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This season’s best for climbing up and ripping back down

Shed a little weight from your backcountry setup

The year’s best powder hounds

You’re only as good (and as safe) as your connection to your skis

The season’s backcountry boots demand to be pushed to the limit

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

Backcountry boots are stiffer and more powerful than ever.

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

The first 16-DIN tech binding, the new Beast features a “return to center” toe piece. As you ski, the binding deflects to absorb shock. It’s one of the reasons, safety-wise, alpine-style bindings outperform tech bindings.

Outside reviews the best gear in the 2012 Winter Buyer's Guide, including the Black Diamond Custom boots

Outside reviews the best gear in the 2012 Winter Buyer's Guide, including the Marker Duke bindings

Outside reviews the best gear in the 2012 Winter Buyer's Guide, including the Volkl Nunataq skis

Good for All Mountain Don't let the new costume fool you. El Hombre's guts are unchanged, and he still controls all corners of the ring–er, mountain. “It has good western all-mountain dimensions,” said one tester, “and enough shape and torsional stiffness to rail on variable snow.” It can be…

TELEMARK Good for Touring The overhauled Switchback won many converts with its new bomber 410 heat-treated stainless-steel toe bar. “A perfect match with lighter two- or three-buckle boots for touring,” said one Wasatch-based tester. It is the lightest telemark-touring binding on the market, but hard-and-heavy chargers preferred the beefier,…

Good for Big Mountain If we had a Gear of the Year award for boots, the Factor would win it. Constructed with an alpine-like overlap-shell design and progressive forward flex, the Factor was easily this year's most comfortable and best-performing downhill boot. Testers especially liked the liner's Boa closure…

ALPINE TOURING Good for All Mountain The ZenOxide owes its lightness to a Paulownia-poplar core and its edge-to-edge quickness and control to its round flex pattern. Capped construction at the tip and tail make for high-torsional rigidity at speed, while the laminate build underfoot maintains the ski's solid and…

Good for Touring Though recently bought by K2, 32-year-old Karhu has so far stayed true to its roots, continuing to make some of the best touring skis on the market. Testers found the Storm predictable, versatile, and, of course, an absolute blast in soft snow. “Edgy and stable at…

Built for the NTN (New Telemark Norm) binding system, the three-buckle, one-piece, overlap-shell Prophet is softer and smoother than the first-gen NTN offerings, which were all about big power and big skis. “This is the only NTN boot to truly match the feel of a normal tele binding and boot,”…

Good for All Mountain Testers praised the Push for its terrain-soaking dampness and remarkable out-of-the-box fit. Credit the snowboard-boot-like Boa liner (a nexus of metal wires you ratchet down tightly). “The best off-the-shelf fit and feel of any boot liner out there,” one tester noted. It's a bit softer…

TELEMARK Good for All Mountain With the same dimensions as Rossi's S7 Barras alpine ski, the Mancini has a traditional camber and shape but adds a mega-wide rockered tip for float and a narrower pintail for scrubbing turns. The result is a ski that's equally adept at abrupt direction…

Good for Touring Extremely light for its width, the wood-core Manaslu impressed testers most when the snow got funky. While the tip is slightly rockered, the back third of the ski has more sidecut, which allows for quick turns in steep and tight terrain. Note: The pre-cut inserts are…

ALPINE TOURING Good for All Mountain Though it remains unchanged from last season, the Skookum proved itself an overall champ for its balanced uphill ergonomics and downhill chops. The interchangeable tongues are no gimmick: The downhill tongue stiffens the boot by 20 percent. It's easy to see why one…

Good for All Mountain The only difference between Scarpa's widely popular (and alpine-inspired) Hurricane boot and the Typhoon? The Typhoon has a walk mode, which adds a bit of weight but, our testers agreed, makes it much more comfortable when you're skinning or hiking. And with its double-injected upper…

ALPINE TOURING Good for All Mountain Reengineered for 2010 with an early-rise, rockered tip that sucks up crud, the Overlord wowed testers with its take-no-prisoners, high-speed onslaught through choppy conditions. “The rocker, width, and length absorb every bump on the mountain,” reported one tester. Meanwhile, the squared-off pintail allows…

