line, and let’s hit it.

Who Should Get This

If you consider yourself a backcountry skier, you’re going to need backcountry skis. While you might be able to get away with a more traditional alpine setup for easy to access backcountry trips, those won’t help you in more serious or climbing conditions. 

The skis listed in this guide will.

If you’re a fan of big-mountain skiing, the backcountry skis listed here will also help you with that pursuit. Backcountry skis are designed to handle deep power, changing conditions, and big snow days in-bounds. 

These skis won’t do as well at high speeds on groomed runs, but they can easily handle big, steep, and deep conditions. 

Remember, it’s important to get skis that match your ability and skiing style. There is no need to get backcountry skis if you don’t think you’ll be in the backcountry.

Backcountry skiing is more challenging than most other types of skiing. You don’t use a chair lift to get up the mountain, you use your legs. You will exert yourself much more during a day of backcountry skiing, even if you only make a few runs. 

You can technically use any type of ski you want in the backcountry. However, models designed specifically for this style will give you better performance than regular resort skis. They are often lighter and built to handle variable conditions.

The Black Diamond Helio Carbon 88 are some of the lightest backcountry skis currently on the market and weigh 5 pounds, 15 ounces. There are always new models appearing in this range, and anything at 5.5 pounds or lighter is very light.

This can be a personal preference and depend on your skiing preferences. Generally, backcountry skis should be anywhere from 5.5 to 6.5 pounds. Heavier than that, and they will be challenging to use going uphill.

You want your backcountry skis to be about as long as any other high-performance model that you might be used to skiing on. A general rule of thumb is to choose a length that comes up to your nose or forehead when standing on the ground.

You sure can. All of the models shown here will work just fine at the resort, and you will get the same versatile performance. The biggest difference exists with backcountry bindings, and you don’t really want to use downhill bindings on backcountry skis.

It depends on the skier and the type of terrain they are skiing on. A wide-open high-alpine backcountry bowl can allow a skier to reach speeds of 50-60 miles/hr easily. It’s not as fast as groomed trails but is still flying.  

Top Picks of Best Backcountry Skis

In this section, you’ll find my picks for the best backcountry skis of the year. Each model is different, but they all will give you strong backcountry performance characteristics. 

1. Armada Tracer 98

  • Best for: Overall
  • Key features: EST all-mountain rocker, lightweight, durable, stable in variable conditions, excellent downhill characteristics. 
  • Sizes: 164, 172, 180, 188
  • Ability Level: Intermediate to advanced
  • Cost: $$$

The Armada Tracer 98 is my pick for the best overall option for backcountry skiing. This is a very capable model that delivers everything you want when it comes to performance and fun. 

The Tracer 98 is a solid backcountry ski that works for all skiers at all levels. Its design focuses on downhill performance and incorporates a shape that can float on powder and cut through crud on the same line. 

It’s stable and solid but is also light enough to not weigh you down in the backcountry. This comes in handy when you want to charge straight uphill to reach an untouched line. 

The ski features a hybrid Caruba wood core that adds strength and eliminates excess weight. The excellent downhill characteristics of the ski are made possible by a stiff design and underfoot camber. 

These are pretty light skis that can charge hard and tackle just about anything, but they are a bit narrow for deep powder conditions. 

2. K2 Wayback 88

  • Best for: Beginners
  • Key features: Fun and easy to ski, affordable, trusted brand, strong construction, durable
  • Sizes: 167, 174, 181
  • Ability Level: Beginner to advanced 
  • Cost: $$$

If you are just learning the basics of backcountry skiing and don’t want to get in over your head, take a look at the K2 Wayback 88. These are my choice for the best backcountry skis for beginners

This is an affordable backcountry ski, and K2 is a trusted brand in the ski business and has been making great backcountry skis for decades. This model works well for beginner and intermediate skiers who want a solid backcountry option that won’t break the bank. 

These hold up in a variety of conditions and are easy to maneuver and control. They have a wood and carbon core reinforced by Titanal layers to give them excellent downhill characteristics while not being too heavy to handle. 

A great ski for those just starting to transition into backcountry skiing, but the Wayback isn’t the most versatile option on the list. 

3. Blizzard Zero G 105

  • Best for: Touring
  • Key features: Ultralight, great for touring and mountaineering, strong, durable, carbon Flipcore tech
  • Sizes: 164, 172, 180
  • Ability Level: Intermediate to advanced
  • Cost: $$$ 

Serious backcountry skiers who tour often will love everything the Blizzard Zero G 105 has to offer. This is an extremely lightweight option that will let you explore anywhere you can reach in the wilderness. 

