If you’re branding as ski for “backcountry” or “ski touring” or “ski mountaineering,” make it lighter weight than average.
There, with that off my chest, now you know the bias of this year’s Ultimate Quiver. Yep, the world has changed. Companies such as DPS, G3, Dynafit and Trab have skewed reality. The cloud of unknowing has been pierced. Heaven may be closer than you think (see our weight charts). Our picks for this year (we narrowed the field compared to last year), in alpha order:
Every quiver needs at least one “go big or go home” speed tool. Black Diamond’s Carbon Megawatt is it — 145-120-127.
Ride the Megawatt long in centimeters, go fast, and enjoy. I actually skied on these guns just to say I did, so don’t give me no guff. But I’m no tester of the gargantuan plank category. Instead, we got WildSnow production assistant Joe and a few other victims who were willing to be skied by the Megawatt. While these boards are surprisingly maneuverable due to copious rocker and smooth flex, they go where they want and most often pick a pretty sweet line. They ski you. It’s fun to watch. Photos are difficult because camera shutters have limits.
Megawatt brags that oh-so-old but oh-so-new sidewall construction that’s shouldering out cap-construction like a Top Chef winning a cookoff. By combining plentiful carbon with strong sidewalls, Mega’ is built with an exceptional dearth of material while maintaining a sweet flex. On our weight/surface chart, this ski scores 13th place, amazing for a big kahuna that requires loads of material just to span those 120+ millimeters from edge to edge. Still, compare weight to length and you’ll receive an explanation of why your adductor brevis feels like someone lit it on fire. In other words, be sure your style of skiing makes it worth hauling the biggies uphill, even if they’re some of the lightest weight biggies you can get.
(Note to shoppers, Black Diamond Current deserves honorable mention, as a “Euro classic” 87 mm waisted touring ski. Every quiver should have a pair of those. Also, if you can find a deal on them don’t hesitate to pick up a pair of Carbon Justice if you’re looking for a buy on a 111mm waist ski that will serve you well. But what would shopping be without a bit of challenge?)
Shopper’s note: Black Diamond created an inconvenience in naming their new sidewall skis some of the same names as earlier versions. When considering a purchase, be sure you know what you’re getting. For example, if you look for a BD Current ski on backcountry.com, as of this writing you’ll see the old version rather than the 2013/2014 model we mentioned above. Adding to the confusion, you’ll see both versions of the Megawatt. If this drives you crazy, rest assured you’re not the only one.
After carbonizing a pair of DPS skis last autumn to appease the snow gods (didn’t work, we aparrently just angered the guys and gals and they sent our snow over to Tibet), we were keen to redeem and see if the religious heat on DPS reflects real life. I’m happy to say that yes, the DPS offerings deliver the goods, if not the occasional moment of the gods.
Wailer 99 Pure easily makes our cut. Narrow enough for touring (125/99/111) without the snowpack building a facsimile of Mount Everest on top of your planks. Wide enough to feel “wide.” Weight for my 176 cm testers is 52.3 oz, 1482 gr per ski. That is LIGHT for a fully performing 176 cm ski that’s 99 at the waist. Forgive me for repeating myself, but yep, another ski build with carbon to trim mass. I skied the 99 extensively last winter. They’re smooth like butter in the cream, but boast enough pop and beef to keep the more aggressive skier from crying “noodle.” Surprising edgehold on hard snow, but I’d still trend to a different ski for steep piste. That said, we found these planks to be fun on the hardpack — delightful on velvet corn or wind buff.
“Wailer” denotes a genetic strain of DPS skis, birthed from their wider 112-waist models (one that’s for speed and one with more sidecut.) “The Pure carbon/nano construction,” wrote one WildSnow guest blogger, “is DPS founder Stephan Drake’s goal to achieve the highest performance skis ‘on earth.’ The end result according to DPS is a lighter, torsionally stiffer, more powerful yet damp ski.”
The “Hybrid” strain of the Wailer seeks to achieve nearly equal performance at a better price and a bit more weight. Naturally, Ultimate Quiver requires the Pure versions. But don’t discount the Hybrid version — DPS claims a rather hubristic reputation (they do everything!) that every ski they make has to live up to, or else. We agree — every ski they make is worth considering.
(Honorable mention goes to Yvette 112RP, the fem version of Wailer that Lisa enjoyed last winter. Yvette skis well, comes in 9th out of about 40 skis for surface/weight ratio — that about knocks it out of the park.)
To buy DPS skis, shop through a dealer or the DPS website. I’m impressed by their factory demo program: receive your skis, ride for 3 days, return if not satisfied. Indeed, a melody we’ve hummed for years goes something like this: “demo your skis, you’ll be pleased…” Nice to see DPS helping keep that concept alive.
We were tempted to include Dynafit Huscaran in this year’s quiver, but it got honors last time so just know the “Land Fish” is still a player and receives honorable mention. (see several Huascaran reviews). Quiver pick from Dynafit for this year is the Cho Oyu. This “turny” plank suits the skier who likes incredibly light skis that suit a nimble style that emphasises turns over straighter arcs. They hold well on hardpack while still being fun in the powder — thus incurring a high rating for all-around performance. A possible “quiver of one” if you like this sort of ski.
I’ll admit I’m partial to these puppies. You do notice the sidecut, but once you get used to the somewhat waspy profile just tilt and enjoy the arc (though wider, less sidecutty skis can be more forgiving in conditions such as breakable crust). Cho’ holds well on hardpack and did me fine in the powder — thus being a ski I’m comfortable with as a single-pick in the luggage when heading to the mystery snowpacks of Europe. Per this year’s emphasis on performance to weight ratio, no problem there. Mass of my 174s is a scanty 1,183 grams per ski (124/88/110 profile). That places easily in our “one kilo weight class.”
