Salomon Backcountry skier
(Photo/Mike Gamble)

The Best Backcountry Skis of 2022-2023

Hiking for turns is one of winter’s great pleasures. To make the most of your touring adventures, check out the best backcountry skis of the upcoming season.

Backcountry skiing gives you the best of the snowsports worlds. On the uphill, not only will you get in your RDA of steps, but you’ll also take in stunning mountain views and fill your lungs with fresh air.

At the top, you can relish the thrill of being human-powered. On the downhill, you’re rewarded with low-traffic or no-traffic carving with an above-average chance of finding fresh snow. Backcountry skiing combines exercise and adventure with a dose of exhilaration for good measure.

The best backcountry skis are the ones that match your backcountry ski priorities and style. If you want to speed to the top, buy a ski that’s light. If you’re all about the downhill, prepare to pay a weight penalty on the ascent for freeride performance when you’re carving down the mountain.

As with any ski, buy a length that matches your ability and a width that matches the snow conditions. Hone in on what fits and what matters, visit your local ski shop, educate yourself on backcountry safety, and get ready for some serious fun.

We tested nearly all the new skis on open slopes and our favorite tree runs to bring you this roundup of the best backcountry skis of 2022-2023.

To learn more, be sure to check out our comprehensive buyer’s guide, FAQ, and comparison chart below.

Otherwise scroll through to see all of our recommended buys or jump to the category you’re looking for:

The Best Backcountry Skis of 2022-2023

Best Backcountry Ski Overall: Scott Superguide 95 — Men’s & Women’s

Scott Superguide 95

Across the board, brands are trying to make their skis more versatile. Scott is leading the charge with its freeski-inspired Superguide 95 ($850), which is designed to help skiers conquer new summits and have more fun and control on descents.

This backcountry ski is our number one pick for most backcountry days given it’s an ultralight performer that can handle big terrain.

The core of a ski is its motor. And in the newest iteration of the Superguide, Scott added 4% beech to make these skis more lively. Scott swapped carbon stringers they used to lay out at a 45-degree angle for straight carbon stringers, which made the ski more responsive than previous iterations.

Scott added thicker, concave, elliptical sidewalls to help the ski hold better in mixed conditions. Longer tip and tail sidecut with less sidecut underfoot gave the ski a transition zone for smoother carving. More front of ski taper made it easier to enter a turn and helped this ski handle better in powder.

The Superguide 95 has Scott’s 3D touring sidecut for versatility and maneuverability. Full-length sidewalls gave the ski torsional stability, and the ski’s steel edges held when we were sideslipping down an extremely steep couloir that was simultaneously sugary and punchy before skiing out of the Vallée Blanche on hardpack and ice littered with rocks.

Despite its featherlight weight, the ski was poppy and lively thanks to its paulownia plus beechwood core and carbon stringers.

backcountry skis - Scott Superguide 95
(Photo/Scott Sports)

The Superguide’s 95mm waist was quick on the uphill, nimble, and reliable on the down. The rockered tip had solid float and forgiveness in fresh snow. Camber underfoot let us power the ski’s edges when things got firm. And the medium turn radius balanced nimble control with confidence-inspiring stability.

The Superguide 95 is shockingly light. If we hadn’t tested it off-piste in the Italian and French Alps in variable, breakable crust, ice, and chunder in couloirs where if you fall you die, we’re not sure we would recommend it so enthusiastically.

But after 2 days of skiing extremely challenging terrain in terrible conditions, we can report that though these skis are absurdly light, they held an edge, they didn’t get tossed around, and they never distracted us from the task at hand. Scott makes pretrimmed, compatible skins that clip into cutouts in the ski’s tip.

Top to bottom, we think these are the best backcountry skis of the year.

