Backcountry Skis for 2010

Posted November 25th, 2009

Skis designed with the downhill-oriented skier in mind—lift served and backcountry, telemark or AT—continue to feature ever-widening dimensions, more durable construction, and control-enhancing improvements to the tip, tail, and overall shape of the ski. Several skis in this review feature “rockered” or early-rise tips. These are ski tips that begin to lift farther back along the ski than what most of us are used to. Rockered tips shorten the running surface of the ski on firm snow, while improving floatation in soft snow. Manufacturers are also offering a greater range of ski designs for women, and for shorter and lighter skiers, too. Some of the shorter skis on the market are also proving to be especially well-suited for backcountry skiers who spend a lot of time in the relatively tight confines of the natural northeastern forest. Here is a look at some of the backcountry ski offerings for 2010.

Skis in this category excel in soft and deep snow conditions. To tap into their full potential, these skis like to be driven with bigger boots by skiers with solid downhill skiing experience. At the same time, however, the wider dimensions of these skis make them an excellent quiver ski for dedicated backcountry skiers who prefer a mid-weight boot, but would like more floatation in low- to medium-angle terrain.

Dimensions: 138-115-123 (188cm)
Lengths: 175/185cm
Weight: 4.15kg (9.2lbs)
MSRP: $749
Featuring a wood-core, minimal camber, a rockered tip, and enough sidecut for enhancing control in harder snow conditions, Justice loves powder, and lots of it. It’s a bit heavy to be lugging around in the backcountry, but with the four-buckle boots needed to drive this ski to its full potential, it won’t really matter if you are in solid touring shape. From a backcountry standpoint, these would make good quiver skis, ideal for days when skiing powder is the main objective, or for powdery days when a combination of lift-riding and side-country touring is in the cards.

Dimensions: 151-125-138 (182cm)
Lengths: 162/172/182/192cm
Weight: 3.8kg (8.6lbs)
MSRP: $625
Priced lower than most other skis in this class, and made in the USA (Salt Lake City), the wood-core Drifter is backcountry-veteran Voile’s version of a big, rockered ski. It is also one of the lightest skis in the big and rockered category, and thus, is a great choice among seasoned skiers as a dedicated backcountry powder ski. Still, the Drifter can be matched up with mid-weight/three-buckle boots, with great results when seeking out fresh, powder-coated lines in low- to medium-angle terrain. Surprisingly turnable for its dimensions, this ski can handle even the tightest confines of the Vermont forest.

G3 ZEST (Women’s)
Dimensions: 132-100-123 (166cm)
Lengths: 166/172cm
Weight: 3.4kg (7.5 lbs)
MSRP: $569
This is a colorful and beautifully designed wood-core ski that is one of the more versatile rocker-tipped skis out there. Still, it does not qualify as a do-anything ski. When driven by a strong skier, it can handle hard pack and icy conditions sometimes found in New England, but the Zest much prefers to stay in the softer, untracked snow found more often in the backcountry and on powder days. Lighter-weight men who aren’t afraid to sport some color should also consider this ski as a great quiver ski for primarily softer snow conditions.

This category features skis that are versatile enough to be your one-and-only, go-anywhere ski. They excel in a wide variety of snow conditions and terrain.

Dimensions: 126-95-114 (188cm)
Lengths: 175/185cm
Weight: 4.15kg (9.2lbs)
MSRP: $749
Another women’s specific wood-core ski in the mid-fat category, the Joule excels in all snow conditions when kept tuned and when driven by a seasoned skier. Featuring a nice combination of medium side-cut, width, and flex, the Joule matches up well with either four- or three-buckle boots. It’s light enough to tour with for days on end, but stable enough to carve groomers for hours on end. This is simply a great example of a versatile ski.

Dimensions: 140-105-130 (168cm)
Lengths: 156/168/181cm
Weight: 3.3kg (7.2lbs)
MSRP: $629
Made in the USA (Colorado), Icelantic’s durable wood-core construction, functional dimensions, and beautiful designs are well worth a look. The Nomad is their most versatile ski, featuring sufficient sidecut for negotiating twisty lines in harder snow conditions, enough width under foot for excellent powder floatation, and an incredibly smooth flex that seems to make transitioning from one turn to the next effortless. Available in a short 156cm length, and when combined with a three-buckle or mid-weight boot is a great choice for skiers interested in touring convenience, maneuverability, and downhill performance.

Dimensions: 126-96-117 (177cm)
Lengths: 170/177/184cm
Weight: 3.3kg (7.3lbs)
MSRP: $650
The sustainably-harvested Paulownia wood-core Storm BC has been a favorite among many well-rounded skiers with a backcountry habit here in the Northeast. Favoring medium speeds and medium-turn radius, the Storm BC is as much at home on a steep and wind-scoured alpine mountainside as it is when treated to untracked powder under the shelter of the hardwood canopy. Light enough to tour for days on end, it can be driven with great results by either a three- or four-buckled boot.

These are skis for those who place a higher priority on touring performance than downhill performance, or for skiers with more technical pursuits in mind, including ski mountaineering and randonee racing.

Dimensions: 109-78-95 (175cm)
Lengths: 165/175/185/195cm
Weight: 2.6kg (5.8lbs)
MSRP: $380
Karhu’s popular XCD (cross-country downhill) ski line is still going strong, thanks in large part to the success of the Guide. A lightweight, waxless-base, ultra-versatile ski, the Guide has been skied on the upper flanks of K2, been on missions to the North Pole and has often graced the pastures of Vermont’s countryside. It’s light enough to be taken on ultra-long tours in lightweight boots, wide enough to keep you floating in softer snow, and stable enough to occasionally tackle steep, alpine conditions. Although its waxless base gives you the convenience of climbing without skins, you can put skins on the Guides when the going gets steep or slippery. The Guide is also a great choice for easy-going ski tours out the back door, along backcountry trails, or ski adventures in the hardwoods.

Dimensions: 113-78-100 (170cm)
Lengths: 156/163/170/178cm
Weight: 2.64kg (5.8lbs)
MSRP: $550
The Seven Summits is designed for dedicated ski mountaineers who prefer shorter, lighter weight, and more maneuverable skis for navigating tricky terrain and great distances in the mountains. The Seven Summits hold its own on hard packed, alpine slopes, and steep couloirs, and with some caution, can get you through even the trickiest snow conditions Nature can dispense. Randonee racers also love the lightweight and nimble nature of this ski.

Brian Mohr

Brian Mohr and Emily Johnson of Moretown own Ember Photography and publish They can be reached through their website,