GearSnow Sports

The Best Backcountry Skis and Bindings of 2018

(Photo: Charles Dustin Sammann)

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AT gear keeps getting better and better at handling the down.

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(Photo: Courtesy Volkl)

Völkl 100Eight ($825)

Backcountry-ski makers have spent years pursuing the holy grail of the alpine-touring world: a ski that’s light enough for touring but still rips on the down, no matter the snow conditions. While no one has nailed it yet, the Gear of the Year–winning Völkl 100Eight comes closer than most. You’ll often see this ski in-bounds at the resort because of its downhill prowess, but our out-of-bounds testers have adopted it, too. Its construction keeps the weight manageable for touring, with guts made from twin carbon stringers and a thin fiberglass layer that cups the wood core. Völkl also cut ounces by shaving down the top of the ski, leaving a ridge running along the center for stiffness. There are certainly lighter skis out there (Völkl’s own backcountry-dedicated BMT 109 weighs nearly 20 percent less), but testers who put a premium on the descents (and, let’s be honest, this is pretty much everyone) were happy to take up the extra heft. “It transitions from every condition, task, and speed with ease and confidence,” said one of those speed lovers. 141/108/124; 8.7 lbs

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(Photo: Courtesy Atomic)

Atomic Backland FR 109 Skis ($725)

Best For: Powder seekers.  

The Test: With a 109-millimeter waist, this board longs for deep snow. And that’s where it truly excels. But riders were quick to note that even with that extra girth, the Backland FR rode like a narrower ski on hardpack, ripping medium-radius turns on corduroy almost like a GS racer. “An incredibly lively ski with strong ski-to-snow connectivity,” one tester said. Carbon inserts up the ski’s backbone add stiffness, and tip and tail rocker plus some camber underfoot left our testers impressed with its playfulness.

The Verdict: A poppy, responsive ride that’s dreamy in soft snow yet doesn’t blush on hardpack. 132/109/122; 7.5 lbs

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(Photo: Courtesy G3)

G3 Ion 12 Bindings ($579)

Best For: Everyone who tours—or dabbles. 

The Test: G3’s Ion 12 has a big audience for two reasons: it’s stupid easy to get into, and it will confidently drive most backcountry skis. The newest Ion features an updated toepiece with a redesigned boot bumper that reduces ice buildup and also comes with more snap—and confidence—from the toe arms. The heelpiece keeps its two risers, making uphilling super efficient.

The Verdict: As straightforward as it gets, the Ion 12 delivers reliability in a user-friendly package. 2.6 lbs

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(Photo: Courtesy Blizzard)

Blizzard Rustler 11 Skis ($840)

Best For: Aggressive skiers.

The Test: Ski the Rustler 11 hard and it will take care of you. Proof: each morning the best skiers in our test used these sticks to shred through manky, iced-over chop during a vicious freeze-thaw cycle that rendered other skis useless. They also spoke highly about the ski’s confidence on steeps. Partial credit for those high marks goes to a Titanal layer atop the mixed-wood core, which adds power and stiffness to what one reviewer called a “chunder-crushing” design. Finally, rocker at the tip and tail keeps the Rustler 11 playful and floaty when things get deep.

The Verdict: Use this ski for big lines and short tours. 139/112/129; 8.6 lbs

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(Photo: Courtesy Marker)

Marker Kingpin 13 Bindings ($649)

Best For: Unmatched downhill security.

The Test: When Marker launched the Kingpin in 2015, it was the first tech binding designed for strength, stability, and a reliable release. This year, the Kingpin remains unchanged, which means it still offers lots of touring efficiency, thanks to the easy-entry pin toe and robust retention from its sturdy alpine-style heel. And it tours smoothly, with an intuitive skinning-to-skiing switchover, while still weighing significantly less than any other backcountry frame binding you can find on the market.

The Verdict: Ski hard? Look here. 3.3 lbs

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(Photo: Courtesy Voile)

Voile UltraVector Skis ($695)

Best For: Your one-ski quiver.

The Test: As one tester put it, “The UltraVector stacks up with the best out there from a capability perspective, but it’s friendlier, smoother, and more accessible than most of its competitors.” Translation: it skis pretty much all conditions well, without requiring much work from you. Voile achieves this balance by combining its lightweight carbon-reinforced aspen core with long tip rocker. That plus some camber underfoot and a slightly rockered tail make for predictability and forgiveness. 

The Verdict: Get this to cruise on all but the deepest days. 130/96/114; 6.7 lbs

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(Photo: Courtesy Salomon)

Salomon MTN Bindings ($575)

Best ForRocking rando and mid-fat skis with confidence.

The Test: Unlike tech bindings that come with adjustable and numbered release settings in the heel, the brakeless version of the MTN uses three swappable springs (low, medium, and stiff) instead. We chose the stiffest spring for hard snow, with zero pre-releases over five days of testing. The binding is crampon compatible and, with 30 millimeters of range, can accommodate a large swath of boot-sole sizes.  

The Verdict: An astonishingly reliable retention-and-release system in a very basic and lightweight package. 1.3 lbs

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(Photo: Courtesy Dynastar)

Dynastar Legend X96 Skis ($800)

Best For: Resort-accessed backcountry. 

The Test: We’d gladly ski these boards on resort groomers, then throw them over a shoulder for an out-of-bounds powder hike. The Legend received high marks on packed and crummy snow, thanks to features like sturdy sidewalls that increase edge hold and a layer of Titanal in the core to lend power. That core combines the metal with lightweight paulownia wood, which boosts uphill fun and downhill playfulness. Ample tip and tail rocker help with the latter, too.  

