By Brian Mohr and Emily Johnson
With their ever-widening dimensions, rockered (or early rise) tips and tails, and reduced sidecuts, the latest downhill-oriented ski designs are making it more fun than ever to ski the softer snows of the northeast’s resorts, sidecountry zones and backcountry. An emerging trend this year is the availability of these design features across a wider variety of skis, including many mid-fat and lighter-weight skis. Thus, you don’t need to be lugging around big boots and big skis to enjoy the benefits of the latest and greatest ski technology. The latest skis are also more compatible than ever with both AT (alpine touring/randonee) and telemark bindings (gone are the days of a dedicated telemark or AT ski), with their reinforced binding mount areas, options for inserts and more. In general, there is also a greater variety of ski designs on the market today, than ever. Here’s a short list of the skis we feel are especially well suited to the backcountry-oriented northeastern skier.
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.
G3 – Jam – $540 – 125/95/114mm – genuineguidegear.com
G3’s new Jam is an excellent choice for emerging backcountry skiers (male or female) interested in exploring the great variety of northeastern snow conditions and terrain. It’s light and nimble enough to be driven comfortably with mid-weight, 2-3 buckle, telemark or AT boots, and its slightly rockered tip makes it especially easy to turn and maneuver in powder and softer snow conditions. The Gem is also priced affordably enough to be attractive to skiers not used to paying big money for high quality ski equipment.
Icelantic Scout – $540 – 160/110/130mm – icelanticboards.com
Yes, the Colorado-made Scouts are short – available in only one length, 143cm – but these skis have the ability to transform your skiing like few, if any, skis on the market. A quick turning, all-snow capable and uniquely dimensioned ski, this ski offers light- to moderate-weight skiers unprecedented control in northeastern snow conditions. As one Vermont skier puts it, “I suddenly found myself way ahead of skiers that I’ve always been behind.” Although the Scout can handle speed remarkably well in most snow conditions, it performs best when skiing with precision and control in the steep, narrow and technical confines of the northeastern backcountry. The Scout is likely one of the most maneuverable skis on the market. It’s shorter length and relatively light weight also make this ski a joy to tour and explore with.
K2 Coomback/ K2 Gotback – $825 – 135/102/121mm – k2skis.com
While the Coomback was designed with more aggressive, primarily male skiers in mind, and the Gotback for less aggressive, primarily female skiers, both skis share virtually the same dimensions, rockered-tip design, wood-core construction and snow-shedding, hydrophobic top sheet material. Light and nimble enough to tour on with mid-weight boots, but capable of handling all manners of snow, terrain and speed with grace, these are truly versatile skis for the northeast and beyond. The Gotbacks are also available in shorter lengths, down to 143cm in length.
Volkl – Nanuq – $825 – 130/94/113mm – volkl.com
The Nanuq is true to Volkl’s reputation for its well-constructed, stable and high-performing skis. This mid-fat ski, now in its second year, is a touch on the heavy side for its dimensions, but you’ll appreciate its stability and control in tricky snow conditions. This is a great choice for backcountry-inspired skiers who spend most of their ski time riding lifts and are looking for a one-ski quiver.
Backcountry Touring/Ski Mountaineering
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.
BD Drift (BD Starlet) – $700 – 136/100/122mm (134/100/121mm) – bdel.com
Designed for smooth skiers dedicated to backcountry touring and ski mountaineering, Black Diamond’s new Drift and Starlet are geared respectively to more aggressive, primarily male and lighter weight, primarily female skiers in mind. Featuring plenty of sidecut for tackling firm-snow conditions with ease, as well as a slightly rockered tip for extra control in soft snow conditions, these relatively lightweight, carbon-wrapped, paulownia wood-cored skis are a great dedicated-backcountry ski for skiers of all abilities. A reinforced core in the binding mount area also make these skis especially well suited to the extra torque generated by telemark bindings.
Madshus Annum – $340 – 109/78/95mm – madshus.com
Just a couple of years after K2 Sports acquired Karhu USA from its former Vermont owner, the brand has been laid to rest. However, the popular Karhu XCD line, including the XCD Guide, has been given new life under the Norwegian-based Madshus brand – also owned by K2 Sports. The Annum is virtually identical to the former Karhu XCD Guide, with its waxless base, full-length edges, moderate sidecut and powder-friendly dimensions, and it’s still available right here in Vermont. This is essentially the same ski used by New Englander Dave Watson when he skied from the heights of Pakistan’s K2 in the summer of 2009, and it’s a ski that’s as fun to ski on springtime corn in the big mountains as it is out the back door after dinner.
Movement Logic X – $1040 – 127/88/115mm – movementskis.com
Swiss-based Movement has revealed with its Logic-X one of the lightest-weight, high-performance backcountry skis on the market. It’s especially nimble and quick-turning in hard-packed conditions common to alpine environments. And when driven by more advanced skiers, it holds an edge very nicely through medium-radius turns in mixed snow conditions. With a relatively narrow, 88mm waist, it will leave some skiers wanting more in deep or thick snow conditions, but if going light, fast (touring) and high is a big priority, then this is your ski.
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.
Dynafit Stoke – $800 – 125/105/119mm – dynafit.com
Dynafit has broken into the backcountry-oriented powder skiing market with the release of its new Stoke. Relatively lightweight for its dimensions – thanks to a pauwlonia wood core – and featuring a rockered tip, solid skin attachment points and inserts for Dynafit bindings, this is dream ski for all but the hardest-charging and heavier-weighted backcountry powder skiers.
Fat-ypus E-Motion – $750 – 144/112/130mm – fat-ypus.com
Billed as a women’s specific big-mountain ski, this beautifully constructed ski – handmade in Colorado, USA – is no less than a high-performance, powder-hungry ski designed with light- to mid-weight skiers in mind. Much happier in more open terrain and soft snow conditions than in narrow and crusty eastern tree lines, this is a more traditionally cambered ski that excels in everything but eastern hardpack snow conditions.
Voile Charger – $595 – 137/112/126 – voileusa.com
Affordable and made in the USA, Voile has followed up on last year’s release of its much-loved and powder-loving Drifter with the release of a slimmed-down Charger. Featuring the same lightweight, aspen-wood core construction and rockered tip design as the Drifter, the Charger comes with about 10% less surface area all around, and a more skin track friendly waist. The Charger offers unprecedented control in untracked powder and soft snow conditions, and for stronger skiers, can cope sufficiently in any snow condition. In the shorter lengths, this ski is an excellent choice for exploratory ski touring in the backwoods of the northeast.