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The Best Backcountry Skis of 2024

Earning your turns is one of winter’s great pleasures; from moving uphill with friends to turns down a blank canvas of powder. To make the most of your touring adventures, check out the best backcountry skis of the upcoming season.
Salomon Backcountry skierA huge variety of backcountry ski are available to choose from; (photo/Mike Gamble)
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Backcountry skiing helps you leave behind lift lines, crowds, and boundaries to interact with the mountains on an intimate level. With that freedom comes ongoing avalanche safety and backcountry education plus many choices about the gear that will get you there. Few other mountain sports require more performance and reliability out of gear than a remote backcountry ski tour.

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.

As we continuously test backcountry skis, we bestow awards on the ones that stand out as favorites but that doesn’t make the others listed below any lesser models. Here is our latest roundup of the best backcountry skis.

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 for 2024.

Editor’s Note: We updated our Backcountry Skis buyer’s guide on April 3, 2024, by adding the ultralight, maneuverable Voile Hyper Manti to the lineup as our Runner-Up and making sure our list reflects the most up-to-date products on the market.

The Best Backcountry Skis of 2024

Best Overall Backcountry Skis

Black Crows Navis Freebird

Specs

  • Length 167 cm, 173 cm, 179 cm, 185 cm
  • Weight 1550 g (173 cm)
  • Dimensions 136/102/116 mm (167 cm), 138/102/118 mm (173 cm), 138/102/119 mm (179 cm), 139/102/120 mm (185 cm)
  • Turn radius 18 m (167 cm), 19 m (173 cm), 19 m (179 cm), 19 m (185 cm)
  • Profile Rocker-Camber-Rocker
  • Construction Semi-Cap, Full-Cap in tip
  • Core Poplar, paulownia, carbon/fiberglass
Product Badge The Best Backcountry Skis of 2024

Pros

  • Reliable in all conditions
  • Skis powder well for its width

Cons

  • Not as playful as other skis due to its damper nature
  • Doesn’t deliver short radius turns
  • Beginners might need to consider other options
Best Budget

Völkl Blaze 94

Specs

  • Length 165 cm, 172 cm, 179 cm, 186 cm
  • Weight 1500 g (172 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)
The Best Backcountry Skis of 2024

Pros

  • Great ski for backcountry and resort skiing
  • Good for intermediate skiers and forgiving for beginners
  • 3D sidecut makes for a versatile and intuitive ride

Cons

  • Not exceptional in hard snow
  • Less stable at speed than other models tested
Runner-Up Best Backcountry Skis

Voile Hyper Manti Skis

Specs

  • Length 171 cm, 176 cm, 181 cm, 186 cm
  • Weight 1335 g (176 cm)
  • Dimensions 134/102/121 (171), 136/103/123 (176), 138/104/124 (181)
  • 140/105/127 (186)
  • Turn radius 17 m (171 cm), 18 m (176/181 cm), 19 m (186 cm)
  • Profile Early-rise Tip, Gradual Tail Rocker
  • Construction Cap
  • Core Paulownia/Double Carbon
The Best Backcountry Skis of 2024

Pros

  • Ideal for ultra lightweight touring
  • Playful design allows for surfing and maneuverability
  • Short turn radius
  • Intuitive

Cons

  • Tips chatter on hard pack at high speeds
  • Mellow top sheet design (but getting better year after year)
Most Sustainable Backcountry Skis

WNDR Alpine Intention 108

Specs

  • Length 164 cm, 170 cm, 176 cm, 182 cm, 188 cm, 194 cm
  • Weight 1700 g (170 cm)
  • Dimensions 126/93/111 mm (listed for all models)
  • Turn radius 15.5 m (164 cm), 17 m (170 cm), 18.5 m (176 cm), 20 m (182 cm), 21.5 m (188 cm), 22.5 m (194 cm)
  • Profile Rocker-Reverse Camber-Rocker (or traditional camber if preferred)
  • Construction Semi-cap Sidewall
  • Core Algae, Aspen
The Best Backcountry Skis of 2024

Pros

  • Made sustainably in the USA with recycled materials
  • Playful and stable ride on the downhill

Cons

  • One of the heaviest skis tested for its width
  • A bit wide for bigger missions and steep skiing
Best Backcountry Skis for the Deepest Powder

Atomic Backland 117

Specs

  • Length 177 cm, 184 cm, 191 cm
  • Weight 1800 g (177 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
The Best Backcountry Skis of 2024

