As skis have almost universally grown lighter, the distinctions between backcountry skis and resort skis have blurred. Below we’ve included a few dedicated backcountry skis, but also what we call backcountry crossover skis, which are simply skis that we’ve found work well in both worlds. Waist width is still paramount. If you plan on blowing up pow all day then look for All Mountain Powder widths greater than 100 millimeters underfoot. If you tend to ski in low tide conditions on chalky steeps, start with waist widths between 90 and 100 millimeters. Weight matters, too. If you tour a lot, look for lighter skis. If you tend to only tour out of areas after riding lifts to the uncontrolled backcountry, then burlier skis perform better thanks to their increased stability and bashing power on the down.
Line Vision 98 | Dimensions: 131/98/119 | MSRP: $800
The Vision 98 is proof that the lines between backcountry and resort skis have forever been blurred. And that’s a good thing. At 803 grams, it’s light enough for extended ski tours if you mount it with an AT binding. But that same weight savings is a hit among skiers with park and pipe backgrounds that love to pop off features, both natural and manmade. Credit for the svelte feel comes from Line’s new construction that replaces the old metal with aramid, carbon, and fiberglass. At our Steamboat test, the Vision was the lightest and slashiest ski in the All Mountain category. It couldn’t go head-to-head with the heavier metal skis on serious hardpack, but if you’re looking at this Line, you value smearing over carving anyway. Swami Gripe: Even in a crossover ski we want more power. Swami Like: “Super poppy, yet stable at speed for the weight,” said a tester.
Blizzard Zero G 105 | Dimensions: 134/105/120 | MSRP: $960
Our testers considered Blizzard’s Zero G 108 the best backcountry ski ever made. It was light enough for long days of touring, but it ripped nearly as well as a full-on resort ski on the way back down. Incredibly, the new Zero G 105 is better still. It got lighter for one thing: a new three-dimensional carbon frame shaved 200-plus grams from the pair. And a new sidecut (the tips and tails flare out just a bit more) makes for a more playful ride on spring corn in the backcountry. (It’s still a stretched out 23-meter turn radius though, deep sidecuts feel hooky in breakable crust and wind-affected snow.) The flex pattern is also smooth and consistent, giving the 105 a feel similar to autopilot—which is nice because in the backcountry you should be paying attention to your surroundings as much as you’re monitoring your shredding. Again, we found that for the weight (1,530 grams), the new 105 offers the best downhill performance of any ski on the market. Swami Gripe: No gripes. Swami Like: “It’s noticeably lighter weight on the uptrack,” said a tester, “but while it doesn’t carve quite as nice on groomers, it also performs noticeably better in the backcountry conditions it was designed for on the way back down.”
DPS Special Edition Alchemist Uschi 94 C2 | Dimensions: 127/94/108 | MSRP: $1,299
Because it’s built with DPS’s elite full carbon (C2) construction around an aspen wood core, the 165 centimeter Uschi only weighs 1,490 grams. Naturally, it loves to pop from turn-to-turn, pivot, and smear. Some of our bigger women testers out-skied it in their 130-flex boots on just groomed hardpack, but in this construction the Uschi isn’t built for them anyway. “So much fun at moderate speeds in tight places,” said a tester. “You can push them through crud and release the turn with very little effort.” Inbounds we’d take them out in soft conditions and spend most of our time hunting for still softer snow in the trees and on the edges of the bowls. But this DPS excels as a safe terrain backcountry ski too. It will make low-angle powder a ton of fun. Swami Gripe: They get chattery on hard snow at high speeds. Swami Like: With an 18-meter turn radius they can knock off carved turns on spring corn and still handle boot deep powder too.
