Blizzard introduces their own line of true backcountry skis for next (2014/2015) season. The full “Free Mountain Light” series comprises four models, including a race version, a couple of skinny guys, and the more comfortably waisted 88 mm Altitude Ultralight, which we review here.
Let’s get some basics out of the way. While I did enjoy these skis, they are not “ultralight.” Truly, ski companies should leave the words “light” or “ultralight” out of their product names; it’s just too easy to be wrong in today’s world of technology that’s accelerating like a Tesla motorcar when it’s beer-o’clock at Google HQ executive parking. Charted out, this ski is average in mass.
Beyond the discrepancy in nomenclature, let me mitigate any misconception of this being too harsh a criticism. An “average” weight touring ski is totally functional. If it skis well, the few extra ounces over the lightest available is something you can get used to. Did Lou just say that? Yes, Virginia, he did.
Our testing of the Altitude Ultralight was limited to hard icy snow and softening corn, but you can get a pretty good read on a plank in those situations. What stood out for me was a ultra easy turn initiation. No doubt this was at least in part due to combining significant rocker with a shorter length. On top of that, the classic feel of well engineered fiberglass and wood smooths the inputs. Result: all it took was a thought and the Altitude glissed where my mind pointed. No chatter, less noise, gentle as a the morning sun.
Which brings me to the idea of ski length. I’ve been disappointed as to how rockered skis often require more length to perform correctly. I like shorter skis. They’re lighter, and carry on the backpack so much easier. Thus, I’m constantly hassling ski companies to send us test units of their sub “180 cm” lengths, more around the 167 to 173 cm range. Due to the male freeride dominated culture of present day ski marketing, the longer lengths tend to get pushed out first. Yes, most certainly the longer lengths will do better in modern pow turns and for freeride, but for mountaineering in spring conditions, or just doing longer trips in winter when weight and ergonomics are an issue, give me the shorter. So I’m delighted to say the Altitude felt surprisingly nice for a 173 cm rockered ski.
I should mention that Blizzard puts quite a bit of PR energy into touting their “Flip Core” upside-down core. In plain English, the claim is they use a core shape that creates natural rocker, so the rocker isn’t created by excessive bending of the core material in the mold. In turn, this is supposed to reduce unnatural tension and stress in the ski while in use. Does it work? Hard to know, except to say the Altitude does ski nicely, so thumbs up.
These are not stiff skis; flex is supple. Again, something I like — but could they be a “freeride” touring ski? I’d say a demo would be in order if that’s your style. They’re constructed with a core that does save weight by alternating wood strips with foam. Topskin is transparent so you can see the nice looking insides. Binding mount reinforcement plate is obvious as well and will thus inspire you to tighten binding screws with confidence. I wish more brands indicated the exact dimensions of their binding mount areas.
Altitude’s steel edges are full wrap at the tip and terminate at a black ABS tail protector where you’ll find the mandatory skin notch. The tip is rather blunt, which makes the ski essentially a few centimeters longer in running surface than the 173 cm length would indicate — perhaps another reason they skied better than I expected per length. A blunt tip is a non-issue in most situations, but sometimes a spear tip can help you win if you plow a snow pile. Not a big deal, but something to keep in the back of your mind.
Graphics are pale and light colored enough to prevent the type of icing you get on a fully dark topskin, probably about average in that department. No tip or tail holes, which is a drag; all touring skis should have those (especially now that skin companies such as Montana are making aftermarket skin anchors that use such holes).
Overall, I liked the Altitude Ultralight. It skis smoothly and with confidence, weight is reasonable. A worthy contender in the versatile “European” style touring ski width.
Weight 1484 grams, 52.4 ounces
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.