Pros

  • Light on the uphill for width, stable and reliable on the downhill
  • Versatile for such a wide ski
  • Amazing float in powder snow

Cons

  • The fat waist makes it a quiver ski
  • Doesn’t come in shorter lengths for smaller skiers
Best Expert-Level Backcountry Skis

Scott Superguide 95

Specs

  • Length 162 cm, 170 cm, 178 cm, 184 cm
  • Weight 1370g (170 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
The Best Backcountry Skis of 2024

Pros

  • Light on the uphill and tours exceptionally well
  • Great for jump turns
  • Tip cutouts for dedicated clip-on skins

Cons

  • Can be chattery on hardpack
  • All business, less play
  • Narrow waist is not the best for powder days
Best of the Rest

Nordica Men’s Enforcer Unlimited and Women’s Santa Ana

Specs

  • Length Santa Ana: 158 cm, 165 cm, 172 cm, 179 cm ; Enforcer: 165 cm, 172 cm, 179 cm, 186 cm, 191 cm
  • Weight 1560 g (172 cm)
  • Dimensions Santa Ana: 132-104-121 mm (158 cm), 133-104-122 mm (165 cm), 134-104-123 mm (172 cm), 134.5-104-123.5 mm (179 cm); Enforcer: 134-104-123 mm (172 cm), 134.5-104-123.5 mm (179 cm)
  • Turn radius Santa Ana: 15.5 m (158 cm), 16 m (165 cm), 16.5 m (172 cm), 17.5 m (179 cm); Enforcer: 18.5 (186 cm), 19.5 (191 cm)
  • Profile Powder Rocker / Camber
  • Construction Semi-Cap
  • Core Paulownia, beech, carbon stringers
The Best Backcountry Skis of 2024

Pros

  • Great ski for both resort and backcountry
  • Short turning radius makes these great for tight trees and couloirs

Cons

  • Doesn’t hold an edge well at speed on firm snow
  • Not the best for stability at speed due to short turning radius
  • Generally better performance in powder and soft snow

Blizzard Zero G 105

Specs

  • Length 172 cm, 180 cm, 188 cm
  • Weight 1450 g (172 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
The Best Backcountry Skis of 2024

Pros

  • Perfect combination of float and performance
  • Great for firm snow and steep skiing

Cons

  • Long turning radius prefers to be opened up
  • Not the best for beginners

Dynafit Blacklight 80

Specs

  • Length 151 cm, 158 cm, 165 cm, 172 cm, 178 cm
  • Weight 1070 g (170cm)
  • 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
The Best Backcountry Skis of 2024

Pros

  • Ultralight and ultra-fast for skimo racers

Cons

  • Super-specific skimo race ski not a lot of fun on the downhills
  • Not as fun on the downhill or in powder

Blizzard Hustle 10

Specs

  • Length 156 cm, 164 cm, 172 cm, 180 cm, 188 cm
  • Weight 1750 g (172 cm)
  • Dimensions 131-102-121 mm (156 cm), 131.5-102-121.5 mm (164 cm), 132-102-122 mm (172 cm), 132.5-102-122.5 mm (180 cm), 135.5-102-125.5 mm(188 cm)
  • Turn radius 13 m (156 cm), 14.5 m (164 cm), 16 m (172 cm), 17.5 m (180 cm), 19 m (188 cm)
  • Profile Rocker-camber-rocker
  • Construction Sandwich compound sidewall, carbon dynamic release
  • Core Paulownia and carbon
The Best Backcountry Skis of 2024

Pros

  • Dependable and solid in all conditions
  • Versatile waist width
  • Playful yet also damp and exceptionally stable

Cons

  • Heavy for dedicated backcountry use
  • Not the most forgiving ski or the best choice for beginner and intermediate skiers

Kästle TX103

Specs

  • Length 165 cm, 173 cm, 181 cm, 189 cm
  • Weight 1550 g (173 cm)
  • Dimensions 138-103-120 mm
  • Turn radius 13.3 m (165), 15.4 m (173), 19 m (181), 21.3 m (189)
  • Profile Early tip rise, gentle camber
  • Construction Semi-cap sandwich-sidewall
  • Core Carbon-fiberglass wound paulownia and poplar woodcore
The Best Backcountry Skis of 2024

