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The Best Backcountry Skis and Bindings of 2016

The Best Backcountry Skis and Bindings of 2016

Backcountry gear is getting really damn good. So good, in fact, that it’s time to ditch your dedicated alpine setup if you make any turns on the other side of the ropes. Take boots: even models from traditional alpine companies are getting lighter, and they perform almost as well as their resort-bound siblings. Skis are shedding ounces, too, with clever carbon constructions and skinnier waists. But they still shred. In tech bindings, the concept that Dynafit pioneered 31 years ago has become a ubiquitous platform for others to build upon, and the results are safer and more user-friendly. To help you pick the perfect kit, we tested 207 products and then narrowed the field to the 13 most exciting.

  Photo: Black Crows

Black Crows Corvus Freebird

Gear of the Year

Black Crows, based in Chamonix, France, has a reputation for building powerful freeride skis. But its boards weren’t light enough for touring—until now. The Corvus has the heart of a big-mountain charger and the backcountry chops of a lighter ski, with a carbon-fiberglass layer under a wood core. The subtle “beak and a half” profile pairs rocker up front with a more traditional (albeit still turned-up) tail for edge hold. “Precise and multifunctional,” said one tester. At 8.5 pounds, it’s heavy for big tours, but that’s a small price to pay for superb downhill performance. 139/109/122; 8.5 lbs

Price $840 Tourability 3 Power 5

  Photo: DPS Skis

DPS Wailer 99 Tour1 skis


Best For: Turning the mountain into a snowy playground. 
The Test: It’s a full 15 percent lighter than its predecessor, but the 2016 Wailer 99 still shines on the descents. Credit the new Tour1 engineering, which combines ounce-saving cap construction (the company’s other skis have sidewalls) with aerospace-grade carbon around a featherweight balsa core. It remained stable and damp even in tricky spring conditions, while rocker in the tip and tail kept it quick and playful. With a wider 99-millimeter waist, it floated a bit better in the deep stuff than the La Sportiva. “Probably the most fun I’ve had on a DPS,” said one tester. 
The Verdict: Now even lighter, the supremely capable Wailer 99 will have you whooping with joy. 125/99/111; 6.2 lbs

Price $1,050 Tourability 4.5 Power 3.5

  Photo: Dynafit

Dynafit Radical FT 2.0 bindings 


Best For: Skiers who want a smoother ride. 
The Test: The Radical 2.0’s turntable toe takes the edge off hard, unpredictable snow. Testers found it more elastic and forgiving than its competitors. “Feels natural when skiing fast in tough conditions,” one tester said. The 2.0 also has a true forward-pressure setting that reduces the chance of prerelease (a weakness of the original). Simply put, it instills plenty of confidence when you’re pointing down the fall line. 
The Verdict: A tad heavier but much more reliable than its predecessor. Sets a new standard for tech bindings. 2.8 lbs

Price $650 Tourability 4.5 Power 4

  Photo: La Sportiva

La Sportiva Vapor Svelte skis 


Best For: Ski mountaineering. 
The Test: Last year, La Sportiva changed how we think about ultralight, high-performance skis with the Vapor Nano, which layered woven Kevlar over carbon nanotubes for an unbeatable weight-to-surface-area ratio. The Vapor Svelte features the same technology—on a diet. At 96 millimeters underfoot, it’s a good deal narrower than the Nano, and it has slightly less tip rocker. The result: the best option for going fast uphill, then powering back down. “Superlight, but with guts and a backbone,” one tester said. “It’s more confident in crud than many skis with wider waists.” 
The Verdict: Astonishingly impressive on the downhill given its weight. 126/96/113; 4.6 lbs

Price $1,200 Tourability 5 Power 3

  Photo: Genuine Guide Gear

G3 Ion bindings 


Best For: Newbie tech-binding buyers. 
The Test: The user-friendly Ion returns for the second year in a row technically unchanged, with easy step-in and intuitive heel risers. But skiers now have three options to choose from: the lightweight Ion 10; the even more lithe Ion LT (a brakeless option for the weight-conscious crowd); and the burly Ion 12 (shown here), which features brakes, a release value to 12 for all-mountain versatility, and a forged-aluminum body for impressive strength. “Looks elegant, skis elegant,” as one of our testers put it.
The Verdict: A sturdy binding that comes in three flavors. 1.3 lb.

