The Best Backcountry Skis and Bindings of 2017

The Best Backcountry Skis and Bindings of 2017

The race is on to create the perfect beyond-the-ropes setup.

Winter Buyer’s Guide
(Vollé)

Voilé Supercharger

Gear of the Year

This season our team of more than four dozen tested 210 skis, 53 boots, and 13 bindings—and crunched the num­bers on 1,400 review forms—to come up with this: the best backcountry gear of the year. The 19 products featured continue the trend toward lightweight performance. The skis all have at least some carbon (although you wouldn’t know it from how they rip), the boots come in well under eight pounds, and only one of the bindings has a frame. So yeah, a lot of brands are making great stuff, but there was one clear winner: the crazily adept Supercharger. Salt Lake City–based Voilé makes boards for perfectionists, running each design through a bunch of iterations in its U.S. factory before taking it to market. We were aware of this DNA from first chair. With dimensions based on the old V8, with just a bit more tip rocker and a profile like the original Charger, this plank is a “near perfect mélange of float, dampness, versatility, and tourability,” said one tester. It’s surprisingly light given its girth (106 millimeters underfoot), but a new aspen core with carbon stringers adds confidence on steeps. We found that we could float through powder, then flat-out charge over hardpack back to the lift. Mount it with a binding from the All Mountain page and you have your quiver—for about $100 less than most of its competitors. 140/106/124; 7.3 lbs

Price $695

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Touring

Winter Buyer’s Guide
(Vökl)

Völkl VTA 88 Lite 

Best For: Going up and down really fast. 

The Test: The folks at Völkl have a genius for building skis that are both playful and stable. The catch? They’re usually heavy, which makes them better for the resort than the backcountry. Enter the VTA 88 Lite—the lightest ski here. By wrapping a wood core in carbon, Völkl was able to ditch all the metal, shedding half a pound per ski in the process. And the unique three-dimensional topsheet shrugs off snow 
on the way up, cutting even more weight. 

The Verdict: A backcountry board that wants to play at the resort but still flies uphill. 127/88/106; 4.6 lbs

Price $1,065

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Winter Buyer’s Guide
(Hagan)

Hagan ZR 

Best For: Winning ski-mountaineering races. 

The Test: The only thing you really need to know about the ZR? It weighs just over four ounces per foot. To illustrate how ridiculous that is, note that the next-lightest models in our test (the Fritschi and the G3) are about five times heavier. That weight advantage amounts to mechanical doping on the ups, but the binding performed surprisingly well on descents, too, with a relatively high release value. Get it with brakes for $100 extra. Our main gripe: just one climbing position limits versatility. 

The Verdict: If you must have the very lightest setup, you’ve met your match. 8.2 oz

Price $650

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Winter Buyer’s Guide
(Hagan)

Hagan Y-Ride 

Best For: Lightweight, downhill confidence. 

The Test: Born in Austria as a pro ski mountaineer’s brand, Hagan is expanding its line for the rest of us, with a new series of extra-light skis that absolutely fly. The Y-Ride is “amazing at high speeds on hardpack,” said one tester. “Superstrong and stable, considering it comes in at just over five pounds,” raved another. Some of the credit goes to the carbon tip that tames vibrations before they travel up the length of the ski. Slight rocker up front lets these boards float well in boot-top-deep fluff, too. 

The Verdict: While it’s no big-mountain bully, it’s shockingly powerful considering its minuscule weight. 128/88/108; 5.3 lbs

Price $800

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Winter Buyer’s Guide
(G3)

G3 Ion 12 

Best For: Low weight and high speeds. 

The Test: It’s been two seasons since G3 sent its Ion into the tech-binding ring, and its British Columbia–based engineers continue to evolve the model. The current Ion 12 is the best to date—and arguably the best in its class. It clings to a boot like Ted Ligety on a giant-slalom course, giving our testers confidence to lay down fast, aggressive turns on hardpack. G3 built in that security by setting the toe arms far apart, beefing up the springs, and simplifying the forward-pressure setting. 