Pros

  • Incredibly reliable in any conditions or terrain
  • Exceptional edge hold

Cons

  • Not a very playful ski

DPS Pagoda Tour 112 RP

Specs

  • Length 151 cm, 158 cm, 165 cm, 172 cm, 178 cm
  • Weight 1500 g (172 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
The Best Backcountry Skis of 2024

Pros

  • Exceptional float and playfulness
  • Unique short turn radius allows for a fun ride

Cons

  • Very expensive
  • Not the best in variable conditions

Faction Agent 3.0 for Men & 3.0X 106 for Women

Specs

  • Length 172 cm, 180 cm, 188 cm
  • Weight 1680 g (172 cm)
  • Dimensions 134/106/124 mm
  • Turn radius 21 m (180 cm)
  • Profile Early rise, camber underfoot
  • Construction Half cap
  • Core Caruba
The Best Backcountry Skis of 2024

Pros

  • Freeride feel
  • Flat tail for powerful carving
  • Durable

Cons

  • Best for soft snow
  • Not as versatile as some other skis
Skiers Using Faction Agent Backcountry Skis
Choosing backcountry skis is a balance between efficient uphill travel and downhill performance; (photo/Faction Skis)

Backcountry Skis Comparison Chart

Scroll right to view all of the columns: Price, Length, Turn Radius, Profile, Construction.

Backcountry SkiPriceLengthTurn RadiusProfile
Voile Hyper Manti Skis$850171 cm, 176 cm, 181cm, 186 cm17 m (171 cm), 18 m (176/181 cm), 19 m (186 cm)Early-rise Tip, Gradual Tail Rocker
Black Crows Navis
Freebird 102
$900167 cm, 173 cm, 179 cm, 185 cm18 m (167 cm), 19 m (173 cm), 19 m (179 cm), 19 m (185 cm)Rocker-Camber-Rocker
Nordica Men’s Enforcer &
Women’s Santa Ana
$850, $800SA; 158 cm, 165 cm, 172 cm, 179 cm
E: 165 cm, 172 cm, 179 cm, 186 cm, 191 cm
Santa Ana: 15.5 m (158 cm), 16 m (165 cm), 16.5 m (172 cm), 17.5 m (179 cm); Enforcer: 18.5 (186 cm), 19.5 (191 cm)Powder Rocker / Camber
WNDR Alpine Intention 108$799164 cm, 170 cm, 176 cm, 182 cm, 188 cm, 194 cm15.5 m (164 cm), 17 m (170 cm), 18.5 m (176 cm), 20 m (182 cm), 21.5 m (188 cm), 22.5 m (194 cm)Rocker-Reverse Camber-Rocker
Scott Superguide 95$850162 cm, 170 cm, 178 cm, 184 cm19 m (162 cm), 20 m (170 cm), 21 m (178 cm), 22 m (184 cm)Pro-Tip Rocker 320
Atomic Backland 117$800177 cm, 184 cm, 191 cm18 m (177 cm), 19 m (184 cm), 20 m (191 cm)Rocker tip and tail, camber underfoot
Völkl Blaze 94$600165 cm, 172 cm, 179 cm, 186 cm25/14/33 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
Black Crows Ferox Freebird$1,100170 cm, 176 cm, 181 cm, 186 cm21 mRocker-camber-rocker
Blizzard Zero G 105$850172 cm, 180 cm, 188 cm20m (172 cm), 23m (180 cm), 24m (188 cm)Rocker tip and tail, camber underfoot
Dynafit Blacklight 80$700151 cm, 158 cm, 165 cm, 172 cm, 178 cm14.5 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
Blizzard Hustle 10$799156 cm, 164 cm, 172 cm, 180 cm, 188 cm13 m (156 cm), 14.5 m (164 cm), 16 m (172 cm), 17.5 m (180 cm), 19 m (188 cm)Rocker-camber-rocker
Kästle TX103$989165 cm, 173 cm, 181 cm, 189 cm13.3 m (165 cm), 15.4 m (173 cm), 19 m (181 cm), 21.3 m (189 cm)Early tip rise, gentle camber
DPS Pagoda Tour 112 RP$1,549158 cm, 168 cm, 178 cm, 184 cm138/112/122 mm (158 cm), 139/112/124 mm (168 cm), 140/112/125 mm (178 cm), 140/112/127 mm (184 cm)Rocker-camber-rocker
Faction Agent 3.0 for Men & 3.0X 106 for Women$799, $749172 cm, 180 cm, 188 cm21 m (180 cm)Early rise, camber underfoot
Backcountry Skier Removing Skins from Skis in Mountains
Editor Chris Kassar takes the Voile Hyper Manti for a spin in the Colorado backcountry; (photo/Ryan Kempfer, Elk Raven Photography)

