9 Best Backcountry & Alpine Touring Skis In 2022

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9 Best Backcountry & Alpine Touring Skis In 2022

Backcountry skiing is a great way to access areas outside the ski area boundaries. But before you head into the backcountry, you need to have the right skis for the conditions. Trying to turn powder skis on crud or skinny skis in deeper snow can suck a lot of the fun out of touring.

In this guide, I’ll highlight the 9 best backcountry skis for your next tour and help you find the right pair of skis for any terrain or conditions.

Our Review Process

I’ve been backcountry skiing for 7+ years and have done everything from lap days near the ski resort to massive ski mountaineering trips in remote areas. I’ve tried out many different skis in all conditions, ranging from powder to spring slush to concrete.

I know what attributes of backcountry skis make them suitable for certain conditions and what to look for when choosing skis for different objectives. In my reviews, I’ll explain what each pair of alpine touring skis is best for and why you might want to choose them.

What Are Backcountry/Alpine Touring Skis?

Backcountry skis, also known as alpine touring (AT) skis, are skis designed for both uphill and downhill travel. They are mounted with AT bindings or occasionally frame bindings or telemark bindings, although these are less common.

You typically use backcountry skis with climbing skins when going uphill. Skins enable you to climb steeper slopes without slipping compared to the fish scales or wax coatings that most cross-country skis use.

Backcountry skis are very similar to the downhill skis you would use for inbounds skiing at a resort. In fact, any pair of downhill skis can be converted to backcountry skis by mounting them with a pair of AT bindings.

However, you’ll generally have a better experience with human-powered skiing if you’re using a backcountry-specific pair of skis. Backcountry skis tend to be lighter than traditional downhill skis, making it easier to work your way up the skin track. They can also be designed to handle a wide range of conditions. That’s helpful since you never know what kind of snow conditions you’ll encounter on a ski tour.

Blizzard Zero G 105

All-around Best Backcountry Skis

My winner
9 Best Backcountry & Alpine Touring Skis - Blizzard Zero G 105
Pros

Very lightweight

Great performance in most snow conditions

85mm, 95mm, or 105mm waist widths

Durable carbon construction

Cons

Chattery on firm snow

Expensive

The Blizzard Zero G 105 were built from the ground up for backcountry touring and big days in the mountains. These skis are ridiculously light at just 6 lbs 12 oz per pair, but they deliver downhill performance that rivals skis in a heavier weight class. Of course, there is a trade-off as with any lightweight backcountry skis—the carbon construction can be a little chattery on icy slopes or hard-packed snow.

The 105mm width is enough to provide flotation in powder, but not so wide that the turning radius gets out of hand. For ski mountaineers, the Zero G is also available with a 95mm waist that offers a little less swing weight when making jump turns.

Blizzard Zero G 105

Salomon QST 98

Best Backcountry Skis for Touring

My winner
9 Best Backcountry & Alpine Touring Skis - Salomon QST 98
Pros

Stability in most snow conditions

Tight turning radius

Decent performance in powder

Wood (not carbon) core

Cons

Too heavy for big uphill days

Won’t float on top of powder

The Salomon QST 98 is an all-mountain backcountry ski that’s perfect for casual touring and lap days in the backcountry. They’re on the heavy side at just over 9 pounds per pair, but that weight offers terrific stability in a wide variety of snow conditions. If you’re not out for huge days, the extra weight on your feet is a worthwhile sacrifice for the performance these skis offer.

I love that these skis slide through crud and breakable crust like it’s nothing. They feel as powerful as resort-specific skis and offer a secure-feeling edge grip in consolidated snow.

The QST 98 handle powder better than you might expect, although they’re not as surfy as a set of dedicated powder skis. The shorter turn radius is also a plus, especially if you’re skiing in tight trees.

Salomon QST 98

G3 SEEKr 110

Best Backcountry Skis for Powder

My winner
9 Best Backcountry & Alpine Touring Skis - G3 SEEKr 110
Pros

Exceptional float in deep powder

High tips

Modest camber

Very lightweight

Cons

Very wide turning radius

Not great on firm snow

The SEEKr line is G3’s build for powder hounds. The skis aren’t so wide that they feel like surfboards strapped to your feet, but experienced powder skiers will appreciate the slight camber underfoot. The tips also rise quite a bit, which helps you keep you floating on top of powder instead of sinking into it.

The drawback to the SEEKr 110 is that these same powder-centric features can work against you on days when the snow surface is firm. The carbon fiber and poplar wood construction doesn’t provide much stability in crud and the turning radius is pretty wide.

I think these skis are terrific if you live somewhere that consistently gets dumps of new snow or if you only go out when there’s fresh powder. They’re not as suitable if you’re searching for an all-around performance ski that can handle any conditions.

