After hearing of the nightmare snow conditions Denali is notorious for I knew I needed a ski that would inspire confidence in any conditions for our WildSnow Denali expedition up there last spring. But as well as downhill performance, my chosen planks also needed to be light enough to lug 13,000 vert up to the summit. A tall order indeed!
When selecting a plank for backcountry skiing my underlying goal is to choose skis that best mimic my resort setup, but with less mass. That way I can maintain max confidence and max fun on the descent but lug the things uphill without compressing vertebrae and extending knee tendons. With more creative material pairings and manufacturing processes, alpine touring setups are indeed shaving weight without the compromise in performance — so my goal is realistic.
After perusing K2’s Backside backcountry skiing brand line, Backlash jumped out at me as the “do-it-all” ski. I was excited to see a plank with my personal ideal
ski mountaineering dimensions (129/92/115), a flat tail, two layers of metal (probably titanal), and cap construction all in a package light enough to haul around the mountain for a month. I was tempted to bring the K2 Wayback (124/88/108) as my Denali boards but ultimately my desires for more beefy planks won over. The titanium laminates, and cap construction make these sticks ski distinctively like many other K2 skis I’ve skied over the years. A smooth progressive flex, slightly stiffer tail and predictable and even release from turn to turn make these skis very confidence inspiring. Add to that mix what K2 calls an all-terrain rocker and you have ski that can handle ANY condition the slopes can throw at you. The K2 named “rocker” in this ski is actually what I like to call an early rise tip which K2 masterfully combines with traditionally camber. Curves like this provide all the benefits of a powder ski with the hard pack capability of a more traditional ski.
I have to admit I was pretty impressed with these boards. But, this is indeed Wildsnow where reviews go beyond regurgitated catalog copy, so I have a few bones to pick. Just like any skis with an early rise tip, these boards ski short. The 181cm Backlashes that I brought to Denali skied more like a 170. Also, (as Lou would remind me as he NEARLY caught up with me on the uphill while using his Waybacks), Backlashes are no doubt a bit heavier than other purely backcountry skis. I knew this before selecting them as my plank of choice so I guess I can’t complain too much. Besides, all seven of us made it to the summit of the big one from 14,000 feet and had enough energy to make turns on the way down, so I guess the weight was not an issue. Other than them skiing short and being a bit heavier I can’t really think of much to whine about. I was able to thrash these skis for 21 straight days on everything from wet sugar snow, to bullet proof blue ice, to 30 inches of new Alaskan powder and they look just about the same as the day I mounted them up. In my book that’s pretty impressive considering the abuses placed on them by an expedition.
In summary: You just can’t fake the feel of a wooden core ski with metal laminate. K2 created a winning combo with the Backlash. Mounted with my Dynafit FT12’s they’ll be my go to backcountry skiing rig this winter. In a word, wow.
A little take from Colby on the Backlashes…
After skiing for years and years with Tyler (my brother) and having the same ski racing coaches in high school and college we tend to ski similarly and prefer similar skis. Therefore, for Denali, when one of us started leaning towards the Backlash we both started leaning that way. For me having tried several of the K2 skis this winter I have liked the “rocker tip” and how easily it can cut through crud and floats in the powder. The rocker tip slightly decreased the snow contact but with the titanium sheets and stiff tail they held very well on the variable conditions on Denali. Not knowing exactly what the snow conditions would be like on Denali or what descent we might get to ski it was confidence inspiring to have a slightly beefier ski (in terms of backcountry skis) and haul the extra weight. Also, K2 incorporated the notch in the back of the ski to hold the skin nice and straight even without the K2 skin system (Tyler and I both had the G3 alpinist skins). On the whole I think this ski was a great choice for Denali and for future backcountry outings when the snow isn’t TOO deep!
(Guest blogger Tyler Christoff, 26 years old, grew up ski racing. He raced at Syracuse University, making Nationals multiple years. Three years ago he moved to Aspen to pursue a different sort of skiing. Tyler has rapidly grown into a strong mountaineer, and has the perfect form that most skiers only dream of.)