How We Tested Backcountry Skis

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

Among our lead testers, Kaylee Walden is a mountain guide, avalanche educator, and writer based primarily in Southwest Colorado, where she backcountry skis from her front door. Walden spends upward of 120 days per year on snow, guiding everything from sidecountry skiing in Colorado to plane-accessed base camp ski expeditions in the Alaska Range and mountaineering ascents of Denali.

Another lead tester, industry veteran, and Vermont-based outdoor journalist is Berne Broudy, who has been a writer for nearly 25 years and is a former professional hiking and bike tour guide. In 2024, we also added Ryan Kempfer to the line-up of testers. Ryan has worked in the ski industry for years, most recently as a ski tech and master boot fitter who prides himself on helping people find the best and most comfortable gear for their ski style.

We’ve put these backcountry skis through the wringer. From glades to steeps, couloirs to low-angle meadows, powder to sastrugi, breakable crust to corn, the Rockies to the Alps, and everything in between, we’ve tested these skis to help you make the decision of what to put beneath your feet this upcoming winter. Skis are like snowflakes: No two are the same, which makes finding the right ski both a daunting and exciting process.

These off-piste skis have joined us on sled-accessed high-alpine tube missions, uphill workout sprints, and remote hut tours. Our testers also travel around the U.S. and overseas — including the Italian and French Alps — hike in-bounds 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 size, width, 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.

Salomon Mike Gamble Bootpacking To A Backcountry Ski Line
Lightweight skis are appreciated on the boot pack of high-alpine ascents; (photo/Andy Cochrane)

Avalanche Safety Education

Seek out the proper avalanche safety education before you head into the backcountry. Head out with partners who share your risk tolerance and goals, and seek out experienced mentors. Be sure to carry the proper rescue equipment for each mission and know how to use it well.

Where to start? Sign up for courses that meet the benchmark set by the American Avalanche Association (A3) including courses that are approved by the American Institute for Avalanche Research and Education (AIARE). That also includes courses taught by the Silverton Avalanche School (SAS) and American Avalanche Institute (AAI).

These are several of the most credible, historic organizations in the United States that provide standardized backcountry education courses. It’s easiest to choose one organization to complete multiple courses with than to transfer as your education progresses. 

The mountains are a beautiful and inherently dangerous place — the hazards of backcountry skiing should not be taken lightly.

Choosing the right skis is a small piece of a large, complex puzzle — as many of you already know, especially if you’ve been out there playing the game.

Essential Avalanche Equipment

If you’re skiing in the backcountry, there’s a lengthy checklist of equipment that you should take with you. A transceiver, probe, and shovel are non-negotiables for skiing in avalanche terrain.

We also never head out into the backcountry without extra insulating layers, snacks, water, a satellite communication device, a way to navigate (phone apps like CalTopo work well, with a paper map and compass backup), a repair kit, ski straps, first aid kit, and knowledge of how to use all of this important gear. These all should be stashed in an appropriately sized, backcountry-specific pack; we like something in the 25 to 40L range (check out our list of our favorite packs for the backcountry).

Before heading out the door, be sure to check both the weather and avalanche forecast, and be well-prepared for the conditions that you’ll encounter.

Additional Backcountry Education

Once you’ve taken your recreational Level One course, you should seek out some medical training so that you can respond to incidents in the backcountry and help your group be self-sufficient. Every couple of years, we’d highly recommend taking an Avalanche Rescue course to refresh your essential quick response skills to an avalanche burial. There are a handful of providers for avalanche courses that are certified by the American Avalanche Association (A3).

Everyone who recreates in the backcountry should seriously consider taking a Wilderness First Aid (WFA) or Wilderness First Responder course, in addition to CPR. These courses provide you with the essential baseline knowledge that could help you save your partner’s life in the case of an emergency, like after an avalanche burial or serious crash.

Navigation courses can help you find your way in challenging situations, and we always recommend having your maps downloaded on your phone when you head out so you can always place yourself in the terrain. CalTopo and FATMAP are our favorite backcountry mapping applications and can help you find your way out of a challenging situation or make sure you’re on the right track for your preferred route. 

