The ski season is now approaching, so it’s time for a look at the best new ski touring and backcountry ski kit for 2017-2018. Please note that the advice we give here is relevant to ski touring conditions typically found in the European Alps and it’s mainly aimed at British ski tourers; ie who generally ski on holiday rather than every weekend – so if you are reading this in North America for instance, then the skis and kit that may be best for your own local conditions could be very different. As always, major thanks to Phil and Tom over at Backcountry UK for help and information on the latest kit developments.
BACKCOUNTRY SKI RECOMENDATIONS 2017/18
We concentrate here solely on skis that are destined to be pushed uphill for some amount of time, as well as being skied down on. As always with ski touring and backcountry skis, you have to make a series of compromises between ski weight and performance in different types of snow conditions etc – the good news however, is that skis are getting both lighter and better to ski on each season. This season sees the introduction of yet another expanding range of excellent lightweight skis from all the major manufacturers.
Trends for 2017/18
With the continued increasing interest in backcountry skiing, the big name ski brands recent expansion into backcountry skiing and ski touring continues this winter, with Rossignol for instance producing a lightweight touring ski for the first time (and it’s an excellent one!)
Crossover touring and resort skis also continue to be a major area of development, with more and more good models appearing (ie great news for Brits), as well as increasing numbers of lightened up freeride skis being produced too.
*NB Verified Ski Weights – all ski weights marked here with an asterisk are real world ski weights, verified on the Alpine Guides Scales of Truth(!), for the length of ski indicated. Where direct verification has not been possible, we have stated the manufacturers’ claimed weights.
Lightweight Touring Skis
Here, we concentrate on wider lightweight skis that are suitable for all round touring in the European Alps – ie 85-95mm underfoot. On spring snow or icy terrain you are better off skiing at the narrower end of the range, whereas in soft snow you’ll get more float on the wider ones. As always, your weight, ski ability and ski style come into play – so think about what terrain and snow types you need the ski to perform best on (I said ‘need’, rather than ‘want’!) in order to narrow things down a bit.
Starting with Dynafit, who have revamped their entire ski range this year, our pick from their range is the Dynafit Speed 90 Ski (2.44kg* at 176cm, 125-91-112, 18.5m radius). I tested a pair of these in Iceland for a week back in May and was very impressed. It’s an excellent new premium touring ski, that’s incredibly light and performs as well as skis a full kilo heavier – the ultimate ‘have your cake and eat it’ ski! This would be a great choice for multiday tours such as the Haute Route Ski Tour, but still excellent fun for occasional days skiing around resort.
The new Rossignol Seek 7 Ski (2.55Kg* at 176cm, 122-86-108, 20m radius) also marks Rossignols’ entry into the touring market with a total winner; playful, easy handling and light, this is a very well priced ski. NB The Seek 7 is available in a wide range of lengths, making it suitable for both men and women.
Another model redesigned this season is the Black Crows Ova Freebird Ski (2.3kg* at 178cm, 124-85-106) with a new superlight construction this year, making it a ‘touring only’ ski now – but it performs extremely well in a wide range of conditions and is ideal for long, multiday tours.
The Salomon MTN Explore 88 Ski (2.6kg* at 177cm, 125-88-111, 18m radius) gets a new white topdeck this year and continues to be an excellent, easy turning, lightweight touring ski that’s suitable for a wide variety of conditions, including some skiing around resort. This is a great choice if you are still developing your off piste skills and are looking at coming on a ski touring course, or a first multiday tour such as the Silvretta ski tour. It’s available down to 161, so also suitable for many women too.
In terms of dedicated womens’ touring skis, the new Scott Superguide 88 Ws Ski (2.2kg* at 154cm, 121-87-110, 16m radius) is a new womens’ specific version of the men’s Superguide 88 – incredibly light for the ascents, good performance on the descents and it therefore makes a great multiday touring ski.
Moving up in width to the mid 90’s – the following lightweight touring skis offer more float, but still keep the weight down:
Scott Superguide 95 Ski (2.86kg* at 178cm, 128-95-116, variable 3d radius) If you want to save weight, whilst sacrificing a minimum of performance, then Superguide 95s are a great option.