Good for Big Mountain With features like a free-pivot touring mechanism, a reliable safety release, brakes, and the closest thing to step-in convenience in the freeheel world, the NTN (New Telemark Norm) binding represents a significant departure from conventional tele bindings. While it can be overpowering when matched with…

TELEMARK Good for All Mountain The four-buckle Custom overpowered the toughest bindings and even some testers. Those who could handle it gave it props for cuff/bellows flex and stiffness. As with other boots in BD's Power Series, the Custom's liner has a Boa closure system that clamps down hard…

Good for Alpine Touring All-around mid-fat dimensions make the Shazam our favorite go-to gun for resort-based adventures—it's just plump enough to keep afloat in a foot of powder. On firmer snow, testers found that the wood core provided dampness and torsional rigidity for quick, edge-to-edge responsiveness. 120/90/113, 6.8 lbs;…

ALPINE TOURING Good for Touring If you want only one ski for the backcountry, the S3 is your ride. An early-rise tip creates lift to plane above mank, crud, and pow like a much wider ski, while the traditional camber underfoot holds an edge on hardpack. The pin-shaped, twin-tip…

Good for Big Mountain When it debuted last year, Marker's Duke changed the AT-binding landscape with its alpine-binding-like toepiece, stout construction, and best-in-class downhill performance. New for this season, the Baron is every bit as tough but in a slightly lighter (1/3 lb per pair) package with less DIN…

ALPINE TOURING Good for All Mountain The new four-buckle Titan was the toughest of the test—thanks to its overlap construction and progressive flex. “Ultimate ski control,” said one tester. “Stiff as an alpine boot.” Yet it has a comfy walk mode and tech fittings for any binding. 8.8 lbs;…

Good for Telemark With the same cut and rockered tip as the Coomback, the Gotback was our favorite all-mountain tele-ski. But if you ski mostly groomers, you might want something with more edge grip: Although testers loved the way the early-rise tip plowed effortlessly over crud, some wished it…

TELEMARK Good for Touring Finally, a fatter offering from Ski Trab. The handmade Stelvio Light XL outskied every other superlight entry in our test. “A ski mountaineer's dream,” said one of our peak-seeking purists. “It's like it's not even there,” said another, noting how surprisingly powerful the carbon-wrapped, honey­comb…

Good for All Mountain While a few of our old-school testers found the unchanged 01 too powerful, our hard-chargers once again loved it. Because of its underfoot cartridge-and-cable routing and lots of heel retention, every ounce of your energy gets transmitted to the ski. Three different cartridge offerings allow…

ALPINE TOURING Good for Touring The Virus Tour, designed by extreme-skiing pioneer Glen Plake, impressed testers with a split, hinged tongue that allows seemingly limitless articulation for skinning or scrambling. “Incredible range of motion,” said one tester. We also love its smooth, if somewhat soft, flex. A thermomoldable EVA…

Good for Telemark While not a women-specific boot per se, the NTN-compatible TX is now available in women's sizes, providing testers with their first look at this sleek boot-and-binding system. Across the board, the results were clear: NTN provided our women the most arcing power they'd ever experienced. Bonus:…

The tour mode still lacks the flexibility of traditional bindings, but the wide range of variously stiff, color-coded cables makes the NTN a good choice for skiers of all abilities. “This binding truly brings telemark skiing to a new level,” said one neophyte. 5.4 lbs; rottefella.com  …

Good for All Mountain With a max DIN of 12 and full alpine- and AT-boot compatibility, the Freeride Plus remains the go-to binding for aggressive alpine skiers who spend equal time in and out of bounds. Downhill performance isn't quite as rock solid as the Baron, but the Freeride…

TELEMARK Good for Touring Garmont's new three-buckle Voodoo pairs a high, alpine-inspired cuff with asymmetrical bellows for un-tele-like smoothness. Testers backed up Garmont's claims that the new toe-box design creates better snow feel and also loved the lively new thermomoldable liners. “Ski it right out of the box,” said…

Built with a women-specific anatomical liner and last, the Shiva got highest honors in fit and flex, balancing comfortable uphill mechanics with downhill dependability. “Super flex, and stiff enough for downhill, yet the walk mode feels like you're in slippers,” declared one tester. Tech fittings mean it's compatible with lighter-weight…

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