Price $600 Tourability 4.5 Power 3.5

  Photo: K2 Skis

K2 Pinnacle 95 skis

All Mountain

Best For: Going fast no matter the conditions. 
The Test: K2 built its new line of mountain freeride skis to rip downhill. A metal laminate parallels the edges of the composite core, making for superb stability and energy transfer at high speeds—albeit with a small weight penalty. Combine that construction with long, gradual tip rocker and light tail rocker, and you get a narrow board that blasts through crud, carves down ice, and surfs surprisingly well in deep powder. Testers called it nimble, speedy, and “a highly tuned thoroughbred” of a board. Unless you ski powder every day (and you don’t), this could be the only ski you need. 
The Verdict: Performs brilliantly on both sides of the ropes. 132/95/115; 7.8 lbs

Price $850 Tourability 4.5 Power 4.5

  Photo: Marker USA

Marker Kingpin 13 bindings 

All Mountain

Best For: Replacing your alpine setup. 
The Test: One of the few DIN- and ISO-certified tech options on the market, the Kingpin releases just like an alpine binding in back, thanks to the wide heelpiece. It’s also easier to get into and out of than its true tech competitors. Six springs in the toe (instead of the usual four) gave testers more confidence skiing and hucking at speed. And while it’s heavier than your standard tech binding, it’s also much burlier. One tester called its performance “on par with alpine bindings. Just bomber.” 
The Verdict: Unmatched power and safety—at a price. 3.2 lbs

Price $840 Tourability 3 Power 5

  Photo: Dynastar

Dynastar Cham 2.0 97 skis 

All Mountain

Best For: Smearing buttery turns. 
The Test: This year, Dynastar traded the metal in its Cham for a paulownia-wood core, which offers a lighter, more forgiving ride. It also reduced the amount of tip rocker, to give the ski more control at speed, and added rocker to the tail, to make executing lively turns even easier. Quick and springy underfoot, it’s ideal for the skier seeking soft snow and spring corn. Take note: at 7.5 pounds, it’s best suited to short tours close to the resort, not all-day backcountry adventures. 
The Verdict: This playful yet stable ski is back and better than ever. 133/97/113; 7.5 lbs

Price $700 Tourability 4 Power 4

  Photo: 22 Designs

22 Designs Outlaw NTN bindings 

All Mountain

Best For: Telemarkers seeking ultimate power. 
The Test: This is the latest addition to 22 -Designs’ gang of stainless-steel (read: nearly indestructible) telemark bindings. It’s also the company’s first NTN offering, which means it’s step-in and compatible with NTN-specific boots from Crispi, Scarpa, and Scott. Maintaining the brand’s hard-charging pedigree, the Outlaw has a six-hole mounting pattern for better grip on your ski, custom spring-tension settings, and 50 degrees of free pivot in walk mode. “Old-school tele feel with the stiffness of NTN,” one tester said. 
The Verdict: All the power and edge hold of NTN from a performance leader. 3.5 lbs

Price $400 Tourability 3.5 Power 4.5

  Photo: Blizard Ski

Blizzard Zero G 108 skis 

Big Mountain

Best For: Doing it all. 
The Test: The widest ski in Blizzard’s new Zero G line, the 108 is neither the lightest nor the hardest-charging ski we tested. But it might be the perfect compromise. The paulownia core and carbon-fiber frame matched with a fairly wide waist and early rise had testers raving about the floaty ride in powder. On icy steeps, it held its edge and carved quick turns, with traditional camber underfoot and sidewall construction. It sailed through variable conditions, too, with embedded carbon from tip to tail dampening vibrations through chunder. 
The Verdict: The best performance-to-weight ratio here. 136/108/122; 7.3 lbs

Price $960 Tourability 4.5 Power 4

  Photo: Salomon

Salomon Guardian MNC 13 bindings 

Big Mountain

Best For: Resort skiers who dabble in touring. 
The Test: Widely regarded as the best frame binding on the market, the Guardian (identical to the Atomic Tracker, just with different paint) returns unchanged this season. With a maximum DIN of 13, it’s built for big, bold descents, but take note: it will inflict suffering on the way back up, given its weight—about double the next heaviest binding on this page. But when it comes to easy operation (a flick of the pole puts it in walk mode) and compatibility (it works with most boot soles—AT, alpine, or Walk to Ride), the Guardian can’t be beat. 
The Verdict: Does everything an alpine binding does, with the added option of touring. 6.4 lbs