Skier Using Atomic Backland 117
When choosing your backcountry ski, consider the type of terrain and snow conditions you’ll most often ski; (photo/Atomic)

Backcountry Skis: A Buyer’s Guide

The sheer amount of backcountry skis on the market can be daunting. It can be challenging to sort through the confusing attributes — like rocker, camber, core material, or turning radius — all of which we’ll get into below, to nail down precisely what you want. The best way to find the perfect backcountry ski is to think about your goals as a skier.

Backcountry skiers generally fall into three camps based on priority: The uphill, the downhill, or both. If you’re mostly after first tracks, look for something a bit wider to maximize float in powder, like the Atomic Backland 117. A heavier ski will also glide through variable snow and grip on the ice better, but it will likely be slower on the uphill.

If you’re all about fitness or ease on the uphill, a lightweight ski (like the Scott Superguide or Dynafit Blacklight 80) will help you move fast and rack up vertical gain while keeping your legs fresher. But it may not be as stable or fun on the descent.

Just remember, you usually sacrifice a bit of uphill or downhill capability depending on your priorities. That said, there are certainly skis that are great “quiver killers.” We cover all of those options in this guide.

Backcountry Specific vs. Hybrid Skis

Just as with anything, the specificity of a tool generally decreases its utility. It’s arguably the same with skis, although that doesn’t stop us skiers from looking for the ultimate quiver killer. 

Backcountry-specific skis are often much lighter and made to spend a higher percentage of time going uphill rather than down. These skis enable us to go further, more efficiently, while saving energy for the downhill. Great pure backcountry-specific choices in the above guide are the Voile Hyper Manti Skis, Scott Superguide, Blizzard Zero G 105, or Kästle TX103.

Hybrid, also known as “50/50” skis, are best used with a heavier binding like the Shift, for those who plan to use the ski both on the resort for riding chairlifts, for sidecountry skiing, or for shorter and less frequent backcountry touring outings. A couple of great choices in this guide for 50/50 skis are the Blizzard Hustle 10, the WNDR Alpine Intention 108, and the Nordica Santa Ana and Enforcer Unlimited 104.

Of course, it’s more expensive to have a quiver of skis meant for different purposes. But as you spend more time skiing, and in the backcountry, it becomes a wiser choice to have dedicated skis for backcountry and 50/50 use.

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 of 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 170 cm 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

Ideally, in the backcountry, we’re seeking out untracked, bottomless snow.  As backcountry skiers, we ideally are looking for something versatile that can take on a variety of conditions. You may encounter a whole range of conditions in one day, from deep powder to crust to corn.

Skis with 90-105 mm waist width will offer good floatation 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 105-120 mm waist for powder. If your standard conditions are 6-12 inches of fresh powder, wider 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 two 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.”

Since generally we’re after more adaptability in our backcountry skis, the widest set included in this guide is the Atomic Backland 117, which should give you more than enough float for even the deepest of days. On the other end of the spectrum, the Dynafit Blacklight 80 cuts away all extra weight to make for the fastest and lightest construction for the uphill and big days in the alpine, but would never be our choice on a deep day.

Skier Transitioning With Blizzard Zero G 105
If you mostly ski powder, you’ll want a wider width under foot but if you backcountry ski in variable conditions, consider a narrower width; (photo/Blizzard-Tecnica)

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. This number is usually measured in meters.

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 at 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 meters can be considered a short turning radius.

If you like to carve super-G turns and ski fast, pick a ski with a turn radius over 20 meters, like the Blizzard Zero G 105. If you like to make tight turns, look for a ski with a turn radius of 15 m or below, like the DPS Pagoda Tour 112. A shorter turn radius will make it easier to ski if you’re a beginner or intermediate. Some skis on the market have what’s called an adaptive turning radius, which creates a different radius turn intuitively depending on how you engage the turn, like the Völkl Blaze 94.

Often, the sweet spot for the turn radius of a dedicated backcountry ski falls in the 17m to 19m range, depending on the length. A medium turn radius enables the ski to maintain stability while making big turns, without sacrificing nimble maneuverability in tight trees and couloirs.

Rocker and Camber

These two terms describe the profile of the ski from tip to tail when you’re looking at it from the side. A rockered ski is upturned at the nose and allows for maximum float in powder.

