“In the spring a young man’s fancy lightly turns to thoughts of love,” claimed Tennyson*. This no-longer-young skier, however, fancies light gear and turns on big peaks and steep lines in variable snow conditions. And this past spring, WildSnow stepped in with some light gear — Atomic Backland 95 skis (177 cm) with Atomic Backland Tour Bindings (with brakes) and Hybrid Prefit skins — so I could pursue my modified Tennysonian fancies.
First, a word about my skiing style and preferences. My skiing relies on balance more than strength or power, in large part because I learned to ski in leather boots on double cambered Nordic skis. I’ve been on true alpine skis and boots less than half dozen times in my life, and those were all cheap rentals. Lou has called my skiing “smooth.” Doesn’t always feel that way, but I’ll take it.
Despite, or because of, learning on narrow skis, I like mid-fat skis. Better term: boards. Any skis with less than a 100 mm waist feel like twigs waving in the wind. For boots, I split my time between SCARPA Maestrales and SCARPA F1, the first light touring boot whose flex fits my style. I skied the Atomics with the SCARPA F1.
With the setup, I lapped Colorado corn at Independence Pass, wandered around the west side of Snowmass Peak, and as a final exam, skied them on a three-day climb and descent of Mount Rainier (Kautz Glacier). This was a nearly full range of conditions, especially on Rainier: ripe and over-ripe corn, faux corn, islands of wind-drifted cream of wheat, and very loud refrozen crust. The only conditions missing were fresh snow and hot pow.
My favorable first impressions quickly turned to love. The skis were perfect for classic spring-time shenanigans. They initiated turns easily, did not chatter or hook on firm snow, and landed solidly on hop turns. They were sooo smooth on the corn. Most importantly, they were light enough to haul up over 10,000 vertical feet, yet didn’t leave me wanting a wider, beefier ski on the descent. The combination of a full-length carbon insert, moderate rocker, sidewall, and a traditional camber seems well-suited to spring-time conditions.
I did not ski the Backland in deep winter powder, but did use them on plenty of soft snow and they felt fine. Considering their rocker and reasonable width, I see no reason why they wouldn’t be acceptable if not exceptional in the fluff. While these skis flex in a nice looking curve, they’re not particularly soft. I’d call it a “medium” flex. In other words, your body weight could be a factor in how the Backland skis; scrawny speedsters might find them too stiff.
While I’ve used tech bindings almost exclusively since 2002, the Atomic Backland Tours were the first race or minimalist style tech binding I’ve tried. It was sometimes tricky to get my boots in the toe fittings. I’m used to the Dynafit roll; a straight toe-in works better with these, though Atomic’s “patented step-in aid” isn’t foolproof, even with practice. I’m 185 pounds, used the medium spring/pin, and never had the bindings come off. Dynafit ski crampons worked well; the cut-out on my B and D ski crampons proved too narrow.
The climbing aids (heel lifters) and brakes are the features that sold me on these bindings. Though I’m not usually a fan of flip-up risers, I found the version on these bindings to be straightforward. Perhaps it’s because the entire heel unit rotates in either direction and the risers work regardless of heel position.
The brake system was light enough that it didn’t feel superfluous on a long, multi-day trip. I grew to love having the brakes in high consequences terrain; so much less worry of losing a ski when I took it off my pack and set it down on frozen snow. The brakes lock out of the way in the up position for a flat touring position but must be unlocked to ski. That’s easy, though I don’t remember if I figured out a way to do it without taking off a ski or bending over.
I ditched the PreFit skins after my first tour with them, and switched to another set with conventional glue. The adhesive just didn’t hold in wet conditions. The skins are made by Contour, please note I use a pair of their skins with my daily drivers in mid winter, when Contour’s idiosyncratic adhesive works well. Everything in its time.
When I was done with my testing, I told Lou the airlines had lost the skis and bindings. He’s too smart to buy that line. He’s probably tried it himself. But I’m definitely looking to add the setup to my limited quiver (three skis total) for next spring.
*Note: SCARPA F1 boots were a great match with these skis. The Atomic Backland Carbon, which I’ve also skied regularly, would work as well.
(WildSnow guest blogger Blase Reardon works as an avalanche forecaster in Colorado. He spends most winter days outside — on skis. Somehow, after months of that, he’s still up for Mount Rainier.)
*”Locksley Hall,” Alfred, Lord Tennyson.