The 7 Best Backcountry Skis of 2013


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K2 BackDrop Backcountry Skis

GEAR OF THE YEAR: With the BackDrop, K2 has refined its proven recipe for a powder ski—a perfect blend of rocker and sidecut combined with a bit of carbon fiber—with fantastic results. “Catlike quickness, and it floats like a cork,” one tester said. “Requires minimal skier input to smear, slash, or rail any turn,” said another. It’s also light enough to tour with, thanks to that lattice of carbon in the tail and forebody. The result is a go-anywhere, shred-anything ski that craves powder but can handle resort chop without complaint. Bonus: K2’s pre-trimmed skins ($200) snap into the BackDrop’s tip and tail holes in seconds. 142/112/131; 8 lbs

Versatility: 4.5
Power: 4

DPS Wailer 99 Pure Skis


BEST FOR: Weight watchers who crave long backcountry tours.

THE TEST: The Wailer Pure may be only 99 millimeters at the waist, but it floats like a much fatter ski, thanks in part to generous tip rocker and variable sidecut. But what most impressed testers was how well it skied on hard snow. A tapered tail and traditional camber add up to what one tester called “the Leatherman of skis.”

THE VERDICT: Expensive but fun. The hefty price tag is due to the all-carbon-fiber layup; it’s also available in a slightly heavier (less carbon), not-quite-as-lively version, the Hybrid ($799). 126/99/110; 7.5 lb

Versatility: 5
Power: 3.5

Dynastar Cham High Mountain Skis

BEST FOR: Carving up backcountry and pulling double-duty at the resort.

THE TEST: With a lightweight paulownia wood core and an early-rise tip, the Cham High Mountain planed effortlessly. “Bounces like a bumblebee in powder,” one tester said. Traditional camber holds an edge on harder surfaces, and the tapered tail finishes any arc with ease.

THE VERDICT: Just enough guts to blast through crud all day at the resort, but happiest seeking out soft snow in the backcountry. If you’re more often in-bounds than out, consider the standard Cham, which has a denser poplar core and two layers of metal, and weighs two and half pounds more. 137/107/122; 8.7 lbs

Versatility: 4
Power: 3.5

G3 Empire Skis

G3 Empire.
G3 Empire. (Courtesy of G3)

BEST FOR: Rocketing down big faces.

THE TEST: G3’s biggest ski to date combines stiffness and full reverse camber to achieve what testers called a “spirited and fun” ride. All that rocker means this behemoth skis much shorter and smaller than it looks, which translated to high marks for agility and playfulness, even at top speed. “You can let ’em run, but it dumps speed instantly,” one tester said. As a bonus, even with a tough Titanal topsheet, the Empire is just light enough to haul uphill.

THE VERDICT: Bounce, slide, carve, and smear in the deepest snow. 153/127/139; 9.5 lbs

Versatility: 3
Power: 4

Atomic Automatic Skis


BEST FOR: Charging down big mountain slopes with superior maneuverability.

THE TEST: Atomic calls its new technology “sprocket power boosters”—basically, titanium rods integrated into the wood core. Our testers said it works. The Automatic was stable at high speeds but still had lots of rebound. “Quick turn initiation,” noted one. A tapered tip and tail make for playful feel in soft snow, and there’s more sidecut than you might expect (note how narrow the waist is), which made railing turns on firm snow surprisingly fun.

THE VERDICT: One of the liveliest big-mountain skis on the hill. 140.5/117/129.5; 9.7 lbs

Versatility: 4
Power: 4.5

Völkl Nanuq Skis


BEST FOR: Ripping the backcountry in all conditions.

THE TEST: Sharing the same lightweight, multilayered wood core as last year's Gear of the Year-winning Nunataq, the Nanuq is a more touring-oriented ski designed for variable conditions. Thanks to a healthy dose of tip rocker, it performed well in powder, where testers called it agile and energetic.

THE VERDICT: Almost a quiver of one. Just be careful in the crud. While ther'es enough sidecut to bite into firmer snow, the ultralight Nanuq gets a bit squirrelly in variable snow. 131/96/114; 7lbs

Versatility: 3.5
Power: 4

Voile Buster Skis


BEST FOR: Hunting down fresh snow.

THE TEST: “It’s the perfect backcountry package: flotation, weight, power, and price,” gushed one tester. With a 118-millimeter waist, the Buster is a true powder ski, but camber and a carbon-and-fiberglass-reinforced aspen core will stand up to rigorous in-bounds pounding. Considering how light it is, the ski lived up to its name in variable conditions, providing a surprisingly stable platform when blasting through cruddy snow, while a rockered tip and tapered tail give the Buster float and maneuverability in the softer stuff.

THE VERDICT: Surprisingly stable in all conditions for such a lightweight ski. 139/118/127; 7.8 lbs

Versatility: 4
Power: 4