Gear for Easygoing Backcountry Tours

Posted February 1st, 2007

With an emphasis on the most rugged and versatile gear sold in Vermont, here’s a look at what Vermont’s most prolific skiers might keep in their quivers.
On the best of days, the sun is high. Grabbing a sip of water first, we throw on a jacket and push off. We slide into the top of the glade. Letting gravity take over, we glide straight at first, but are soon linking easy turns around birches, beeches, and the occasional patch of conifers…through a small meadow in the midst of the forest…along a bubbling brook…and then back again into tall trees. There are only four to six inches of fresh powder, but they sit atop a firm snowpack that was hardened by the last thaw/freeze cycle—perfect conditions for this low angle hillside. Our slope funnels toward a cluttered streambed. Yikes! But we spot an old pathway—perhaps an old logging road—that offers gentle passage down toward the valley. It’s not so steep that we have to force our turns to stay in control, but it’s steep enough to keep us gliding, turning and laughing.

Maybe you don’t have time to travel to the ski area, and you’d rather head out the back door. Maybe you are primarily a cross-country skier looking to mix a little downhill action into your Nordic skiing adventures. Maybe you’ve spotted some lovely meadows and logging roads in your neighborhood you’d like to investigate. For these kinds of outings, there’s no need to lug big boots, big skis and big skins. All you really need are skis that are lightweight, but considerably wider than traditional cross-country touring skis, a simple binding and a basic boot.

Backcountry touring gear, a.k.a. light touring or XCD, is the perfect solution for easygoing backcountry tours over rolling terrain where the snowpack isn’t too demanding. It’s also ideal for extended touring where the journey is as important as making turns.

With an emphasis on the most rugged and versatile gear sold in Vermont, here’s a look at what Vermont’s most prolific skiers might keep in their quivers.
Today’s backcountry touring skis feature partial- or full-length metal edges, sidecut to facilitate turning, and either a waxless or waxable base. Skis with waxless bases have built-in traction (an area of “fish-scale” extrusions on the bottom of the ski) that provide a kick zone but generally have little impact on downhill performance. Waxable skis require the application of kick wax in the center of the ski for uphill traction. All of the following skis have full-length edges and come in a variety of lengths. They are also good introductory telemark skis for less aggressive skiers.
Karhu XCD Guide (waxless)
109-78-95mm, $350,
At 78mm under the foot, the XCD Guide is a big step in the right direction for the backcountry touring market. These skis outperform all other backcountry styles in powder and soft snow conditions, and they are light and nimble enough to use for a gentle kick-and-glide workout around the field.
Karhu XCD 10th Mountain (waxless)
99-68-84mm, $300,
The XCD 10th Mountain has a little more camber than the Guide, making it ideal for skiers who put a lot of emphasis on the tour, but still love to make turns.
Fischer Boundless (waxless or waxable)
98-69-88, $375,
The Boundless is very similar to the 10th Mountain. It is, however, a softer ski that excels in powder conditions, but demands respect in firm snow conditions. At nearly 70mm under the foot, it is one of the wider backcountry touring skis on the market.
Alpina Cross Terrain/Steep Terrain (waxless/waxable)
102-64-87, $225,
The Cross Terrain is a powerful little ski that has a good amount of sidecut for a ski its size, and thus it likes to turn. The Steep Terrain is a weightier, waxable version of the Cross Terrain. Both are well-priced skis suited for off-trail exploring.
Rossignol BC90 (waxless)
90-70-80mm, $250,
With its soft tip and relatively stiff tail, this is a versatile ski available at a good price that is one of the lightest skis in its class. The BC90 is Rossi’s widest backcountry touring ski, and we can only hope that Rossi will continue to respond to demands for even wider skis.
Backcountry touring aficionados put several different styles of bindings to good use, including SNS-BC and NNN-BC, but the 75mm 3-pin telemark binding is by far the most popular and versatile. Rottefella has recently developed a wide NNN binding that works well with all but the widest backcountry touring skis.
Voile 3-Pin Cable
This lightweight and versatile binding features adjustable cables for greater telemark turning performance on the downhill.  Pop the cables off, and enjoy true free heel freedom while touring.
Rottefella SuperTelemark
This Norwegian-made telemark binding has withstood the test of time, and for good reasons. It’s simple to use and easily fits all 75mm telemark and touring boots. Step in and go.
Rottefella NNN-BC Magnum
Until this binding came along, NNN bindings were designed primarily for Nordic skate and classic skiing, not downhill turning. The easy-to-use Magnums work great on all but the widest backcountry touring skis on the market, and are a great alternative for less aggressive skiers more concerned about touring performance.
The trend in backcountry touring boots is toward making them out of plastic. The two models of 75mm plastic boots featured here are more than capable of driving the new alpine-cambered touring skis like the Karhu Guide and Fischer Boundless through any type of snow, but they are also light, warm and flexible enough to be comfortable through many winters’ worth of touring.
Garmont Excursion
A supportive plastic shell, two buckles, a removable and thermo-formable liner, a Velcro power-strap…what more do you need?  This boot skis like a leather boot on the tour, but offers the comfort, support and performance of a well-designed plastic boot on the downhill. This is an incredibly versatile boot for the well-rounded Vermont skier.
Garmont Tour
This is one of the few leather 75mm boots on the market, and it’s no slouch. With Norwegian welted stitching, a padded cuff and waterproofed leather, this boot offers the ultimate in backcountry touring comfort. Similar Boots: Garmont Venture, Rossignol BCX9.
Scarpa T3
Not quite as soft and a little pricier than the Garmont Excursion, this is definitely the most powerful backcountry touring boot on the market. It’s ideal for the widest skis featured here, and, like the Garmont Excursion, suitable for the occasional lift-served day at your favorite ski area.
Alpina All Terrain (NNN)
This is one of the better NNN boots designed with backcountry touring skis in mind. Although not well suited for driving the wider backcountry touring skis on the market, the All Terrains offer incredible warmth, comfort and support when matched with lighter-weight skis and easygoing terrain.  Similar Boots: Fischer BCX 6, Rossignol BCX7.

Brian Mohr

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