Specs:
  • Length: 162 cm, 170 cm, 178 cm, 184 cm
  • Dimensions: 126/93/111 mm (162 cm), 128/94/113 mm (170 cm), 130/95/115 mm (178 cm), 132/96/117 mm (184 cm)
  • Turn radius: 19 m (162 cm), 20 m (170 cm), 21 m (178 cm), 22 m (184 cm)
  • Profile: Pro-Tip Rocker 320
  • Construction: Sandwich sidewall semielliptic
  • Core: Paulownia, beech
Pros:
  • Insanely light
  • Tip cutouts for dedicated clip-on skins
Cons:
  • Chattery on hardpack

Check Men’s Price at BackcountryCheck Women’s Price at Amazon

Best Backcountry Ski for the Deepest Powder: Atomic Backland 117

Atomic Backland 117

For many years, Atomic’s Backland 105 has been a staple in our quiver. It’s a ski that makes everyday conditions extremely fun. Now the Backland 117 ($800), a powder day ski that’s still fun to ski, even when you get skunked, joins the family and it’s just as awesome.

The Backland 117 is a chameleon. On the uphill, it never felt heavy, and on the downhill, it punched above its weight class. For that reason and more it’s our favorite fat-for-powder backcountry ski to date.

Rocker in the tip and tail made playing in powder about as good as it can be. And underfoot camber gave us grip when the conditions weren’t as creamy as we’d hoped, or when our backcountry day ended at the resort.

The Backland 117 has a light and responsive beech and poplar wood core, which is reinforced with a carbon backbone to stiffen up the ski and give it the structure to ski aggressively. Full sidewalls added durability and gave the ski torsional rigidity, which we appreciated when we wanted to carve turns, not slarve them.

Atomic extends the sidewall material into the tip of the ski, adding 10% more surface area for even more float. We felt the benefits both when we were in deep fluff and when we were busting through refrozen avalanche debris.

atomic backland 117
(Photo/Atomic)

This isn’t the first year the Backland 117 has been in Atomic’s line. But this year’s ski is lighter and more playful than previous iterations.

It’s on the lower end of the price spectrum for a ski of these dimensions. And when the snow was deep, surfing these boards down a powdery slope was about as good as it gets.

Specs:
  • Length: 177 cm, 184 cm, 191 cm
  • Dimensions: 139.5/117/128.5 mm (177 cm), 140.5/117/129.5 mm (184 cm), 141.5/117/130.5 mm (191 cm)
  • Turn radius: 18 m (177 cm), 19 m (184 cm), 20 m (191 cm)
  • Profile: Rocker tip and tail, camber underfoot
  • Construction: Sandwich sidewalls
  • Core: Beech, poplar
Pros:
  • Affordable
  • Light
  • Versatile for such a wide ski
Cons:
  • The fat waist makes it a quiver ski

Check Price at BackcountryCheck Price at Amazon

Best Freeride Ski for Resort, Sidecountry, and Backcountry: Völkl Blaze 94 — Men’s & Women’s

Völkl Blaze 94

Volkl Blaze 94

The freeride-focused Blaze 94 ($600) is a playful and easy-to-operate ski. The lightweight Blaze crushes a wide range of off-piste conditions, but it can hold its own on resort terrain too. This ski is among the best out there that can rip down corduroy, sneak in a slackcountry lap, or venture into the backcountry when the conditions call.

Beech blends with poplar in the core of this ski. It’s a durable combination, with hardwood under the binding reinforced with a 0.3mm-thick Titanal binding platform underfoot, and softer, lighter woods in the tip and tail. The metal plate not only guaranteed we wouldn’t rip out our binding screws when we got aggro, but it also gave it an extra dose of carve-ability when we powered into a turn.

Völkl didn’t use Titanal in the tip and tail, which kept the ski lively, light, and quick to react. But it did add its signature 3D radius sidecut, which continuously felt like it was working with us, not against us, regardless of how we asked it to carve.

volkl blaze 94
(Photo/Völkl)

Similar to Atomic’s HRZN Tech tip, the Völkl Blaze 94 used an elastic rubbery material in the tip and tail for shock absorbency and to combat chatter. It acted like a bumper, preventing rattle in hard conditions or end-of-day groomer runs. It also helped this ski float in soft snow.

The result was an easy-skiing board that felt almost intuitive to operate. Mount it up with a Shift or a Market Duke PT binding, and it’s a ski that can go everywhere on the mountain, whether you’re skiing there or taking a lift for sidecountry. Pair it with Völkl skins, and you’ll save yourself a headache. Völkl sells pre-cut skins by model and length.

