Alpine Ski Touring Skis — Backcountry Gear Basics

Post by blogger | September 18, 2013      

Editor’s note: This was a ski touring how-to post buried in our archives. It got a ton of traffic, probably from folks new to the sport and looking for answers. Forthwith lies a new version I’ll keep updated so it’s current. Feedback and suggestions appreciated. Bear in mind I’m trying to keep this BASIC for newcomers needing a foundational overview. I considered adding boot and binding tips, but let’s keep this post to just skis and an overview. Remember, just the basics.

Our 1973 crew in the Great Icefall, Muldrow Glacier, Denali. Tom 'Cardo' Merrill, Tim Lane and Kurt Sontag (left to right).

Our 1973 crew in the Great Icefall, Muldrow Glacier, Denali. Tom 'Cardo' Merrill, Tim Lane and Kurt Sontag (left to right). We used a variety of ski gear, all of which appears stone-age compared to what we have now. Nonetheless we did ski most of the way, by knowing the limits of our equipmment which at the time was state-of-art. Click all images to enlarge.

Denali, 1973, Muldrow Glacier. All our group of climbing bums, world travelers, and NOLS instructors had in common was lack of experience — and keen interest in backcountry mountain skiing.

We did not have a clue about how to tackle the gigantic Muldrow Glacier. It was downright intimidating, with all the talk about icefalls and pulmonary edema, not to mention the “hill of cracks,” a square mile of crevasses that bulged from the glacier like a rotten grapefruit.

Nonetheless, one thing was known: we would travel with ski touring gear — specialized skis, boots and bindings.

In those days the Park Service didn’t see eye to eye with skiers, and the ranger we spoke with expressed their position succinctly: “You guys should know”, he said, “that the last two guys to ski tour on the Muldrow had a couple of mountains named for them — after they skied into a crevasse and died.”

Contrast Denali in 1973 to Denali 2010 when I skied off the summit with my son and crew. Amazingly optimal gear, even if it was about 20 below zero fahrenheit.

Contrast Denali in 1973 to Denali 2010 when I skied off the summit with my son and crew. Amazingly optimal gear. Photo is my first bit of skiing coming off the exact summit -- it was about 20 below zero Fahrenheit. We used Dynafit tech bindings on a variety of ski models that were all designed specifically for ski mountaineering. While pushed to the limit, the gear worked well. Our lives depended on it.

Mount Coven and Mount Carpe aside, ski mountaineering in 1973 was a primitive sport. Nevertheless we were adamant about using skis on the Muldrow. We all skied more than we walked, and enticement is a weak word for the feelings evoked by the thought of the snow blanketed mass of Denali in May (lust is a closer description).

To keep the Park Service happy we carried a pair of snowshoes for each person, and in case of a broken ski we carried an extra pair. Our loads were heavy. But for every plodding step up the mountain, there was a few more feet of skiing back down. As we proved, skiing worked.

Since those days, cable bindings, soft leather boots, and a host of other marginally effective ski equipment has passed by the wayside. Now people are doing astounding things in the mountains with backcountry skiing equipment that is versatile, lightweight, and reliable.

Yet like other tools, ski gear is only as good as the user, and no tool is perfect for every job. Choosing ski mountaineering equipment is a maze of compromise and qualification. The right choices bring great rewards; the wrong, untold misery.

Alpine touring skis, boots and bindings, are covered here. First, a clarification of terms. Alpine ski touring (also known as AT or randonnee) is backcountry skiing in mountain terrain with alpine width or wider skis (at least about 80 mm at the waist, or the narrowest part of the ski), plastic ski boots, and bindings that allow vertical heel movement for walking and a latched down heel for downhill skiing.

Skiing with a heel that is always free to move up and down is called “free heel skiing” or “telemarking.” In reality, the definitions aren’t so clear cut. You can free heel ski on alpine touring equipment (though you can’t really telemark turn). Conversely, it is possible to secure the heel of your boot on a free heel rigs, and recent telemark gear can be set up with so much tension holding your heel down it is really closer to fixed heel AT gear than its nordic roots. Indeed, the fact that telemark gear is frequently heavier than alpine ski touring AT gear should send a clear message.

When you shop for gear, acquire well made and functional items that are proven by broad consumer use over a few seasons. Einstein said that “relativity is when a man sits with a pretty girl for an hour, and it seems like a minute; but let him sit on a hot stove for a minute — and it is longer than any hour.” If Einstein was a mountaineer, he might have said the same thing about ski gear. Poor equipment can make a day seem like a year (or eternity, if you get massive failure in the wrong place) — with good gear a day will never be long enough.

One word describes the price of AT gear: astronomical. In part this is due to exchange rates, but it also hinges on the small size of the market along with the present scorching pace of expensive innovation. You can cut costs by buying use gear or shopping sale prices, but don’t cut corners in terms of quality. Bad boots will ski poorly and wreck your feet, while poor bindings will make your setup heavy or unsafe. The wrong skis will just make you cuss and go home. That said, any good “all mountain all terrain” alpine ski bought with an on-sale price will work fine as a backcountry ski.