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. Camber allows the edges of the ski to “bite” into the snow, enabling better carving, edge hold, and control. Most skis on the market have this traditional camber shape, which means the edges of the ski engage well into the snow underfoot.

Reverse camber, while increasingly rare on the market, lends a more surfy feel, with a flatter shape. The only reverse camber ski included in this guide is the WNDR Alpine Intention 108, which we love for its playful ride.

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 to turn. Some also have a flat tail, like the Black Crows Navis Freebird and the Faction Agent 3.0 and 3X, which gives the ski a “racier” profile for carving longer and more powerful turns without washing out.

Materials

Most skis have a wood core, usually beech, poplar, or aspen. Add metal to the construction, and the ski gains backbone and stability at speed, but it also gets notably heavier.

To offset this, 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.

Many ski manufacturers strategically integrate carbon to improve the ride without adding weight, like in the Nordica Santa Ana and Enforcer Unlimited.

Skier Transitioning With Black Crows Ferox Freebird
One factor that influences ski selection is how aggressive of a skier you are, which can influence your preference for the stiffness, width, length, and sidecut; (photo/Black Crows)

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.

Sustainability

The ski industry is not always the most eco-conscious. Unfortunately, building skis on a large scale is not typically an environmentally friendly process. However, there are a handful of manufacturers who are breaking this trend.

More companies are starting to cast aside the old ways and refocus on sustainable and environmentally friendly production methods, incorporating recycled and bio-based materials and nixing chemicals, plastic, and petroleum-based additives. 

Local Materials, Solar Power

Several brands have begun to source their wood locally for the cores of their skis. Folsom Custom Skis now makes all of their wood cores from responsibly harvested Colorado-sourced trees. DPS and WNDR Alpine have started integrating aspen from near their Salt Lake City production facilities, respectively.

Wagner Skis, a small, custom boutique ski brand based in Telluride, Colo., follows this trend. After a historic avalanche season in 2019, Wagner decided to collect a large amount of deadfall aspen taken down by massive avalanches and recycle them into skis. Wagner also builds all of their skis in a solar-powered facility. 

Upcycling Materials

WNDR Alpine is leading the charge as the first ski manufacturer to achieve a negative carbon footprint. They do this, in part, by upcycling materials whenever possible and using their waste materials from building skis to integrate into other skis. Think using the wood scraps from one pair to make elements of another.

Algal Materials

DPS and WNDR Alpine are also using proprietary algal products and modified tree sap to replace petroleum-based products in their skis. You read that right: algae. These bio-based materials eliminate the need for reliance on petroleum and plastic-based products in production.

Both DPS and WNDR Alpine have such a long list of mindful manufacturing practices that we can’t name them all here, from keeping their production in the United States to eliminating plastic wrap for biodegradable materials. 

Unfortunately, these practices are generally the exception rather than the norm. The ski industry, to its credit, has come a long way fast in just a few years. But we’ll continue to keep an eye out for these companies going the extra distance to make a positive difference for the environment. 

The best part of increased sustainability in skis is that these elements don’t sacrifice — and sometimes even add — performance, while also making us feel even better about skiing them. DPS said it best when they noted that their sustainability initiative is rooted in preserving “the art of sliding on snow for future generations.”

Backcountry Skiers Moving Up A Skin Track
GearJunkie founder Stephen Regenold backcountry skiing in Colorado; (photo/Adrian Ballinger)

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. Check out our article on the best bindings for the backcountry to learn more about the specifics.

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.

How to Choose an Alpine Touring Binding

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

The bindings you choose for your backcountry skis will have a massive influence on how the ski behaves. To make matters more challenging, there’s an incredibly wide range of options on the market. Essentially, making the right selection for an alpine touring (AT) binding can be boiled down to two factors: Compatibility with your skis and boots in terms of weight and purpose, and your skiing priorities.

If you like to ski aggressively, you may want to opt for a more robust binding. Another consideration would be if you’re doing a very high proportion of downhill to uphill, such as in a sidecountry setting, hybrid bindings are a great option. If you’re looking to use the ski for both resort and backcountry skiing, hybrid bindings are the answer. They give you the security and responsiveness on-piste that pin bindings cannot.

Hybrid (Frame) Bindings

A hybrid binding, also known as a frame 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’re heavier, and they’re DIN-certified for predictable release.