Specs:
  • Length: 165 cm, 172 cm, 179 cm, 186 cm
  • Dimensions: 134/94/116 mm
  • Turn radius:  25/14/33 m (165 cm), 27/15/37 m (172 cm), 31/17/38 m (179 cm), 39/19/44 m (186 cm)
  • Profile: Tip and tail rocker
  • Construction: Full sidewall
  • Core: Hybrid multilayer (poplar, beech)
Pros:
  • Great ski for backcountry and resort skiing
Cons:
  • Not exceptional in hard snow

Check Men’s Price at REICheck Women’s Price at REI

Best of the Rest

Black Crows Ferox 110

Black Crows Ferox 110

With the boom in hybrid bindings in the past few years, we are constantly searching for the single-ski quiver, the one setup that can handle all conditions. The light and fat Ferox 110 ($1,100) comes darn close to being that ski.

The Ferox is agile and lively. Though it’s designed for backcountry, it can handle resort skiing as well. Medium classic camber underfoot translates to an energetic feel that made it easy to initiate turns. It also seemed to erase irregularities in the snow — we just glided over them — whether the surface was powder or firm.

For a ski with such a wide waist, the Ferox had exceptional float and edge-to-edge control. As with most skis, the secret lies inside. The core of the Ferox has paulownia stringers and Isocore — a polyurethane “mousse” that’s both durable and dimensionally stable.

In this ski, paulownia and Isocore are reinforced with continuous glass fibers. The ski’s 3D shape, which is formed in an “H,” eliminates material and weight from the body of the ski. Then, Black Crows added carbon fiber laminates to give this ski torsional rigidity and consistent flex that almost made it feel like a frontside ski.

black crows ferox 110
(Photo/Black Crows)

The ski has a double rocker for maneuverability. It has a claimed medium turn radius, but when we wanted to, we could turn it on a dime. And whether we were casually cruising or rocketing with an open throttle, the Ferox 110 was tenaciously stable.

It may not be at the very top of the list, but it’s easily one of the best backcountry skis on the market.

Specs:
  • Length: 170 cm, 176 cm, 181 cm, 186 cm
  • Dimensions: 135/110/126 mm (170 cm), 135/110/126 mm (176 cm), 136/110/126 mm (181 cm), 137/110/127 mm (186 cm)
  • Turn radius: 21 m
  • Profile: Rocker-camber-rocker
  • Construction: Half-cap
  • Core: Poplar, paulownia, Isocore
Pros:
  • Super-versatile for such a light ski
Cons:
  • Pricey

Check Price at Backcountry

Blizzard Zero G 105

Blizzard Zero G 105

Great for long days skinning and ski mountaineering, this purpose-built touring ski ($850) incorporates the same innovative and advanced construction techniques Blizzard uses in all its skis, slimmed and trimmed down into a backcountry-specific model.

Blizzard’s Carbon Flipcore technology sandwiches a unidirectional carbon frame into the core of the ski for responsiveness and bite that’s sensitive and energetic. The frame is mated to an ultralight paulownia wood core to hold the frame in place. The frame allows the ski to flex evenly, while also giving it the torsional rigidity to be carvey and fun.

Blizzard also layers bidirectional carbon fiber edge to edge in the binding mount zone to give the ski strength, torsional stability, and the teeth to bite into hardpacked snow.

blizzard zero g 105
(Photo/Blizzard-Tecnica)

We’ve rarely experienced the stability, edge grip, and resulting control that the Blizzard Zero G 105 ski brings to any run. The ski was light, powerful, and always playful — DNA it gets from rocker in its tip and tail.

Often, we’ll pass on the lightest ski when we head into the Vermont woods because we just don’t know what conditions we’ll find. And when we hike up, we want the joy of the descent to outweigh the pain of the climb. These skis delivered every time.

