2021 GEAR GUIDE – EDITORS’ CHOICE BACKCOUNTRY SKIS

This is most definitely the winter to go remote and get yourself a new touring rig.

Below you’ll find our pick of the best new men’s and women’s touring skis for 2021 – aka the ones that impressed us the most before our testing season got cut short by Covid-19.

These Editors’ Choice award-winners are veritable vehicles designed to take you further, deeper and higher into the backcountry – and bring you back with a stoopid big-ass grin on your face!

MEN’S TOURING SKIS

Atomic Backland 85 SL

 

This svelte beauty is a real powerhouse of fun.

With a capped sidewall construction and ultra-light wood core it is a real thoroughbred when it comes to the ascent. 

The Backland 85 SL may go up like a firework on Hogmanay but do not let that fool you into thinking it will be a noodle on the descent. The carbon backbone running the length of the ski provides enough grunt and stability to allow you to let this thing fly.

Lee says: “Stable yet light underfoot, this lightweight ripper made for effortless changes in direction, making light work of the varied terrain. In windblown gully powder stashes, the HRZN Tech Tip gave great float and maintained excellent control no matter how demanding the conditions”.

Pair it up with Atomic’s Hybrid skin with tip fixing and you have a fantastic multi-day touring platform or a true Scottish touring slayer where Lee maintains a mid 80 underfoot ski McRules….

STATS:

£500

Lengths: 158, 165, 172, 179

Radius 17m @ 172

Dimensions: 117-85-105.5

Weight per ski: 1080g @ 165

atomic.com

 

Blizzard Zero G 95Last year’s All-Round Touring Ski of the Year may not have changed but it’s a 2021 Editors’ Choice because it’s still so darn good.

While all the Zero G models are superlative skis in their own right, the 95 remains our pick of the bunch. Weighing in at just 1170g per ski, the Zero G 95 is super speedy on the ascent but crucially has been designed to make sure you keep up on the down.

The carbon Drive 2.0 technology uses a 3D carbon fibre frame with an ultra-lightweight paulownia wood core to guarantee optimal flex and torsional rigidity. The result is an impressive combo of downhill stability and edge grip in a confidence-inspiring, supremely lightweight package.

Backcountry Ed Martin is a big fan of the 22m sidecut that “delivers grip all over the mountain (particularly in steep terrain) and provides a forgiving and catch-free ride, especially in variable snow. The smooth flex and tip-tail rocker gives the spreadable smoothness right round the turn, with the long contact surface improving stability on all types of terrain”. Lee is in agreement: “still the same uber-smooth flex, still super lively underfoot and grippy when you need it, this thing just rocks. An uphill charger and a downhill slayer.” Also in Race, 85 and 105.

STATS:

£620

Lengths: 164, 171, 178, 185

Radius: 22m @ 178

Dimensions: 127-95-111 @ 178

Weight per ski: 1260g @ 178

blizzard-tecnica.com

 

Faction Agent 3.0

With its 106mm waist, 21m radius and progressive shape theAgent 3.0 is an undeniably a descent-oriented backcountry ski, yet still more than capable on the uphill thanks to the combo of the lightweight karuba wood core and full carbon weave.

Weighing in at 1720g, the Agent 3.0 is certainly on the burlier end of the spectrum, yet it was Sam Anthamatten’s weapon of choice for his recent high-mountain adventure following the Patrouille des Glaciers route from Zermatt to Verbier. So it’s clearly got the game – you just need to bring the backcountry beans to back up its ambition.

Lee took the Agent 3.0 for a solid spin in sunny Scotland at this year’s Ski Test and had an absolute riot. “Man this ski is a whole heap of fun. It’s super smooth into the turn, feels nimble and pivoty underfoot yet somehow still really planted and grippy. A crud-smashing, confidence-inspiring free-touring weapon that’s begging to be let loose in the big mountains.”

Perfect for free-touring adventures and in-bounds freeriding, the Agent 3.0 ticks a whole heap of backcountry boxes – a genuine big mountain quiver-killing contender.

STATS:

£649

Lengths: 164, 172, 180, 188

Radius: 21m @180

Dimensions: 134-106-124

Weight per ski: 1720g @ 180

factionskis.com

 

Scott Superguide Freetour

The all-new Scott Superguide Free Tour 104 is a hike and ride specialist designed for adventure-seeking skiers looking for ease of ascent and a potent downhill experience.

Weighing in at 1.6kg per ski in the 185cm length we tested, it’s impressively light for a ski boasting a relatively burly 105mm underfoot.

Dickie tested the ski over the course of three days at altitude in the Mont Blanc Massif where he was treated to the typical full spectrum of high mountain conditions. Strong, confident and lightweight was the summary (of the ski, obvs…) but if you’re looking for more detail, over to the man himself:

“There’s a bit of rocker for the first foot in the tip – I’d call it a long nose – and a carbon wrap to stiffen and dampen the wood core. With 105mm underfoot and a long 24m turn radius you’ve got a stable platform for cranking up the descents. The three days threw up clattery surface – bearable because the Free Tour is well-damped – and a few patches of soft snow, which show the rebound quality that makes this a pukka powder operator capable of bouncing and playing in deep snow. That stability means you can let it run and put in some big, smeary turns on increasingly steep pitches. It is soft enough to bend when pressured up so can be turned harder than you’d expect, but I’d class the narrower underfoot Superguide 95 as better in hardpack”.