Price $450 Tourability 2.5 Power 5


Armada KUFO 103 skis 

Big Mountain

Best For: Going from powder to crud. 
The Test: The new KUFO is the same width as last year’s, but it’s 16 percent lighter, with nary a drop in downhill performance. The board’s caruba-wood core makes for a buoyant ride, while carbon and Kevlar throughout give it crud-busting stability. Armada kept almost everything else the same, including the early rise and camber underfoot, which contributes to its playfulness, and a flat tail for driving turns. “Kudos to Armada for making a ski that both surfs and rails,” one tester said. 
The Verdict: A powerhouse all-mountain option, now lighter and with more float. 119/102/123; 7 lbs

Price $775 Tourability 4 Power 4

  Photo: Dynafit

Dynafit Beast 14 bindings 

Big Mountain

Best For: The hardest chargers. 
The Test: The Beast 14 uses the same turntable-toe technology as Dynafit’s Radical 2.0 (page 102) and the same heelpiece as the Beast 16. The result: a binding that smooths out harsh bumps, locks your boot in place, and releases safely in a crash. Oh yeah, it’s also about a third of a pound lighter than the 16 without sacrificing down-hill performance. We do have two complaints: AT boots must be modified with a metal heel fitting (included) to be compatible, and there’s no zero-degree option in tour mode for the flats. 
The Verdict: Best-in-class downhill performance with some touring limitations. 3.5 lbs

Price $750 Tourability 3.5 Power 4.5

The Best All Mountain Skis of 2016

In the gear world, the word versatile is supposed to connote “deft” and “multi-talented.” It’s overused to the point of cliché, but it’s also a totally accurate description of the new all-mountain skis. Finally, after decades of R&D, you can buy one pair of boards—not too fat, not too skinny, not too carvy, not too buttery—to replace a garageful of overly specialized confusion. In fact, the options are so adroit, we had to rethink our Snowbird, Utah, test. When a powder ski can rip a beautiful GS turn, it’s no longer just a powder ski. So, too, with a frontside

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The Best All Mountain Frontside Skis of 2016

This year's planks are more versatile—and fun—than ever. Whatever your style, these four skis can handle anything at your favorite resort, but they're best suited to moguls, glades, and fast hot laps down groomers.    Photo: Völkl Völkl Kendo Best For: Supreme versatility. The Test: The old Kendo was a fall-line machine that excelled at linking arcs on groomers, with occasional off-piste forays. The new Kendo—with tip and tail rocker and some subtle tapering—is all that, just with more off-trail chops. Like its older sibling, it uses wood and metal, but the new shape makes turn initiation far easier, despite the added width. The

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The Best All Mountain Powder Skis of 2016

If you're a skier who spends most of your time out West and wants a one-ski quiver that can handle everything from nine inches of fresh to chunked-up chutes, look at one of the eight planks below.    Photo: Rossignol Rossignol Soul 7 Best For: Having buckets of fun. The Test: For many skiers, this is still the best blend of relaxed playfulness and high-speed stability on the market. The rest of the industry is scrambling to match what Rossi achieved with its weight-reducing honeycomb tips, well-designed taper (the ski enters and exits turns effortlessly), and relatively long effective edge for immense carving pleasure. The Verdict: Probably

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The Best Specialized Skis of 2016

This year, we tested the most versatile batch of skis we've ever seen. But sometimes you need a ski that's right for one job and one job only. No all-arounder matches these two planks for the conditions—powder and fast frontside runs, respectively—that they were designed for.   Photo: Salomon Salomon MTN Lab $950 Best For: Pure powder, face shots. The Test: Let’s assume you own an all-mountain ripper but live to chase winter storms. You need a ski like the MTN Lab in your quiver. Salomon paired a honeycomb tip with a new material called CFX Superfiber—a carbon and flax weave that adds power and dampening

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The Best Snowboards of 2016

Our 45-member test team spent a week riding 94 new snowboards in Crested Butte, Colorado, last March, shredding from dawn till dusk until our legs could take no more. The first few days on hardpack and a choppy mix of ice and snow taught us a lot about how the boards performed in dicey conditions. Then the storm gods dropped a foot of fresh powder. What we learned: today’s top boards are as capable banging through bumps below the lift as they are floating over a powder field. The trick is finding one with a ride that matches your style. 