Specs:
  • Length: 172 cm, 180 cm, 188 cm
  • Dimensions: 132/105/118 mm (172 cm), 133/105/119 mm (180 cm), 134/105/120 mm (188 cm)
  • Turn radius: 20m (172 cm), 23m (180 cm), 24m (188 cm)
  • Profile: Rocker tip and tail, camber underfoot
  • Construction: Half-cap [underfoot] ABS sidewalls
  • Core: Paulownia
Pros:
  • The proprietary skin is slick
Cons:
  • Too light to pair perfectly with a hybrid binding

Check Price at REICheck Price at Amazon

Dynafit Blacklight 80

dynafit blacklight 80

A narrow, performance-oriented, weight-conscious ski made specifically for speed demon ski tourers, the paulownia core, unidirectional carbon-reinforced, ultralight Blacklight 80 ($650) had exceptional uphill grip and better float descending in soft snow than other skis in its class.

Slight rocker in the tip and tail, which is uncommon for this category of skis, made turning easier. The 2022 version has more rigidity for better grip, at least partially thanks to full ABS sidewalls. A full-carbon top layer gave the Blacklight both strength and durability at the lowest possible weight.

Light weight in a skimo ski is particularly important. Weight on a skier’s feet is effectively heavier than weight anywhere else because it’s swing weight. Skin uphill, and you’re continuously moving your ski weight forward from a full stop. Lower total weight reduces swing weight without compromising stability.

If flashing ascents is on your to-do list, add the Blacklight 80 to your quiver. Dynafit says it’s for “fast, passionate ski tourers who seek a lightweight, easy-handling touring ski for technically demanding terrain.” We agree.

In building it, Dynafit tried to cut weight everywhere they could to help skiers move faster. One of those places was not the ski proper but the skin.

By creating an insert in the ski for a dedicated skin, Dynafit shaved grams and also made transition times quicker for skimo racers. The new ski inserts into the ski and anchors with a small pin.

Tip and tail rocker and sidecut are adapted for each ski size, which seems obvious but isn’t standard practice in skimo skis. That kept the effective edge length proportional and gave this ski consistent performance across sizes.

The Blacklight’s base comes with a special race grind that was noticeably fast. If speed is your game, this is one of the best backcountry skis for the job.

Specs:
  • Length: 151 cm, 158 cm, 165 cm, 172 cm, 178 cm
  • Dimensions: 113/77/97 mm (151 cm), 114/78/98 mm (158 cm), 115/79/99 mm (165 cm), 116/80/100 mm (172 cm), 117/81/101 mm (178 cm)
  • Turn radius: 14.5 m (151 cm), 15.5 m (158 cm), 17 m (165 cm), 18.5 m (172 cm), 20 m (178 cm)
  • Profile: Tip and tail rocker
  • Construction: 3D sidewall cap
  • Core: Paulownia speed core
Pros:
  • Ultralight and ultra-fast for skimo racers
Cons:
  • Super-specific skimo race ski not a lot of fun on the downhills

Check Price at BackcountryCheck Price at Amazon

DPS Pagoda Tour 112 RP

DPS Pagoda Tour 112 RP

Backcountry skiers are eternal optimists. We always pick our skis for the best possible conditions we might encounter, even if the reality is somewhat less glorious. When we’re ready for blower powder, and the conditions are somewhat less ideal after the first dozen turns, the DPS Pagoda Tour RP ($1,549) has our back.

For 2023, DPS integrated a key new material into the ski: algae. The designers replaced the rubber sidewalls with an algal material. In a technology dubbed Third Rail Technology, they also incorporated a nose-to-tail strip of the algal composite, replacing a former ash wood insert, for greater sustainability.

The successor to DPS Wailer 112, this short-turn-radius ski let us lay down a zipper line of perfectly spaced creamy turns when the day was deep. But when that deep snow turned to variable crust or some form of snow that was refrozen and hadn’t softened up yet, the ski was damp, predictable, and stable.

Performance in this partial twin tip comes from DPS’s unique core construction. Ash and paulownia stringers pair with aerospace-grade foam core to make the ski light for climbing, surfy in powder, and damp when we hit the chunky stuff.

The wood and foam are overlaid with a prepreg carbon laminate infused with DPS’s proprietary cocktail of damping additives.

It was surfy without feeling like a banana, and when we ran out of soft snow, it carved above its weight class. Snow didn’t accumulate and weigh us down thanks to DPS’s textured polyamide topsheet.

