Yeah, I know, we’ve been slouchers on our ever popular Ultimate Quiver ski reviews. Nature of blogging; you gotta go where the muse takes you. Well, I’ve circled back again. This time, how about a simple picklist based on myself and other testers who got out on our carefully selected skis last winter?
(Please note, in our Ultimate Quiver lists we don’t worry about what’s new this year. Instead, we cherish including skis that have been on the market for a season or more, so you, dear readers, can search for sale prices. But if we did experience something new, and it was good, we include those planks as well. Operative concept is that backcountry skis have overall become an incredible and mature product, meaning you can buy skis from several years ago that easily equal performance of most, if not all “new” models. In my opinion, where we’re seeing current turbulence in the in the industry is with bindings and boots.)
Skinny SkisA specialized category, not for everyone. Skis under about 80 mm at the waist might be without issues on groom or solid spring corn snow. Ride in powder or difficult snow, however, and you could desire something fatter. Thus, we only test a few “skinnies.” Our favorite in this genre is clearly the Salomon X-Alp (79 mm). We passed these around to a half dozen experienced testers, everyone was amazed at how much fun they had on something that appeared to be a toothpick with pain potential. None wanted to make the X-Alp their primary go-to, but most said they’d love to have a pair on the rack for springtime speed runs and resort uphilling. It’s my choice for the latter.
Another Salomon review
Shop for THE skinny stick of the year
European Style — The EightiesWhat a decade — Magic Johnson, Mel Gibson and Madonna. Madonna? Back to skiing. If you track ski touring trends you know why the 80s are our largest category. Worldwide, hundreds of thousands of backcountry skiers enjoy planks with waist widths hovering around 85 millimeters. It just works.
A darling in the European ski touring form factor remains the the Volkl VTA 88 Lite (88 mm). Amazing that a ski with so little tonnage (180 cam at ~1000 grams) can achieve relatively excellent edge hold and minimal chatter. Step off piste — they do fine as well. Bouncy and fun, lots of tip rocker to keep you changing directions by thought alone. Not for novice skiers, however. (Note that the Volkl VTA 80 Lite received Skialper Speed Touring Ski of the Year, if you’re looking for something narrower).
DPS Tour1 Cassiar 87 (87 mm). Testers expressed an edge towards the VTA in comparison, but encouraged me to include Cassier 87 in our Eighties category. Fair enough. Could be a bit smoother and more forgiving but still performs, invokes weight penalty compared to Volkle (Cassiar at 178 cm, 1340g).
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Blizzard Zero G 85 (85 mm) is definitely on the list; serious skis that will make the serious skier take life less seriously. A bit of rocker. One kilo weight class. We’d call Zero G slightly more hard snow oriented than some of our other picks, but they still applaud the pow. High Alps spring touring? You could not do better.
Zero G reviews
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Elan Ibex 84 Carbon XLT (85 mm) yields a unique combination of soft flex and carbon lightness. I love these skis, but they’re not for everyone as they tend to fold up at speed. On the other hand, a truly supple flex is still a valid feature that can make a plank fun and forgiving. That’s the case with Ibex.
Probably due to the North American bias to wider skis, we couldn’t find good shopping options for the 84 version of the Ibex. Let us know.
k2 Wayback 2016-2017 (88 mm) is a tester’s pick for international “quiver of one” travel. They’ve skied excellent since our first reviews and use “way back” in ancient Wildsnow history. Interestingly, we’re not seeing much in the way of Wayback 88 online availability, but they’re on the K2 website so they must exist in the dark hidden corners of a warehouse, somewhere on the planet. Latest version is the “Ecore,” in our view any genome of this ski is desirable. Ladies note that the K2 Talkback earned the Skialper Magazine “Lady Ski of the Year” in their ski touring category, the gals in our crew have used that ski for years and it’s indeed a go-to. Talkback 88 in my opinion is pretty much the same thing as a Wayback 88. Prove me wrong.
Current Wayback review
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Scott Super Guide SG 88 (88 mm) wowed us all. It simply skis everything, well. I’m not sure what the Scott secret sauce is — probably a combination of well tested geometry and excellent materials science. We were impressed from the start, and delighted to see the SG 88 awarded Ski of the Year by Skialper magazine. In our opinion, Skialper’s ratings are the most important in the industry. Take them seriously.
Review of the SG 95, also excellent, applies to performance of the 88 which we somehow made the egregious error of not reviewing (due in part to simply having fun skiing these things).
Shop for the SG
Don’t overlook Voile Objective (83 mm) in this category. Again, amazing price-performance ratio. Perhaps a little too far on the skinny side, and with a simpler materials science compared to pricier planks, these guys still perform as a “1 kilo class” board that’ll underpin an effective touring kit. Not a ski for downhill novices.
