The numbers don’t lie—participation is at record levels. While this might mean your favorite spots get tracked up faster, the growth has had an overwhelmingly positive effect on gear. There have never been more options, from ultralight touring equipment to affordable boots and bindings designed for occasional out-of-bounds use. Superlight tech bindings, formerly the sole domain of Dynafit, are now everywhere, with new offerings from G3 and Fritschi. All of which is to say: if your backcountry gear is a few years old, it’s time for an upgrade. Watch: How we found the winners at our 2015 backcountry ski test.
Black Diamond Carbon Megawatt skis
BEST FOR: The deepest snow.
THE TEST: Every year, the Megawatt ($1,000) gets a bit lighter, and this winter, thanks to an updated carbon-fiber layup, it weighs a half-pound less than last season’s model. “Surprisingly nimble for its size,” one tester said. “Less weight equals less energy equals more fun,” another calculated. ABS sidewalls improve firm-snow handling, but it’s still a softy at heart.
THE VERDICT: The most agile super-fat ski we tested. 147/120/127; 7.4 lbs.
G3 Ion bindings
BEST FOR: Anyone looking for a solid, midweight tech binding.
THE TEST: A slew of smart design features on the new Ion ($550) caught our attention, including a heel post that rotates both ways, ample room beneath the toe piece to reduce ice buildup, and, to help prevent runaway skis, brakes that remain engaged (in tour mode) until you step in. Also smart: a wider mounting pattern and flip-up boot bumpers guide your toe into the tech fittings.
THE VERDICT: The most user-friendly tech binding to date. 2.6 lbs.
La Sportiva Vapor Nano
BEST FOR: The ultralight, high-performance set.
THE TEST: With a superlong rocker and a straight, stiff tail, the Nano ($1,200) took a few runs to get used to. But testers eventually came around. “Blew away all the other carbon skis,” one said. While it can charge in variable conditions, some testers thought the length of the rocker combined with the stiff tail caused over-the-handlebars “rocker launch” in the light stuff.
THE VERDICT: Best ratio of weight to surface area, but it’ll cost you. 130/103/120; 5.3 lbs.
Dynafit Speed Turn bindings
BEST FOR: Going up on a budget.
THE TEST: Testers praised the time-tested design and lightweight efficiency of the stripped-down Speed Tech ($350). It’s not available or compatible with any of Dynafit’s brakes, so you have to kick it old-school with leashes (included). That might turn off some, but the design allows for a greater adjustability range, which means you can use the Speed Turn on your entire quiver of boots.
THE VERDICT: Simple, durable, and well-priced. 1.5 lbs.
Movement Trust skis
BEST FOR: Having fun in all conditions.
THE TEST: With bomber sidewall construction and a sweet spot the size of Montana, the Trust ($750) is equal parts playful and powerful. Citing the ski’s all-mountain dimensions, rockered tip, and solid, flat tail, testers crowed about its versatility in a range of conditions. It’s a touch heavier and skinnier underfoot than the G3, which gives it a bit more bite on hardpack.
THE VERDICT: Pair it with a beefy binding and it really could be your in- and out-of-bounds setup. 141/108/129; 8.8 lbs.
Atomic Tracker 16 MNC bindings
BEST FOR: Staying close to the resort.
THE TEST: The Tracker (which is identical to the Salomon Guardian, but with a different paint job) is a beastly binding ($500). It can ski fast, absorb chatter, and power the fattest skis. The trade-off is that it’s heavy—really heavy—with touring described by one tester as “excellent cross-training for the NFL.”
THE VERDICT: Buy these instead of alpine bindings—they ski just as well, and they give you the option of touring. 6.4 lbs.
G3 Empire 115 Carbon skis
BEST FOR: Backcountry conditions of every stripe.
THE TEST: It’s a full pound lighter than last year’s, but the new carbon-fiber Empire ($980) is no welterweight. Two sheets of Titanal aluminum alloy lend the ski a dampened feel and offer stability at high speeds and in crud, but, with a serious amount of rocker, it’s still an absolute blast to surf around in soft snow.
THE VERDICT: Feathery carbon construction that remains damp and stable and still priced at under a grand? Impressive combo. 145/115/126; 7.2 lbs.
Dynafit Beast 16 bindings
BEST FOR: Charging hard up and down.
THE TEST: The tech-style Beast ($850) boasts a DIN of 16, a friction-free tour mode, and an alpine-like toe piece with a unique design that allows it to slightly pivot laterally for a more elastic feel. Most important, because of its elasticity and low six-degree ramp angle from toe to heel, the Beast delivers better downhill performance than any other tech binding on the market.
THE VERDICT: An ultra-efficient touring binding that can handle big hits and the highest speeds. 4.1 lbs.
Voile V6 skis
BEST FOR: All-day, every-day backcountry vertical.
THE TEST: At 100 millimeters underfoot, the gently rockered, lightweight V6 ($650) struck testers as just about right for everything from tight tree skiing to plowing through leftovers. “A nine out of ten in powder,” said one tester. “Positive edge hold for a light ski,” said another, noting that it was livelier than similarly sized models from K2.
THE VERDICT: Dedicated powder skiers might like something a bit fatter, but if you want a ski that won’t buckle in-bounds and is still light and fat enough for all but the deepest days, this could be the ticket. 124/100/109; 7.4 lbs.
Marker F10 Tour bindings
BEST FOR: A 50/50 compromise of up and down.
THE TEST: With its rigid rail system, the F10 ($400) is as stable on the way down as Marker’s heavier bindings, but going uphill feels smoother (and requires fewer calories) thanks to the F10’s more ergonomic toe-pivot location and reduced weight underfoot. Compatible with alpine and AT boots.
THE VERDICT: Holds up to resort beatings and tours all day long. 4.3 lbs.
K2 Wayback 96 skis
BEST FOR: Doing it all, from long tours to in-bounds charging.
THE TEST: Light and damp, the Wayback ($840) was the most versatile ski we tested this year. It slipped through bumps, snaked through trees, and bounded through crud. A tapered tip and tail make scrubbing speed and pivoting in tight spaces especially easy but also made the Wayback feel short to some testers. If your objectives are primarily powder, we recommend sizing up.
THE VERDICT: Unless you’re skiing powder every day, this could be the only ski you need. 128/96/118; 6.8 lbs.
Rottefella NTN Freedom bindings
BEST FOR: Strong telemarkers.
THE TEST: With releasability, step-in ease, and brakes, the NTN Freedom ($460) remains the safest telemark binding on the market. It’s also one of the most aggressive, thanks to its strong, active flex and precise edging power. Our only minor gripes: the crop of NTN-compatible boots remains small, as is the Freedom’s range while in tour mode.
THE VERDICT: Best telemark binding for aggressive skiers. 3.3 lbs.