And to make sure the ski always feels freshly tuned, the Pagoda Tour 112 RP comes pretreated with DPS Phantom 2.0, which bonds to the base of the ski for an always freshly waxed feel. Overall, it’s one of the best backcountry skis we tested.

Specs:
  • Length: 158 cm, 168 cm, 178 cm, 184 cm
  • Dimensions: 138/112/122 mm (158 cm), 139/112/124 mm (168 cm), 140/112/125 mm (178 cm), 140/112/127 mm (184 cm)
  • Turn radius: 15 m
  • Profile: Rocker-camber-rocker
  • Construction: Pagoda (full sidewall)
  • Core: Paulownia, ash, aerospace-grade foam
Pros:
  • One of the smoothest powder skis made
  • Phantom treated
Cons:
  • Too wide for a one-ski quiver

Check Price at REICheck Price at Backcountry

Faction Agent 3.0 for Men3.0X 106 for Women

 faction agent 3.0

The freeride brand’s first Caruba wood core ski, the strong but approachable Agent 3.0 ($800) was playful and maneuverable with a versatile waist width. It’s a great choice for a skier who ventures out primarily in soft snow.

To build this ski, Faction wove strips of unidirectional carbon into fiberglass above and below the Agent 3.0’s wood core to add strength and stiffness with almost no weight penalty. Then it added a Titanal binding plate underfoot to reinforce the light core, secure the binding, and give the underfoot zone the teeth for carving on hardpack.

The Agent 3.0 was built with Faction’s elliptical sidecut. It has a longer turn radius underfoot, but a shorter turn radius in the tip and tail. That made it especially easy to initiate turns and to be quick edge-to-edge in tight trees, while the flat tail let us carve across the face of a slope.

faction agent backcountry skis
(Photo/Faction Skis)

Faction calls the Agent 3.0’s tail flat, but it has some rocker. The rocker ensured that the ski didn’t hook up in deeper snow. And when we needed to slarve our turn before we jumped into the next carve, we were in control.

In deep snow, the ski had a surfy feel. Despite the zonal sidecut, a tapered tip shifts the widest part of the ski closer to the ski center, which made it floaty and smooth even in less-than-perfect conditions.

Extra-thick edges absorbed impact. And a wraparound topsheet that extends to the ski’s edges in the tip and tail protected the Agent 3.0 from chips, nicks, and damage. Together, they give these skis a longer life expectancy.

Many brands soften up their women’s skis and build them for lighter-weight riders. Faction offers a women’s Agent 3.0 called the 3.0X, but the only difference is the topsheet color.

Specs:
  • Length: 172 cm, 180 cm, 188 cm
  • Dimensions: 134/106/124 mm
  • Turn radius: 21 m (180 cm)
  • Profile: Early rise, camber underfoot
  • Construction: Half cap
  • Core: Caruba
Pros:
  • Freeride feel
  • Flat tail for powerful carving
  • Durable
Cons:
  • Best for soft snow
  • Not as versatile as some other skis

Check Men’s Price at evoCheck Women’s Price at evo

Backcountry Skis Comparison Chart

Backcountry Ski Price Length Turn Radius Profile Construction
Scott Superguide 95 $850 162 cm, 170 cm, 178 cm, 184 cm 19 m (162 cm), 20 m (170 cm), 21 m (178 cm), 22 m (184 cm) Pro-Tip Rocker 320 Sandwich sidewall semielliptic
Atomic Backland 117 $800 177 cm, 184 cm, 191 cm 18 m (177 cm), 19 m (184 cm), 20 m (191 cm) Rocker tip and tail, camber underfoot Sandwich sidewalls
Völkl Blaze 94 $600 165 cm, 172 cm, 179 cm, 186 cm 25/14/33 m (165 cm), 27/15/37 m (172 cm), 31/17/38 m (179 cm), 39/19/44 m (186 cm) Tip and tail rocker Full sidewall
Black Crows Ferox 110 $1,100 170 cm, 176 cm, 181 cm, 186 cm 21 m Rocker-camber-rocker Half-cap
Blizzard Zero G 105 $850 172 cm, 180 cm, 188 cm 20m (172 cm), 23m (180 cm), 24m (188 cm) Rocker tip and tail, camber underfoot Half-cap [underfoot] ABS sidewalls
Dynafit Blacklight 80 $700 151 cm, 158 cm, 165 cm, 172 cm, 178 cm 14.5 m (151 cm), 15.5 m (158 cm), 17 m (165 cm), 18.5 m (172 cm), 20 m (178 cm) Tip and tail rocker 3D sidewall cap
DPS Pagoda Tour 112 RP $1,549 158 cm, 168 cm, 178 cm, 184 cm 138/112/122 mm (158 cm), 139/112/124 mm (168 cm), 140/112/125 mm (178 cm), 140/112/127 mm (184 cm) Rocker-camber-rocker Pagoda (full sidewall)
Faction Agent 3.0 for Men & 3.0X 106 for Women $800 172 cm, 180 cm, 188 cm 21 m (180 cm) Early rise, camber underfoot Half cap