Black Diamond Helio 95 Ski (2.75kg* at 173cm, 123-95-113) Superlight carbon version of the Black Diamond Route 95 below – great powder performance and also good edge grip in firmer conditions.
Blizzard Zero G 95 Ski (2.75kg* at 178, 128-95-112) Incredibly light, but powerful ski – this one is best for experts and folk with good level skills who want to ski it hard.
Atomic Backland 95 Ski (2.7kg, 128-95-116) New lighter weight construction for this popular ski (it looks great too!) – offers a gret balance of float, low weight and good edge hold.
Resort and Touring Skis – Allrounders
A minefield this one! Here we aim to flag up a few of the best ‘light all mountain skis’ or ‘robust touring skis’ around that deliver good on and off piste performance, without being too heavy for touring – ie for Brits wanting one ski for everything. The great news is that there are now numerous excellent skis in this category for both men and women, so plenty of choice – here are our recommendations:
Movement Apex Ski (3.0kg at 177cm, 130-94-119, 19m radius). My personal favourite the Movement Apex gets a new beefier construction this year; with a deeper sidewall, full poplar wood core and 2 axis carbon construction (in case you hadn’t guessed, I bumped into the Movement Rep this afternoon and asked him all about it!) – all of which makes it more durable, higher performing, but still only 3kg. This lively ski is best for good skiers and makes a brilliant one ski setup with a bias toward off piste and touring – typically I use it for ski touring in the Alps and Norway on trips such as our Lofoten Islands ski touring week and our Haute Maurienne off piste skiing holidays.
Movement Icon 95 Ski (3.45kg* at 175cm, 135-95-123, 14m radius). This is Movements’ ‘All Mountain’ resort ski – extremely easy to ski and great fun, these are however still light enough to tour on and make an ideal choice for a first off piste ski. Super easy handling – a perfect ski for venturing off piste and improving your skills on, but also a good choice for experts.
Black Crows Orb Freebird Ski – (2.93kg* at 178cm, 125-90-112, 15m radius) The new version of this award winning ski is a very different beast from the original – the tip rocker, shorter radius and softer flex making it far easier to ski for a wide range of skiers and therefore a very good allrounder.
Dynastar Legend X 96 Ski – (3.6kg* at 178cm, 132-96-112, 15m radius) building on the success of the Cham 97, this is Dynastars’ excellent new lightweight freeride ski – with a huge rocker tip, flat tail and Paulownia wood core making it perform brilliantly. The women’s version is equally good and is called the Legend W 96.
Black Crows Camox Freebird Ski – (3.4kg* at 178cm, 128-97-114, 18m radius) Plenty of rocker on this great backcountry charging ski and it’s built strong enough to ski around resort on too. If you are in any doubt about what length to go for, then it’s best to size up on the Camox, due to the long tip rocker.
Black Diamond Route 95 Ski – (3.2kg* at 173cm, 123-95-113) Black Diamond’s new Route 95 is another superb allrounder; great in powder, easy handling and a durable poplar wood core make this an excellent choice for a robust, off piste and touring ski.
Blizzard Black Pearl 88 Ski – (2.85kg* at 159cm, 125-88-110, 15m radius) This superb women’s ski got a new superlight construction last season, making it a category defying ski: a great one-ski-for-everything choice for resort and touring.
Blizzard Black Pearl 98 Ski – (3.2kg* at 166cm, 135-98-119, 15m radius) Last years award winning ‘Samba’ womens’ ski has been renamed this season as the Black Pearl 98, but it’s the same brilliant women’s deep snow and powder ski.
Movement Beyond 88 Ski (2.7kg* at 160cm, 126-88-114, 13m radius) Last years superb ‘Movement Ultimate’ womens’ ski has also been renamed, as the Beyond 88 – this is an excellent lightweight ski for both resort and touring use.
Movement Beyond 94 Ski (3.1kg* at 160cm, 132-94-119, 13m radius) Another great womens’ ski – more width and float than the 88 model, but with the same easy handling characteristics and a very reasonable weight.
Lightweight, Wide-Bodied Touring Skis
The following are a selection of lightweight, wide bodied touring skis designed for human powered soft snow adventures – eg powder touring, steeps etc.