Specialized AT backcountry skis save weight and are designed to handle varied conditions. Around 180 cm is a common length for the average male backcountry skier. If you’re heavier and tend to ski fast in powder, a slightly longer (or fatter) ski might make your grin hurt more.

Many find it unpleasant to adjust to a radically different ski on their rare backcountry trips. If this is the case, simply mount AT bindings on your favorite alpine boards and go. Except for ultra-light touring skis, alpine and backcountry skis are virtually the same thing.

As with your other gear consider your primary use when choosing skis. Many people reserve their ski touring days for springtime when snow is often compacted, while others stick to a diet of mid-winter fluff. Moreover, it is common for highly active backcountry skiers to encounter nearly any snow condition imaginable. If you tend to only ski tour during a specific season, by all means shop a ski that trends to the type of snow you’re likely to encounter. If you expect to experience nearly anything in the nieve department, purchase a plank that’s known to be “all conditions, all terrain,” as most branded backcountry skis are.

Above all, don’t obsess on your skis. Consider the fact that while ski design varies, skis all fall under the same general design umbrella. Thus, any ski can ace any snow — with a good pilot. Work on your technique.

Alpine Touring (“AT”) skis have to do two things: ski up and ski down natural snow. The catch is “natural snow” — it comes in so many varieties that the Eskimos have 300 names for it. So, your AT skis have to handle varied snow. With space-age materials they ought to be able to build a ski that will do anything. Not so.

Although today’s ski technology is capable of working wonders, it hasn’t taken the step up to miracles. There are skis that are perfect for soft snow, and skis that are great for hard snow, but it’s tough to get skis that excel in both. A few skis come close to the ideal, but each is still a compromise in some area of performance.

Okay, the choices are many and hard. How do you hack through the jungle? To begin, form an image of your skiing style, both present and future. Do you want the security and comfort of an AT setup for your next hut trip? Are you planning on mostly lift serviced skiing, but want a setup for the occasional sidecountry hike to the powder runs on the back side? Are you doing long winter walks with a bit of skiing thrown in? Or will you explore the extreme skiing arena?


Volkl Nunataq ski won awards in both 2012 and 2013. The 139/107/123 width profile (tip, waist, tail) is perfect for a variety of backcountry skiing situations. Wider can also be effective, but may cause the ski to be too heavy for significant uphill travel. Nunataq makes effective use of 'rocker' described below.

Next, identify the season when you do most of your skiing, and the snow conditions you expect. Then think about your spend; you can opt for a budget outfit by purchasing used alpine skis and boots, upgraded with new bindings and climbing skins. Or you can go whole hog for a state of the art setup. Above all, know the types of snow you’ll be skiing, purchase accordingly, and be aware of the fact that any ski will be a compromise in some conditions.

An easy way to conceptualize ski touring gear is to remember the bindings come first in terms of providing function. You can’t truly ski tour without bindings that come unlatched at the heel. Next, you need climbing skins. Beyond those two essentials you can use alpine boots for short tours, but modern backcountry ski boots let your ankle hinge for an efficient and comfortable stride. Again, skis are the least of your shopping problems.

There are generally two ways of going about acquiring ski touring skis. The first is easier on the pocketbook: purchase one pair of skis that work best in the conditions you will encounter most often, then learn to get the best out of them in other types of snow. The best way to do this is seek out adverse conditions at a ski area. If you have soft snow boards, seek out the hardest steepest ice you can find. If you’ve chosen a hard snow ski practice skiing extreme guano snow. The second option is one usually taken by professional skiers and ski fanatics: accumulate a quiver of skis and choose your daily boards the way a golfer picks a club. Ski quivers can burn up your credit card, but most of the time you’ll have the best tool for the job at hand.

Below are the key features of modern skis and how they affect performance.

Length: Shorter skis (between 150 centimeters and 180 centimeters in length) weigh less, are easier to carry on a pack, and will turn with ease through the tightest trees and narrowest couloirs. Compact skis are also better for the intermediate skier because mistakes aren’t amplified, kick turns won’t pretzel your legs, and snowplow and stem turns are easier.

Some folks even contend that shorter skis contribute a degree of safety by applying less leverage in a fall. With the possibility of inconsistent release that many touring bindings have, this could be important. I’m 5’11” in my socks and 160 lbs without a pack. After decades of skiing all lengths of backcountry skis I’m quite comfortable with 178 cm for more aggressive skiing, and sometimes I go as short as a 160 cm ski.

More, be sure to buy your skis in a size that is compatible with your weight. Today’s wider skis are designed to be skied shorter for a given weight and height, but will behave in strange ways when skied shorter then their designers intended. This is especially true of rockered skis (see below). Some ski manufacturers print recommended body weights on their skis. That can be useful but only as a general guideline.

