Gear trends: 2015/16 Backcountry skis

Backcountry skis losing ounces, but gaining strength. Find out what's ahead next season for retail shelves in 2015-16.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2015 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 20 – 24. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

Weight savingsfor the up, performance for the down. That’s the take home from the backcountry ski category for 2015-16, with a slew of new designs piling up like Mt. Baker snowfall.

“Backcountry travelers are conscientious of the weight they have to carry,” said K2 Sports’ MJ Carroll. “Keeping weight minimal without compromising safety and performance is a main criterion.” Adds DPS Skis’ Erme Catino: “Gear is getting lighter and more efficient. That’s where the momentum’s going.”

To that end, category pioneer Dynafit unveils a new two-model, Free Tour ski collection, including the 108mm-underfoot Chugach (MSRP $800) and 118mm-underfoot Hokkaido (MSRP $900), designed in conjunction with athletes Cody Barnhill and Jamie Laidlaw. Both feature elliptical arcs at tip and tail with flat camber underfoot combined with progressive Dynafit Scoop Rocker3. “We’re also seeing a new market for ski-running or fitness skinning at resorts,” said Dynafit’s Eric Henderson, echoing the weight-saving mantra.

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Salomon brings its new 1,390-gram CFX Superfiber MTN Explore 95 (MSRP $800), with Spaceframe 2.0 design for power, 3D core for stability, MTN Rocker, and G-Spot Technology for skin compatibility. Matching the lightness of its hometown Wastach powder, DPS introduces the touring-specific, prepreg-carbon-sandwich Tour 1 (MSRP$1,050) in a new ultralight line weighing 300 grams per ski less than its Pure3. “It’s more focused on the up, yet still built with our proprietary carbon technology and shaping,” Catino said. It’s available in the Wailer 112RP2 (168cm; 1,320 grams), Wailer 99 (168cm; 1,260 grams) and Cassiar 95 (178cm; 1,340 grams). Also joining the weight watchers is La Sportiva, with its new carbon nanotube Vapor Svelte (MSRP $1,200), a 96mm-underfoot tourer weighing 1,050 grams with 60 percent traditional camber and 20 percent tip and tail rocker.

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Accommodating skins for the uphill is also more important, with many skis debuting new skin configuration systems. K2 updates its carry-over WayBack 88 and 96 (MSRPs $780-$840); CoomBack 104 and 114 (MSRPs $840-$900); and Talkback 88 and 96 (MSRPs $780-$840) skis, all now with pre-cut skin offerings, including universal, self-centering tip hooks and tail clasps that can be used on any ski. Scott Sports breaks out its new composite/paulownia wood core Cascade 110 (MSRP $850), a lightweight, progressive-rocker backcountry twin-tip with a new skin fixation system.

Black Diamond introduces three categories of backcountry skis — Ski Mountaineering (Carbon), Freeride (Boundary) and Tour (Link) — designed for the climb and descent. The Carbon series, including the Megawatt (MSRP $1,000), Convert (MSRP $900) and Aspect (MSRP $850), employ lightweight construction with high-performance carbon. The 3D sandwich construction/poplar wood core Boundary series — including the 100 (MSRP $850), 107 (MSRP $880) and 115 (MSRP $900), named for their waists — is all about the down with rockered tips and tails, traditional camber, skin notch and a new sidewall dampening system. The Link series — including the Link 90 (MSRP $750), Link 95 (MSRP $800) and Link 105 (MSRP $850) — features a softer flex for touring.

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Redesigned for 2015-16, Fischer’s new Ranger 108 Ti (MSRP $850) features Aeroshape construction, an Air Tec Ti wood core and a shovel construction Carbon Tip to shed weight. It comes with tip/tail rocker, reduced camber and tapered shape for enhanced climbing. Blizzard also enters the light touring sector with its new Zero G Carbon Drive collection (MSRPs $720-$960), the lightest SKU in its Freeride category. Available with Swiss Pomoca skins, the ski features a uni-directional carbon frame construction on top which, combined with the sidewall, increases torsional rigidity and aids power transmission. Named for underfoot girth, the line includes the Zero G 108, Zero G 95, and Zero G 85 and 85W.

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Manufacturers are also focusing on resort-access backcountry. “Skis that rip inbounds still need to be light enough to inspire sidecountry excursions,” said G3’s Gord Bailey. G3 addresses this with a hand-laid carbon construction in its powder-oriented Scapegoat Carbon (MSRP $930) with rocker and a 40mm tail taper, coming in at 5 pounds, 13 ounces, and its touring- and women-oriented Synapse Carbon 101W (MSRP $900), weighing 2 pounds, 14 ounces per ski. Its men’s and women’s Boundary 100 (MSRPs $640-$700) skis are versatile 100mm-underfoot offerings with a wood core and two layers of Titanal aluminum, with early rise tip and tail.

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Finally, every angle of the booming backcountry skiing category is being looked at for innovation, right down to those skins. Fischer thinks it can change the game with what it calls Crown Technology, new adhesive-based material in its Profoil “ski base attachment” (MSRP $299). Optimized for glide, it lengthens uphill stride by a claimed 20 percent while maintaining grip. Plus, its waterproof material reduces drag from weight absorption.

--Eugene Buchanan

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