Blizzard Altitude Ultralight Touring Ski–Review

Post by blogger | June 30, 2014      
Blizzard Altitude Ultralight 173 cm.

Blizzard Altitude Ultralight 173 cm.

Blizzard introduces their own line of true backcountry skis for next (2014/2015) season. The full “Free Mountain Light” series comprises four models, including a race version, a couple of skinny guys, and the more comfortably waisted 88 mm Altitude Ultralight, which we review here.

Blizzard Free Mountain Light series skis for 2014-2015

Blizzard Free Mountain Light series skis for 2014-2015

Let’s get some basics out of the way. While I did enjoy these skis, they are not “ultralight.” Truly, ski companies should leave the words “light” or “ultralight” out of their product names; it’s just too easy to be wrong in today’s world of technology that’s accelerating like a Tesla motorcar when it’s beer-o’clock at Google HQ executive parking. Charted out, this ski is average in mass.

Beyond the discrepancy in nomenclature, let me mitigate any misconception of this being too harsh a criticism. An “average” weight touring ski is totally functional. If it skis well, the few extra ounces over the lightest available is something you can get used to. Did Lou just say that? Yes, Virginia, he did.

Our testing of the Altitude Ultralight was limited to hard icy snow and softening corn, but you can get a pretty good read on a plank in those situations. What stood out for me was a ultra easy turn initiation. No doubt this was at least in part due to combining significant rocker with a shorter length. On top of that, the classic feel of well engineered fiberglass and wood smooths the inputs. Result: all it took was a thought and the Altitude glissed where my mind pointed. No chatter, less noise, gentle as a the morning sun.

Altitude tip rocker is significant.

Altitude tip rocker is significant.

Tail rocker is there as well, just the right amount, and no extra tail floating in the air for looks.

Tail rocker is there as well, just the right amount, and no extra tail floating in the air for looks.

Which brings me to the idea of ski length. I’ve been disappointed as to how rockered skis often require more length to perform correctly. I like shorter skis. They’re lighter, and carry on the backpack so much easier. Thus, I’m constantly hassling ski companies to send us test units of their sub “180 cm” lengths, more around the 167 to 173 cm range. Due to the male freeride dominated culture of present day ski marketing, the longer lengths tend to get pushed out first. Yes, most certainly the longer lengths will do better in modern pow turns and for freeride, but for mountaineering in spring conditions, or just doing longer trips in winter when weight and ergonomics are an issue, give me the shorter. So I’m delighted to say the Altitude felt surprisingly nice for a 173 cm rockered ski.

I should mention that Blizzard puts quite a bit of PR energy into touting their “Flip Core” upside-down core. In plain English, the claim is they use a core shape that creates natural rocker, so the rocker isn’t created by excessive bending of the core material in the mold. In turn, this is supposed to reduce unnatural tension and stress in the ski while in use. Does it work? Hard to know, except to say the Altitude does ski nicely, so thumbs up.

Altitude Ultralight binding mount area is indicated by a grey colored layer that's visible through the transparent outer skin.

Altitude Ultralight binding mount area is indicated by a grey colored layer that’s visible through the transparent outer skin.

These are not stiff skis; flex is supple. Again, something I like — but could they be a “freeride” touring ski? I’d say a demo would be in order if that’s your style. They’re constructed with a core that does save weight by alternating wood strips with foam. Topskin is transparent so you can see the nice looking insides. Binding mount reinforcement plate is obvious as well and will thus inspire you to tighten binding screws with confidence. I wish more brands indicated the exact dimensions of their binding mount areas.

Altitude’s steel edges are full wrap at the tip and terminate at a black ABS tail protector where you’ll find the mandatory skin notch. The tip is rather blunt, which makes the ski essentially a few centimeters longer in running surface than the 173 cm length would indicate — perhaps another reason they skied better than I expected per length. A blunt tip is a non-issue in most situations, but sometimes a spear tip can help you win if you plow a snow pile. Not a big deal, but something to keep in the back of your mind.

Graphics are pale and light colored enough to prevent the type of icing you get on a fully dark topskin, probably about average in that department. No tip or tail holes, which is a drag; all touring skis should have those (especially now that skin companies such as Montana are making aftermarket skin anchors that use such holes).