Width: Skis come in a dizzying array of widths. Rule of thumb is the wider the ski, the easier it is to ride — especially in soft snow. Nonetheless, skis much wider than 100 mm at the waist are usually overkill for backcountry skiing. Too wide, and your skis will weigh a ton, and mass even more when they pick up piles of snow on top as you walk. Too wide, and you’ll be using wide climbing skins that add even more weight, and cost more money. Too wide, and you’ll have problems with binding brakes. It goes on and on.

Sidecut is the difference in width between the front shovel and the center (waist) of the ski. Sidecut helps a ski to turn by allowing it to flex in a smooth arc when placed on edge. Skis with less sidecut require more effort to turn, especially if they are longer. But they are more predictable, especially in junk snow and breakable crust. More sidecut makes a ski “quicker,” meaning it has a shorter turning radius and responds more aggressively to turn initiation. There is consensus that better backcountry skis have significant width under the foot (see above), so keep that in mind as well. Yet bear in mind that every design parameter of ski works in concert, so don’t get hung up on any one factor. If a ski has a good reputation — or you demo them and like them — don’t nix the idea of buying them because of something you read here. I’m only offering general guidelines.

Remember other factors, such as type of boot and ski construction, influence your perception of a skis quickness and predictability. Consequently, using dimensions alone to choose a ski can be next to useless. On the other hand, if you’ve narrowed your choice to several skis and demo skiing isn’t helping your indecision, a look at the sidecut may give you the extra oomph you need to get decisive.

Flex: One of the most arcane activities of ski reps and shop employees is the “flex session”. That’s when everyone meets, then while lubricating their muscles with numerous brews they “flex out” different makes and models of skis. With different comments like “look at that curve” and “feel the hinge in this tail” they decide which skis are sweet, and which are sour.

Flex is a valid criterion of performance, but is really only a small part of the design. This especially is true with today’s skis that use width and rocker to tune performance. As a rule of thumb, a softer flex may be better in soft snow because the ski takes less effort to flex into a turn arc, and a stiffer flex will frequently give better edge hold on hard snow. Skis have gotten softer over the years as manufacturers have learned ways of building in torsional (twist) rigidity without lengthwise rigidity. This has made flex less of a consideration than it used to be. What’s more, today’s skis are manufactured with much tighter duplication of parameters from pair to pair, so flex testing skis won’t necessarily help you find a softer or stiffer pair within a model and size run — but it is perhaps worth trying if you can select out of a batch. (Likewise, if you’re a weight fanatic you can save a few grams buy weighing skis and picking the lightest pair in a batch.)

Backcountry skiing and alpine ski touring basics, tips and techniques.

Backcountry skiing and alpine ski touring basics, tips and techniques.

If you want to have your own “flex session” make sure you have plenty of skis to look at side-by-side. The less you weigh, the softer you may want the ski in a given length. After you pick a pair for softness, look for an even curve. Do this by placing the tip of the ski at eye level, with the base downwards and tail on the floor. Sight along the bottom of one edge while weighting the ski with your foot. If you see any ripples or flat spots the pair should be sold as seconds. They’ll cut a decent turn in soft snow, but they’ll keep you guessing on boilerplate.

Some skis have a built in “hinge” in the flex pattern, usually in the shovel and sometimes in the tail. Don’t mistake this for a defect. A knowledgeable shop employee may be helpful in selecting skis from a retail batch. Just make sure you’re willing to be thorough and systematic in your approach. Otherwise you’ll be doing no better than kicking tires in a used car lot, with a smirking salesman looking on.

Rocker simply means the curve of the ski is slightly bent up toward you, as if you were standing on the ski with it suspended between tip and tail, with no support under your foot. Visualize a person riding curved barrel staves and you get the idea. Rocker is a virtual essential for modern soft-snow skiing but can be detrimental to hard snow performance. Some skis have rocker curves that go all the way from tip and tail to your boot-binding area. Others may only have small amounts at tip and tail. Rocker combines with flex and construction; it is not a stand-alone performance indicator.

Revert rocker profiles.

Black Diamond Revert ski, rocker profiles. Click to enlarge.

Holes in Ski Tip and Tail: These have many uses, (such as spraying powder in your face, or building a rescue sled), but they aren’t essential. Holes may be used for tying off your skis so you won’t lose them from a climbing stance or bivouac.

Tail Notch for skins: This is a useful and we’d say essential feature. Most skin attachment systems assume you have a notch in your ski tails to prevent sideways slippage. If the skis you choose don’t have a notch it’s easy to file one into the soft aluminum or plastic of the tail protector.

Ski tail climbing skin notch is a somewhat mandatory feature, shown here with climbing skin clip attached.