NB Please note that all of the skis listed in the two categories above are also wide enough to enjoy a great days powder skiing whilst out ski touring in Europe (10 years ago, 90mm underfoot was considered a super specialist powder ski) – ie you don’t need superwide 100mm+ skis all of the time, but you may want to have a pair of wider skis, in order to have as much fun as possible on fresh snow days.
With that in mind then, here are a few of the best lightweight wide bodied touring skis on the market this season – in order to convince yourself that you really do need a pair!
Scott Superguide 105 Ski (3.1kg* at 183cm, 135-105-124, 23m radius) Fall Line Magazine’s Ski of the Year last season gets new graphics, but sticks to the same winning formula underneath – a superb lightweight, wide bodied ski that’s very easy to get on with and also great fun for occasional resort days.
Black Diamond Helio 105 Ski (3.15kg* at 185, 132-105-109) A reassuringly expensive, premium lightweight soft snow ski – all that carbon is worth the money though; great in powder, easy to ski in other snow types and a joy to push uphill.
Black Crows Navis Freebird Ski (3.25Kg* at 179cm, 133-102-118, 19m radius) The green backcountry machines – more width and rocker than the Camox, these skis have a strong following amongst high mountain steeps aficionados.
Black Crows Corvus Freebird Ski (3.45kg* at 175cn, 139-109-122) – yes they are bright pink, yes they are 109mm wide and yes they are awesome! – a top backcountry soft snow ski.
Blizzard Zero G 108 Ski (3.5kg* at 185cm, 136-108-122) This is the superlight version of Blizzards’ famous Cochise ski, bringing similar legendary performance to the high mountains.
Lightweight Freeride Skis
Our final category of backcountry skis – the following are a selection of lightened up freeride skis that are durable enough for daily resort use, but also fine to push uphill for an hour or two – ie ideal skis for searching out new lines and powder, whilst lift assisted backcountry skiing and day touring.
Salomon QST 106 Ski (3.7kg* at 174cm, 140-106-126) Top quality backcountry charger ski from Salomon.
Atomic Backland FR 109 Ski (3.9kg, 135-109-125) Excellent 109mm wide freeride skis for men.
Rossignol Soul 7 HD Ski (3.8kg* at 180cm, 136-106-126) The iconic Soul 7 gets revamped this year – lighter weight, better edge hold and better damping, these are sure to be a popular choice: perfect for one of our Chamonix off piste skiing holidays!
Fischer Ranger 108 Ti Ski (3.9kg, 140-108-10) Combines Titanal with a lightweight wood core to produce a full blown freeride ski which you can still push uphill.
Black Crows Atris Ski – (3.9kg* at 178cm, 137-107-127, 18m radius) They’re not super light, but we love ‘em – the Atris is our favourite wide bodied charging ski for blasting around resorts and further afield. The womens’ version is called the Atris Birdie.
SKI TOURING BINDINGS 2017/18
With the development or new, safer and more user friendly bindings, the majority of backcountry skiers are now swapping to lighter weight pin bindings – ie pin bindings are now the mainstream option and no longer a niche product just for the weight obsessed.
The big news in pin bindings this season is the launch of the new Fritschi Tecton Freeride Binding. This is the first lightweight pin binding on the market that is strong enough for freeride and resort use, but also has full lateral toe safety release. Ie the Tecton has all the same safety release features as regular alpine and older bar/rail design freeride bindings, but it weighs a mere 1.2kg. So if it proves reliable, then hopefully we have finally got the Holy Grail of Freeride Bindings – a light, safe and strong freeride binding that also offers high level ski performance.
Fritschi Tecton (1.2kg) The toepiece on the Tecton is identical to the Vipec Evo (see below), with a very much improved step in function (it’s now one of the easiest pin bindings to step into on the market) – however, the heel is quite different. The Tecton features an Alpine binding style heelpiece, which locks down over the back of the boot, rather than engaging with pins. However, it uses the pin boot mouldings to increase the lateral heel stability, which is a weak point of other pin binding designs that release laterally at the heel. The upshot of all this is convenience of use and much improved performance in freeride situations, where far bigger forces are transmitted through the boot/ski/binding interface. So in short, if you want one binding to use for both a La Grave off piste ski holiday as well as other ski touring holidays in Europe, then this finally looks to be it!