DPS Alchemist Wailer 100 RP | Dimensions: 133/100/118 | MSRP: $1,299
This soft, forgiving, and buttery DPS is our pick for the type of backcountry skiing most people do most of the time—meaning relatively low-angle with speeds to match. The focus when skiing that type of terrain should be about making soft snow as fun as humanly possible, and that’s where the Wailer 100 in this lightweight, (carbon and wood) construction really excels. The Wailer was the easiest ski in the test to mush, pivot, and smear through off-trail turns. For one tired tester with blown knees, it made exploring some trees at the day’s end more of a joy than a chore. And at 1,805 grams it’s more than lightweight enough for extended ski tours in search of low-angle hippie pow. That’s not a knock. The Wailer is built for a certain slashy style of skiing and it performs well at that. DPS’s RP (Resort Powder) Shaping only hones that surfy feel. Swami Gripe: This is not a hardpack ski. It’s specialty powder gear. Swami Like: “So easy to pivot off-trail that it changes your skiing style,” said a tester.
Scott Slight 100 | Dimensions: 39/100/129 | MSRP: $850
There’s enough sidecut on the Slight 100 for shredding GS turns inbounds or on the type of perfect corn they get on the PNW volcanoes. But because Scott kept the heavy sheets of metal out of this wood core ski it only weighs 1,700 grams. Just enough tip rocker paired with a progressive flex make it super buttery to push into turns. And the 100 millimeter waist width is in our sweet spot for a true all-conditions ski in terms of float. Which is to say that the Slight 100 is an ideal crossover ski. In good snow, it’s a blast inbounds and out. And it works well on hardpack too, you just need to let off the gas a little bit. We’d trade that for the lively ride and energy return the Slight delivers. Swami Gripe: We’ve found that skis without metal in them either have a top-end speed limit or they’re so damp that they get dull. The Slight has a speed limit on rugged snow. Swami Like: “Great edgehold for such a lightweight,” said a tester. “Makes a nice round carve, but you can sluff them around too.”
Scott Slight 93 W | Dimensions: 132/89/120 | MSRP: $800
Our take? If you’re skiing a ski of this width and weight in the backcountry or at the resort, you’re looking to get some fun short-swing carving more than you’re thinking about floatation in deep snow or endless stability. Scott’s Slight 93 W features a lightweight build (the 165cm is only 1,470 grams) that’s a fine weight for extended tours or multiple bootpacks, but it also comes with a fun and dynamic 14-meter turn radius in that same length. Fully energized, “The Slight has a crisp, lively feel, and firm edgehold,” said a tester. “It excels at fall line skiing on soft snow.” Credit for the skis lightness rests with an air-channeled wood core (the skis come out of the Fischer factory) and carbon/aramid weave instead of heavy metal. Swami Gripe: The Slight is marketed as a crossover ski, so it’s lightweight by design. Don’t buy it if you’re looking for an East Coast boilerplate ski to be driven at top speeds. Swami Like: Paired with a midweight AT boot, you’d be dicing up spring corn.
Black Diamond Helio Recon 105 | Dimensions: 132/105/118 | MSRP: $669
BD has long known that backcountry ski performance is about more than gram counting. If you’re skiing steep terrain at speed in spring when conditions firm up or in winter when the snowpack allows, you need a platform to stand on that can absorb some chatter. The Helio 105 is built in Austria around a poplar wood core. The construction features powerful full sidewalls (no cap) and a special weave of fibers helps damp shock. The ski weighs 1,700 grams, a few hundred grams heavier than an ultralight ski of this width, but it doesn’t feel heavy while climbing, and it’s damp and stable on the way back down. We especially like the 21-meter turn radius, which, because it’s straighter, makes for better edge engagement on steep snow and feels less hooky in tricky breakable crust. Swami Gripe: Not a gripe, but a note: We’ve found that matching up the strength of your boot to the strength of the ski matters. You wouldn’t want to drive the 105 with a superlight boot. Swami Like: “The combination of the progressive flex, damp ride, and long turn sidecut, make for a predictable ski,” said a tester. “And that translates to confidence in the backcountry.”