Ski tail climbing skin notch is a somewhat mandatory feature, shown here with climbing skin clip attached. On most skis a technician can cut a small notch into the tail protector, but this built-in aluminum notch on Black Diamond skis is beautifully executed.

Color: This may sound like a gimmick, but bright reflective colors make your skis easy to find if you leave them at the base of a winter climb — or when your amigos are searching for you after an avalanche. In the event of an avalanche burial the victim might be found by that bright ski that’s still attached to her foot. A minor point about ski color, yet one to consider, is that dark colored skis are more likely to form ice on top and base from solar heating. This can add pounds of weight to your modern “lightweight” set up. So, even though earth tones are it these days, a ski with bright base or top is more practical. In our view, white is best for shedding snow but is problematic when being searched for.

Weight: It’s nice to shave weight by using lighter skis, but a ski that’s too light may perform poorly because it gets thrown around. Lightweight boots may not give the aggressive skier the control he wants because of thinner plastic that lacks support. Compromise.

The good news is as of 2013-2014 skis have gotten remarkably lighter due to the use of carbon fiber materials. Many of those models still perform on the down. Thus, the old bias against lightweight skis as downhill performers might be going the way of other prejudices.

The same holds true for boots, which continue to lose mass while gaining or holding proven levels of downhill performance.

My own ski tours tend to cover a lot of miles and vertical – that’s made weight my main consideration. But I have friends who use their AT setups while lift skiing, or for short jaunts off the top of the lift served ski mountain. For those folks, downhill performance is the most important criterion, and they compromise in that direction.

Many people have found that alpine touring backcountry skiing “AT” equipment gives them a fun, safe, and reliable way to enjoy mountain skiing. Yet remember one thing: equipment is no better than its operator. If you are a novice, learn mountaineering ski touring on a ladder of graduating difficulty. Gear is fun and important, but the crucial piece of gear is your brain.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


59 Responses to “Alpine Ski Touring Skis — Backcountry Gear Basics”

  1. clayt mabry September 23rd, 2013 4:11 pm

    First time poster w/questions regarding use of Silvretta 500 EasyGo binding with Merrell Super Comps. Boots fit in bindings fine, have skied w/them, yet to have problems. However, I am concerned about rail flex under ball of foot – boots do flex as during climb mode. Should I add a plate/riser(?) which would extend under ball of foot to add support to rails? And, based on other posts, I assume it would be ok to raise bindings with shims to improve boot clearance during turns. Thanks for input.

  2. Lou Dawson September 23rd, 2013 4:20 pm

    Clay, wrong boot for that binding. The binding is designed for a rigid “AT” type boot. It’s also an antique that I don’t recommend skiing on, though I do see them still in use on occasion. Only valid use is if you’re a climber and need something you can clip climbing boots into for approaches.

  3. clayt mabry September 23rd, 2013 4:34 pm

    Mr. Dawson, do you mean the binding is antique? Should I not use it w/regular downhill boot for resort climbing loops? Or did you mean the boots are antique and dont use them at all with any type of binding?
    Thanks again.

  4. Lou Dawson September 23rd, 2013 5:35 pm

    Sorry Clayt, I’m talking about the binding. It is very old, the plastic can become brittle and so forth. It might possibly be OK, but what else can I tell you without having the binding here to test and examine? And yes, if you do choose to use it, by all means using a regular rigid sole downhill or touring boot. Lou

  5. Steve Collins September 25th, 2013 4:31 am

    Cheapest option for a person who owns downhill ski gear is to use an alpine touring.

  6. Dana November 7th, 2013 11:14 am

    First I will say that I come from the splitboard world which i abandoned a few years ago. I would classify myself an expert snowboarder but novice skier. I’ve been skiing on Dynastar 8000’s (165cm) for the past two winters in the backcountry; they were free so I can’t complain.

    I want to know if going to the Black Diamond Stigma’s in a 160cm length is a wise idea? Why? They have a killer deal on factory seconds right now and I only use my skiis to tour. I snowboard when I’m in bounds. The recommended length for my weight on the Black Diamond Stigma’s is 168cm. I weigh in at 145lbs and probably 165lbs with pack. I’m 5’8″.

    I notice in your article you go as short as 160cm for ski length. I’m thinking it’s not a bad idea for me to go to 160cm as we ski trees and I’m not too hot in the trees on longer skis.

    Hopefully that is clear and any feedback is appreciated.

  7. Lou Dawson November 7th, 2013 11:45 am

    Dana, a 160 cm ski is too short for normal use at your height and weight. Eight centimeters shorter is not going to make any significant difference for tree skiing. Go with the recommended length. Lou

  8. Thomas December 14th, 2013 12:33 pm


    I have skied backcountry for many years on modern telemark gear and am switching to AT. I am 6’3″ and 190lbs and I ski sierra mixed conditions and like skiing trees, summits, and the occasional steep chute. I am not uber-extreme, don’t ski very fast and don’t catch big air.

