Backcountry skiing, while extremely fun, can be a bit daunting. It takes a lot of planning to venture out into the white unknown, and you need to know all of the risks and responsibilities before starting your journey. Even experienced backcountry skiers can get themselves into trouble if they aren’t properly prepared.
The most important aspect of a successful backcountry trip is the gear. Many skis that hold up at the resort simply can’t cut it off the grid. Not only that, but there is no ski patrol team coming to rescue you if things go bad. You need to rely on your gear to pull you through.
A crucial piece of the backcountry puzzle is deciding which skis to use. You want something that’s reliable, sturdy, and able to handle the many challenges you’ll find out in the backcountry. This article will look at some of the best backcountry skis on the market to help you make a decision that’s best for your needs.
- Quick Summary
- Who Should Get This
- Best Backcountry Skis: What to Consider
- Best Backcountry Ski: Our Picks
- 1. Armada Tracer 108 – Best All-Around Backcountry Ski
- 2. HEAD Kore 105 – Best Hybrid Backcountry Ski
- 3. Rossignol Soul 7 – Best Backcountry Ski for Powder
- 4. Voile Hypercharger – Best Budget High Performance Backcountry Ski
- 5. K2 Wayback
- 6. Blizzard Zero G 85 – Best Ultralight Backcountry Ski
- 7. Icelantic Mystic 97 – Best Backcountry Ski for Women
- 8. Black Diamond Helio Recon
- Useful Tips & Resources
- Final Thoughts
- For a solid all-around backcountry option that excels in many of the areas, check out the Armada Tracer 108.
- If you want a ski that does well in the backcountry but can also be used all day in-bounds, take a look at the HEAD Kore 105.
- Powder lovers will enjoy what the Rossignol Soul 7 skis have to offer. These are a capable, all-around backcountry option that holds up in most conditions.
- For a more-affordable backcountry ski, look into the Voile Hypercharger. Another good budget-friendly option is the K2 Wayback.
- If you take backcountry ski touring seriously and are looking to shed pounds to help you cover more terrain, the Blizzard Zero G 85 is the ski for you.
- A great option for women looking to get out into the backcountry is the Icelantic Mystic 97.
- Another strong, durable backcountry ski choice is the Black Diamond Helio Recon 105.
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 type skiing, the backcountry skis listed here will also help you achieve your goals. Backcountry skis are designed to handle deep power, changing conditions, as well as big snow days in-bounds. These backcountry skis won’t do as well at high speeds on groomed runs, but they can handle big, steep, and deep conditions with ease.
If you only plan to ski at resorts or just want to experiment with backcountry trips, these skis are probably not the best way to go. Some backcountry skis are more of a hybrid shape that can handle resort conditions, but most have specific designs that help them meet the demands of the backcountry.
Remember, it’s important to get skis that match your ability and skiing style. If you don’t think you’ll be in the backcountry, there is no need to get backcountry skis.
Best Backcountry Skis: What to Consider
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 equipment. Here is a look at some factors to consider when trying to choose 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 on top of excellent stability, and allowing you to attach skins for uphills.
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 good amounts of 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.
It is also important to consider the weight of your backcountry skis when making your final purchase. Obviously, different skis 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 in comparison to regular alpine skis, which make uphill ascents easier, but they are still heavy enough to perform well downhill.
Ultralight backcountry skis would 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.
If you know what sort of 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.
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.
It’s also important 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.
Best Backcountry Ski: Our Picks
The Armada Tracer 108 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. The Tracer 108 is stable and solid, but is also lightweight enough to not weigh you down in the backcountry.
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.
- Excellent downhill characteristics
- Not a good beginner ski
- A little narrow for deep powder
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. It’s hybrid design and performance enables it to tackle the backcountry when needed, but also rip around the resort. It has great downhill performance characteristics while still being light enough to not weigh you down in the backcountry.
This ski is made possible through its wooden core and Graphene construction, both of which shed pounds without sacrificing strength. The 105mm width is also wide enough to handle big powder but not slow 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.