The Zero G 105 is an ultralight backcountry ski that’s perfect for those who are serious about touring. Even with a somewhat narrow profile, these perform well in a variety of backcountry conditions. 

These skis have a light wood core surrounded by layers of carbon to add strength and stability. Even though these are super lightweight, they still perform well downhill and in changing conditions. 

Not the best ski for all-around purposes, but if you are looking to shed pounds, this is for you.

4. Head Kore 105

  • Best for: Versatility 
  • Key features: Versatile performance, lightweight but strong, playful and aggressive, fun shape
  • Sizes: 170, 177, 184
  • Ability Level: Beginner to advanced
  • Cost: $$$

The Head Kore 105 (review) is a good option if you want the ability to venture into the backcountry but also need a ski that can perform well inside the resort. 

If you are new to backcountry skiing or plan on heading out of bounds only a few times, the HEAD Kore 105 is a great hybrid backcountry ski. Its hybrid design and performance enable it to tackle the backcountry when needed and rip around the resort when you want to use lifts. 

It has excellent downhill performance characteristics while still being light enough not to weigh you down. Its wooden core and Graphene construction shed pounds without sacrificing strength. 

The 105mm width is also wide enough to handle big powder but not hold you down too much on groomers. The ski features a traditional camber underfoot along with a tip and tail rocker that allows you to handle skiing in powder and trees.

You do compromise a bit of backcountry performance with versatility, but this is a great option if you need to stay flexible. 

5. Voile Hypercharger

  • Best for: Powder
  • Key features: Great float, high-end performance, lightweight, can work for touring, 
  • Sizes: 168, 178
  • Ability Level: Intermediate to advanced 
  • Cost: $$$ 

If you are a powder hound, the Voile Hypercharger will let you dive into the deep stuff and is a recommended pick on those huge snow days. 

These skis are fun to play on and are a great all-around performer in many conditions. They are light in weight, making them easy for touring, but they still have excellent performance on the downhill.

These are built with camber underfoot and a rockered tip and tail. They feature a Paulownia wood and carbon core that’s strong but flexible enough to give you play and control. 

They are a great all-around backcountry option for those who want a solid backcountry option and not sacrifice other performance characteristics.

The Hypercharger can get a little chatty at higher speeds and is somewhat expensive.  

6. Volkl Blaze 94

  • Best for: Budget Option 
  • Key features: Affordable, 3D sidecut for great control, plenty of rocker, Titanal construction
  • Sizes: 165, 172, 179, 186 
  • Ability Level: Beginner to advanced
  • Cost: $$

The Volkl Blaze 95 is the best backcountry ski for anyone on a budget. These are affordable but still get the job done. 

They are built with a 3D radius sidecut that allows for added versatility while also giving the skis supreme stability that holds in variable and changing conditions. 

A Titanal power plate laminate adds a ton of strength, translating into lasting power and control that will stick around for years of steady skiing. 

They also have plenty of rocker in the tip and tail to give you good float in deep snow or any other condition you experience in the backcountry. 

They aren’t the fastest ski of the bunch and don’t deliver extremely high-end performance, but the price is right. 

7. Icelantic Mystic 97

  • Best for: Women’s Option
  • Key features: Durable, fun to ski, rocker tip and tail, versatile, bombproof construction
  • Sizes: 155, 162, 169
  • Ability Level: Beginner to advanced
  • Cost: $$$ 

Icelantic has been making quality backcountry skis for years, and the Mystic 97 is an awesome option for women

These skis are versatile and can handle anything that the backcountry or ski resort throws at you. Icelantic focuses on durability, and that is where this model shines.

The Mystic 97 can handle deep powder, spring crud, and anything in between. The skis also have a rockered tip and tail and are very fun to ski on.

They are not the best option for icy conditions but do well everywhere else, and they are also a bit heavy for serious touring.  

8. Black Diamond Helio Recon 95 

  • Best for: Durability
  • Key features: Strong construction, good turning radius, rockered tip and tail, stable ride
  • Sizes: 163, 183
  • Ability Level: Intermediate to advanced 
  • Cost: $$$

If you are looking for a strong and durable option, the Black Diamond Helio Recon 95 will have everything you are after. 

These skis offer great versatility at an affordable price and can handle a wide variety of conditions. 