    I just bought 2011 Garmont Helix boots and Dynafit tlt radical st bindings aiming for lightweight but decent control for downhill.

    Any suggestions on ski length and style (rocker-camber-rocker) or even brand/ model. In past I like telemark skis with a 100-105 mm waist with decent side cut. What is recommended for AT?


  9. Gary December 14th, 2013 12:53 pm

    K2 Coomback: I see this ski in the Tahoe BC as an AT ski more than anything else.

    102 waist, tip rocker, wood core, no metal

  10. Thomas December 14th, 2013 1:39 pm

    Thanks Gary. Just looked it up and the Coomback does look like a good choice. Right dimensions and weight, with rocker and camber.

  11. Lou Dawson December 14th, 2013 4:57 pm

    Thomas, stick with width and length range you are familiar with, it’s not any big deal. Voile V8 would be worth a look,,,, and you could just mount the bindings on your favorite tele ski. Lou

  12. Lou Dawson December 14th, 2013 6:30 pm

    Gary, thanks,Coomback is indeed one of the classics of the age, you can’t go wrong with it!

  13. Ellen March 12th, 2014 8:39 am


    I bought used AT skis & binding for hut trips we now do a couple of times a year. I’m an advanced skier but really slow on skinning up. I like the back country skiing we do when we get up to the huts but am more tentative in the conditions because I don’t have a lot of experience skiing in deep powder and trees.

    I was looking at the Atlantis Scouts because they seem like they would just make everything easier. What do you think?


  14. Ellen March 12th, 2014 8:42 am

    I guess I should have included that I am a 5″6″ female and weigh 145lbs.


  15. Daniel March 12th, 2014 9:14 am

    Ellen, what you want is something that is as light as it gets w/o becoming diffucult to ski, long enough to make sense in variable snow, short enough to allow for easy kick turns.

    The Ski you mention is very short, very wide, presumably stiff and not light nor rockered. So, no.

    I think you’d be best off with something pretty average, 80-90mm underfoot, around or a tad below 160cm long, tip rocker. K2 Backup, Wayback, Völkl Inuk, Amak, BD Aspect, etc…

    If you feel that saving weight is important, and given you slow pace it probably is, you inevitably want a dynafit type tech binding, too.

    Actually, your requirements are not too dissimilar from what most recreational ski tourers need, so most every touring ski brand has some good ski for you.

    Be careful with the absolute lightest skis though, these can be somewhat more diffcult to ski. From What I hear.

  16. Lou Dawson March 12th, 2014 10:31 am

    Daniel, I could not have said it better, thanks! I’d emphasize that a wider, rockered ski will perhaps be desirable. More in the approx. 90 and up width range at the waist. Skis like that just make powder skiing so much easier, it’s possibly worth carrying the bit of extra weight. But yes, weight is key for this type of use. Lou

  17. Andy M. March 12th, 2014 11:07 am

    Ellen, bindings matter too! Are you using “tech” bindings (i.e. Dynafit) or something else (Fritschi or Marker)? Dynafit style bindings will be both physically lighter, but also reduce the amount of weight you’re lifting with each step (because you’re not lifting 80% of the binding in addition to your boot).

  18. Ellen March 12th, 2014 2:29 pm

    Thank you guys so much! That was very helpful.

  19. Erica Leigh Skoko March 13th, 2014 4:22 pm

    Lou, I am new to backcountry but a good all mountain skier. I tried 3 days last year with a guide on rentals, skiing Bow Summit in the Lake Louise area. I have just purchased today the womens Nordica Wildfire 2014 with the Marker F12Tour EPF2014 and some G3 skins.. My kids are teenagers so I am mostly going to be doing side country and one day trips as the kids ski club requires me to do a lot of inbound skiing. I have taken a lot of ski lessons the past 5 years and have become quite accomplished and I am looking to expand into this area, if I can find any older women to do it with. I am 5’9″, 168 lbs and my current ski is a Rossi Enterprise 88 in a 173 cm length. The guy at the shop said I should stick with the 169 cm, but I am thinking I should have bought the 177 cm. What do you think, should I go longer? And do you know of any slack country or back country boots that a very narrow fitting. I couldn’t find any this year so I am still skiing in my Lange Race boot, does the whole ski world have fat feet?

  20. Rick March 30th, 2014 8:26 am

    I got a screaming deal on some Dalbello Virus free boots and some Salomon Gaurdian bindings. I know they are not a perfect match, but I believe they are compatible. Question: is it unreasonable to mount these to a Rossi Backcountry 125 ski? They are a lighter backcountry ski with a large scale pattern. Seems like a heavy boot, binding and a light duty ski. I am a moderate skier, looking to save some money and upgrade skis next year.