As I wrote in my review: “Dynafit ski fans should note that Cho Oyu appears to be a replacement for the Seven Summits, which has been incredibly popular in Europe and gained a modest following here in the New World. Having skied both planks extensively I’d say that’s a fair take, though I can’t say for certain that if you like 7 Summits you’ll like the Cho — though the concept is the same: narrower touring ski with some sidecut, built specifically for human powered skiing in all conditions, lack of weight a priority…”
“Read our full Choodie” Review
Available this fall.
You want a carbon feather-weight plank in modern dimensions? Look no farther than G3’s C3 Zen Oxide. At 131/105/123 widths and 1,500 grams for a 178 cm, these guys return serious surface to mass ratio. Indeed, on our surface/weight chart C3 holds its own at around 7th place — that’s about as light as you can get. How do they ski? Reviewer Louie Dawson wrote “In powder the C3 is fast, and also quite snappy. I had a blast popping off pillows and out of deep turns. That same day I also managed to take a few runs on icy groomers and crud. Being such a light ski, I was worried C3 would be chattery and get thrown around. Instead, they sliced nice rails on the groom…”
Essentially, G3 took the proven dimensions and rocker of their admittedly heavy Zen Oxide, and simply upgraded to all carbon, minimal resin and a wood core. The result is a ski in the new weight class that rides like a chunkier plank.
The Trabucchi boys from Bormio are known for producing skis with an insane performance/weight ratio. Watch the downhill part of a European rando race and observe maniacal contestants skidding their way down icy pistes, riding tiny toothpicks that are quite likely to have the word “Trab” printed on the topskin. Take that heritage, add carbon fiber, build a European style touring ski, and look what happened.
As Scott covered in his review, “we have on our hands the legendary, the elusive, the magical, the downright holy grail of the ONE KILO ski. Our Magico test planks come in at 1000 grams, 35.4 ounces, per ski (one of our testers weighed 998 grams, the other 1002, average was exactly 1000 per ski!). They easily boast a stunning weight/surface score of 64, and sit in the top of our weight/length scoring with a 5.90. For something that skis downhill ok, that is truly amazing.”
I’ll be brief. If you want a stick that gives you an unfair advantage in ski mountaineering, look no farther than the Magico. They feel like nothing on your feet or on your backpack. And they still feel like something on the down.
(Honorable mention: Trab Volare still holds a place in our hearts, that special place reserved for non-rockered skis that still perform. Volare in last year’s quiver.)
Let us be clear. With a decades long heritage of Wasatch powder informing their builds, the Salt Lake City powder plank perfectionists at Voile do it like they own it. In fact, they do own it. This year’s V8 model is case in point.
First, while these skis have had amazingly universal appeal in various media ski tests, including ours, Voile keeps the price at an earthly level. MSRP for under $625 means these sticks will sell well, and once they go on sale they’ll probably fly out the door of Backcountry.com so fast the warehouse manager’s forklift cab will look like a dartboard. Will the driver survive? Stay tuned.
We’d like to think our review last winter has much to do with the present excitement surrounding this ski. Read Tony’s take and form your own opinion: “Without naming names, I’ve been on over a dozen backcountry skis this season, and the V8 was the first that I simply had to have. I put it through its paces – on frozen hardpack, sun-baked mashed potatoes, day-old chunder, and in two feet of pristine, blower powder. The V8 never disappointed.”
Read the complete review here.
The V8 powder engine will be available soon.
We set a policy this year of not including quiver skis from previous years. Now we’ll break our rule. As one of the most universally liked planks for human powered backcountry, let us encore the Volkl Nunataq (to be fair, Volkl did change the marked binding mount location and refreshed the graphics for 2014, so these are a “new” version).
What is the magic of these rather persistent award winners? Think it through and the guesswork is easy. A firm platform of 139/107/123 gives you that modern confidence you only receive beyond about 100 millimeters. Radical rocker covers pretty much the entire ski. Mass of 1618 grams or 57 ounces per 170 cm stick is excellent for such width and construction that doesn’t break the bank (laminated low-mass core, minimal resin).
Nuna’ is universally liked by our testers, but Perl in particular seemed to want to use them as a sacrament. Indeed, I had to add an extra padlock to the WildSnow shop to be sure the Volkls would be there in the morning. “The real test came when a group of young, sponsored freeride athletes showed up to book the powder cat,” wrote Perl in his review. “I knew it would be a day of non stop, hard-charging hubris. In the afternoon I switched over to the Nunataqs. To my delight, they easily kept pace with the exuberant lads. When it came time to put the pedal to the metal, the Volkls didn’t let me down.”
After evaluating more than 50 ski models, we found one thing to be true: the theory that lighter skis are too much of a compromise for downhill performance is now exactly that; theory. Reality? A well designed lightweight ski can work well, and if you’re gaining vertical by your own muscle power could easily be your best choice. A couple of reminders: A look at our translation of the Alpin magazine ski reviews is always enlightening. And remember that most of the skis in our previous Ultimate Quiver (2012/2013) are still viable and may be terrific deals on sale (e.g., K2 Wayback, Gotback and Backup are super versitile). Enjoy whatever vintage you pick, and be sure to let us know how it goes for you this winter if you fly up the hill with carbon wings on your toes.
Oh, and a nod to our climbing skin sponsor. This is primarily human powered ski test. Thus, the climbing skins so graciously provided by G3 were just the ticket! We used both their regular Alpinist climbing skins as well as their High Traction version. In comparison to other skins we used, the Alpinist has terrific glide but a bit less traction. High Traction version sacrifices a tiny bit of glide for a lot of grip.
On high hazard days, we tested skis on mountains managed by Aspen Snowmass Ski Company. Thanks to them for comp tickets.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.