For the best backcountry skis, you want something that can handle variable conditions. A lightweight ski that can hit deep powdery runs and spring slush with the same level of control is ideal. In this article, we’ll round up the best of the best to get you ready for your next (or first) backcountry adventure.
- DPS SKIS 106C2 Pagoda Tour
- Black Crows Camox Freebird
- Volkl Rise Beyond 96
- Black Diamond HELIO CARBON 104 SKIS
- Atomic BLACKLAND 98 W
- Salomon MTN 96 CARBON
DPS Skis 106C2 Pagoda Tour
DPS has made a name for developing really fun and nimble skis; the 106C2 Pagoda Tour continues the trend. This powerful yet lightweight ski is ready to bust into the backcountry with smooth turns and stability at high speeds.
- Width: 106 mm underfoot, 137 mm tip, 121 mm tail
- Profile: Rocker/Camber/Rocker
- Powerful ski
- Can ski hardpack well
- Lightweight for touring
- Smooth downhill ski
- Stable at high speeds
- Can handle powder
- Not the best for frozen/Icy conditions
Black Crows Camox Freebird
This dependable backcountry generalist is for advanced skiers looking for something that can handle a lot of different conditions. While highly specialized skis excel in their respective focus, if you’re just looking for one backcountry ski to get it done, Black Crows Camox Freebird makes a strong case for itself.
- Width: 96 mm underfoot, 133 mm tip, 114 mm tail
- Profile: Rocker/Camber/Flat tail
- Stable at speed
- Good across the board
- Decent flotation
- Good grip on hard pack
- Can ski through crud well
- The balanced profile means that the skis can do a lot but won’t be the top contender in any given environment.
Volkl Rise Beyond 96
This all-mountain backcountry ski is a dependable carver that’s quick to maneuver, which leads to joyful tree and chute skiing. The lightweight design also makes it a winner in the uphill touring category. The only area the Volkl has a bit of trouble in is at high speeds, but for the casual backcountry cruiser, this is a mint choice.
- Width: 96 mm underfoot, 138 mm tip, 119 mm tail
- Profile: Rocker/Camber/semi-flat tail
- Dependable carver
- Easy to maneuver
- Lightweight ski
- Easy to tour uphill with
- Operates best at relatively slow speeds
Black Diamond HELIO CARBON 104 SKIS
This mid-winter monster is made for long hauls into the backcountry, where the goal is to slice through as much deep powder as you can find. While they run well at the resort, these skis demand more soft snow than hard snow, which limits their best looks to the core winter months.
- Width: 104 mm underfoot, 118 mm tip, 131 mm tail
- Profile: Rocker/Camber/Rocker
- Great long-distance touring skis
- Great dampening ability
- Excels in mid-winter conditions
- Good flotation in the powder
- Not great for the highly variable snow conditions in the early and latter part of the snow season
Atomic BACKLAND 98 W
The Atomic Backland 98 is a wonderful women's touring ski that handles piste terrain well while providing a great excuse to get into the backcountry. It’s a lightweight and easy-to-control ski best for intermediate and advanced-intermediate skiers. Whether you're chasing knee-deep powder or slicing through hardpack, you’ll find a use for this highly versatile ski.
- Width: 98 mm underfoot, 126.5-128.5 mm tip, 117-119 mm tail
- Profile: Rocker/Camber/Rocker
- Surprisingly great piste skiing performance
- Good powder flotation
- Intermediate skier focused
- Easy to handle
- A generalist ski that works well for most situations but isn’t the most specialized powder shredder or on-piste ski.
Salomon MTN 96 CARBON
This is a great moderate backcountry adventure ski. The lightweight design and skin tail clip allow for functional and easy uphill movement, while the stability and decent powder flotation give it great control on the downhill.
- Width: 95 mm underfoot, 129 mm tip, 115 mm tail
- Profile: Rocker/Camber
- Good uphill and downhill ability
- All-mountain capabilities
- Stays stable at higher speeds
- Deals with low to moderate powder
- Skin tail clip
- Not wide enough for deep powder.
How to Choose Backcountry Skis
Before settling on the best backcountry skis, take a look at the points below, designed to help you on your ski-buying journey.