  21. Daniel March 30th, 2014 9:18 am

    Would work, but pretty pointless. Would not recommend…
    Get at least a dynafit style binding.

  22. Rick March 30th, 2014 1:03 pm

    Virus free aren’t dynafit compatible.

  23. Lou Dawson March 30th, 2014 1:46 pm

    Erica, ski length choice is as much about style and feel as it is a criteria in any practical sense. I’d stick with what you bought and see how they work, go longer if they seem too nervous compared to what you’re used to skiing. Lou

  24. Howard Runyon April 9th, 2014 8:23 am

    Lou, I’m about to tour on an AT rig for the first time, after years-ago tours on skinny tele gear. My bindings are Fritschi Diamir Pro Freeride, fitted with brakes for resort use. Would you replace brakes with leashes for backcountry? I have some nice old unused easy-unclip Silvretta leashes from decades ago. Terrain will be 10th Mtn trail, timing next week, prolly no funhogging in any high-risk avalanche zones. Don’t imagine deep powder is likely at this time of year. Thoughts?

  25. Howard Runyon April 9th, 2014 10:27 am

    PS: The question seems to be academic now, because the BD people tell me I can’t get a simple plastic heel plate to replace the brake! And I can’t trash the brakes because I need them when my job requires me to ski with schoolkids at the local resort. So I’ll take the leashes with me on the tour and get them out if we encounter deep light snow with apparently low risk of avalanche.

  26. Ben2 April 9th, 2014 11:22 pm

    Howard, on a pair of Fritschis, use the brakes. There is no reason not to.

  27. Nic April 10th, 2014 10:00 pm

    I’m in need of some advice on AT skis. I am just getting into backcountry in the southern Cascades (ie-crud) and want to buy a set up for moderate tours and some “easier” ski mountaineering tours. I am 5’3″ and 125 lbs. For in bounds downhill I ski on 149s. These are very light which I like but they tend to get chattery at high speeds. I rented a demo set of 160 K2 Talk Backs that seemed too long. That is the shortest rental AT set up I can find. Any recommendations to length/style of ski before I buy?

  28. Daniel April 10th, 2014 11:36 pm

    many K2s are available in a 153 length. Dynafit even go down to 148. Should be possible to find something suitable. 153 Talkback should be fine.

  29. Erik Erikson April 11th, 2014 11:11 am

    Agree. I know several women (intermediate / good skiers) who really like the talkback as an allround-ski in in a K2 – length thats 5 to 10 cm less than body height. Although you can find lighter skies nowadays.

  30. Lou Dawson April 11th, 2014 4:05 pm

    New 2014/15 Talkback we just got in for evaluation weighs 1415 grams, 170 cm ski. That’s a reasonable weight, though not in the “one kilo” class. For example, A La Sportiva Nano in that length is almost down to one kilo. Lou

  31. Erik Erikson April 11th, 2014 4:39 pm

    That´s the weight for the new talkback 96, isnt´t it? The 88 should be even lighter – ?
    (As far as I know K2 will build wayback, Talkback and coomback in two different dimensions each for 14/15, right ?? And they will all be lighter than this season. Looking forward to the new coomback, though bad news is, that it will only be available up to 184 cm it seems. I really like the current 188)

  32. Lou Dawson April 11th, 2014 4:40 pm

    Yes, the 96, sorry. Dang names of this stuff are just a constant hassle. Lou

  33. Lou Dawson April 11th, 2014 4:43 pm

    Yes, all the K2 Backside skis will be lighter. Don’t have the line details here in front of me, but there are some width choices. I picked three pairs of skis that we’ve got here in our hot little hands for eval. Fun. I’m sure they ski super nice. Lou

  34. Erik Erikson April 12th, 2014 1:23 am

    Here are some details of the K2 backside line 14/15
    Definitely lighter in comparable width than the models of this season (300 to 400 gram per pair I´d say) and the choice between two width-dimensions each is a good thing in my opinion.
    Wayback / coomback in my eyes are still among the best back country skies you can get, only drawback in the last years was the not so low weight. Now that this is improved, they should be top again (if they ski the same as always).

  35. Joasia April 21st, 2014 3:21 pm

    I am a pretty good alpine skier, 170 cm height, 60 kg weight. I have gone on 4 backcountry trips only and am loving it. I have just bought Dynafit One boots and now i am looking at the options for skis. I am considering K2 Talkback skis. Which length would be better: 160 or 167 cm. I plan to use them all winter at various snow conditions. Also, if I
    had a choice, should I buy 2013/2014 or 2014/2015 model. The newest is 126 mm at the front whereas 2013/2014 124 mm.

