Gear Up With Backcountry Skis with Substance and Style (2021)

Headlamp? Check. Navigation device? Check. First-aid kit, gloves, poles? Check, check, check.

The list of what you need to enjoy backcountry skiing is lengthy, no doubt. And, yes. You do need it all to make it a safe and, therefore, pleasurable adventure.

But, need it be pointed out? Without the correct skis, you will go nowhere fast.

Finding those well-rounded backcountry skis can feel as punishing as skiing endless moguls.

There are a lot of options out there when it comes to finding the right skis to go underfoot.

Your ability to make it through the backcountry depends on making good choices before you head out there.   

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Backcountry Skis are as Special as the Terrain You’ll Tackle

Backcountry skiing differs from traditional downhill skiing and cross-country skiing.

Skiing “backcountry” means you get off the beaten path, determine your own course, and venture onto ungroomed land into sometimes seemingly unchartered territory.

From swift down hills to endless inclines, sharp turns to sudden stops, backcountry skiing involves anticipating the unanticipated.  

If backcountry skis were a celebrity, they would be EGOT winner Jamie Foxx.  They need to be able to do it all and do it well.

There is no “kind of” when avoiding an accident or “sort of stopping” advised when facing ski challenges far away from patrols and aid stations.

You’ll face a variety of conditions, snow types and terrain: quick downhills, long inclines, wet snow, ice, rocks. This means you need skis that respond to everything!

You need skis that glide and go. Equally important, you need skis that will stop on a dime when you need them too.

And, since your powerhouse legs will be your very own ski lift, you need skis you can maneuver uphill and control on the way down.

Things to Look for in Backcountry Skis

Backcountry skis essentially are the best of all worlds. They have to be light enough to keep you moving, yet heavy enough to be durable.

Skis that are made to zoom you through groomed courses might not be sturdy enough to carry you through hours on rough terrain. In contrast, skis that are too heavy will wipe you out, sapping your energy as you struggle up inclines.

Backcountry skis should also have a good adjustable traction system on the front and back end of the ski. Backcountry skis feature spots for attachable skins that are secured through clips and glue.

The skins can be trimmed or come in self-cut styles and are made of various synthetic and natural materials.

Bindings on backcountry skis do not fix your heel in place. You need to be able to lift the back of your foot off of the ski in order to move smoothly uphill.

Make sure the skis you buy mesh with the boots and bindings you intend to use. If in doubt, contact the manufacturer.

One last thing to consider is the length and width of the skis. Narrow might mean sleek and sexy on groomed downhills.  

You might think the longer, the better. But, backcountry skiing is a different beast than patrolled resort romps.

What looks and feels fantastic on a streamlined resort slope, might not serve you on a weeklong “expect the unexpected” excursion. 

Can You Ski Backcountry without Special Skis?

Sure. You could try to ski backcountry on any ski. But, just because you can try something does not mean you should! 

Backcountry skiing is no joke.

Once you are off a patrolled area and in remote areas, you are your own first responder and your skis are your ticket out of dangerous situations.  You need the right ski.

And, you need suitable bindings and boots on well-chosen skis.

AND you need a lot of other equipment to ensure your trip remains an adventure, and doesn’t become someone else’s rescue mission.

An ounce of prevention…do your research.

Choosing Backcountry Skis – Things to Consider:

  • Warranty. When you are dropping more than $500 on any piece of equipment that you not only trust with your safety, but you want to last, a solid warranty can be reassuring.
  • Durability. A warranty is useful if something happens to your skis and you make it back from a trip safely. But, durability is essential during an excursion. Make sure craftsmanship is top-notch and materials are solid.
  • Range of Sizes. Good skis should come in a variety of sizes that suit the height and skill levels of various users.
  • Response. Backcountry skis should pay attention to pivot points, tip and tail
  • Weight.  A happy medium is good when it comes to weight to give ample control up and downhill and in various snow conditions.
  • Camber. While some skis are flat in the middle, responsive backcountry skis will have an arch in the middle for spring.

Weekender Picks: Best Backcountry Skis

Here’s a quick look at our favorite options for good backcountry skis. These are great options for beginners and intermediate level backcountry ski enthusiasts.

1.Black Diamond Helio Recon 105 Skis – Men’s 2019/2020

Helio Skis are a trusted brand. They are made in Austria where Alpine (backcountry) skiing is some of the best to be found.

Black Diamond Helio Recon 105 Skis

It makes sense that the skis coming from that area are also top notch. This model is designed to perform well on both soft and hard snow.