 

Backcountry skier skins
Skins attach to backcountry skis via an adhesive, buckles, straps, or a combo; (photo/Andy Cochrane)

Why You Should Trust Us

Our GearJunkie gear testing team includes a range of skiers from intermediate to experts who have spent decades exploring the backcountry and sidecountry across the United States — from the West to East Coast and around the Rocky Mountains.

We’ve taken our off-piste skis on sled-accessed couloir missions, uphill workout sprints, and on remote hut tours. Our testers also travel around the U.S. and overseas — including the Italian and French Alps — hike inbounds at ski resorts, and pursue skimo races.

While testing for the best backcountry skis, we assessed a range of factors including each design’s stiffness, maneuverability, and playfulness as well as the ski’s energy, damping, chatter, weight, shape, edge hold, and turn initiation. The base and edge tune also influence how a ski performsWe considered what type of skier and conditions are best for each ski.

We tested skis in a range of snow conditions affected by ice-cold temperatures, blizzards, blustery wind, intense sun, rain, and (of course) powder. Really deep powder.

Beyond our field tests and personal experience, we considered the most popular, innovative, award-winning, and bestselling backcountry skis on the market as well as a broad range of price points and applications to serve a range of skiers.

Backcountry skiing mountain
Lightweight skis are appreciated on the bootpack of high-alpine ascents; (photo/Andy Cochrane)

Backcountry Skis: A Buyer’s Guide

Alex Quitiquit, senior hardgoods buyer at Backcountry, said, “The first thing a skier needs to do is determine what type of skiing you want to do with the skis you’re buying, which will help you wade through confusing attributes like rocker and turn radius, and find a pair to meet your needs.”

Backcountry skiers must decide if their biggest priority is the uphill, the downhill, or both. A lighter ski will be easier and faster when you’re skinning up a mountain, but it may not be as stable or fun on the descent. A heavy ski will glide through variable snow and grip on the ice better, but it will likely be heavier and slower on the uphill.

Ski Length

Once you know what’s important to you, figure out your ski length. The right ski length depends on your height, weight, and ability.

A 5’10″ 180-pound male should consider a length around 180 cm for a resort-focused freeride powder ski. If you’re a hard-charging expert, you may opt for a ski closer to 190 cm. If you’re a beginner/intermediate, you may opt for a ski in the 170cm range.

For a newer skier, shorter skis are more fun and manageable because they’re more nimble and easier to turn. Some backcountry tree skiers also prefer shorter skis because they’re more nimble turning.

Waist Width

A ski for arcing groomer turns will have a waist of 80-90 mm. So, most backcountry skiers opt for something wider and more versatile.

Skis with 90-105mm waist width will have good float in soft snow. They’re best for skiers who spend half their time on more consolidated snow and half their time in soft snow.

Choose a ski with a 105-120mm waist for powder. If your standard conditions are 6-12 inches of fresh powder, alpine fat skis will give you maximum float.

Opt for a waist above 120, and you’re firmly into the big-mountain powder category for special days when you’ll be skiing 2 feet or more of fresh snow. “Over 120 waist is a dream-day quiver ski,” said Quitiquit. “Don’t expect to take it out all the time.”

Turn Radius

Then, it’s time to consider a ski’s other characteristics and how those match your preferences. A ski’s turn radius is based on the sidecut of a ski: the shape of the curve along either side of its length.