The Verdict: A svelte tech binding can be a terrifying proposition. This one’s not. 2.6 lbs 

Price $549

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All Mountain

Winter Buyer’s Guide
(DPS)

DPS Tour1 Wailer 112RP2 

Best For: Earning deep powder laps. 

The Test: Over the past five years, the banana-shaped Wailer 112—with heavy rocker and a tapered fore and aft—has become the ski of choice for backcountry devotees when snow totals measure in the feet. The new Tour1 takes that icon and makes it 15 percent lighter, pairing a balsa-wood core with carbon fiber. That build involves some sacrifices in the power department (we prefer the old model for throwing down on firm snow), but the weight-to-powder-pleasure ratio is unmatched. 

The Verdict: DPS’s lightest core perfectly completes this classic. 141/112/128; 6.7 lbs

Price $1,050

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Winter Buyer’s Guide
(The M Equipment)

The M Equipment Meidjo 

Best For: Telemark skiers who tour. 

The Test: While the NTN platform offers a whole slew of performance features—including easy step-in, confidence-ensuring releasability, and solid brakes—it’s got some shortcomings. Namely, it’s heavy and has a limited range of motion. The French-made Meidjo solves those problems with Dynafit-style tech pins at the toe for unrestricted touring mobility and fewer ounces. Downhill performance was on point, with testers describing the binding as “active and springy, progressive and smooth.” We just wish there were more compatible tele boots. 

The Verdict: The best thing to befall free-the-heelers in the past decade. 2 lbs 

Price $679

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Winter Buyer’s Guide
(Scott)

Scott Superguide 105 

Best For: Do-it-all backcountry pursuits in Utah or Colorado. 

The Test: It’s all in the name. Scott partnered with pro powder hunters to develop the Superguide, the widest backcountry-specific ski in its line. This is a proficient off-piste animal, with a paulownia core to keep the ride playful and a woven Kevlar and carbon layer to boost stability and stiffness. It’s got a decent amount of backbone without the portliness of a resort ripper, making it the ideal stick for skiing soft stuff beyond the ropes. “A reliable, confidence-inspiring ski best ridden in fresh or corn,” said one tester. For crud we found ourselves wanting just a bit more heft. 

The Verdict: The ski to reach for when seeking out hidden stashes. 133/104/122; 6.8 lbs 

Price $700

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Winter Buyer’s Guide
(Fritschi)

Fritschi Diamir Vipec 12 

Best For: Quick transitions. 

The Test: The story here is all about safety. The Vipec 12 is DIN certified—the international standard for reliable release. Fritschi engineered the toe to be adjustable, giving testers the option to customize release settings. This year’s model is also wider up front, which makes entry easier than in past generations. That said, the binding can be a bit finicky. 

The Verdict: Security in a lightweight, innovative, well-priced package. 2.6 lbs

Price $600

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Big Mountain

Winter Buyer’s Guide
(Black Crows)

Black Crows Anima Freebird 

Best For: Surfy, playful powder turns. 

The Test: Chamonix-based Black Crows gutted last season’s popular big-mountain-ripping Anima, replacing its core with a lighter paulownia-poplar blend. The profile’s exactly the same; the ski just weighs 2.6 pounds less per pair. The result is a backcountry-first plank that testers described as both slidey and slarvey and that relished blasting through mank at speed. Up to a point: some of our crew noted that the Anima Freebird’s tip and tail chattered loosely when taken off soft snow. 

The Verdict: A nimble, poppy option for soft, untracked runs. 143/115/128; 7.9 lbs

Price $850

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dynafit-beast-14-bindings-wbg17.jpg
(Dynafit)

Dynafit Beast 14

Best For: Bringing alpine security to the backcountry. 

