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Best Backcountry Skis For Exploring This Winter
Explore the unbeaten slopes with a good pair of backcountry skis. (Kyle Frost / Unsplash/)
Backcountry skiing is an adventure, and can delve into the extreme. Some backcountry skiers jump out of helicopters in the deep recesses of Alaska, or launch off mountainsides in the wilds of Wyoming. And if that’s what you want to do, we have a pair of skis listed here you should consider. But if you’re just getting started, or if you were borrowing your friend’s skis and want to invest in your own, we can help break down some of the complicated features of the best backcountry skis.
BEST ALL MOUNTAIN SKIS: Atomic Backland 78 + Hybrid Skin 78 Backcountry Skis
BEST LIGHTWEIGHT BACKCOUNTRY SKIS: Blizzard Men’s Zero G 95 Backcountry Touring Skis
BEST WOMEN’S SKIS: Blizzard Women’s Black Pearl 88 All-Mountain Lightweight Skis
BEST HIGH PERFORMANCE BACKCOUNTRY SKIS: DPS Skis Wailer A110 C2 Ski
BEST CHEAP SKIS: Traverse Atlas Men’s Big Mountain Ski
What You Need To Know About Backcountry Skis
What you need to know about backcountry skis depends on what you want to do with them, because there are specific types. Do you live somewhere in the Rocky Mountains, where you’ll have exposure to plenty of mountains topping 14,000 feet with cornices, couloirs and drops? Will you be doing a lot of climbing with the skis? Are you looking specifically for a women’s backcountry ski? All of these have different features.
Also, know that some backcountry skis can do double duty. You don’t just need to be headed off trail—you could use some backcountry skis at a resort. Once you choose your skis, you’ll still need boots, poles and some other snow gear, but the skis are one of the first big hurdles.
Read on for the basics, and the best backcountry skis that will suit those needs.
Related: Lighters, Tents, and Other Backcountry Gear You Might Need
Will You Be Encountering Ice and Chunks of Snow?
If you think where you’re headed will have great powder but also ice and some snow chunks, and if you will be skiing for long distances to get yourself to your destination, consider all mountain skis. These are easy to turn, and you’ll be able to navigate ice, powder, and even groomed trails. If you plan to ski in all of those conditions and more, all-mountain skis are excellent overall backcountry skis.
Best All-Mountain Skis: Atomic Backland 78 + Hybrid Skin 78 Backcountry Skis
The Atomic Backland 78 gives you good control in tough conditions. (Atomic/)
These skis from Atomic have an ultra-light wood core, and are the brand’s lightest backcountry ski. That means they’re perfect for touring, but they’re also well suited for climbing and for shredding back down. They offer control and the sidewall absorbs shock, which is important when skiing a tough trail. You can also easily find pre-fit skins for these, so you’ll be able climb easily when you need to.
Will You Be Doing a Lot of Climbing with the Skis?
Not every run you want to try has a lift taking you to the top. Sometimes you have to get yourself there, and when that happens, you’ll want a lightweight ski.
Backcountry skiing, as with most other outdoor pursuits, has give-and-take in its equipment. If you want something lightweight, for example, you need to be prepared to spend a little more. But if what you plan to do is skin your way for miles to the perfect runs, then lightweight may be just the ticket for you.
Best Lightweight Backcountry Ski: Blizzard Men’s Zero G 95 Backcountry Touring Skis
It’s one of the lightest backcountry skis in its price range. (Blizzard/)
The Blizzard Men’s Zero G 95 Backcountry Touring ski is light, but very strong. The company paired its Carbon Drive 2.0 with an ultra-light paulownia wood core to provide strength for navigating the best approach and a solid grip edge for the most stable descent. These touring skis also have carbon reinforcement in the edges, and will make sure you can reach your destination with plenty of time left to softly cut through that new powder waiting for you.
Are You Looking for Women’s-Specific Skis?