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The Best Alpine Ski Boots of 2016

There's no perfect ski boot. Really, the only thing that matters at the start of the day is fit. We've narrowed your picks down to six top models, from comfy cruisers to stiff racers. The rest is up to you.    Photo: Head Head Vector Evo 130 Best For: Freeskiers The old Vector was a nice racing boot. This year, Head perfected the family by making the new Evo 130 even more performance oriented, with a forward lean that encourages an upright stance, a relatively steep ramp angle, and a narrower last.  Price $800   Photo: Dalbello Dalbello Avanti 100 Best For: Dialing In Fit Not

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The Best Alpine Touring Ski Boots of 2016

Enjoyable skiing comes down to happy feet. From the odd skin up the resort to multi-day tours, these six boots have got you covered.    Photo: Technica Tecnica Cochise Pro 130 Best For: Occasional Missions The Cochise Pro 130 carries over the interchangeable tech- and DIN-compatible soles of last year’s model but gets an upgraded liner. It remains a leader in the AT market, but due to its weight, it isn’t ideal for big-mileage days. That said, if you put a premium on going downhill fast, it can’t be beat. 8.9 lbs Price $840   Photo: Scott Sports Scott Sports Superguide Carbon Best For: Long Tours To

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The Best Women’s Backcountry Skis, Bindings, and Boots of 2016

From skinning up in the morning to shredding down icy chutes, our two favorite alpine-touring setups can handle it all.    Photo: Genuine Guide Gear G3 Synapse 101 W skis  A ski this light and uphill oriented tends to get skittish on the downs. Not so the Synapse 101W, which let testers rip in everything from day-old mank to eight inches of fresh. The superb mix of stiffness and playfulness comes from the carbon-wrapped poplar and paulownia core and the early-rise tip and tail. 130/101/118; 5.8 lbs Price $900   Photo: Black Diamond Equipment Fritschi Diamir Vipec 12 bindings  Last year the Vipec 12 made our list

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The Best Women’s Alpine Skis of 2016

We put these four women-specific skis to the test alongside two dozen others at Snowbird, Utah, this year. They made it into the issue for a reason.   Photo: Atomic Atomic Vantage 90 CTI W  All Mountain Frontside  Even frontside devotees detour into trees and bumps. Atomic’s answer: a ski that pairs on-piste performance with stellar off-trail capabilities. Camber underfoot is backed by a wood core and vibration-eating metal to ramp up carving power. A top-sheet window reveals woven carbon mesh that runs from tip to tail for torsional strength. Subtle rocker makes for supple turn initiation, while the wide 90-millimeter waist means you’ll stay lifted in the fluff.

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The Best Women's Snowboards of 2016

These boards play nice everywhere. All you have to decide is what kind of conditions you spend the most time in, then go ride everything on the hill.    Photo: Gnu Gnu Zoid Best For: Deep CarvesThe asymmetric Zoid comes in two shapes: one for regular footers and one for goofy. Testers agreed it was a joy to ride almost anywhere. “It’s medium stiff lengthwise and charges through corn, bumps, and groomers,” one noted. The serrated MagneTraction edges provide solid hold on ice, and the surf-inspired Ekstrom tail “feels like pumping a wave but carves incredibly well,” our tester said.  Price $650

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The Nordic Skiing Essentials of 2016

Our testers spent several months last winter putting the best 2016 Nordic gear to the test for you. These ten winners make up an ideal cross-country kit, designed to keep you comfortable, warm (but not too warm!), and fast on the trail.    Photo: Louis Garneau Louis Garneau Alpha vest The Alpha’s asymmetrical zipper won’t rub on your chin, and the form-fitting athletic cut won’t impede movement or catch the wind in a tuck.  Price $160   Photo: Swix Swix Down shorts These shorts are the winter equivalent of mountain-bike baggies: a functional statement piece. Keep them on while warming up, then zip them off when temps rise or

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The Splitboarding Essentials of 2016

Race to the top with these nine backcountry tools that will keep your kit fast and light.    Photo: Amplid Amplid Milligram splitboard At 5.5 pounds, this carbon board is light without sacrificing performance. The blunt nose gives it a surfy feel in powder, while the stiff core remains responsive even while riding icy late-season couloirs.  Price $1,100   Photo: Dakine Dakine Heli vest Ditch the pack in favor of the Heli. The slim 1.9-pound nylon top is chairlift-friendly and easily accommodates the essentials (shovel, beacon, and probe), plus an extra layer, snacks, and a one-liter bladder.  Price $150   Photo: Black Diamond Black

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