Fritschi Vipec Evo (1.1kg) Along with it’s big brother the Tecton, this is currently the only widely available pin binding with full alpine safety release capability. The design has a full sideways toe release, allows changing from ski to walk mode without removing the ski, the rear binding allows full ski flex without affecting the boot/binding interface and it has a ‘high din’ lockout mode at the toe (so the ski stays on whilst skinning, but will still release if you get caught in an avalanche whilst skinning) – these are all major advantages over other pin bindings on the market.
Fritschi have been making continual improvements to the design, with the latest Fritschi Vipec Evo being an excellent binding. I’ve skied on Vipecs for 4 full seasons now and although the early versions had a few problems, Fritschi have addressed these issues in the new Evo and Tecton versions and these are now the only pin bindings that I recommend to clients who want to save weight but not compromise on safety, when upgrading from their older bar/rail design touring bindings.
The reason I recommend Fritschi bindings is because they are light (1.1-1.2kg depending on model, including brakes) and they are the only pin bindings with full lateral toe release – ie they offer all the same safety capabilities as alpine and bar/rail design touring bindings, so there’s no safety compromise in swapping over to them.
With all other pin bindings on the market, you lose lateral toe release – which increases your risk of rotational tib/fib fractures in certain types of fall, so it is an issue – especially if you fall over a lot in poor vis or tricky snow.
Dynafit TLT Superlight 2.0 (0.35kg) This is still the lightest pin binding available with adjustable safety release tension (at the heel) and brakes (0.52kg incl brakes). If weight saving is your absolute priority, then these are an ideal choice – I ski on these a lot for longer tours and I love them!
Dynafit Rotation ST and FT (1.2kg) New out this season, the Dynafit Rotation replaces last years Radical and fixes the step in problems that it suffered. The ST model is designed for use on skis under 100mm under foot, whereas the FT model has a wider drilling pattern designed to be used on skis over 100mm under foot. Please note however, that the FT is still only a lightweight touring binding – ie it’s not strong enough for regular off piste or resort use.
Marker Kingpin 10 + 13 (1.46Kg) – Kingpins continue to have a strong following amongst the Freeride community. These are a hybrid design, using a pin attachment at the toe and a regular alpine binding attachment at the heel, which has a ski/walk mode added (ie a similar concept to the Tecton). However unlike the Tecton, these don’t have lateral toe release – so I wouldn’t recommend using them for regular resort skiing, where full safety release is much more important than weight saving.
They are solidly built and easy to use (but can be prone to pre release at the heel when skiing fast on rough, firm snow). They weigh in at 1.46kg, which is very respectable.
Freeride Boots – the market for these ‘downhill boots with a rubber sole and a good walk mode’ continues to expand, with numerous excellent models now available from all the major manufacturers.
For the past four seasons, the Scarpa Freedom SL has been the most popular boot in this sector and sensibly, it remains unchanged. The stiffer Scarpa Freedom RS is another popular variant, for those needing maximum support. Another good boot to look at if you’ve got higher volume feet, is the Salomon QST 130. For a mid market offering, the Technica Cochise 130 is well regarded and for lower volume feet, take a look at the Lange XT 130 L.V. Freetour. Good womens’ freeride boots to look at include the Scarpa Freedom SL Wms and Lange XT 110 L.V. Freetour W models.
3 and 4 Buckle Ski Mountaineering Boots – we’ll concentrate here on supportive 3-4 buckle boots, which are most appropriate for the majority of British Ski Tourers. The most popular low-to-mid volume boot in this sector gets a revamp this season, with Scarpa Maestrale 2.0 and it’s stiffer sibling, the Maestrale RS 2.0 – both models have reduced weight, improved walk modes and improved downhill performance (early reports are that the new Maestrales are excellent, but harder to fit than the originals, so make sure you that you go to a good shop!).
For a slightly wider fit, the Scott Cosmos III is the same shape as previous years, with a few small tweaks to improve reliability. The Scott Super Guide Carbon is a stiffer version of the Cosmos, designed for wider skis and more aggressive skiers and contains a healthy amount of carbon black magic, making it lighter but more expensive. The La Sportiva Spectre 2.0 remains unchanged this season and has a similar volume to the Cosmos, but is joined by a stiffer, higher performance version called the Sportiva Synchro. For higher volume feet, look at the Dynafit Beast.