If you’re a taller-than-average woman and you have plenty of backcountry experience, you may well want to buy a top-of-the-line men’s ski. But if you’re starting out, or if you’re an intermediate skier, and you’re closer to 5 feet tall, check out the women’s lines.
The differences between men’s and women’s skis are quite subtle. There’s not as much of a difference as there is between men’s and women’s hiking boots or mountain bikes. But women’s skis do tend to be a little softer and more forgiving than men’s.
Best Women’s Backcountry Ski: Blizzard Women’s Black Pearl 88 All-Mountain Lightweight Skis
These women’s backcountry skis that have been tested, redesigned and tested again. (Blizzard/)
One of the biggest beefs from women about women-specific gear is the lack of input from actual women in the creation of the product. When Blizzard created these all-mountain skis, they used input from their Women to Women project, making sure the ultimate product really was best for women. It will handle the backcountry, but also let you rip of- piste when you’re staying at a ski resort.
Do You Want High-Performance Skis?
If you’ve already been skiing for a while, and you’ve noticed that your skis aren’t quite grabbing the turns you want to make, or they’re feeling a little sloppier than you would prefer, consider an upgrade. High performance skis aren’t just a marketing gimmick–they’re durable, responsive and lightweight, all of which adds up to extreme control. They’re also going to be strong and perfect for deep powder conditions.
Best High-Performance Backcountry Skis: DPS Skis Wailer A110 C2 Ski
These DPS skis will give you control and speed. (DPS Skis/)
DPS, a brand known for its high end skis and best-selling Wailer collection, offers this A110 C2 ski that is known for its aggressive design. It allows you to cut those big curves down big mountains at high speeds you probably shouldn’t be telling your mom about. The ski features DPS’s signature creation called Alchemist, which consists of carbon layers around an aspen core, making it extremely strong and lightweight.
Are You Looking for a Budget Backcountry Ski?
We aren’t going to recommend you buy cheap skis. You will want something that holds together and keeps you safe out there. But ski equipment can be expensive, and if you’re just starting, you don’t want to spend an arm and a leg on skis you’re not sure you’ll end up wanting to use in the end.
So when you’re shopping for budget backcountry skis, look for skis with features that focus more on getting you there than doing it in the lightest way possible. You’ll still want steel edges and a nice camber underfoot.
Best Cheap Backcountry Skis: Traverse Atlas Men’s Big Mountain Ski
When you want to try backcountry, but you’re not ready for the biggest mountains and runs, these Traverse Atlas skis are a good choice. (Traverse/)
The Traverse Atlas Men’s Big Mountain Ski may come in at an affordable price, but it’s not a slouch of a ski. It has steel edges to help prevent damage and hold those edges, and has a 116mm waist width that will keep you afloat in deep powder. You’ll be set for most approaches with some skins strapped on the bottom, and can feel safe and prepared for many downhills. You can also take these to a resort and ski groomed runs with these men’s skis.
Best Backcountry Skis FAQ: People Also Ask
What makes a good backcountry ski?
The best backcountry skis are going to be the ones that fit both your body and your desires. We cover the desires above. If you’re well over 6 feet tall, strong, and have lots of skiing experience, you may want a stiffer ski. If you’re small and just getting started, go with a lighter, softer model.
What size skis for backcountry do you need?
Don’t expect a simple rule for what size of backcountry skis to buy. It will likely vary by your experience and where you plan to ski. But in general, when you convert your height to centimeters, your skis should be somewhere between 15 cm longer or shorter than your height.
Can you use backcountry skis on groomed trails?
Yes. You won’t likely want to cross-country ski long distances on them unless those long distances are getting you to big slopes. But you can certainly use backcountry skis at downhill ski resorts. They will be lighter than your normal alpine skis, but will work just fine.
A Final Word On Shopping For Backcountry Skis
Consider your experience and where you will be going before you buy backcountry skis, because certain types are best for certain skiing applications. If you’re just starting, you also don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a decent pair of skis.