Explore the unbeaten slopes on a good pair of backcountry skis. (Kyle Frost / Unsplash /)
Skiing in the backcountry is an adventure and can plunge into extremes. Some ski tourers jump from helicopters in the deep alcoves of Alaska or take off from mountain slopes in the Wyoming wilderness. And if that’s what you want, we’ve listed a pair of skis here for you to consider. But if you’re just starting out or have rented your friend’s skis and want to invest in your own, we can help break down some of the intricate features of the best backcountry skis.
BEST ALL MOUNTAIN SKIS: Atomic Backland 78 + Hybrid Skin 78 Backcountry Skis
BEST LIGHT BACKCOUNTRY SKIS: Blizzard Men’s Zero G 95 Backcountry Touring Skis
BEST WOMEN’S SKIS: Blizzard Women’s Black Pearl 88 All-Mountain Lightweight Ski
BEST HIGH PERFORMANCE BACKCOUNTRY SKI: DPS Ski Wailer A110 C2 Ski
BEST CHEAP SKI: Big Mountain Skis for men from Traverse Atlas
What you need to know about backcountry skiing
What you need to know about backcountry skis depends on what you want to do with them as there are certain types. Do you live somewhere in the Rocky Mountains where you are exposed to many mountains that are over 14,000 feet high with cornices, couloirs and drops? Are you going to climb a lot on skis? Are you looking specifically for a women’s backcountry ski? All of these have different functions.
Also, be aware that some backcountry skis can perform dual roles. Not only do you need to be off-piste, but you can also use backcountry skis at a resort. Once you’ve chosen your skis, you will still need shoes, sticks, and other snow gear, but the skis are one of the first big hurdles.
Read on for the basics and the best backcountry skis to meet those needs.
Related: lighters, tents, and other backcountry gear you might need
Will you come across ice and pieces of snow?
If you think you’ll have a lot of powder along the way, but also ice and some pieces of snow, and if you have long distances to drive to get to your destination, then all mountain skis should be considered. These are easy to turn around and you can navigate ice, powder, and even groomed trails. Overall, if you’re looking to ski in all of these conditions and more, all-mountain skis are great backcountry skis.
Best all-mountain skis: Atomic Backland 78 + Hybrid Skin 78 backcountry skis
The Atomic Backland 78 gives you good control in difficult conditions. (Atomic /)
These Atomic skis have an ultra-light wood core and are the brand’s lightest backcountry ski. That said, they’re perfect for touring, but they’re also good for climbing and shredding. They provide control and the sidewall absorbs shock, which is important when skiing on a tough track. You can also easily find pre-made skins for these so that you can easily climb if you need to.
Are you going to climb a lot on skis?
Not every run you want to try does a lift take you up. Sometimes you have to go there and when that happens you want a light ski.
Backcountry skiing, like most other outdoor activities, involves give and take when it comes to equipment. For example, if you want something light, you have to be willing to spend a little more. But if you plan to hit the perfect slopes for miles and miles, lightweight may be for you.
Best light backcountry ski: Blizzard Zero G 95 backcountry touring ski for men
It’s one of the lightest backcountry skis in its price range. (Snowstorm /)
The Blizzard Zero G 95 backcountry touring ski for men is light but very strong. The company combined its Carbon Drive 2.0 with an ultra-light paulownia wood core to provide power for navigation on the best approach and a solid grip edge for the most stable descent. These touring skis also have carbon reinforcement on the edges, ensuring you get to your destination with enough time to gently cut through the new powder that is waiting for you.
Are you looking for women-specific skis?
If you’re a larger than average woman with a lot of backcountry experience, you might want to buy a top-notch men’s ski. But when you’re starting out or an advanced skier and closer to 5 feet, check out the women’s lines.
The differences between men’s and women’s skis are very subtle. There isn’t as big a difference as there is between hiking boots for men and women or mountain bikes. But women’s skis are a little softer and more forgiving than men.
Best backcountry ski for women: Blizzard Black Pearl 88 all-mountain lightweight ski for women
These women’s backcountry skis that have been tested, redesigned, and retested. (Snowstorm /)
One of the biggest problems women face with women-specific gear is the lack of input from actual women in developing the product. When Blizzard developed these all mountain skis, they used contributions from their Women to Women project to ensure that the ultimate product is really the best for women. It’ll tackle the backcountry, but you can also rip off the slopes if you’re staying in a ski resort.
Do you want high performance skis?
If you’ve been skiing for a while and found that your skis aren’t making the turns you want, or feel a little sloppier than you’d prefer, consider upgrading. High-performance skis aren’t just a marketing ploy – they’re durable, responsive, and lightweight, resulting in extreme control. They will also be strong and perfect for deep powder conditions.
Best high-performance backcountry ski: DPS Ski Wailer A110 C2 Ski
These DPS skis give you control and speed. (DPS Ski /)
DPS, a brand known for their high-end skis and the best-selling Wailer collection, offers this A110 C2 ski known for its aggressive design. It allows you to cut those big turns into big mountains at high speed that you probably shouldn’t be telling your mom about. The ski has the Alchemist creation developed by DPS, which consists of carbon layers around an aspen core and is therefore extremely strong and light.
Are you looking for an affordable backcountry ski?
We will not advise you to buy cheap skis. You’re going to want something that holds together and keeps you safe out there. But ski gear can be expensive, and when you’re just starting out you don’t want to spend an arm or leg on skis and you’re not sure if you will end up using it.
So when you buy cheap backcountry skis, look for skis with features that focus more on getting you there than on doing it in the easiest possible way. You will still want steel edges and a nice fall under your feet.
Best Cheap Backcountry Skis: Traverse Atlas Men’s Big Mountain Skis
If you want to try out backcountry but aren’t ready for the biggest mountains and descents just yet, these Traverse Atlas skis are a great choice. (Traverse/)
The Traverse Atlas men’s big mountain ski is affordable, but not a ski. It has steel edges to prevent damage and to hold those edges in place, and a 116mm waist that will keep you afloat in deep powder. You’re set for most approaches with some skins tied to the ground and can feel safe and prepared for many descents. You can also bring them to a resort and ski groomed slopes with these men’s skis.
Best Backcountry Ski FAQ: People ask too
What makes a good backcountry ski?
The best backcountry skis will be the ones that suit both your body and your desires. We cover the above-mentioned wishes. If you are well over 6 feet tall, strong and have a lot of skiing experience, you might want a stiffer ski. If you are little and just starting out, choose a lighter, softer model.
What size ski do you need for the backcountry?
Don’t expect a simple rule for the size of your backcountry ski. This likely depends on your experience and where you plan to ski. When converting your height to centimeters, your skis should generally be 6 inches longer or shorter than your height.
Can you use backcountry skis on groomed trails?
Yes. You probably won’t want to ski long cross-country ski trails on them unless those long stretches take you to big slopes. You can also use backcountry skis in ski areas. They are lighter than your normal alpine skis, but they work perfectly.
One final word on shopping for backcountry skis
Before buying backcountry skis, consider your experience and your path of travel, as certain types are best for certain skiing applications. If you’re just starting out, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to get a decent pair of skis, either.