  36. Lou Dawson April 21st, 2014 3:55 pm

    Joasia, easy questions! I’d get the latest model, am pretty sure it’s lighter than the other ones. They have a lot of rocker and should thus be skied at approximately your body height for touring, so the 167 cm is it. Wayback is good as well. Lou

  37. Erik Erikson April 21st, 2014 10:41 pm

    Joasia, if the stated weight of the new talkback is correct, the pair will be almost 400 g lighter than the older version. That´s quite a lot (talking ´bout the 88, as said above it will also be available in 96 width). .
    Other than the weight, in my eyes 2mm difference in width at the tip will make almost no difference one will notice.
    And as Lou said, go with the 167!

  38. Joasia April 22nd, 2014 11:41 am

    I thought so. I will go for 167 cm the latest model. Thanks. Greetings from Poland!

  39. Randy October 28th, 2014 11:25 am


    Do you have any sense as to whether skin traction would be noticeably decreased when skinning up a hard skintrack on rockered skis. I’m thinking about getting G3 Synapse 109, but don’t want to have all the energy I’m saving with such light skis offset by sliding backward.

    Thanks for any insight.

  40. Lou Dawson 2 October 28th, 2014 12:08 pm

    Randy, there is definitely an effect but it’s offset by using wider skis, I wouldn’t worry about it but be sure to use skins appropriate for the kind of angles you like to climb. The latter is most important… Lou

  41. BOB J. October 28th, 2014 6:30 pm

    What do you mean get the approbriate skin for the angle?

  42. Lou Dawson 2 October 28th, 2014 7:39 pm

    Just making up words in my sleep (grin). I mean if you want to climb Wasatch skin tracks, don’t use a mohair race skin… Lou

  43. Ron G December 22nd, 2014 6:01 pm

    I’ve read reviews on wildsnow and elsewhere that suggest that the Dynastar Cham 87 would be a very good all-around east-coaster bc ski. I’m 5′ 7″ (168 cm) tall, but I’m kind of heavy, at about 180 lbs. While it would make the most sense for me to choose the 172 cm length in this ski, it comes in at a few centimeters taller than I am. I find that kind of intimidating, since I’m pretty much an intermediate skier, and I ski in a lot of tight trees and hard snow conditions. Do you think the extra stiffness of the Cham 87 with the metal layer will help compensate for my heaviness, and allow me to ski the 166 cm length, at the slower speeds I favor? Or am I being a weenie, and should just learn to get comfortable on 172’s? I can also find the 172 in the lighter High Mountain version (no metal), which would presumably be softer flexing, and so possibly more controllable at slower speeds. It’s the length that worries me in the really tight spots, though. Thanks.

  44. Lou Dawson 2 December 22nd, 2014 6:07 pm

    Ron, a ski close to your body height, plus or minus a few centimeters, is not going to make ANY difference in tight spots. At your weight I’d go with the 172. Problem is, you’re an intermediate and the first time you miss a turn in the trees you’re going to blame it on those 172 cm skis, that’s just human nature. So with “intermediate” in the equation I’d suggest downsizing for your runs through that east coast cellulose. Anyone else have a take? Lou

  45. Michael December 22nd, 2014 6:31 pm

    Ron for touring definitely get the HM version of the cham. It’s much lighter and also more forgiving. The only thing it will likely give up is some crud busting ability (mainly from being lighter) and maybe a mild amount of torsional rigidity for carving, but these things shouldn’t matter really for a BC ski. The huge weight difference alone is a clincher for me. The non-HM versions of the Chams are boat anchors. The HM skis are still formidable skis with sidewalls and fiberglass layup. They’re pretty damp for touring skis.

    That being said I’d definitely get the 172 if you go for the HM version. At your weight you’ll be 200 lbs + all kitted up for touring with a pack. A 166 ski for a guy of your height/weight seems way too short to me unless you’re talking about a skimo ski.

    I’m 5’10” 180 lbs and really enjoy the 178 Cham 97 HM, mainly in spring conditions.

  46. Ron G December 22nd, 2014 8:14 pm

    Thanks Lou and Michael for the replies and info.

    It sounds like I should get the Cham 87 High Mountain in 172 — and keep telling myself that it is indeed the ‘correct’ length, so get used to it!

    “Skimo” = ski mountaineering, right? Do you choose a shorter ski for skimo purely because of weight savings for the skin up, or is there a downhill maneuverability-through-horrible-conditions element to the length decision as well?

  47. lou dawson 2 December 22nd, 2014 8:32 pm

    Too short a ski is just as bad as too long. But yes sometimes you run a backcountry ski slightly shorter than you would on resort. Mostly because it’s lighter and easier to carry on your pack. Lou

  48. Gerard December 22nd, 2014 11:25 pm

    I prefer a slightly shorter ski for touring as it’s less effort doing kick turns, especially as you get older, in my case 177 cm, same as my height.

