Editor’s Note: Backcountry skiing can be extremely dangerous, and we don’t recommend going out of bounds until you’ve had the proper training and experience with guides.
The newest stat of a skier and rider’s DNA is the ratio of one’s lift-served skiing verses backcountry skiing. It’s an advent fueled by remarkable advancements in equipment.
Today its not uncommon to get into a conversation of ratios while skiing, like the one I had last season while standing in heavy winds and snow 10,000 feet up on Berthoud Pass.
“I’m probably 30/70,” I told a fellow skinner whom I had just met.
“Oh, yea, I’m more like 90/10, we buy a couple of four-packs during the season, but I spend most my time skiing in the backcountry,” he replied.
Sometimes the best choices in alpine touring (AT) gear depends on your lift-to-backcountry ratio. Here’s a bindings-up look at some of that latest innovations in AT gear.
1. Pack an Ounce of Knowledge
We have to start with the obvious. Good decisions in the backcountry are never out of fashion or function. The first step when venturing into skiing and snowboarding in the backcountry is to educate yourself on the risks and learn how to avoid them.
In Avalanche Essentials, Bruce Tremper, director of the Utah Avalanche Center, presents a step-by-step systematic approach to practicing avalanche safety and survival. The key, writes Tremper, is to “minimize the damage from our inevitable mistakes, so we can survive the experience.” I keep this book in my backpack, and refer to it often. Purchase Avalanche Essentials.
2. Radical Tech Binding by Dynafit
New innovations in tour bindings has helped fuel a fusion of Telemark and alpine skiing, at least in some circles #TeleOn. When it comes to bindings, Dynafit’s tech bindings weigh less than a pound and have been the industry standard for more than two decades.
Dynafit’s Radical series now features a DIN-certified rotating toe piece meaning it releases better than earlier models. Time will tell if they gain the trust of hard-charging downhillers. Shop Dynafit.
3. Tour-12 AT Binding by Marker
As someone who spends most of his time skiing via a chairlift, I like the Marker Tour-12 for two reasons. One, Marker is a trusted brand that’s been in the business of making bindings for more than 50 years.
Secondly, I’ve found the Tour-12 to be a better performing binding than its more expensive and slightly heavier counterpart the Fristzche Freeride Pro. The Tour-12’s wide platform delivers solid power transfer to the toe and drives wide skis with ease.
The Tour-12 features a two-position climbing aid, but you do have to step out of the binding to switch from uphill, to downhill mode. Shop Marker.
4. TX Touring Skis by Kastle
One of the lightest skis on the market, the top sheets of Kastle’s TX Touring line are made with super light fiberglass plastic. Hollowtech technology in the tip trims the weight down further, and the Karuba wood core adds strength and smooth flexibility. Shop Kastle.
5. The Wailer by DPS
Folks have been wailing about the Wailer 112 from DPS, myself included. Slightly reengineered, the tip and tail rocker profile has been lowered, increasing power and stability in mixed snow. Also available in a 99 mm waist, the Wailer turns like a dream with generous sweet spot. Shop DPS.
6. Quandrant AT Boot by Black Diamond
The first thing to know when buying ski boots is your foot shape. Once you figure that out, you can start narrowing down the right boots.
The Quadrant is a touring-focused four-buckle touring boot that fits my wide foot. It’s lightweight as you’d expect, but also has a stiff 120 flex index, 40 degree of motion walk mode, and a 103 mm last, perfect for putting some power behind your turns but keeping your feet happy all day. Shop Black Diamond.
7. Tracker 3 Transceiver by BCA
The pocket-friendly Tracker 3 transceiver is the thinnest multiple-antenna avalanche transceiver available. It has quick, real-time display and is easy to use. Shop BCA.
8. Probe 280 Fast Lock by Mammut
The aluminum Probe 280 features a glove-compatible “Fast Lock” system for quickly and seamlessly locking the probe. Shop Mammut.
9. OVO Light Shovel
The light shovel weighs just 500 grams and comes with an L-shaped handle than can be swiveled for when you need something more like a garden hoe. Shop EVO.
10. BCA Float 8 Orange Avalanche Airbag
If you never make a bad decision in the backcountry, then you’ll never find yourself reaching for the ripcord of your avalanche airbag. Airbags are not a get out of jail free card.
Anything can go wrong, so the key to enjoying lots of days in the backcountry is to stay clear of bad decisions. The Float 8 airbag by BCA is slimmer and lighter than earlier versions. There is room for extra gear on the inside and external anchor points to carry your shovel. Shop BCA.
11. G3 Alpinist Climbing Skins
The G3 skins fit a nice range of ski lengths with up to 16 centimeters of length adjustment. Users love the pop-up feature of the tail connectors that makes it super easy to clamp on and clamp off. Shop genuineguidegear.com.
12. Neo 18 pack by Millet
For a day of resort-accessed backcountry, I really like the lightweight no-frills Neo 18 pack by Millet. At 18 liters, its big enough for what you need, but still easy to carry around. The diagonal ski holder system is great for hiking across steep terrain and other times your ski tails might otherwise get in the way. Shop Millet.
13. Sceptor poles by BCA
Also from BCA is this new Sceptor line of adjustable length ski poles. The grip double-serves as a scraper and the baskets are designed sturdy enough to enable using them to adjust binding and boots settings. The handle also features a useful utility hook. Shop BCA.
14. Alvier by Mammut
Gore Tex is to ski touring what polyester was to discotheques. The Alvier line of jackets and pants by Mammut let’s you boogey on the mountain all day long. The Alvier jacket feature sleeves that can be rolled up transforming the jacket into a vest, and the pants feel more like an expensive pair of dress slacks than ski pants. Shop Mammut.
15. Spencer GTX C-Knit Pant by Eider
Being one who’s prone to plumber-butt, I couldn’t be more psyched that bibs have made their way back to the ski scene. Similar to the Alvier’s, Eider’s Spencer GTX C-Knit pants feature a removable, genius zippered bib: It’s there when you want it, zipped off when you don’t.
The C-Knit Gore Tex fabric is soft and pliable and still durable enough when things get bushy and I especially like the burly Kevlar reinforced ankle cuffs for protection against ski edges and crampons. Shop Eider.
16. Stretch Puffy by Sync
You can’t feel 40 mile an hour winds that much during the uphill, but they can knock the shivers in you when you meet them face-to-face on the mountain summit. In this moment, a lightweight puff jacket soon becomes your best friend.
What I like about the Stretch Puffy by Sync Performance is its simple construction, outer fabric that goes with your flows, and it packs down to about the size of a grapefruit. Shop Sync.
17. Pat Moore Sherpa Jacket by Volcom
Begin and end your day in this jacket designed by pro rider Pat Moore. It’s built with a quick snap front that’s perfect for running out to clear the windshield in the morning or grabbing an extra stack of wood at night. Shop Volcom.