Gear trends: Backcountry skis for 2014/15

The golden ski: As more go beyond gates, lightness plays a larger role, but don’t forget the downhill. Backcountry skis for 2014/15.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2014 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 21 – 25. 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.

The buzzword in backcountry skis is carbon, as brands explore various modes of construction to produce ever-lighter products that allow skiers to travel farther from the groomers in search of fresh tracks. At the same time, other skiers still place priority on alpine-like performance on the way down.

“People are still looking to find the golden ski, one that is powerful enough to handle skiing hard and at speed but light enough for non-area use,” said Doug Hutcheon, hardgoods buyer for the Trail Head in Missoula, Mont. “It’s still a tight economy, and we’re all trying to do as much as we can with a lot less. Customers are looking for equipment that matches that.”

With so many options coming from brands at Winter Market, most skiers should be able to find their happy medium in 2014/15. “The trend we see is that weight is going down but functionality and performance are going up,” said Jed Duke, director of product and promotion for Tecnica USA/Blizzard Sport, which continues with its three-model Free Mountain Lite collection for next winter.

Black Diamond debuts three more pre-preg construction carbon skis, reflecting the capabilities of the factory the company opened last year. “It’s allowed us to take our engineering to a different level,” said Ski Category Director Thomas Laakso. “Our skis keep getting lighter and lighter.” Case in point: One of BD’s biggest skis, the Carbon Megawatt (147/120/127 mm for 188 cm length; MSRP $1,000), loses 240 more grams per pair for next winter. At 2,900 grams per pair, the Carbon Convert (133/105/117 cm at 180 cm; MSRP $900) is 380 grams lighter than the non-carbon version. Designed for long tours, the ski has a rockered tip and tail that reduces drag while climbing and adds playful maneuverability on the descent. The Carbon Aspect (127/90/113 mm at 176 cm; MSRP $850), which gently tips the scales at 2,600 grams and has a semi-rockered tip and flat tail, takes on both powder and hardpack during classic high-peak touring. BD also adds the Juice (120/95/107 at 164 cm; MSRP $750), a women’s version of the Revert (non-carbon).

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Similarly, Voile shaved weight off its already-light V8 ski to produce the V6 (123/100/107 mm; MSRP $625), which has the same full-length aspen core and carbon fiber/fiberglass construction as its big sibling. “You could replace every backcountry ski you ever owned with this new model,” said Voile’s sales and marketing manager, Dave Grissom, of the V6’s versatility.

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One of the lightest skis available comes from La Sportiva. The 2,400-gram-per-pair Vapor Nano (130/103/120 mm; MSRP $1,200) is made in the U.S. using new carbon-nanotube technology adapted from the aerospace industry. An aggressively rockered tip and flat tail help negotiate steep, technical lines. La Sportiva also offers the more budget-friendly Syborg (97/65/77 mm; MSRP $699), which has the same geometry and paulownia core as the RSR high-end race ski, but with less carbon and more fiberglass, it’s 100 grams heavier per ski.

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At G3 “we’re really embracing our backcountry roots,” said Gord Bailey, vice president of sales and marketing, about the brand’s renewed focus on light yet high-performing skis. The futuristic-looking Synapse line, in particular, represents the direction G3 is headed, said Bailey. All three models have full carbon-fiber construction, including the Synapse 109 (137/109/125 mm; MSRP $900), which weighs in at about 2,800 grams per pair. The sidewall tapers off toward the tip and tail, eliminating material so that the skis are lighter and more maneuverable.

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On the other hand, Dynafit’s relatively beefy Denali ski (131/98/116 mm; MSRP $900) marks a new direction for a brand associated with super-lightweight ski-mountaineering gear. “We’re finding that a lot of the skiers who are gravitating to Dynafit for the boots and bindings are looking for something more versatile and with a little more girth, something that could handle Snowbird and Jackson Hole,” said communications manager Eric Henderson. The Denali, tested by certified mountain guides, still weighs less than many other skis, thanks to tip-to-tail carbon stringers that are stacked only underfoot for aggressive pop. A rockered tip with a carbon inlay enables smooth, early turn initiation.

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DPS, known for working wonders with carbon, now makes about 70 percent of its skis in the Utah factory it opened last year. “Our skis are really built for the down,” said Erme Catino, DPS’s PR and marketing associate. The Wailer 105 (136/105/119 mm; MSRP $1,299), a big-mountain charger, has a completely retooled profile, with a flat tail and moderate tip rocker. New Pure 3 carbon construction adds dampness. The best-selling Wailer 112RP2 (141/112/128 cm; MSRP $1,299) now has a lower tip and tail rocker in its 184 and 190 centimeter lengths to maximize power and stability in variable snow. The Cassiar 95 (126/95/115 mm; MSRP $1,299) joins its slimmer siblings as a versatile all-mountain ride. And the Lotus 138 Spoon (147/138/143 mm; $1,299) adds a skinnier version of DPS’s innovative powder-surfing spoon technology, as well as a new flex and profile, to last year’s Lotus 138.

Two new construction techniques define Fischer’s Hannibal 100 (131/100/117 mm; MSRP $800). Drawing on its Nordic ski technology, Fischer developed a wood core with an offset milled structure that makes it 25 percent lighter while maintaining flex and torsional stability. A titanal reinforcement under the binding area also makes the ski more stable and durable. And Aeroshape construction concentrates mass down the middle of the ski, creating a slightly arced surface that repels snow and maximizes edge-to-edge power transfer.

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Several companies with strong alpine backgrounds broaden their offerings in backcountry skis that, not surprisingly, deliver reliable downhill performance. K2 brings six new or redesigned backcountry skis to Winter Market. The touring-oriented WayBack 88 (126/88/113 mm; MSRP $780) is lighter and more versatile than its predecessor, with a slight tip and tail taper and a paulownia/maple core. It’s joined by the new WayBack 96 (128/96/118 mm; MSRP $840), designed for variable conditions but with enough width to float in pow. Comparable women’s-specific models are the redesigned TalkBack 88 (126/88/113 mm; MSRP $780) and new TalkBack 96 (128/96/118 mm; MSRP $840). The CoomBack 104 (136/104/122 mm; MSRP $840) revives the original CoomBack’s La Grave edition while adding more rocker, a tapered tip and tail, and sidewalls underfoot. The Coomback 114 (140/114/118 mm; MSRP $900) is the burliest of the series.

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To address the continued merging of backcountry and big mountain ski technology, Völkl introduces a new category, V-Werks BMT (for big mountain touring). “We’re bringing multiple features and technology into one product,” said Geoff Curtis, vice president of marketing for Marker/Völkl USA. Inspired by the brand’s V-Werks alpine skis, the BMT 94, BMT 109 and BMT 122 (all MSRP $1,275) have full carbon-fiber construction, air-channeled wood cores, full rocker for stiffness and stability, and early-taper tips. Völkl also offers pre-cut climbing skins that adhere via suction instead of glue.

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Salomon’s Q BC Lab (140/114/128mm; MSRP $900), developed with team athletes Greg Hill and Chris Rubens, is a “true 50-50 ski that handles downhill with as much aplomb as a typical fat ski would,” said Erik Anderson, Salomon’s wintersports equipment sales director. The ski has a hand-selected poplar core, and the carbon layers are dampened by the addition of flax.

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Rossignol adds its Air Tip technology, which uses an internal honeycomb construction, to the Sin 7 and Saffron 7 skis (128/98/118 mm; MSRPs $700). “It lightens up these ski and increases maneuverability and float, making them really compelling choices for backcountry skiers,” said spokesman Nick Castagnoli.

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--Cindy Hirschfeld

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