Earned turns: Ski brands balance lightness and durability for the backcountry

Ski manufacturers are responding to booming backcountry category by pushing the boundaries of backcountry design. Here's a recap of new products and trends we encountered at Outdoor Retailer Winter Market.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2013 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 23-26. 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.

If the backcountry category is booming, perhaps no aspect of it is growing faster than the skis carrying its participants off-piste.

 “We’re seeing a very dynamic movement to the backcountry, not only in terms of participation, but also in terms of mindset,” said Dynafit President Chris Sword. “These skiers are less and less attracted to the old idea of riding on a lift.”

Ski manufacturers are responding by pushing the boundaries of backcountry design. “As more people venture out of bounds, manufacturers are responding with skis that make that easier,” said Volkl Director of Marketing Geoff Curtis. “The category is showing no signs of letting up.”

Skis for off-piste terrain hold certain design elements paramount, including the weight savings needed to earn your turns, as well as strength, durability and float. Many backcountry models employ built-in attachment points for skins, easing the transition time between climbing up and schussing down and taking the guesswork out of sizing. While improvements in backcountry performance can come with a slight trade-off in hardpack handling, most models are versatile enough for all-around use.

Examples of these features and more can be found in Black Diamond’s 11 fresh offerings for 2013/14, all built in its new in-house ski factory in China. Highlighting its Freeskiing series are the AMPerage and Verdict (MSRP $799), with its lightweight Touring series spearheaded by the Convert and Aspect (MSRP $699). The new skis improve on the brand’s 3D Formula One geometry with ABS sidewall replacing torsion-cap construction.


Black Diamond AMPerage

Other companies with backcountry roots are upping their off-piste ski presence. La Sportiva does so with a fusion sidewall ski called the Mega Lo5 (MSRP $725), a vertically laminated poplar wood core ski with traditional camber and extended sidecut. The ski also utilizes carbon fiber laminates and a pre-preg layer for weight savings (1,915 grams) and strength. It, too, comes with tip and tail skin attachment holes. Created in memory of ski mountaineer Steve Romeo, Dynafit takes weight savings to new heights with its 1,550-gram (173cm) Grand Teton ski (MSRP $800), made from sidewall construction and with a 105mm waist. It comes with an early rise tip for float and new carbon stringers for weight reduction and torsional rigidity. “It’s light enough for serious ski mountaineers and strong enough for whatever you find on the hill,” said Sales Director Jim Lamacusa.


La Sportiva Mega Lo5


Dynafit Grand

Building off its Empire, District and Cake platforms, G3 introduces four men’s and women’s skis with slightly narrower profiles. The big mountain Empire 115 (MSRP $780) comes with a full reverse camber profile and tapered tip and tails. Fine-tuned for smaller skiers, the Empress 115 (MSRP $640) is a women’s offering with full reverse camber and tapered tip and tail. Its District 100 (MSRP $700) and Cake 100 (MSRP $600) are lighter, more versatile skis for touring, and its three-model ZenOxide line (MSRPs $669-$900) is now available in carbon, for the utmost in weight savings at 3 pounds, 3 ounces, per ski.


G3 Cake 100

More mainstream ski manufacturers continue to court the backcountry niche. Rocker variations and skin accommodation can be found on Volkl’s new 2014 Nunataq, Nanuq and Inuk models ($700), all three featuring enhanced rocker profiles and Volkl’s signature plug-and-play Skin Pin skin attachment system. Salomon continues to address the earn-your-turns crowd with its new Quest ski line (MSRPs $549-$799), a four-ski series (Q-115 Q-105, Q-98, Q-90, named for their underfoot widths), blending backcountry and hard-snow performance.
“Backcountry skiers don’t want to give up the traditional hard-snow performance and security of previous narrower waisted on-piste skis,” said Alpine Product Category Manager Jake Fuller. “This line provides optimum backcountry performance and all-mountain versatility to access the best part of the mountain.” The semi-sandwich construction, woodcore line features honeycomb tips and tails and hook-free taper in the tip — a five-point sidecut whose widest point tapers in toward the extremities to prevent hooking in variable snow. The line also features utility rocker with an enlarged carve zone and a more directional rocker profile with a flat tail for terrain absorption and turning.


Volkl Nunataq


Salomon Q-115

Weight savings are a cornerstone of Scott Sport’s new backcountry ski line for 2014, which includes the Rock’Air (MSRP $700), the widest (175cm: 103mm underfoot; 183cm: 105mm underfoot) of three models in its new lightweight mountain line. It features Scott’s Pro-Tip Rocker design as well as a new construction process combining a paulownia wood core with carbon fiber stringers for weight savings (1,640 grams, per ski). The brand also debuts its new carbon laminate sandwich construction in its new Powd’air (MSRP $900; 163/173/183cm), featuring 375mm of Pro-Tip rocker for improved flotation.


Scott Sports Rock'Air

For pure powder junkies, DPS showcases its Spoon (158/148/151, MSRP $1,349), featuring a convex 3-D shovel combined with a single-radius underfoot rocker and radical edge bevel. It’s available in a 190cm size in Pure3 Construction. It also unleashes the Lotus 120 (140/120/125mm; sizes 184/190/200cm; MSRP $1,299), featuring a convex base design in the tip (600mm tapered and rockered shovel) for early planing ability. The company’s Pure 3 Construction is a weave of fiberglass, carbon and bamboo.


DPS Spoon

GT_BackcountrySkis_DPS_Spoon.jpg

--Eugene Buchanan

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