Also in 95 and 88 widths.

STATS:

£575

Lengths: 178, 185

Radius: 24m @ 185

Dimensions: 136-105-124 @ 185

Weight per ski: 1610g @ 185

scott-sports.com

WOMEN’S TOURING SKIS

 

Atomic Backland 107 W

Atomic have extended their popular Backland range and added the excellent Backland 107 W to the mix – a women’s free-touring ski in a super-light package.

Weighing in at just 1450g per ski, skinning will feel like a breeze. It really is a triumph of ski tech that a broad ski such as this can genuinely feel so light. And if you’re lucky enough to be regularly finding bottomless fresh on your backcountry missions or looking for a first time pow ski, you’ll be stoked you opted for the Backland 107 W with her girthy dimensions. Maximum floatage guaranteed on those well-earned descents!

With such a wide tip and relatively light overall weight, you might expect a touch of the dreaded ‘flappage’ when giving it the rapid guns in hard snow, but not a bit of it. “Sturdy at speed and super easy to turn – the Backland 107 W is a bouncy, easy-driving ski that’s happy to play all day long,” says Amy.

Built to retain stiffness with an Ultra Power Woodcore and a backbone of super-strength carbon, the directional Backland 107 W makes for a super-smooth transition from the groomers, under the ropes and off into the backcountry. If 107mm underfoot is a bit too much ski for you, then check out the narrower Backland 98 W – also new for winter 2021, it’s a tighter-turning ski with a shorter radius and even less weight making it the ideal choice for more technical descents.

STATS:

£550

Lengths: 159, 167, 175

Radius: 17.5m @ 175

Dimensions: 136-107-123

Weight per ski: 1450g @ 175

atomic.com

 

Faction Agent 3.0X

Slightly heavier and marginally narrower than the Backland 107 W, Faction’s much-hyped new Agent 3.0X is another stonker of a free-touring ski that delivers similar levels of backcountry stoke.

“A joyful cruiser, this lilac beauty looks as good as it performs.” said Amy who took it for a spin in the Scottish chop the morning after a storm. “This ski dominated the McChop as if it were untouched pow! Ideal for strong skiers, it’s smooth through the turn but the progressive shape allows you to push hard and get more back. It felt most at home painting wide open freeride turns but was reactive to changes in terrain and could outmanoeuvre obstacles when needed. It leapt and bounded down the mountain, felt like zero gravity in the air and the extra width underfoot meant landings felt super stable. I’m dying to try it in deep deep pow as it’s just built for a face shot frenzy!”

At 1540g per ski, the Agent 3.0X is still light for its width, and while it may not be your go-to rapid touring option for multi-day trips, this ski is bang on point for big mountain powder quests when you’re looking for maximum whoopage on the descent. Plus you’ll look super stylin’ all the while.

STATS:

£649

Lengths: 164, 172

Radius: 18m @172

Dimensions: 134-106-124

Weight per ski: 1540g @172

factionskis.com

 

Scott Superguide 95 W

New this winter is the super-versatile, women’s specific Superguide 95 W.

We loved last year’s Lightweight Touring Ski of the Year – the Superguide 88W – so we had high hopes when we heard the folks at Scott had added the wider Superguide 95 W to the line-up.

Filling that understandably popular ‘do everything, ski everything’ 95mm underfoot gap, it turns out the Superguide 95 W is every bit as good as we’d hoped – result!

Stiff enough to stand up at higher speeds yet supple and forgiving through short turns, our female test team were unanimous in their praise for the Superguide 95 W at the Scottish Ski Test.

“It’s super easy to wield and rebounded energetically without feeling like it might fold in half in firm conditions” said Amy. “It’s got a freeride feel that gives you confidence to push on the downhill. It ate up the lumps and bumps and hopped over the heather like a happy haggis”.

When it’s time to start earning those turns, the Superguide 95 W has got mountain goat ascending capabilities thanks to its low weight and easy skin fixation system. The lightest of our 2021 Women’s Backcountry Editors’ Choice skis at 1370g per ski, it’s as feathery as a fluffed up duck but still super durable and strong thanks to the addition of beech wood stringers to reinforce the paulownia wood core.

If you’re looking for a well-balanced women’s-specific touring ski for hut-to-hut Alpine tours, summit-to-sea spring Nordic adventures, day hits in Scotland and everything in between, the Superguide 95 W will have your back. A genuine backcountry quiver of one contender.

STATS:

£525

Lengths: 160, 168

Radius: 20m @ 168

Dimensions: 128-94-113

Weight per ski: 1370g @ 168

scott-sports.com

 

Grab a copy of our 2021 Gear Guide to find out more about these skis and all the other top gear for this coming winter.

* It’s a mega 168 page PRINTED AND DIGITAL issue – our biggest yet!

* It features all the best gear for winter 2021 including our EDITORS’ CHOICE and ONES TO WATCH award winners

* There’s BUYER’S BETA GUIDES, INTERVIEWS AND GEAR INSIGHTS from some of the biggest names in the industry

* IT’S NOT JUST ABOUT THE SKIS – there’s boots, bindings, backcountry accessories, snow safety kit, splitboards, telemark gear, goggles, helmets, poles, packs, avy bags, kick-ass clothing, kids gear and much, much more!

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