The 7 Best Backcountry Skis of 2012

Völkl Nunataq Skis

Völkl Nunataq Skis    Photo: Courtesy of Völkl

Völkl Nunataq

It’s the Holy Grail: a fully rockered powder ski that carves cleanly on hard snow. Finally, the Nunataq nails it. “Pivot, slash, and edge with power; super-fun,” said one tester. “Buttery flex, exceptional dampness, effortless turn initiation—yet still light enough to climb,” said another. One of the main reasons this ski is so playful is its shape. The Nunataq’s dimensions are based on Völkl’s Gotama alpine ski, one of the most popular all-mountain powder skis of all time. While the Nunataq is at its best slashing through soft or uncut snow, the combination of moderate flex, traditional sidecut, and tip-to-tail rocker means you can still lean on it confidently on firmer snow. Thanks to air channels in the ski’s wood core, the Nunataq is also remarkably light for such a wide board. Bonus: holes in the tip make affixing the optional pretrimmed Colltex skins ($185; colltex.com) a snap. 139/107/123, 7.9 lbs

VERSATILITY: 4.5
POWER: 4.5

Black Diamond Megawatt skis

Black Diamond Megawatt ski
Black Diamond Megawatt ski   Photo: Courtesy of Black Diamond

THE SELL: A powder specialist that’s as fun as it is fat. THE TEST: Redesigned with more aggressive rocker and softened flex, the new Megawatt is even more user-friendly. Testers found this giant more forgiving, more dynamic, and, most important, more fun. Testers cited “Indy-car handling” and relished medium-radius and long-radius turns at speed. But hardpack is no friend of the Megawatt, and at nearly ten pounds a pair, it takes a strong set of hip flexors to haul them uphill. For those who can, however, the payoff is “one bitchin’ ride down.” THE VERDICT: One of the most playful fat skis on the market. 145/120/126, 9.7 lbs

VERSATILITY: 2.5
POWER: 4

Faction Royale Skis

Faction Royale skis
Faction Royale skis   Photo: Courtesy of Faction Skis

THE SELL: Playful powder specialist. THE TEST: With heavy rocker elevating the tip and tail and a dead-flat profile underfoot, the Royale is a dedicated powder tool, as happy landing tricks off of a booter in the backcountry as it is pivoting and smearing down a pillow line. Testers ran out of similes for fun as they described the agility and energy of the Royale in soft snow. But like the Black Diamond Megawatt, the Royale’s soft rockered tip and tail deflect quite a bit on firmer snow. THE VERDICT: Pure soft-snow bliss. 150/122/140, 9.3 lbs

VERSATILITY: 2.5
POWER: 3.5

Lib Tech Pow NAS Recurve Skis

Lib Tech Pow NAS Recurve ski
Lib Tech Pow NAS Recurve ski   Photo: Courtesy of Lib Tech

THE SELL: More points of contact for better edge hold. THE TEST: Snowboard maker Lib Tech has been in the ski game for a few years now. Like its other models, the NAS Recurve—NAS stands for Narrow Ass Snowboards—features Magne-Traction*, wavy edges that offer seven points of contact with the snow. It’s a radical design, and the effect is noticeable. Testers were impressed with the Recurve’s tenacity and lively feel on firmer snow. “Knifed through anything,” said one. A rockered tip made for “bobber-like flotation” in softer snow. In sun crust, however, the Lib Tech was “tossed into the next county.” THE VERDICT: Snowboard technology that translates well into ski construction. 151/115/141, 10.2 lbs

VERSATILITY: 3.5
POWER: 3

*Lib Tech debuted its serrated-edge technology (called Magne-Traction) in its snowboards in 2005. Boardmakers Arbor, Nidecker, and Rome have since experimented with similar edge construction; the NAS Recurve marks its first appearance in skis.

Movement The Trust Skis

Movement The Trust skis
Movement The Trust skis   Photo: Courtesy of Movement

THE SELL: An all-condition ripper with a sweet spot the size of Texas. THE TEST: An energetic poplar core, a perfectly rockered powder-tip profile, and durable ABS sidewall construction combine in rare synchronicity. Testers were shocked at the stability and power of this ski in all conditions—ripping powder, busting crud, slicing hardpack—but also at its ability to slow down and work through technical terrain with ease. “An exceptionally balanced ski,” stated one tester. It rides shorter than you’d think, however, so size up. THE VERDICT: As versatile as it is fun. 140/108/128, 8.8 lbs

VERSATILITY: 4
POWER: 4.5

DPS Wailer 112RP Pure SE Skis

DPS Wailer 112RP Pure SE ski
DPS Wailer 112RP Pure SE ski   Photo: Courtesy of DPS Skis

THE SELL: A carbon-fiber, wood-core ski that’s more reactive, lighter, and more durable than a traditional fiberglass-metal, wood-core ski. THE TEST: DPS makes some lofty claims about the Pure SE, but testers were smitten. The fully tip- and tail-rockered ski floated through everything, while its traditional camber underfoot laid down a reliable edge on hardpack. Its bulbous nose surfed over chop, and true to DPS’s claims, it was one of the most energetic skis we tested. Also available in a cheaper (and heavier) carbon-fiberglass layup, the Wailer 112RP Hybrid ($799). THE VERDICT: Pricey, but tons of fun. 141/112/127, 6.5 lbs

VERSATILITY: 4
POWER: 3

Voile Charger Skis

Voile Charger skis
Voile Charger skis   Photo: Courtesy of Voile

THE SELL: An American-made powder pig. THE TEST: Light, nimble, versatile, and entertaining, the rocker-tipped Voile Charger lives up to its name in nearly every respect. Built in the USA, at the foot of Utah’s Wasatch Range, this aspen-cored ski was tailor-made for hunting down fresh snow. It shows. “Rails in all conditions, and can be skied equally effectively at speed or casually,” gushed one tester. It was a bit sluggish in technical terrain, and multiple testers noted that it preferred longer turns and wide-open spaces to tight trees. THE VERDICT: Makes us wish we lived closer to the Wasatch Range. 137/112/126, 8.1 lbs

VERSATILITY: 4
POWER: 3

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