There are also two very interesting new entrants to the 4 buckle ski mountaineering boot maket this season – both from big, mainstream ski brands: The Technica Zero G Guide is a new, lightweight version of Tecnica’s popular Cochise freeride boot – giving a stiff and powerful boot, at a much reduced (3.2kg) touring weight.
The other new boot is the Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD130 (2.9kg) – this is a new, lightweight version of their Hawx Ultra 130 freeride boot. With this model, Atomic finally look to be getting the hang of touring boots – producing a mid volume boot, with a highly customisable fit.
In womens touring boots the Scarpa Gea 2.0 and Gea RS 2.0 (womens versions of the Maestrale) get a revamp like the mens models this season, as does the updated Scott Celeste III (womens’ version of the Cosmos). The Dynafit Beast W is a good higher volume women’s ski mountaineering boot if you’ve got wider feet.
Lightweight 2 buckle Ski Mountaineering Boots – race derived lightweight touring boots have been developed for keen tourers wanting to save as much weight as possible. In general you only get 2 buckles instead of 4, but if you are a good skier then they can perform extremely well and save you considerable effort on the climbs. Other useful features gained from their race heritage are extremely good walk modes and very quick lockdown systems for changing over from walk to ski mode and vica versa.
NB All of these boots are only compatible with pin bindings, so you cannot use them on older bar/rail design touring bindings.
The most popular boot in his sector (and my own favourite too) is the Scarpa F1 EVO. At 2.2kg these ski incredibly well and fit a good number of peoples’ feet – this boot is a great choice for longer multiday tours such as the Bernese Oberland ski tour.
If you want to save even more weight however, the Scarpa Alien RS is new out this year and only weights 1.78kg! This is a supportive race boot, beefed up for fast and light ski mountaineering. It has a lower volume fit, but limited shell modifications are possible. The boot allows race speed transitions and is very easy to put on and adjust – having tried a pair on, I’m very impressed! I’d recommend this for day touring activities, but would need to test it first with a heavier rucsac on, before giving an assessment of it’s suitability for multiday tours.
The Dynafit TLT7 Expedition CR (2.26Kg) is another good option in this area – NB We strongly recommend the CR Version, which is slightly heavier, but has far warmer inners – ie unless you are moving very fast or only ever tour in warm spring conditions, the lighter CL inners are likely to give you cold feet! Like F1 EVOs, they are great to walk in and ski extremely well – but they are a low volume fit, so don’t suit everyone. NNB these also have no toe bail, so you need to use a semi strap on crampon with them.
Finally, the Movement Explorer (2.5kg) has a slightly higher volume fit than the F1 EVO. I’ve tried a pair on (but not skied them) and was very impressed with the ski/walk mechanism and general ease of changeover – ie this is clearly a well thought out boot and definitely worth a look.
AVALANCHE AIRBAG SYSTEMS
Avalanche airbag rucsacs are much more popular now, especially amongst off piste and freeride skiers. Still few ski tourers use them yet though, because they are heavier than a regular pack – but there are now 30 litre models available that weigh only just over 2kg, making them more reasonable for ski touring. The main problem currently is finding a lightweight multiday touring avalanche airbag pack – as most are either too large and heavy, or a bit small for multiday tours.
In terms of what’s available, there are now several different systems on the market; most use gas canisters to inflate the airbags, but 2 new systems use electric powered fans.
For each system listed below, the weight quoted is for a rucsac (just!) big enough to use on a multiday tour. For freeride and day touring use, smaller and lighter rucsacs are available for all of these systems.
Ortovox Ascent 30 Avabag – 2.1Kg Arguably the lightest airbag system on the market. Comes with a practice mode, so you can train without deploying the canister each time. Well designed pack, with an interchangeable airbag system, so it can be installed in different packs. Non refillable cartridge, so cannot be taken on flights in N America.
Mammut Pro Protection 35L – 2.3kg Another very light removable airbag system – can be fitted into any compatible pack, of which there are many. A refillable cartridge (300g heavier than the non refillable one) is also available, which can be filled up in resort (any dive shop or paintball centre can also refill it) – ie makes flying with an empty canister possible in North America.