Frame 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. Frame bindings are also typically affordable, but we don’t recommend them due to their limited uphill mobility.

We haven’t yet found a hybrid binding that can outperform the Salomon Shift. For these, make sure that your boots are MNC-compatible, so that they’re able to interface correctly in ski mode. Some ultralight boots, like Scarpa F1 or Dynafit TLTs, are not. Marker Duke PTs are another great option and go up to a DIN 16 for those looking for a higher retention value than the Shift can offer. 

Heavier, hard-charging skis will pair best with a hybrid binding, like the Blizzard Hustle 10.

Tech (AT) Bindings

Traditional alpine touring (AT) aka “tech” bindings attach to your boots via the pivot point holes in the front of the boot with metal pins, and with pins onto the back of your boot. Full-pin tech bindings can be highly capable in a much lighter, much more enjoyable-for-uphill package. They take some getting used to in terms of a different feel while skiing, with lower power transfer, but your legs will thank you when you’re not carrying as much of a load uphill. 

Skis on the lighter end of the spectrum, such as the Käestle TX103 or Blizzard Zero G 105, will pair best with a tech binding.

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.

The tried and true Dynafit binding is our go-to for tech bindings, specifically the Speed Radical or Blacklights. ATK and G3 also make great lightweight AT bindings that are capable of racking up the vert on both the ascent and descent. As a bonus, you’ll keep your legs much fresher for the downhill if you’re not hauling as much weight uphill. 

Backcountry Skis - Scott Superguide 95
Make sure your skis, bindings, and boots are all compatible and you have the equipment mounted by a certified shop; (photo/Scott)

Climbing Skins

You won’t get very far in the backcountry without your climbing skins, literally. Trust us, we’ve tried (unintentionally). Skins are one of the most underrated pieces of backcountry gear: They are the real behind-the-scenes star of the show, the ones that are actually getting us up to the top lap after lap. They also quickly have the power to ruin your day if they don’t work as they should. There’s nothing worse than an overly gloppy skin that leaves glue all over your ski bases, or one that downright doesn’t stick for more than one lap. We’ve experienced it all. Let us save you the hassle of almost dislocating your shoulder to pull your skins apart, and check out these recommendations below.

Don’t use your skin bag, or skin savers, to transport your skins in the backcountry. A good pair of skins should be able to be simply folded back on themselves neatly and stowed away until the next lap. Don’t be lazy and be sure to take them out of your pack to dry at the end of the day, as this will extend the life of the glue.

We’re only profiling a select few here, but there are many options on the market. Pre-cut skins, if they’re an option for your skis (as they are for many skis in this guide) are also a smart choice, as they save you the hassle of trimming and usually stay on well lap after lap since they’re made for that ski. Consider if you want to prioritize glide (if so, go for mohair) or grip (nylon is best).

Pomoca Skins

These skins, in our opinion, are unquestionably the best on the market right now. Lightweight, incredibly packable, and easy to rip off your skis, Pomocas come in a variety of material blends with the perfect skin for every skier. They even have a fun quiz on their website to help you determine which skin, categorized by their bright colors, is best for you (we’re big fans of the pinks and the blues). Pomoca’s skin-cutting tool is the best that we’ve used, and these skins will keep you gliding fast and climbing well for seasons to come.

Pros
  • Many different models allow you to pick the best skin for you
  • Incredible glide and good grip all in one
Cons
  • Can be less durable due to lower weight
  • Not the best for high grip or beginners who may slip backward on the skintrack

Contour Skins

Contour skins are great because they mix both traditional glue and glueless technology, and really provide the best of both worlds. The glueless makes them less prone to snow build-up beneath, and the traditional glue helps avoid problems of glueless skins, like not sticking for a second lap. Made in Austria, these skins have a glowing reputation across Europe, and many skiers in the Alps swear by them for long traverses. 

Pros
  • Glue and glueless combo make the skin super packable
  • Great for skimo-style skin rips with skis still on
Cons
  • Tail clip tends to break 
  • More construction required than Pomoca for some models

Big Sky Mountain Products

A small company based in Bozeman, Montana, is making some of the best climbing skins out there right now. We love supporting businesses based in the USA, especially those run by fellow backcountry skiers under the Big Sky. For added sustainability points, Big Sky Mountain Products offers an in-house reglue service for when your skins start to lose their stick. You’ll also turn some heads at the top of the run in their jungle print skins.

