Backcountry skis are more than just a toy to add to your winter quiver. They can be what you rely upon to get up to the top of some of the best, unfound runs in the world. When you don’t have access to heli-skiing or the convenience of a lift, the uphill travel is left to you. The right ski can make all the difference when you start to travel uphill, and you need them to be just as fit to charge down. This list of skis will help you find the right ski for your own personal wants and needs.
Best Softshell Backcountry Skis
1. Black Crows Camox Freebird
Weight: 6 lbs. 11 oz.
Black Crows skis have become hugely popular with backcountry skiers over the past few years. The Camox Freebird stands out as one of the perfectly balanced skis that will allow you to ski just about anything with great performance. These skis are built to be durable, meaning that you can ski them for multiple seasons where more lightweight skis may only be with you for the year. While they’re a little bit heavier, the tradeoff in downhill performance makes it worth it.
2. Movement Alp Tracks 106
Weight: 5 lbs. 13 oz.
Widths: 85, 90, 95, 100, 106mm
Up against the Camox Freebirds for the top pick are the Movement Alp Tracks. These skis bring a more lightweight option to the forefront of the competition, but make some sacrifices to get there. At under six pounds, these are some of the lightest skis you can get out there. They come in narrower and even more lightweight options, so you can continue to trim ounces. That makes these perfect for multi-day hut adventures and steep ascents when the weight will truly matter. The drawback is on the downhill. These skis don’t do as well on rough conditions, and can’t be as reliable at top speeds.
3. K2 Wayback 106
Weight: 6 lbs. 3 oz.
Widths: 80, 84, 88, 96, 106mm
The K2 Waybacks come in a wide range of widths, from 80-106mm. The K2 Waybacks have been chosen by some for huge backcountry missions that take you far when you need to cut weight. We’re choosing the 106ers for their versatility and balance of rocker and camber with mid-fat waists. Narrower versions will have some playfulness to their performance. These are a great ski for anyone just starting out, or even for those that have been at it for a while. They don’t cost a fortune, and they’ll be able to cruise through deep powder with ease.
4. DPS Skis Pagoda Tour 106 C2
Weight: 6 lbs. 13 oz.
Widths: 87, 94, 106mm
A ski that can do it all and last you through the years to come sounds like a dream. The DPS Pagoda Tours are exactly the skis you need if you’re willing to drop the heavy chunk of change. DPS uses high-end materials with unique construction that make these skis impressively durable while being designed to take you up and down with ease. They’re light enough for steep ascents, and shaped to bring you down just about any terrain depending on your waist width.
5. Black Diamond Helio Carbon 104
Weight: 5 lbs. 15 oz.
Widths: 88, 95, 104, 115mm
For long treks and multi-day adventures, the Black Diamond Helio Carbon skis bring it all. The wider-waisted 104mm design cuts weight drastically with a carbon design and it shows. Even with the narrow build on the 88mm, these skis perform surprisingly well on all kinds of terrain. The wider-waisted skis are well-suited for just about any type of skiing, from off-piste to the resort. If you’re wanting a ski that still is moderately lightweight, but has better floatation for deeper powder, the Black Diamond Helio Carbon 115 will take you atop some of the softest powder deep into the mountain range.
Backcountry Skis Buyers Guide
Uphill and Downhill Performance
Like we have already mentioned, you need to rely on these skis to get you up the mountain and back down it with ease. While that’s a lot to ask of a single ski design, engineers and gear techs have found some of the best combinations to make skis work both ways. You’ll be making a trade-off when it comes to this choice. If you choose a narrower, more lightweight ski to make the ascent easier, you’ll sacrifice comfort and power on your way down.
If you’re looking for a ski that can do a short uphill and kill on the descent, don’t focus too much on weight. If you’re planning long traverses, this is where weight will really make a difference.
Ski Waist Width
When you start considering ski waist width, you need to decide when and what you want to ski. If you’re looking for a ski that will provide optimal floatation in deep pow, you’ll want a ski that pushes 120mm. If you’re wanting a crossover ski that can do it all at the resort as well, a middle ground of 100-110mm will be more suitable to you. If you’re only concerned about trimming weight, tech has designed skis with a rocker that allows for skis with waist widths of 85-100mm to still get a decent amount of floatation.
Whether they’re strapped to your feet or your backpack, you’ll be carrying the weight of these skis one way or another. This is often the most-considered factor for a lot of backcountry skiers. The weight of a ski often comes down to its size and core materials. Carbon fiber skis with a waist width of 85mm are going to be lighter than a fiberglass ski that measures in at 120mm.
We’re not looking at skis that seem too far apart in weight, but when you start adding miles to your day and feet to your climb, every ounce will start to count. You can feel the difference of just a few ounces while skinning up a 5,000 foot climb. If you know you want to climb, pay more attention to weight over almost anything else.
Rocker and camber are the two terms you’ll hear when discussing the profile of a ski. They both affect your skiing drastically, which is why you need to pay attention to it. Rocker refers to the general curve of the ski in contact with the snow (long ways). Camber is more akin to the bottom of a boat along the width of the ski. A ski with an aggressive camber will do well on steep terrain where engagement of the ski’s edge is necessary for control.
There are a lot of trade-offs for increasing and decreasing rocker and camber. For a backcountry ski, adding rocker to the tip of a ski will help you float, but also reduces contact with the snow and will result in less traction. Again, it’s all about what you want the ski to do.