Sizing your skis is important, and there are some general guidelines to follow. For beginners, you want a ski length that stands vertically from the floor to your chin. Intermediates will want a bit longer, up to about the bridge of your nose or lower forehead. Advanced and expert skiers will want a ski with a vertical length up to the top of their head.
Waist width, or width underfoot, is measured in millimetres across the ski where your bindings are. For a backcountry ski, you want a bit more width than a piste carving ski to deal with variable terrain and conditions. A good range for the best backcountry ski is 92-108.
For additional tips, tricks and advice, visit our article on choosing the right skis.
Ski Profile: Rocker & Camber
Camber is a natural bend in the shape of a ski. It is most obvious when laying a ski down on a flat surface and looking at it from the side. If a ski has a camber, you’ll see that the middle of the ski is elevated.
The purpose of camber is to help maintain edge control while skiing. When you turn, you push down on your skis, which pushes down the camber. When you exit a turn, the pressure is relieved, and with the natural camber, you’ll bounce back up faster and with less energy burned.
Rocker is a camber in reverse. In this scenario, the center of the ski is the lowest to the surface, while the ski bends up at the tip and tail. More rocker and less camber mean your maneuverability increases but your stability at speed and on icy terrain goes down.
The best backcountry skis will usually come in a few varieties. You can have a hybrid rocker profile with camber underfoot. Some backcountry skis have a full rocker with no camber, and some others have rocker up front, camber underfoot and a flatter tail.
Women’s Specific Touring Skis
As the ski industry advances, more options become available. In the past, women’s skis were usually just men’s skis, but shorter and more colourful. That is now changing.
Women’s specific backcountry ski options have been rapidly increasing. It is now possible to find the best backcountry skis for women that address deficiencies in the historical presentation of women’s specific skis. A lot of skis have unisex applications, so a women’s or men’s specific ski is not always strictly necessary, but it is nice to have a bevy of options to peruse.
Touring vs. Backcountry skis
These are actually similar concepts with regional differences across the globe. Backcountry skis and touring skis are both used primarily outside of established ski resorts. Backcountry is more US-centric terminology while touring has a European origin.
Since touring and backcountry skiing takes place outside of ski resort boundaries, a lot of considerations have to come into mind to reduce the dangers. If you’re interested in backcountry skiing, please read our backcountry guide for beginners. Be safe out there!
Types of ski depending on location (east vs. west)
Snow conditions change depending on local geography.
The west coast gets pounded with snow, but it’s often heavy because of the high humidity content. Intermountain locations near the Continental Divide benefit from less humidity, which makes the powder that falls lighter and fluffier. Lighter skis operate better in lighter snow.
East Coast skiing is also different, with many locations experiencing a decent amount of ice and hardpack. When the snow does fall, it’s also quite heavy. A ski that has good flotation, good edge control and one that is stable at speed would be a great buy for the east coast.
Compatibility with other important equipment
The best backcountry skis are just one of several components you need to get ready for ski touring. One of the most important elements after you get a ski is backcountry bindings, which you need to mount (or have mounted) on your skis to allow uphill movement. For a detailed review, please read our guide on how to mount ski bindings.
Men’s ski boots or women’s ski boots are also a critical part, and many tech bindings only take tech-compatible boots. Hybrid bindings are a little more forgiving and can accept resort boots. In either scenario, check the compatibility of your boots, bindings and skis before buying a setup that doesn’t fit together well.
For more information, visit our article on choosing ski boots.
Q: What are touring skis?
A: Touring skis are specialized skis that offer all-mountain capabilities for terrain outside of established resorts.
Q: Can any ski be a touring ski?
A: Theoretically, yes. There is, however, a sweet spot for the best backcountry skis with a width that can handle variable conditions without becoming challenging. Our list represents that range.
Q: Are shorter skis better for touring?
A: It depends on what you're skiing. Shorter skis are better for jumps, tricks, trees and tight areas that demand short turns. Longer, more powerful skis are better suited for medium to wide turns down big mountain faces.
Backcountry skiing is a wonderful experience. It can also feature wildly variable terrain depending on when you go. The best backcountry skis in this article reflect the optimal width, powder flotation, edge control and maneuverability needed to take your craft beyond the resort ropes.