Pros
  • Super durable and a great price point
  • Fun graphics
Cons
  • Most skins require user assembly
  • Some models are black, which can “glop” more than others

Price

We fully understand that backcountry skiing is a massive investment and the skis listed above run a pretty wide spread of financial commitment. You’ll pay a premium for certain additions, like recycled materials, sustainable practices, and brands made in the USA, so consider these added benefits when looking for your next ski.

Consider that you’ll have to also buy bindings and skins for the skis, which adds several hundred dollars of additional cost.  The cost of skis, like the cost of everything globally, has risen quickly over the past couple of seasons.

The lowest price point of skis on our list is the Volkl Blaze ($600). From there, a lot of skis come in at a mid-range price between $700-800, like the Dynafit Blacklight ($700), the Faction Agent 3X ($749), the WNDR Alpine Intention 108 ($799), the Blizzard Hustle 10 ($799), Nordica Santa Ana and Enforcer Unlimited ($800), and Atomic Backland 117 ($800).

Others, above $800, cost more of a premium, generally for lightweight and proprietary materials, like the Scott SuperGuide ($850), Black Crows Navis ($899), Blizzard Zero G 105 ($899), and Kästle TX103 ($989).

The most expensive skis we reviewed, the DPS Pagoda Tour 112 RP ($1,549), is on the very high end of backcountry skis available on the market.

Backcountry Skiers Ascending A Skin Track
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. While downhill skis can work for the uphill when integrated with the right boots and bindings, backcountry-specific skis are definitely your best bet due to their specialized design and lightened-up profile.

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 on 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. Check out the price section above to see the skis listed in this guide broken down and compared by price.

Do I really have to worry about how much my skis weigh?

In short: Yes! Remember that for every foot of vertical you get to ski downhill in the backcountry, you have to earn it on the uphill. Many backcountry skiers ignore the weight of the ski for the sake of performance (or graphics), which ultimately will limit what you’re able to accomplish in the mountains.

Always try to cut weight in the backcountry when you can (within reason) as it will enable you to physically go further and get in more laps before getting tired. And remember the old adage: “Ounces lead to pounds, and pounds lead to pain.”

As with anything else in the backcountry, going lighter has its tradeoffs. In skiing, namely, lightweight skis can compromise the quality of the downhill ride. Luckily, today’s advancements in ski constructions allow for stability, reliability and speed without compromising the uphill.

What width of skis should I ski in the backcountry?

The answer to this question largely depends on where you spend most of your time skiing in the backcountry. Ideally, in the backcountry we’re seeking out fresh, bottomless snow, but the reality is that we encounter all kinds of less-than-ideal conditions, too.

In our opinion, for most snow climates we look for backcountry skis with a versatile waist width between 95 and 110 underfoot. Depending on where you live, that number might shift a bit higher.

As mentioned above, think about your priorities as a skier. Do you like to ski in the backcountry exclusively to hunt out the best powder turns? Go for something a bit wider. Are you a fitness fanatic mostly looking to tour uphill in-bounds? Slim down as much as you can.

How can I save money getting into the backcountry?

There’s no way around the fact that skiing in the backcountry is an incredibly cost-prohibitive sport. Not to mention the fact that there’s an incredibly long list of required gear, from a backcountry-oriented ski pack, to ski jackets and goggles.

When you’re first getting started, it can be helpful to first demo backcountry skis from your local gear shop to find out what you like best, and to make sure that you like the sport in the first place before committing thousands of dollars to getting all of the gear. Hauling all of your gear uphill is much more challenging than riding chairlifts.

As mentioned above, you can create a backcountry ski setup that will ski well both on the resort and in the backcountry, eliminating the need to have multiple pairs of skis. While there are obviously many merits to buying your gear brand new, you can cut costs massively by finding good quality used equipment to get started.

You can often find backcountry skis, bindings, and boots, already assembled into a complete set, for considerable discounts buying second-hand. Make sure to inspect everything closely for quality, and do your research to make sure you’re buying gear that’s right for you.

What type of bindings should I mount on my skis?

This largely depends on your priorities as a skier. For many backcountry newbies, the best option to save money is to put together a ski setup, from boots to bindings to skis, that can ski well both in bounds and on the uphill. For most skiers, this means a hybrid binding and a 50/50 ski, or something that’s light enough to not slow you down on the uphill, but skis well enough that it can still handle in-bounds chop.


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