G3 SEEKr 110

Elan Ripstick 96

Best Resort & Backcountry Crossover Skis

My winner
9 Best Backcountry & Alpine Touring Skis - Elan Ripstick 96
Pros

Excellent performance across all snow conditions

Surprisingly lightweight

Moderate turning radius

Relatively affordable

Cons

Specific left and right-sided skis

The Elan Ripstick skis are worth considering as a single-quiver pair of skis if you’re splitting time between the resort and backcountry. They handle everything from groomers to deep snow with impressive grace and smoothness. The 16.2m turning radius isn’t super tight, but I’ve been able to jump turn in these skis as well as navigate through trees fairly easily.

At around 7 lbs per pair, the Elan Ripstick are light enough to take on full-day tours in the backcountry. They’re built with a wooden core construction and fiberglass sheath, so there’s no carbon fiber laminates to chatter on firmer snow.

One slightly odd thing to know about these skis is that they have a rockered and cambered profile, so there are specific left and right skis. This is easy to get used to, but you do have to pay attention when clicking into your bindings.

Elan Ripstick 96

K2 Wayback 106

Best Backcountry Skis for Crud

My winner
9 Best Backcountry & Alpine Touring Skis - K2 Wayback 106
Pros

Great stability in crud

Solid performance on icy slopes

Work well for resort days

Reasonably affordable

Cons

Above-average weight

The K2 Wayback 106 are downhill-oriented touring skis. In effect, they’re downhill skis with a slightly lighter construction.

If you’re skiing in variable, cruddy, or icy conditions, I can think of nothing better than having a relatively heavy pair of charging skis underneath me. The Wayback 106 are able to push through most disturbances in the snow without throwing you off balance, so they can make skiing on marginal days a lot more fun.

That said, these skis are above-average weight at close to 7 lbs per pair. They also work well as a pair of backcountry/resort crossover skis.

K2 Wayback 106

Black Diamond Helio Carbon 95

Best Ski Mountaineering Skis

My winner
9 Best Backcountry & Alpine Touring Skis - Black Diamond Helio Carbon 95
Pros

Very lightweight

Stable in firm snow

Excellent control on technical terrain

Enough flex to handle uneven skin tracks

Cons

Less than stellar performance on powder and ice

If you’re looking for a pair of skis to take on big, multi-day ski mountaineering adventures, I simply can’t say enough good things about the Helio Carbon 95 skis. These are the skis I reach for whenever I think I’ll need to put my skis on my back or sideslip and jump turn my way down a narrow couloir.

The Helio Carbon 95 weigh in at just over 6 lbs per pair, making them among the lightest backcountry skis on the market right now. Despite the light carbon construction, I’ve found that they’re surprisingly stable in crud and avalanche debris. The rockered profile offers great control and they can even carve respectably when you get onto a big, open face.

Black Diamond Helio Carbon 95

Atomic Backland 85

Best Ultralight Backcountry Skis

My winner
9 Best Backcountry & Alpine Touring Skis - Atomic Backland 85
Pros

Ridiculously lightweight

Tight turning radius

Great for jump turning

Spectacular uphill performance

Cons

Offer very little stability in variable snow conditions

The Atomic Backland 85 are made for climbing. These ultralight touring skis weigh in at less than 5 lbs, which is pretty crazy. They’re at least a pound lighter than any other skis on this list.

While the Backland 85 give up some performance by going so light, it’s not as much as you might think. They hold their own on a variety of snow surfaces, although you shouldn’t expect much stability on crud or ice. For that reason, I recommend these skis only for advanced skiers who are heading out on huge tours and feel comfortable in any conditions.

Atomic Backland 85

DPS Skis Pagoda 112 RP

Best Premium Backcountry Skis

My winner
9 Best Backcountry & Alpine Touring Skis - DPS Skis Pagoda 112 RP
Pros

Outstanding powder performance

Great power transfer when turning

Very stable in most conditions

Highly rockered profile

Cons

Very expensive

Slightly heavy on the up track

If you have a large budget for a new pair of alpine touring skis, the DPS Pagoda 112 RP skis make for a premium backcountry setup. These skis are extremely playful in powder and offer more stability than most other powder skis I’ve tried.

The secret to these skis is the highly rockered profile and the 15m turning radius. Together, these make it easier to press into turns while staying on top of the snow.

The Pagoda 112 RP weigh close to 8 lbs per pair, so there is a bit of a weight penalty to pay for their performance. The weight isn’t enough to detract from the skis and it plays a big role in how stable they feel.

DPS Skis Pagoda 112 RP

Volkl Blaze 94

Best Budget Backcountry Skis

My winner
9 Best Backcountry & Alpine Touring Skis - Volkl Blaze 94
Pros

Very affordable

Excellent soft snow performance

Tight turning radius

Very lightweight

Cons

Not the most stable skis in firm snow

If you’re new to the backcountry and want to put together a touring setup at a reasonable price, I recommend the Volkl Blaze 94. These freerider skis are designed for all-mountain conditions, but they excel in soft snow and powder. They’re especially good for skiing forested slopes since Volkl’s 3D radius sidecut makes it easy to execute tight turns.

At 6.6 lbs per pair, these skis are among the lightest that you’ll find at this price point. The only knock is that the price point doesn't quite match the skis’ target ability level—while these are sold at a beginner-friendly price, the Blaze 94 skis are best for intermediate and aggressive skiers.