BCA Float 32 – 3.06kg The BCA packs are competitively priced and use a refillable gas canister, so have similar advantages to the Mammut system above. The main difference is that the system is fixed permanently into the pack, so you can’t swap it between rucsacs. They also make a 42l version at 3.3kg if you need more space.
ABS Vario L 32L – 3.2kg ABS are the original manufacturer and have been making airbag rucsacs for nearly 30 years. The vario base unit allows different packs to be zipped on and off in a matter of seconds. Tried and trusted system. The one drawback is that both the used handle and canister must be sent back for replacement after each deployment. This is Ok if you are near to a dealership and able to swap these out in resort, but a big problem if you are anywhere else.
Scott Alpride 30 – 2.9kg Just about big enough for multiday touring if you pack carefully! The Alpride system is light and also gets around flight issues by using the same gas canisters as are used in aircraft lifejackets (ie there’s one under every seat on the plane). It’s a modular system, so you can swap it between compatible rucsacs and the gas canisters are cheap and readily available, so you can potentially take spares with you.
Black Diamond Saga 40 Jetforce – 3.4kg The deployment system on this pack uses a rechargeable battery and fan system to inflate the airbags. This creates to a number of significant advantages, but the most important two are: no issues with flying (it’s a laptop battery) and multiple deployments are possible (4+ per charge), so you won’t hesitate to deploy it (this is a significant advantage over gas canister systems).
Arc’teryx Voltair 30L – 3.4Kg Arc’teryx’ own battery powered avalanche pack. Fully waterproof, super well designed pack, with the same advantages as BD’s Jetforce system above.
The new battery powered systems have several advantages, but also a few of downsides, most notably the extra weight.
OTHER SKI PACKS
The Ortovox Haute Route 32 is a popular, well designed ski touring pack, as is the Deuter Guide 30+ SL – this model is light, carries really well and goes up to 38 litres – what more do you need.
In our opinion, the best easy-to-use unit for Brits who ski a few times a year on holiday, is the new Mammut Baryvox (which replaces the popular Element model this year). The new Mammut Baryvox S is the replacement to the Pulse, which for years has been the best top end unit around for more experienced users and professionals.
Both of these units offer a 60m search width, which is a x3 improvement on older generation models (ie a really big deal) and are due to arrive in the shops by Xmas – but if you are in a hurry, then the Arva Axio is another good alternative to look at.
Black Diamond skins and Colltex skins are both good, reliable choices and currently we think that Contour Hybrid Mix Skins have some of the best glue (all Black Crows Pellis skins and Atomic skins are made by Contour – we’ve been very impressed with them). Black Diamond Ultralite Skins weigh 30% less than previous models, so are worth checking out. For European conditions, go for mixed fibre skins – pure mohair skins only glide a little better at non racing speeds, but they wear out 3-4 times faster… Skins are either sold pre-cut to a particular model of ski, or more commonly they come with a cut-to-fit device.
There are plenty of changes going on in glue technology at the moment, with new types of glue that utilize different properties in order to stick. Colltex Whizz Skins are the latest example of this, using an acrylic based adhesive layer – though feedback on these has been mixed so far.
We are seeing a lot more folk touring with helmets nowadays – so here are a few good quality lightweight models that have decent venting and removable ear flaps, to make them suitable for ski touring.
First up, the Salomom MTN Lab Helmet is designed specifically for backcountry skiing and passes both the climbing helmet and ski helmet safety tests – it’s very light at a claimed 250g and has two different liners – a winter one with ear flaps incorporated and a summer one without. We’ve used this helmet a lot for skiing and like it, but like all specialist helmets it doesn’t come cheap – but you get what you pay for!
Next, the K2 Route Helmet is designed for backcountry skiing and boarding and is light at a claimed 320g – it comes with good venting, removable ear flaps and headlamp/goggle clips. This one also passes the cycle helmet test, so can be used for mountain biking in the summer.
Finally, the Alpina Snow Tour Helmet is designed for ski touring, but also passes the climbing helmet test, so you can use it for both activities. It’s light at 315g, has good ventilation so that you won’t overheat and for colder weather, it comes with a compatible beanie that you can wear either under the helmet or on it’s own. Like the others, it has attachment points for both ski goggles and a headlamp.