The Test: Yeah, it’s aptly named. The Beast 14 ranked in the upper echelon when it came to power and stability, with one tester observing that “it skis better than any frame-style binding I’ve tried, at half the weight.” The burly heelpiece and that high DIN of 14 add confidence on the descents. Unlock the toe and you get five millimeters of pivot to reduce the risk of early release and to create a much smoother ride. Unless your name’s Candide, you’ll never want anything more. 

The Verdict: A tamed-down version of the Beast 16 that still packs plenty of punch for the majority of us. 3.6 lbs

Price $750

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Winter Buyer’s Guide
(Salomon)

Salomon QST 106

Best For: In-bounds confidence, out-of-bounds charging. 

The Test: This powerful, aggressive ski wouldn’t be out of place arcing super-G turns beneath a bomber resort binding. But it does well in the backcountry, too, thanks to a lightweight poplar core layered with carbon. Full-length sidewalls and moderate tip and tail rocker complete the versatile package. “This board truly handles all types of conditions with ease,” said one tester. 

The Verdict: Signature Salomon power in a skin-track-friendly package. 140/106/126; 8.2 lbs

Price $850

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Winter Buyer’s Guide
(Marker)

Marker Kingpin 13

Best For: Skiers who don’t trust traditional backcountry bindings. 

The Test: The Achilles heel of most tech bindings? They’re either powerful and heavy or light and unreliable. The Kingpin goes a long way toward abolishing that dichotomy by marrying a lightweight toe for climbing efficiency with an alpine-like heel for security. It was the first tech model to meet the DIN standard for consistent release. The price of all those advantages: a bit more heft. 

The Verdict: As close to an alpine binding as a tech model is likely to get. 3.3 lbs

Price $649

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Tech

The Best Resort Skis of 2017

Our testers whittled a field of 132 down to ten. Here are our three choices for best all mountain powder skis. Now shut up and ski. (Blizzard) Blizzard Quattro RX Gear of the Year Most of us bought fat rockered skis at some point in the past five years, and for good reason—in soft snow, the loose feel lets you surf the mountain. But what about the hardpack we usually find? Increasingly, the industry has taken lessons learned from fattie designs and applied them to all-mountain frontside skis. The result? User-friendly, lightweight, subtly rockered skis that lay trenches in corduroy. Our Gear of the Year winner sits at

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Tech

The Best Alpine Boots of 2017

The holy grail of the ski world? A comfortable boot that doesn’t sacrifice power for roominess. Gear designers have wrestled with this problem for years, but we’ve seen some significant gains this season with three major developments.  First, companies are offering stiffer, speed-hungry models in medium and wide widths. Behold the best-in-test Rossignol Allspeed Pro 120 (100 millimeters; $750), which let our broad-footed testers enjoy race-car speed and precision. Full Tilt, a cult-favorite brand championed by Seth Morrison, introduced the wider Descendant (102 millimeters; $750) to let big dogs enjoy the shin-cushioning benefit of three-piece construction.  Next, custom fitting, which started with

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Tech

The Best Women's Resort Skis of 2017

Presenting the three winners from our ski test. (Elan) Elan Ripstick 94 W  Head’s Total Joy is a frontside ripper, the Salomon Stella is a big-mountain tool—and the Ripstick falls right in between. It may be the most precise carver on this page, staying positively glued to the snow when laying down everything from short-radius slalom moves to sweeping super-G tracks. It did best in soft snow and bumps, nimbly leaping from turn to turn. “Comfortable, effortless, and powerful,” raved one tester. “For chargers who want a ski with spark, spunk, and personality,” said another. The only

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Tech

The Best Après Shoes of 2017

Casual kicks to face down winter’s wrath. (Reef) Reef Rover Hi  Reef took its popular, summery Rover line and updated it for winter commutes. This new iteration has a waxed-leather upper that fends off light snow. (Spray it with a waterproofing treatment if you’ll be in really wet conditions.) The fleecy lining paired with a springy midsole makes it downright slipper-esque. Price $120 Buy Now (Sanuk) Sanuk Beer Runner  It’s all in the name. We loved the classic jogger look of the Beer Runner for six-pack shuffles to the corner store. A