- Hybrid in nature
- Lightweight but strong
- Playful but aggressive
- Great shape
- Not the best for serious ski touring
- Hybrid build sacrifices some backcountry characteristics
- Not the best in deep powder
If you’re a backcountry skier who loves the search for untouched powder, the Rossignol Soul 7 is the ski for you. This is a unique option that’s a joy to handle on deep powder days. It is a very versatile and adaptable ski that’s been designed to float, turn, and cruise through steep and deep conditions with ease. These are a favorite and recommend ski for powder lovers.
These skis are built with a Carbon Alloy Matrix that adds strength but sheds weight and has another weight-reducing feature that the Rossignol calls the Air Tip 2.0. These elements provide added strength and control in powder while still remaining stable and in control at high speeds. They also feature a powder turn rocker you’ll notice when cutting through the snow on a great powder day.
- Great in Powder
- Stable at high speeds
- Versatile in the backcountry
- Awesome backcountry option
- Innovative design
- Not great for long-distance touring.
If you want an affordable, capable, and reliable backcountry ski, check out the Voile Hypercharger. These skis are fun to play on and are a great all-around performer in many conditions. They are light in weight, which makes 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. A great all-around backcountry option for those wanting to save a few bucks and not sacrifice performance.
- Affordable high-end option
- Great all-around backcountry
- Good downhill performance
- Solid touring option
- Not great in powder
- A little chatty a high speeds
5. K2 Wayback
The K2 Wayback is another great affordable backcountry ski. K2 is a trusted brand in the ski business and has been making great backcountry skis for decades. This model works well for advanced and expert 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 that’s reinforced by Titanal layers to give them great downhill characteristics while not being too heavy to handle. A great ski for those just starting to transition into backcountry skiing.
- Fun to ski with
- Trusted brand
- Strong and durable
- Good for spring conditions
- Not extremely versatile
- Not a beginners ski
The Blizzard Zero G 85 is an ultralight backcountry ski that’s perfect for those who are serious about touring. This model has a somewhat narrow width for a backcountry ski at 85 mm, but that adds into its lightweight feel. Even with a narrow profile, these perform well in a variety of backcountry conditions. The skis weigh only 5 pounds, 3 ounces, making them perfect for ski touring and mountaineering.
These skis have a light wood core that’s 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.
- Very lightweight
- Great for touring and mountaineering
- Not great in powder
Icelantic has been making quality backcountry skis for years, and their Mystic 97 is a great 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. They are not the best option for icy conditions, but do well everywhere else. The skis also have a rockered tip and tail and are very fun to ski on.
- Fun to ski with
- Rockered tip and tail great for the backcountry
- Not great on ice
- A little heavy for touring
If you’re looking for another all-around and fully functional backcountry ski option, take a look at the Black Diamond Helio Recon. These skis offer great versatility at an affordable price and are able to handle a wide variety of conditions. They are more in the hybrid backcountry ski category, which means they can handle the backcountry but also perform well at the resort.
They have a wood and fiberglass core that adds strength and stability without being too heavy. The skis also have a pretty soft flex that makes them great for beginners. These skis don’t have the best downhill performance, but they do perform well for the average backcountry skier.
- Affordable, all-around performance
- Hybrid versatility
- Not the best downhill performance
- Not great in choppy snow conditions
Useful Tips & Resources
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 in the backcountry can quickly turn into a disaster. Avalanches are perhaps the primary concern when you’re off the grid. Consult this short video to help you understand proper avalanche safety.
If you’re ready to dive into backcountry skiing, or are simply looking for a new set of skis this season, this guide will give you some great options. Be sure to think about what your favorite style and conditions are to help you make your choice. You’ll want a capable ski that’s also not too heavy if you’re considering any ski tours.
The biggest thing is to be safe and have fun while backcountry skiing. Once you have the right equipment, the rest of the journey is pure joy. It may be hard work, but the backcountry has given me some of the most memorable ski days I’ve ever had.
Do you have a favorite backcountry ski? How about a favorite backcountry ski location? Let us know below.