The Verdict: Perfect for season-pass holders in places like Jackson Hole. 133/96/113; 7.7 lbs 

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(Photo: Courtesy Fritschi)

Fritschi Vipec Evo 12 Bindings ($600)

Best For: Better safety in a tech binding.

The Test: The Vipec has always remained on the periphery of the binding world, for one simple reason: it’s never been easy to step into. Now those woes are gone. This new version has a significantly refined toepiece with larger bumpers for guidance and a broader platform that always snaps the toe pins into place, even when you’re off-kilter. The consensus? “Fritschi finally figured out their toepiece, and now it ranks among the easiest to enter,” one tester said.

The Verdict: The Vipec has finally come into its own. 2.2 lbs

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(Photo: Courtesy Head)

Head Kore 105 Skis ($800)

Best For: Long tours, steep descents.

The Test: Like the Rustler 11 and the 100Eight, the Kore wants to be skied fast and hard. The big difference is weight: it’s roughly a pound lighter than either of those skis, better for long days in the backcountry. Head kept things airy by building the core from a honeycomb synthetic and karuba wood. The ski also has graphene—a superlight, ultra-stiff carbon—in the tip and tail for added responsiveness. This board rewards input in spades: those who had the oomph to wrangle it heaped praise.

The Verdict: Heavyweight in a lightweight frame. 135/105/125; 7.7 lbs

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(Photo: Courtesy Fritschi)

Fritschi Tecton 12 Bindings ($650)

Best For: Downhill prowess.

The Test: Kingpin comparisons will be made, because this binding, like the one from Marker, employs a stout alpine-like heelpiece that wraps over the back of your boot. What makes it burlier than the Marker is aluminum jaws, which lock into the heel fittings for better power and control. Up front, the Tecton platform offers a DIN-certified reliable release. 

The Verdict:: A binding to drive big skis with confidence. 2.4 lbs

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(Photo: Courtesy DPS)

DPS Zelda A106 Skis ($1,299)

Best For: DPS lovers who’ve always wanted a little more giddyup. 

The Test: The Zelda is a women’s version of the carbon-plumbed Wailer that’s earned DPS a loyal following. This year’s version of the Zelda features the company’s Alchemist construction, which places layers of a damping material above and below an aspen core to absorb chatter, making it extra con­fident on hardpack but still playful in pow. One tester called Alchemist “the first carbon construction that truly performs on the downhill.” 

The Verdict: Carbon skis that rip. Finally. 130/106/120; 7.6 lbs

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(Photo: Courtesy Dynafit)

Dynafit ST Rotation 10 Bindings ($649)

Best For: Balancing ease of use with unmatched reliability. 

The Test: When Dynafit introduced a DIN-certified safety release into the trusted Radical two seasons back, many skiers found the swiveling toepiece finicky to get into. The new ST Rotation fixes that problem with a centering mechanism that keeps the toe steady while you snap in. Beyond that, the heelpiece is integrated into the baseplate for more confidence-inspiring stability.

The Verdict: Dynafit’s Radical 2.0, just significantly refined. 2.6 lbs

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(Photo: Courtesy Elan)

Elan Ibex 84 Carbon XLT Skis ($950)

Best For: Those who count grams and vertical feet.

The Test: Yeah, we’ll say these are aptly named. All the skis in the five-model Ibex line bound up and down mountains with ease. That’s courtesy of a slew of new lightweight ingredients, including a core composed primarily of snappy poplar and paulownia wood embedded with carbon rods, which dampen vibrations on fast descents. “Quite reliable underfoot, but packed with pop and energy,” one tester said. “This would be a spring-mission favorite.”

The Verdict: Skimo-light, but back­country ready, too. 120/85/106; 5 lbs

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(Photo: Courtesy Atomic)

Atomic Backland Tour Bindings ($625)

Best For:: Keeping it simple.

The Test: Atomic’s Backland and Salomon’s MTN bindings (page 42) are identical, minus the paint job. This version, with a brake, adds more weight but has the big benefit of being able to stop a runner. Both come with an easy ski-mode-to-tour-mode changeover that doesn’t require spinning the heelpiece. Instead, you just use your pole to flip a lever under your boot that locks the brakes up for climbing. Flip the lever back, stomp into the pins, and you’re ready to ski.  

The Verdict: The simplest tech binding on the market. 1.4 lbs

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(Photo: Courtesy Salomon)

Salomon MTN Explore 88 Skis ($725)

Best For: Those who really enjoy the ups.

The Test: For you masochists out there, Salomon makes the MTN Explore 88, the narrowest women’s ski in its Explore backcountry line. It comes with a host of weight-saving features, including a karuba-and-poplar wood core that’s reinforced with carbon and flax, a honeycomb tip, and a hybrid cap-sidewall construction. Even though the 88 is a featherweight, testers raved about the stable downhill ride, particularly on hardpack and at high speeds, a feat Salomon managed by putting camber underfoot and giving the tips a slight early rise. 

The Verdict: A true lightweight touring ski that doesn’t lose composure in the steeps. 121/88/107; 5.2 lbs

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(Photo: Courtesy G3)

G3 Ion LT Bindings ($429)

Best For: Ski mountaineering.

The Test: The LT is basically the Ion 12 [[LINK page 40]], minus the brakes, which saves you nine ounces per pair. Other bindings are more feathery, but we like the LT for fast-and-light pursuits because of its ease of entry and reliability. Almost no boot holder is easier to get into, and you can trust the LT to keep you locked during hop turns down a 45-degree couloir. If it does pop off, G3 throws in a cable leash that attaches to your boot. 

The Verdict: Only rando racers need something lighter. 2 lbs

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