To some degree, all skis have an hourglass shape, but the radius of these curves has a crucial effect on steering, speed, and stability.

Skis that are much wider at the tip and tail than in the waist will have a shorter turning radius. A shorter turning radius is great for quick and nimble movements in the trees and moguls. Anything less than 16 m can be considered a short turning radius.

If you like to carve super-G turns, pick a turn radius over 20 m. If you like to make tight turns, look for a turn radius of 15 m or below. A shorter turn radius will be easier to ski if you’re a beginner or intermediate.

Quitiquit said that the sweet spot for a turn radius is 17-19 m.

Rocker and Camber

These describe the profile of the ski when you’re looking at it from the side. A fully rockered ski will have a shape like a banana and a surfy feel on the snow.

Add camber, which looks like a bow underfoot, and it gives the ski potential energy that you can engage when you pressure into a turn. A cambered ski will let you carve, and it will make quick turns.

Most all-mountain and backcountry skis use a blend of rocker and camber so skiers can have the best of both worlds. Rocker and camber together make a ski easier to turn. A ski with a rocker in the tip and tail won’t get hooked up in chunky snow or deep snow. The upturn allows the ski to float through powder and it offers a more playful, less aggressive feel.

Many skis have a rocker-camber-rocker profile, which makes them good carving and easy turning. Some also have a flat tail, which gives the ski a racier profile for carving longer and more powerful turns without washing out.

Materials

Quitiquit said, “Honing in on materials is the fun part of deciding which ski is your best ski.” Most skis have a wood core, usually beech, poplar, or aspen. Add metal to the construction, and the ski gains bite underfoot, which is key to carving in hardpacked and icy conditions, but it gets notably heavier.

Carbon, whether it’s used as a sheet or in strips called “stringers,” is stiff and light. In a lot of backcountry-focused skis, it’s used as a lighter alternative to metal with a less aggressive feel. Stiff and light carbon gives a ski grip and saves you energy, but it can be more chattery than metal in hard snow.

Quitiquit said that a lot of skiers don’t worry about turn radius and rocker profile once they’ve settled on length and width. For a lot of skiers, how the ski looks trumps some of the finer points of how it skis because the human body is adaptable, and you’ll find your rhythm once you’re on it.

While it’s important to understand what you’re getting, it’s also key to be stoked on your new skis. So, pick the one you’ll be proud of. Because as a Jackson Hole-based ski buyer once told us, “When you look good, you ski good.”

We go more into how the materials fit together in a ski below.

Instagram 17846219527940012
GearJunkie Founder Stephen Regenold backcountry skiing in Colorado; (photo/Adrian Ballinger)

Parts of a Ski

High-quality backcountry skis are complex tools that pack lots of technology into a streamlined package. The physical construction of your skis will define your experience using them.

The parts of a ski that have the most significant effect on performance are the core, laminates, sidewalls, and base.

Core and Laminates

The core of a ski is the innermost material and partly determines a ski’s flex and shape. Most backcountry skis feature a wood core made from poplar, aspen, beech, or a combination.

Manufacturers tend to use thinner materials in areas where the ski should be able to flex and thicker materials where the ski needs to be rigid. Around the core, metal and carbon fiber laminates may be added to boost or reduce characteristics such as pop, rigidity, and dampness as needed.

Sidewalls

Sidewalls cover the outer edges of a ski. Generally, sidewalls are made from dense plastic that protects the sides of the precious core layers. In some skis, the top sheet layer may be extended to conceal the edge and serve as the sidewall.

Base

A ski’s base is the surface that comes in direct contact with the snow. There are two kinds of bases: extruded and sintered.

Generally, extruded bases are found on beginner skis due to their low maintenance requirements. Most backcountry skis feature sintered bases. Though this kind of base requires frequent waxing and general maintenance, they’re the best option for consistent long-term performance.

Boot and Binding Compatibility

In order to get the most out of your time in the backcountry, it’s important to carefully select boots and bindings that are a good match for your skis and skillset.

Backcountry Ski Boots

It’s crucial to match your boots to the performance profile of your skis. A soft and flimsy boot paired with a stiff and aggressive ski will diminish the performance potential of both.