They are more in the hybrid backcountry ski category, which means they can crush the backcountry and perform well at the resort.

They have a wood and fiberglass core that adds strength and stability without being too heavy. They also have a pretty soft flex that makes them great for nearly every ability level. 

These skis don’t have the best downhill performance, but they do perform well for the average backcountry skier. They also aren’t the best at cutting through crud. 

How to Choose the Best Backcountry Ski

As with any choice of ski equipment, there are plenty of options out there. Backcountry skiing is a specialized style of skiing that requires the best gear. Here is a look at some factors to consider when choosing the best backcountry skis for you.

Type of Backcountry Ski

Within the genre of backcountry skis, there are different styles made to meet different needs. One type of ski might do better in powder, while another might be extra light for serious ski touring

Here is a quick look at the different types available:

Touring Specific Backcountry Skis is a wide category built to perform well in a range of different conditions. 

These skis handle the demands of the backcountry by cutting through powder, providing good control, and maintaining excellent stability. 

Hybrid Backcountry Skis are a mix of both backcountry ski design and in-bounds resort-style skis. 

These make for a great backcountry option if you spend time skiing at both a resort and the backcountry. They can handle changing conditions but aren’t focused on one specific element.

Backcountry Powder Skis handle steep and deep snow. 

If you’re a powder hound, you’ll want to get this style so you can float on top of the deep stuff with a giant smile on your face. These skis tend to be wider and longer than other options.

Weight

It is also important to consider the weight of your backcountry skis when making your final purchase. Obviously, different ski sizes will have different weights. However, certain types are intentionally lighter or heavier for specific backcountry purposes.

The standard weight for a backcountry ski is anywhere between 5.5 to 7 pounds. That is still light compared to regular alpine skis, which make uphill ascents easier, but they are still heavy enough to perform well downhill.

Ultralight backcountry skis weigh under 5.5 pounds and are built to handle long touring days or steep uphill climbs. The lighter weight helps you move the skis with ease. They also make a difference if you’re serious about touring or mountaineering in the backcountry.

Heavy backcountry skis are anything over 7 pounds. A heavier ski in the backcountry allows you to ski downhill more easily. It might be more work carrying the skis uphill, but you’ll notice a difference in performance once you start going down.

Snow Conditions

If you know what snow condition you prefer, you want a backcountry ski to match it. 

If you’re on an endless search for powder, you’re going to want a powder-specific ski

If you only ski in the backcountry in the spring after most resorts have closed, you want a firmer, stiffer ski that can handle cruddy spring conditions.

If you want a ski that can handle all conditions, get a hybrid or all-mountain ski.

Durability

In the backcountry, you want gear that’s going to perform well. Your equipment can take a beating out in the elements, and there’s no lodge or shop at the bottom of the run to help you make repairs. Durability is an important factor to consider when looking for backcountry skis.

A general rule of thumb is that heavier skis are more durable. Improvements in construction materials and techniques have increased durability across the board, but the more material a ski has, the longer it can stand up to harsh conditions.

Width

It’s also essential to keep the width of your backcountry ski in mind. Generally, backcountry skis are wider than regular alpine and downhill skis. That is so you can go through deep snow and cut through crud with ease.

A wider ski is more versatile than a narrow one, and it can handle the shifting conditions often found in the backcountry. While you might be able to get away with a narrower hybrid backcountry ski on some occasions, wider tends to be better.  

Useful Tips for Backcountry Skiing

Backcountry skiing is an amazing experience that I would recommend to all skiers who feel comfortable and confident in their abilities. You can reach some untouched lines, but you have to work for it. It’s a hard discipline that’s more than worth the efforts involved.

That being said, backcountry skiing also comes with added risks. You need to be well-prepared, so take a look at this list of backcountry skiing essentials. 

You also need to take safety seriously, as one wrong move can quickly turn into a disaster in the backcountry. Avalanches are perhaps the primary concern when you’re off the grid. Consult this short video to help you understand proper avalanche safety.

Final Verdict

The Armada Tracer 98 is my choice for the best backcountry skis of the year. This is a very capable model that will have you covered in the variable conditions you are sure to encounter in the wilderness and are a ton of fun to ski on. 

Backcountry skiing is an enriching pursuit, and all of the skis you’ll find on this list can help you conquer terrain that most other skiers will never get the chance to enjoy. Remember always to play it safe, and get out there and crush it!

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