The Best Backcountry Skis and Bindings of 2017
The race is on to create the perfect beyond-the-ropes setup.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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