  49. Another ellen January 6th, 2015 6:32 pm

    5’2″ 120 lbs max, 75%+ backcountry, 25% resort mainly powder but also hard packed for lessons to get more confident on steeper bc stuff… Skimo race on PDGs, usually tele on powder days but want alpine option instead… Nano vapor at top of list because want floaty but also want something for hard packed and wind affected bc… Was considering v6 and v8, Denali and praxis ul bc because a bit burlier in weight, but circling back to nano because I’m so little… Finally have dynafit speed race bindings but should I consider the bd fritschi with some lateral release for this setup which adds about 1.25 lbs? Thoughts? Currently in analysis paralysis…

  50. George January 6th, 2015 8:36 pm

    @ A-Ellen: Test drive the Vapor Nano versus BD C-Convert, Dynafit Denali and Voile V6. I tested Vapor Nano and bought C-Convert instead without regrets. Denali was not available last winter but my buddy has the Denali with Dynafit Superlites. Check out the reviews on Carbon Convert from Perl on this website. They handle crust and hard pack better than Vapor. I also mounted Dynafit Superlite binders and they compliment the light ski. I would not recommend Fritschi bindings anymore….my last pair is collecting dust while my light weight stuff gets used.

  51. Lou Dawson 2 January 7th, 2015 12:40 am

    I’d agree with George that the Nano is more the ultimate lightweight powder harvester while the Convert is more versatile. The need for a quiver is always there (grin). Not sure what to say about the bindings, am tired of folks thinking tech bindings are appropriate for resort skiing — especially if you’re still in the learning stages. If you want the best protection for your knees and leg bones, while at the resort ski on high quality alpine bindings, installed, tested, adjusted by a competent ski shop. Lou

  52. Ron G February 10th, 2015 2:44 pm

    Just a follow up to the questions I posted earlier. You guys are great, you steered me right! I found a pair of Dynastar Cham 97 HM 172 cm for very cheap and pounced on them. Mounted AXLs on them and went skiing in Montana and Vermont, mostly off-piste from resorts (I’m a lucky guy this year with vacation time). I haven’t toured with them yet, but they’ll be fine for short shots, as they’re not overly heavy. The verdict? They work for me very, very well. I agree with Lou’s comments about lack of stability at higher speeds. However, these Chams turn really easily and quickly, which is great in the trees, and I had no trouble floating in 1 meter deep powder. These skis do ‘ski short.’ 166 would have been too short. I could see going to 178 length if I never had to ski in and out of tight spots. I think this is a great ski for advancing intermediates like me. It’s very easy to ski, if you keep the speed down.

    Thanks for your advice guys, I’m really happy with this setup.

    PS – How different is the Cham 87 HM? Night and day, or subtle?

  53. Lou Dawson 2 March 19th, 2015 8:58 pm

    Just saw your comment Ron, glad you got it worked out! Lou

  54. Harry August 12th, 2015 2:34 am

    Yo I have some skis that are 86mm under foot and want to to mount some frame AT bindings (marker dukes, atomic trackers, etc). Would these skis be too narrow to fit these kind of bindings?

  55. Henry October 20th, 2015 10:58 am

    Hey there, l have recently started telemarking and have only been out for 2 1 week trips at a time into the backcountry and have seen some awesome terrain already, however l still use chairlifts more often than not when l am skiing so l would like a setup that is mainly suited to downhill on/around resorts but that can also be used occasionally for alpine touring into the backcountry. I am 6′ 1” and weigh around 170lbs, and would call myself an advanced skier. Currently l am thinking that a downhill ski with AT bindings is my best option, what is your opinion/recommendation?

  56. Lou Dawson 2 October 20th, 2015 11:22 am

    Hi Henry, sure, some of the recent AT bindings can double as alpine bindings. Warning: They are not alpine bindings, they do not have the same release and retention characteristics as alpine bindings.

    Bindings to look at for use on the ski hill. Marker Kingpin, Dynafit Beast and Radical 2.0, G3 ION, Fritschi Vipec Black.


  57. Vlado November 4th, 2015 4:26 pm

    Hello i am new in ski touring and i just both the K2 BackDrop (181cm)
    with Marker Baron bindings
    i am 6.2 tall 209lbs
    did i made the right choice?

  58. Bill November 10th, 2015 10:49 pm

    This is a very useful article. Thanks, Lou! I’m a new skier, eager to get into the back country. I’m curious: i’m having trouble choosing a ski for the backcountry. I’m 5’11, 170lbs, and I found a great pair of Majesty Wolf touring skis new for a great price; however, they are 163 in length – what many seem to consider too short. Do you think they will serve me well? I know it’s not so cut and dry, and so easy of a question to answer, but any insight you can give would be greatly appreciated!


  59. Dan November 24th, 2015 1:14 pm

    Hi. Great article. I’ve got the chance to buy some Fischer alproute 78 at a great price. I’m 6’2″ and weigh 185lbs. Skis are 170 in length. I know maybe I should go longer but the deal is good. Any view on this?



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  • Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information & opinion website. Lou's passion for the past 50 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about ski touring and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free ski touring news and information here.

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