Volkl also sells pre-cut skins for these skis, making it incredibly simple to get into the backcountry.

Volkl Blaze 94

Pros
Cons

Verdict:

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Backcountry Skis vs. Alpine Skis

From a technical standpoint, there’s no distinction between backcountry skis and alpine skis or resort skis. With the right bindings, you could use alpine skis in the backcountry—and many skiers, myself included, use backcountry skis for resort skiing.

However, there can be a huge difference in weight between backcountry and alpine skis, and this has implications for how skis are designed overall. Backcountry skis are generally much lighter than alpine skis because you have to climb uphill with them. The heavier your skis, the more work it takes to go uphill and the more tired you are before you ever start skiing downhill.

Making backcountry skis lighter involves a lot of changes to skis’ shapes and materials. Backcountry skis use lightweight wood, carbon, and fiberglass to a much greater extent than alpine skis. These lighter materials aren’t as good for charging downhill and backcountry skis can feel less stable in chunky snow or variable conditions.

Backcountry skis can also shave weight by changing their shape. Many backcountry skis are narrower than their alpine counterparts or have slightly less material between the top and bottom of the ski. That also impacts how these skis perform in different conditions.

Backcountry Ski Bindings vs. Downhill Ski Bindings

The biggest difference between a backcountry ski setup and a downhill ski setup is in the bindings. Backcountry bindings, called AT bindings, have an uphill mode in which your heel is free from the binding and only the toe of your boot is clicked in. When it’s time to go downhill, you can attach your heel to the binding.

AT bindings are very different from downhill ski bindings. The toe and heel pieces are separate in most cases, whereas downhill bindings are often one piece of hardware.

Importantly, the mechanisms by which your boots click into AT and downhill bindings are also distinct.

On AT bindings, pins on the side of your boot click into holes drilled in the toe of the boot. These allow your foot to pivot up and down when skinning uphill. There are also pins in the heel piece, which you step down onto to attach your heel when in downhill mode. You must have ski touring boots with holes at the toe and heel in order to use AT bindings. In contrast, downhill bindings grab onto flanges at the front and rear of your boot.

If you only have downhill-oriented boots and want to try backcountry skiing, you can get what are known as frame bindings. This is a hybrid binding in which your whole boot is attached to the binding using the same mechanism as a downhill or alpine binding. However, the rear of the binding itself can be released from the ski to allow you to walk uphill. Frame bindings are much heavier than AT bindings, which is why AT bindings are the standard for backcountry skiing.

Backcountry Skis For Ski Mountaineering

There are a few special things to consider if you’re looking for a pair of skis to use for ski mountaineering. Ski mountaineering involves climbing peaks and skiing down, and there may be rock climbing, ice climbing, or steep snow climbing required in addition to skinning.

When you’re ski mountaineering, it’s highly likely that you’re going to be carrying your skis on your back up a steep or icy slope at some point during the day. So, it’s critical that your skis (and boots and bindings) are as light as possible. The best skis for ski mountaineering generally weigh less than 6.5 lbs per pair.

Ski mountaineering also frequently involves navigating steep and icy constrictions like couloirs. For that, having a slightly shorter pair of skis is better because you have more room to sideslip and turn. I also prefer skis with a narrower waist—95mm or less—because it makes it easier to jump turn.

Still, you don’t necessarily want to choose the lightest, narrowest, and shortest pair of skis possible. It’s important to strike a balance between weight, turning ability, and stability. Snow conditions when ski mountaineering can be highly variable, and a little extra weight in your skis gives you the ability to stay in control.

How to Choose Backcountry Skis

Choosing the right pair of backcountry skis comes down to how you plan to use your skis and the conditions you typically ski in.

If your goal is to spend long days in the backcountry and try out big ski traverses or even ski mountaineering, prioritize reducing weight above most other factors. On the other hand, if you’re skiing big, steep lines, then a heavier, wider, and longer ski can provide more control.

If you’re mostly touring on powder days, look for a ski that’s designed to surf on top of the snow. Powder skis tend to be wide yet lightweight, and they typically don’t have much sidecut (the difference between the ski’s waist and tip or tail).

For splitting time between the backcountry and resort, look for all-mountain skis that perform well across a variety of conditions. It’s okay if these skis are on the heavy side since you won’t be spending every day going uphill with them.

Summary

I recommend the Blizzard Zero G 95 as the overall best pair of backcountry skis. They perform well in virtually all conditions and they’re lighter than the vast majority of skis for touring. The Salomon QST 98 are on the heavy side, but they offer great downhill performance for casual lap days in the backcountry. For skiing fresh snow and powder, check out the G3 SEEKr 110.

Common questions

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I live in Bellingham, Washington, at the base of the wild North Cascades. Over the last ten years, I've explored much of the region's steep terrain and endless layers of ridges and peaks, both on foot and on skis, often linking far-flung ridges together to push deeper into the range.

*The information on this site is based on research and first-hand experience but should not be treated as medical advice. Before beginning any new activity, we recommend consulting with a physician, nutritionist or other relevant professional healthcare provider.

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