Special attention is paid to damping technology to reduce vibration and provide a smooth ride in most circumstances.

Pros

  • Poplar core. Poplar is durable, yet lightweight.
  • ABS Sidewall. This dense plastic is placed strategically to protect the ski’s core on rough terrain.
  • Rockered Tip and Tail provides expert control.
  • Cambered for smooth ride.
  • Striped Design that increases visibility.
  • Three sizes.

Cons

  • Poplar core is a bit heavier than bamboo or paulownia wood that might be used in other skis.
  • Those looking for a super cool paint job might not like the utilitarian stripes.

Takeaway: Black Diamond Helio Recon 105 backcountry skis can be found at a price-point slightly lower than the competition. And, if they deliver what is promised, they look to be a good buy. 

The reinforced sidewall on the core is a nice feature. The skis should hold up year after year. Keen attention has been paid to constructing a durable, responsive ski that can be used in all conditions on all terrain.

2. Icelantic Skis Mystic 97 Skis – Women’s-2020/2021

best backcountry skis for women

Perhaps these are the skis for the downright fearless. You’ve got to love a company that has an automatic “no questions asked” 3 year warranty.

Icelantic Skis Mystic 97 Skis

Icelantic seems to understand the soul of backcountry skiers. The company touts this Mystic series ski as both fast and versatile.

Attention is paid to making the camber height high enough to provide needed spring, but low enough to function well when not going downhill.

Pros

  • Slight underfoot camber, yet flat enough for good maneuverability.
  • Artistic Graphic by Travis Parr lends an air of creativity that also helps you remember right from left!
  • Three Year No Questions Asked Warranty
  • Handmade. There is pride in Colorado based craftsmanship.
  • Paulownia Core means skis are lightweight and durable.
  • Three sizes.
  • Rockered Tip and Tail.

Cons

  • Maybe having a mermaid on your skis is not your thing.
  • Slight camber (which means slight “flatness”) might not appeal to all.

Takeaway: Icelantic Skis’ crafters pay attention to every detail in the Mystic 97 Women’s Ski. The lightweight materials make them appealing for use in all conditions.

The slightly cambered ski makes them responsive and maneuverable. The artistic design by Travis Parr adds both style and visibility.

While these skis are slightly more expensive than some other skis out there, who can argue with a “no questions asked” warranty?

3. Icelantic Skis Natural 101 Skis – Men’s 2020/2021

You just might find your inner ski beast on a set of Icelantic Skis – Natural 101 Men’s Skis.

Icelantic Skis Natural 101 Skis

This 2020/2021 features a yeti that will inspire you to take-on the backcountry in style. Designed for seamless transition from inclines to declines, this might be the ski for you.

Lightweight, snappy and powerful, the men’s Icelantic Skis Natural 101 skis will turn you into a powder-touring machine this winter. They’re light on the climb up and smooth on the way back down.

Pros

  • 5mm underfoot Camber AND Slight Rockered Tails.
  • Paulownia Wood for lightweight durability.
  • No Questions Asked Warranty good for 3 years.
  • Handmade in Colorado.
  • Showcases Travis Parr Artwork.
  • Three Sizes.

Cons

  • If you don’t like Yetis, you might not like this ski staring back at you!
  • The skis are slightly more expensive than some other models out there.
  • Core is strong, but not reinforced with compressed plastic.

Takeaway: Icelantic Skis Natural 101 Men’s Skis 2020/2021 emphasize utility, durability, maneuverability and fun. If you are anti-yeti, they might not fit your style.

But, the lightweight design and attention to camber height make these a responsive ride on the way up and down. They are priced a bit higher than some other backcountry skis out there, but they have a great warrantee.

Final Word

If you want to backcountry ski, do your homework. Practice skiing! Don’t buy before you try the sport and master some basics.

This will help you figure out what your specific needs are based on your ability, your budget and the terrain you will be tackling.

If you are already a seasoned skier, remember that there is a reason many of these skis come with a “no questions asked” warranty. Accidents happen in spite of mad skill levels.  

So, as much as you research the skis you purchase. Make sure you invest in basic skill and knowledge in addition to all of the other appropriate equipment that goes along with what will be under your feet.

There are several informative backcountry skiing checklists for enthusiasts to peruse before venturing out.

Once you’re ready to tackle the backcountry, there are some high quality ski options out there that will give you the confidence to maximize the “try” in “backcountry” skiing to make it breathtaking, fabulous fun.

image via Deposit Photos

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