Of the many individual pieces of gear in your touring kit, your boots will have the greatest impact on physical comfort. Like skis, touring boots come with strengths and weaknesses.

If you plan to prioritize downhill ability, you’ll likely want well-built and stiff boots that can handle high speed and hard charging. As a result, downhill-oriented boots are often heavy and offer a limited range of motion while hiking uphill.

If you plan to prioritize uphill efficiency and comfort, you’ll want a relatively lightweight boot that feels dexterous and nimble while in walk mode.

Backcountry Ski Bindings

As for backcountry ski bindings, there are two basic types: tech bindings and frame bindings.

Tech Bindings

Tech bindings are lighter, more efficient, and generally considered to be the gold standard for backcountry skiing.

Very light skis will pair best with a tech binding, which is binding with pins that insert into tech fittings in an alpine touring boot.

The design has a release value but isn’t DIN-certified. And they don’t have as much elastic retention as a hybrid or alpine binding. So, if you hit a bump hard, they’re more likely to release.

While skinning uphill, tech bindings are as good as it gets. The only minor downside of tech bindings is that heavy inbounds skiing on firm surfaces will wear them out quickly.

Don’t tackle an in-bounds mogul field in tech bindings.

Frame (Hybrid) Bindings

Frame bindings, also called hybrid bindings, are very much like traditional alpine ski bindings, except they’re mounted on a frame that releases at the heel for uphill travel. Compared to tech bindings, frame bindings are heavy, cumbersome, and less efficient while skinning.

However, if you plan to bounce back and forth between backcountry skiing and resort skiing or sidecountry laps, frame bindings may provide the best of both worlds.

A hybrid binding will ski more like an alpine binding. Hybrid bindings have an alpine heel and toe for descents. For ascending, they usually also have tech pins. They’ve heavier, and they’re DIN-certified for predictable release.

Frame bindings are also typically affordable.

Don’t Shy Away From Small Brands

“It’s cool to support the little guy. Every brand is making great skis, and some of the independent brands not only have a cool and interesting look but the construction that can compete with the biggest and best-known brands, which is why more and more people are buying them,” said Quitiquit.

Backcountry skiing is full of variable conditions; (photo/Sean McCoy)

FAQ

What Makes Backcountry Skis Different From Downhill or Cross-Country Skis?

In many ways, backcountry skis are a hybrid between their downhill and cross-country counterparts. Because backcountry skiing involves both uphill and downhill travel, backcountry skis must be able to perform well in a wide variety of terrain.

Backcountry skis are typically outfitted with tech bindings or frame bindings, which allow skiers to maneuver on flat and uphill terrain. Read more about the two types of backcountry bindings in our buyer’s guide above.

Additionally, backcountry skis use another piece of gear known as skins to prevent them from sliding backward when traveling uphill.

While some downhill skis are compatible with skis and the proper bindings, backcountry-specific skis are definitely your best bet due to their specialized design and lightweight profile.

Most backcountry skis include a waist width between 105 and 120 mm, which is a little wider on average than downhill skis.

What Are the Best Backcountry Skis for Beginners?

Beginner backcountry skiers will want a ski that is properly sized, maneuverable, and progression-oriented. Generally, beginners should avoid skis of the extreme ends of any spectrum. In other words, don’t go for the widest powder ski or the ultralight mountaineering ski or an aggressive super-stiff ski.

Beginners will benefit from middle-ground do-it-all skis that can be used to experiment, grow, and find your groove in various scenarios.

If you plan to also use your backcountry ski at the resort, we recommend you purchase a versatile ski with the right characteristics to meet your wide-reaching needs. On this list, the Völkl Blaze 94 is a solid entry point that can also be used within bounds.

Of course, safe backcountry skiing is about much more than gear. Before you head out there, you need to be educated on avalanche safety and backcountry hazards.

How Much Do Backcountry Skis Cost?

Generally, backcountry skis are a bit more expensive than downhill skis. With that said, the cost of backcountry skis exists on a broad spectrum. A solid and high-quality pair can be purchased for between $500 and $700.

If you’re looking for high-end and specialized backcountry skis, expect to pay between $700 and $1,500 per pair.


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