By Brian Mohr and Emily Johnson
This season’s options for backcountry-oriented skis, boots, and bindings—designed with the thrill of a gravity-fueled descents in mind—are more numerous than we’ve seen in the past. However, if there is one thing most of this gear has in common, it is making skiing easier and more fun than ever.
Skis are easier to turn and are more versatile; boots are more adjustable and comfortable; and bindings simply work better.
Another trend is the growing popularity of Alpine touring boots and bindings compared to free-heel/telemark options. Whereas telemark gear was once the more available, reliable, and versatile option for the backcountry-bound, that is no longer the case, as the AT market grows.
Here is a selection of skis, boots, and bindings that we’ve developed with the Northeastern backcountry skier in mind. We recommend you demo gear from your local ski shop before making a purchase.
137/112/126 (measurements: tip, waist, tail, in mm.)
The USA-made Charger is the product of Voile’s long-term dedication to skiing untracked backcountry snow. Featuring both a rockered tip and tail, plenty of girth, and a smooth-flexing aspen wood core, the Charger might just enjoy skiing powder more than you do. For powder-hounding throughout the Northeast backcountry, be it among steep and narrow treelines or low-angle hardwoods, the Charger will have you surfing the snow like never before. It’s incredibly fun to ski at all speeds, and with some extra care and skill, it can easily handle the occasional encounter with hard-packed snow or ice. Compare: Black Diamond Justice, DPS Pure, Dynafit Stoke, Volkl Nunataq.
On the lighter end of the ski spectrum, the Manaslu is a solid choice as a dedicated backcountry ski that is capable of embracing the variety of terrain and snow conditions we find here in the Northeast. For AT skiers, it features Dynafit-compatible inserts for easy binding mounts. It is lightweight and its playful flex make it a joy to ski in powder. And carbon stringers offer enough torsional rigidity to enable a good edge on firm snow. Ski the Manaslu out the back door, or set off for days in Vermont’s backcountry. Compare: BD Aspect, Faction Agent 90 STP, G3 Saint.
Black Diamond Warrant/Ember
There doesn’t really seem to be anything that Black Diamond’s latest all-mountain ski design can’t handle with authority. No doubt, the Warrant and the more women’s-oriented Ember—which features a slightly softer core—make these a great one-ski quiver for backcountry-inclined skiers who enjoy riding lifts regularly, too. Tune them up for confident edging on firm snow. Keep them waxed for a very fun ride through untracked powder. Whip them around in the trees, in the bumps, and down your favorite springtime corn lines. Compare: Icelantic Oracle, K2 Coomback.
Featuring a gently rockered tip, plenty of sidecut and a hollow wood core, the Nanuq continues to be another great choice as a one-ski option. Keep it tuned when venturing into hard-packed conditions at resorts, or throw some skins on for endless powder tours in the backcountry (be sure to check out Volkl’s own skin attachment system). Combined with relatively light/midweight boots and bindings, the Nanuq also can make for a truly versatile backcountry setup. Compare: Atomic Century, G3 Jam.
For backcountry-oriented Northeastern skiers seeking a versatile ski that performs on hard snow at least as well as in powder, K2’s Hardside is a great choice. It’s mildly rockered tip gets you floating with ease in fresh snow, while its classic K2 feel (solid under foot, smooth flex and damp, thanks to a wood core and a metal-laminate sidewall) inspires confidence when the going gets rough. Holes in the tips and flat tails of K2’s skis function not only as attachment point for K2’s climbing skins, but they make the skis more functional when constructing a rescue sled or ski anchors. Compare: Icelantic Oracle
7 pounds, 13 ounces
Although not as heavy as most other four-buckle AT boots on the market, the tech-fitted Radium is definitely a heavy hitter when it comes to terrain and snow conditions. Featuring a great balance of comfort, power, and touring performance, the Radium is a solid choice for hard-charging backcountry skiers who tend to avoid chairlifts and hard-packed snow conditions. Like most boots on the market these days, the Radium features a thermoformable liner, for custom-fit comfort. Compare: BD Factor 110, Dynafit Titan Ultralight.
Dynafit TLT5 Mountain (men’s and women’s)
The tech-fitted TLT5 Mountain/Women’s Mountain is a more affordable (and slightly heavier) version of the carbon-equipped TLT5. These boots are changing backcountry skiers’ lives by offering a new level of touring comfort. Ultimately, this comfort depends on a good fit as well as your ability to keep moving—the boots liners offer little in the way of insulation. On the downhill end, you’ll just have to ski them to believe what a lightweight, two-buckle boot is capable of handling. Still, truly aggressive skiers should probably avoid these boots. Compare: Garmont Masterlite.
Scarpa TX-Pro/TX-Pro WMN
7 pounds, 8 ounces
The TX-Pro is back again this season (now available in a women’s specific model) offering aggressive skiers who prefer the NTN system a versatile boot option. This is a powerful, but smooth-flexing boot that tours surprisingly well for a four-buckle boot. If you are ever itching to lock your heels down, the TX-Pro is also compatible with tech-fitted (frameless) AT bindings. Compare: BD Push, Garmont Voodoo, Crispi Evo.
Black Diamond Trance
If you are a less-aggressive skier looking for a comfortable, midweight telemark boot, consider the women’s specific Black Diamond Trance. The boot’s forward lean and relatively soft flex make it tour like a dream. And so long as you don’t over power the boot (with too much speed or too big of a ski) the Trance can easily handle any type of terrain and snow condition on the downhill. Even for many expert skiers who tend to ski gentler, the Trance is an excellent choice for all-around backcountry ski adventuring. Compare: Garmont Kenai (Men’s).
Dynafit TLT Radical FT/ST
2 pounds, 10 ounces (with 110mm brakes)
Building on Dynafit’s increasingly popular “tech” binding system, the TLT Radical FT/ST combines Dynafit’s exceptional touring-friendly design with features that make this binding capable of driving the biggest skis on the market—including a forged aluminum toe piece and a wider mounting pattern. The Radical FT also features a lockable carbon power plate that helps prevent overflexing of the ski—and unwanted release from the binding. The Radical ST does not include the carbon plate, but it is several ounces lighter and costs $110 less. Both bindings have Dynafit’s newest, user-friendly heel riser system, as well as an improved step-in/step-out design. All Dynafit bindings can be adapted to a variety of brake sizes, as well as ski crampons. Compare: Fritschi Freeride Pro; G3 Onyx.
Voile Switchback X2
3 pounds, 3 ounces
While Voile continues to offer its reliable and backcountry-friendly Switchback binding, it has built on this success with its Switchback X2. In a nutshell, the X2 combines the Switchback’s top-notch, free-pivot touring performance with several design features that make this a more attractive binding for aggressive telemark skiers— including a more active cable pivot point, a larger toe plate, and stiffer springs. The user-friendly ski/tour mode switch also has been improved on both the Switchback and the Switchback X2, and from our experience, it is the most reliable and user-friendly design on the market. Voile’s ski crampons are also compatible with the Switchback X2. Compare: BD 01, G3 Ascent, 22Designs AXL.