It’s that time of year again – the shops are full of glitzy new kit and no one has a clue what to buy! For what it’s worth, these are my own opinions on what to look out for in off piste and touring skis this season – thanks to Andy Hall over at Backcountry UK for helping out with ski kit to test for our annual round up.
Latest Trends – skis continue to get fatter each year and I’ve finally signed up to this trend, having tested some of the latest ‘fat’ touring skis at the end of last season. If you are going to go down this route however, then choose with care – as although many typical wide bodied, short radius all mountain skis might look like the ideal ‘one-ski-does-all’ choice – there are inevitably compromises when it comes to going uphill, dealing with difficult snow etc – so you need to find the right balance depending on how much off piste versus pure touring you plan on doing.
Down to the nitty gritty then – this year I’m on a pair of Scott Crusairs as a deep snow/day touring/powder ski.
Why? – because I tested a pair for 7 days last April and they were amazing! 8000m of climb, considerably more descent and every possible type of snow from fresh powder to crusts, slush and ice.
I skied the 176cm version (which are actually longer than my 2 other pairs of 178’s) – these are 90mm underfoot, 18cm radius and 3.1kg a pair. It’s a softer ski than previous models I’ve owned – so superb in powder – but I was concerned about how they’d grip on icy ground, hold height on traverses etc. I needn’t have worried however, as they turned out to be fine in all these situations – ie with an 18m radius and excellent torsional stiffness (due to all the carbon in there) mean’t they also held a decent edge on steep or icy ground. In soft snow they’re amazing and really versatile – I was able to switch from super short, to medium to long radius turns all of which felt stable and easy to ski.
The only area where I found them more difficult to ski than a stiffer, straighter, skinny touring ski was actually in crusts – where a softer tip and shorter radius make for a ski that grabs it’s line and starts to turn very quickly, rather than more slowly and with some steering input. It’s just a matter of getting tuned in to them, but there’s a reason why many touring skis have longer radiuses – it’s to make them less twitchy in difficult snow. That comes at the cost of having to work more for your turns in softer snow though – so as always a compromise.
If I did more resort based skiing I might go for the Scott Neo, Scott Crusade or the new Dynastar Sultan 85 – all of which are a good choice for strong, keen off piste skiers after a great all mountain ski. For a dedicated deep snow freeride ski I’d look at the Black Diamond Verdict or Dynastar Pro Rider both of which have been softened up a bit this season, so better in our opinion than before.
If you are more of an intermediate level off piste skier, then the skis mentioned above may be a bit too stiff to initiate turns easily at lower speeds – in which case I’d look at the slightly softer Scott Aztec Limited or Scott Mission for something a bit fatter.
For longer tours and spring snow conditions I’ve got a pair of Trab Stelvio Lites. These are stiffer, straighter and lighter than the crusairs, but still pretty wide at 84mm underfoot. They need much more rider input in softer snow, but ski icy ground and crusty snow extremely well so long as you have the skills to handle them – ie only a ski to go for if you are level 4-5 on our off piste scale. Like all things Trab, they are reassuringly expensive and you can’t buy them in the UK!
If you are after a more friendly lightweight touring ski however, then take a look at the Dynafit Se7en Summits – I tested a pair of these last season too and it was immediately obvious why they’ve won so many awards. Very stable and easy to ski, especially in soft snow – but also also fun and lively if that’s your style. They were very predictable in tricky snow too, due to the long radius and light at just 2.76kg – ie a good setup with dynafit bindings.
Touring Bindings – The main news here is Fritschi’s new Eagle Binding, which is the latest incarnation of the Diamir. With the ending of the patent on dynafit bindings, there’s some new competition arriving with the G3 inox – Trab also have a new pin binding in development. At the moment we’d advise waiting a season or two to see how they pan out reliability wise, as you wouldn’t want another Naxo on your hands! (Naxo finally went bust earlier this year, incidentally).
Transceivers – The Arva Link is a great new unit out this year and runs on the same software as the Mammut Pulse, so in our opinion these are currently the best on the market. For those on more of a budget there’s, the new DTS Tracker 2 out as well, but the Arva 3 Axes is cheaper and possibly better too.
Skins – the latest Black Diamond Skins are 200g a pair lighter this season (I’ve already weighed them!) – so these are what I’m skinning on this winter.
Packs – The very succesful Black Diamond Covert ski pack has been fully redesigned – with a new ski carrying system, waist belt pockets etc etc – ie this looks a very good choice if you’re in the market for a new rucsac this season.