Overall, I liked the Altitude Ultralight. It skis smoothly and with confidence, weight is reasonable. A worthy contender in the versatile “European” style touring ski width.

Length 173
Weight 1484 grams, 52.4 ounces
Profile 120/88/110
MSRP $800.00


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10 Responses to “Blizzard Altitude Ultralight Touring Ski–Review”

  1. John S June 30th, 2014 9:12 pm

    Looks nearly identical to my much-loved 2014 model K2 Waybacks. I sold some super-light DynaFit skis and Went-back to skis with a bit more heft. Maybe it’s because I’m not a badass skier, but I find that a 1500g or so ski hits a “sweet spot” for light enough going up, but still enough weight for the down. The little 88 waist edges well enough and the rocker tip works when the snow is boot-top.

    Yeah, I have some FAT skis, but I think there’s a place in the “modern world of skis” for these 88-92 waist skis that are light-ish.

  2. Lou Dawson June 30th, 2014 9:40 pm

    John, I was waiting for someone to bring up K2. Yes, they ski very similar to the K2 Wayback, similar construction… fiberglass on wood, can’t go wrong with that. I’m a fan of the super-light skis because we do mostly human powered, but the years of development that went into the glass-on-wood type construction does show when you ski them. Give carbon skis another 20 years, is the point. Of course by then something else will be the hot ticket, as everything speeds up due to us being in the second machine age.

  3. AndyC July 1st, 2014 7:42 am

    Gray binding area w/ visible wood aft reminds me of my Dynafit 7 Summits which, I bellieve, were made by Blizzard and were a bit heavier/area than Manaslus and now Cho Oyus.

    I’ve skied my Cho’s about 10x now, yesterday on the Paradise Glacier in perfect snow (thinnish layer above the glacial ice) and lower down in 8 inch frozen sun cups. So far they have skied as well as any AT ski I’ve owned despite being so light. Looking forward to skiing them in some deeper, softer snow.

  4. Lou Dawson July 1st, 2014 12:01 pm

    Good news about your Choodies!

  5. Jim Milstein July 1st, 2014 2:14 pm

    Commendable use of “comprise”, Lou!

  6. Lou Dawson July 1st, 2014 3:17 pm

    Am always trying to improve…

  7. Kevin S July 1st, 2014 4:49 pm

    Enjoy seeing the mainstream ski companies building more BC skis as we will all win from tech advances! Blizzard has always built high quality skis and now with the “cool guy” graphics and topsheets that look like they won’t build up too much snow on long tours, count me in as a potential buyer!

  8. Lou Dawson July 1st, 2014 6:23 pm

    These are definitely ski touring boards. Indeed nice to see as I have no doubt they are all good planks, depending on our preference in width.

  9. Daniel July 3rd, 2014 12:29 am

    in Europe, 90 is the new 70! Maybe!

    Another ski that fits a similar bill and receives not half it’s deserved attention is the Scott Crus’air. Stupid list rice but a great ski. Made by Fischer afaik.

  10. Philipp May 11th, 2015 10:03 am

    lou, I am considering your reviews as the best and most entertaining advices you can get, so congrats on the only elaborate review of the blizzard altitude out there.
    I am wondering if this are good skis for me: I am looking for an all round euro-sized touring ski, that are light on the skintrack and still fun on the way down. the wayback 96 is on my list, as well as the black crows freebird orb or ova, but the blizzard reads quite well so far and I like the idea of a sublte double rocker.

    I have a soul 7 + radical fts (180cm) powder option for the big days (didn’t used them in this winter) and the cham 87 (184 cm) + plum for all the rest. the chams are too heavy and too long for longer tours and the huge rocker shovel feels unbalanced to the rest of the ski. my skiing happens mostly in the french and swiss alps.
    I am 5’11, 165 lbs plus gear and would like to hear your advice, if the altitude (or the watzmann special edition) would be a better ski for me. I wondering also if the 172 cm might be enough ski for my careful skiing style and lenght.

    thank you so much for your time, lou.

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