Skis designed with the downhill oriented skier in mind (lift served and backcountry, telmark 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, which are ski tips that begin to lift further 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. Some of the shorter skis on the market are also proving to be especially well-suited to backcountry skiers who spend a lot of time in the relatively tight confines of the natural northeastern forest.
Big Powder/Big Snow
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.
Black Diamond Justice
Dimensions: 138-115-123 (188cm) Lengths: 175/185cm Weight: 4.15kg (9.2lbs)
Featuring a wood-core, minimal camber, a rockered tip and enough sidecut for enhancing control in harder snow conditions, this ski loves powder – and lots of it. Weighing in a 9.2 lbs, it’s a bit heavy to be lugging around in the backcountry, but with the four buckle boots needed to really drive this ski to its full potential, it won’t really matter if you are in solid touring shape. From a backcountry standpoint, we view these as quiver skis, ideal for days when skiing powder is the main objective, or for powdery days when a combination of lift-riding and sidecountry touring is in the cards.
Dimensions: 151-125-138 (182cm) Lengths: 162/172/182/192cm Weight: 3.8kg (8.6lbs)
Less costly than most other skis in its class, and made in the USA (Salt Lake City, that is), 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, it is a great choice among seasoned skiers as a dedicated backcountry powder ski. Still, the Drifter can be matched up with a 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 tighest confines of the Vermont forest.
G3 Zest (Women’s)
Dimensions: 132-100-123 (166cm) Lengths: 166/172cm Weight: 3.4kg (7.5lbs)
This is a colorful and beautifully designed wood-core ski that is one of the more versatile rocker-tipped skis out there. Still, it is not something we would qualify as a do-anything ski. When driven by a strong skier, it can handle the hard pack and icy conditions we have to cope with sometimes, 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.
Black Diamond Joule(Women’s)
Dimensions: 126-95-114 (188cm) Lengths: 175/185cm Weight: 4.15kg (9.2lbs)
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, this ski 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 in-bounds for hours on end. This is simple a great example of a versatile ski made by one of the world’s most renowned ski manufacturers.
Dimensions: 140-105-130(168cm) Lengths: 156/168/181cm Weight: 3.3kg (7.2lbs)
We began putting Icelantic to the test a couple of seasons back, and we are thoroughly impressed with the results. Built to last in Colorado, USA, Icelantic’s durable and 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 the 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, this is a great choice, when combined with a three-buckle or mid-weight boot, for skiers interested in touring convenience and manueverability as much as downhill performance.
Karhu Storm BC
Dimensions: 126-96-117 (177cm) Lengths: 170/177/184cm Weight: 3.3kg (7.3lbs)
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, this ski 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 with for days on end, it can be driven with either a three or four-buckled boot with great results.
These are skis for skiers 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.
Karhu XCD Guide
Dimensions: 109-78-95 (175cm) Lengths: 165/175/185/195cm Weight: 2.6kg (5.8lbs)
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 and 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 conditions, 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 under the hardwood canopy.
Dynafit Seven Summits
Dimensions: 113/78/100 (170cm) Lengths: 156/163/170/178cm Weight: 2.64kg (5.8lbs)
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 throw at us. Randonee racers also love the lightweight and nimble nature of this ski.
By Brian Mohr and Emily Johnson
(Originally published in Vermont Sports – Dec 2010)