Tips for Buying Backcountry Skis
by Paul Richins, Jr.

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For tips on tele skiing, see Telemark Tips for the Free Heel Skier.

The traditional, skinny, backcountry skis and leather boots are not quite extinct, but new technology is rapidly turning yesterdays state-of- the-art equipment into today’s dinosaurs. The new advances in skis and boots have made the skiing much easier and more enjoyable. The advent of plastic backcountry ski boots and shorter-wider skis are opening up entirely new and steeper terrain, heretofore considered off limits for most backcountry skiers. And your legs will appreciate the difference.

Go fat!!! The wider the ski the better, to a point. That’s my recommendation for the backcountry ski mountaineer. Mobility and enjoyment can be maximized by selecting designs which are considerably lighter, wider, and shorter than their longer, narrower predecessors. An all-purpose backcountry ski should be as light as possible and slightly shorter than normal to reduce the awkwardness of long, heavy skis on your backpack when making steep ascents. During the descent, the shorter and lighter skis reduce swing weight so you can make jump turns quickly and effortlessly. The skis should be stiff torsionally for maximum edge to edge control on ice and steep wind-packed slopes. Ski widths under foot between 75-90 millimeters are optimal with the shovel 105-125 millimeters wide. A six foot tall skier can ski boards in the 175-180 centimeter range. Shorter skiers can ski correspondingly shorter skis.

I am 5' 11" and 170 pounds. My all-purpose backcountry ski is the Black Diamond Mira, 175 cm long with width dimensions of 110 mm-79 mm-100 mm (shovel-waist-tail). It is an excellent backcountry ski as it is one of the lighter skis made in these widths. It performs well on hard pack, ice, and powder. A little more floatation would be nice so I am looking at a little wider ski for my all-purpose ski.

For powder hounds, there are many excellent specialty skis that are 90-110 mm wide under foot. These provide excellent flotation in the powder but at the expense of additional weight and poor performance on hard pack and ice. For my resort powder ski I use Karhu Jak skis (124-90mm-113) with Black Diamond O1 bindings. They are a joy to ski on--in the trees in deep powder or groomed packed slopes. When I first skied on them, they far exceeded my expectations. They are stable at high speeds, turn on a dime, held an edge on the packed slopes, and handled the powder and crud with flair. The wood core and its smooth and uniform flex is perfect for my skiing style. These would be wonderful backcountry skis except they are a bit heavy. They weigh about 5.75 pounds each (skis and bindings). This compares with 4.5 pounds each (skis and bindings) for my Black Diamond Mira skis with G3 bindings. Karhu makes a Jak BC (Backcountry) that is lighter but it is pretty soft. It may be ok but I have not tried the ski so cannot make a recommendation.

The ski industry is just now figuring out what the snowboard industry has known for years--keep the boards short and fat.

For tips on tele skiing, see Telemark Tips for the Free Heel Skier.

Backcountry_Resource_Center--Paul Richins, Jr.

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