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Tech

The Best Snowboards of 2017

The best new boards for all kinds of riders. (Ride) Ride Alter Ego Gear of the Year This spring, more than 30 snowboard testers stormed Crested Butte, Colorado, to evaluate some 85 new board models. Over a week, we rode everything from powdery steeps and playful jump lines to early-morning ice and last-chair slush. In the end, we picked the following eight boards as our favorites. The biggest surprise: falling in love with the Alter Ego. Initially we were skeptical. The locking split-tail design, which allows you to ride it as either a pliable powder board

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Tech

The Best Women's Snowboards of 2017

Best-in-class picks to match your style. (Amplid) Amplid LoveLife Best For: Aggressive Riders  Amplid got the memo that not all women crave soft flex and graphics that look like Disney-princess wallpaper. Despite the unfortunate name, expert testers endorsed the LoveLife for its tip-to-tail stiffness, created by a low-density poplar core and a carbon stringer that runs along the vertical axis. The design delivers energetic flex and snappy ollies without preventing playful turning. “It threw butters left and right,” said one tester. Multiple contact points afforded by the slightly set-back camber profile gave riders confidence in no-fall zones.  Price $520 Buy Now

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Tech

The Best Women's Backcountry Skis, Boots, and Bindings of 2017

Superior setups for heading beyond the ropes. (Dynafit) Dynafit Meteorite It’s not a women-specific ski, but testers preferred it to the Sphinx—the Meteorite’s softer, lighter sister. One of Dynafit’s new freeride offerings, it has an ash and poplar core overlaid with carbon at the rockered tip and tail for added float and lower swing weight. 125.5/97/115.9; 8 lbs Price $699 Buy Now (Salomon) Salomon MTN Explore Last year, Salomon introduced the 120-flex, unisex MTN Lab. Now women get another option: the 90-flex, two-buckle MTN Explore. With a shorter cuff, lighter liner, and 63-degree

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Tech

The Best Alpine Touring Ski Boots of 2017

What hikes up must shred down. (Lange) Lange XT Freetour 130 Lange brought its World Cup pedigree to the new XT Freetour. The boot got some uphill-friendly upgrades, such as tech inserts and a rockered sole so grippy it wouldn't be or of place on a running shoe. But it relishes driving big sticks through crud. Only one gripe: with all those backcountry details, its walk mode should have a wider range. 7.8 lbs Price $950 Buy Now (Salomon) Salomon QST Pro 120 This boot focuses on fast descending, with an oversize ankle

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Tech

The Best Nordic Skiing Gear of 2017

World Cup skinny-ski gear for your local skate track. (Bridgedale) Bridgedale Vertige Light Socks  The merino Vertiges mix polypro­pylene to wick moisture and Lycra for a snug fit. Subtle padding at the ball of the foot gives you exactly what you need for hours of glide.  Price $25 Buy Now (Salomon) Salomon Condition-Specific S-Lab Skate Skis  The new S-Lab line offers a range of highly specialized weaponry, with variations in stiffness, base hardness, camber profile, and finish for specific snow types and temperatures. Pick the one that best matches your track. Just

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Tech

The Best Splitboarding Gear of 2017

You don’t need no stinkin’ chairlifts. (Northern Playground) Northern Playground Ziplongs 3/4 Wool Tights  Thanks to full zippers along the legs of these calf-length long johns, they go from toasty to ventilated in moments.   Price $100 Buy Now (Discrete) Discrete Touque Beanie  A tuque or a beanie? Depends on whether you’re in Canada or the States. Whatever you call it, this one’s luxurious and warm, with a tight weave. Price $20 Buy Now (Black Diamond) Black Diamond Carbon Whippet Poles  An ice ax feels extraneous until you need it. The Whippet, with

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