Objective review of Objective.
Shop for it objectively.
One HundredsSkis from around 95 mm at the waist remain our favorite for North American winter touring, especially in our vast mountain regions of the mid-continent. You get enough platform to feel “modern,” yet not so much width and mass as to feel like you’re climbing with ice coated boulders strapped to your boots.
Voile V6 (96 mm) remains one of our all time favorites in this category — due mostly to its amazing cost/performance ratio. Skis well, leaves enough coin for bindings and beacon batteries. Gals or guys, you simply can not go wrong with this plank.
Shop for V6
Apologies for sounding like a broken voice recording app, but the Volkl love keeps surfacing in my conscious like a dolphin leaping to the sun. V-Werks BMT 94 must be included. With somewhat unique “full rocker” and excellent weight-performance ratio, in my opinion there is no ski available that can beat the V-Werks in downhill performance. A little heavier than some other planks, demanding perhaps a bit more skill from the skier, after a few years on the market BMT still elicits snow melting smiles.
If you’re looking for ultimate width/weight ratio, don’t ignore La Sportiva Vapor Svelt (96 mm). While these planks don’t ski like a stauncher layup, they progressed down the hill much better than any of us expected. If nearly all I did was powder laps on a “one hundred,” I’d pick the Svelt. Saddle with lightweight bindings or you’ll receive a criminal indictment from the weight police.
We got mixed reads on the Atomic Backland 95, but one of our testers liked them so much he nuked all other opinions. I like the Backland’s skin slot in the tip (all touring skis should have) and in my experience they’re definitely what I’d call an all-arounder. By that I mean a ski that’s well suited to being a quiver of one, as opposed to powder specialized boards or on-piste carvers. Plenty of carbon, adequate rocker, care in design from a company who has former World Cup racers doing everything from testing to factory layup. Skialper Magazine top selection, free touring category.
Wide OnesIn the WildSnow universe, we only use jumbo wide skis for mid-continental powder and soft snow laps. We thus don’t concern ourselves the firm snow performance of such boards. Our bias here is to the best width/weight ratios, rather than heavier builds with enhanced performance in the areas of damping and edge grip.
Thusly, my first mention is the La Sportiva Vapor Nano (105 mm). Much improved since their first release a few years ago, Nano should have been marketed as something like “Nano 3.0.” In any case, these guys simply and effectively provide you with what’s perhaps the best powder to weight ratio in the ski world. I just wish they were still heat reflective white.
This is where to not include DPS in our quiver would be a mortal sin. There is no other application DPS focuses their ski design more on than giving the world wider planks that rage through powder like they’re a hand of the creator. And by creator I’m not talking about DPS spiritual leader Drake, but rather the man upstairs who allows us our allotted minutes of glisse bliss per lifetime.
Thing about DPS; it used to all be so simple. They sold a few models. You just picked the most expensive in the width you wanted and there you went with a smile. Now they’ve branched their line into a “Tour” series. Boasting skis with the same DPS geometry but lighter builds, we’ve found the Tours remain true to our expectations of DPS, while not being quite so powerful and all-around performing as their regular layups. In terms of Ultimate Quiver, I go two ways with this. Skis such as the original Wailers are simply amazing. Find them used, use. Later versions are just as good or perhaps better though you’ll encounter the cost/performance ratio decision. Yet in terms of WildSnow.com and our weight bias, the sweet spot here is indeed the DPS Tour series. In that, we’ve extensively tested Tour 1 Wailer 106. Approved.
I’ll close with a wideboy pick. Wildsnow ski tester Bob Perlmutter did get out on the Tour1 Lotus 124. While a ski that wide is out of our Ultimate Quiver gamut, Bob did file the following:
“That elusive third ski. Hmmm! I guess I would have to say the DPS Tour1 Lotus 124. At 124mm I rarely skied them but when I did they were just pure fun. You find yourself giggling at the bottom of a run. Who doesn’t like that unless one takes themselves too seriously.”
Sidebar: Other Brands. Unlike large magazine ski reviews, we don’t attempt to test and review nearly every backcountry ski extant. That’s the big pub’s job, what with their casts of thousands fueled by mass quantities of adult beverages. Our process is somewhat different as well — we tend to use skis for multiple days, much in actual ski touring conditions though we do use ski lift accessed terrain as well. This process is either limited or enhanced by how deeply a company is distributed in North America, as we desire to serve our majority of readers by not going overboard on covering product that’s hard to get. In any case, Black Crows is a good example of something I’d have liked to include, is no doubt excellent, and hopefully will be seen on these pages fairly soon. Check out our former Quiver reviews. Lou
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.