If your idea of skiing is heading past groomed trails in search of fresh snow and hills, you'll want to consider backcountry touring gear. Wider skis with metal edges, heavier, taller boots and sturdier bindings make this gear more appropriate for handling backcountry conditions. Backcountry gear can be used on groomed trails, although it will be slower and heavier than classic or skate gear. Some can be used for telemark turns, as well. Which gear you choose will depend on how you want to use it most often.
Length—For true backcountry exploration where deep snows, obstacles and downhill slopes are likely, skis are slightly shorter than those for general touring. The length you choose will be based primarily on your weight, but take into consideration the snow conditions and your ability as well. In general, slightly shorter skis are easier to maneuver, while longer skis will perform better at higher speeds. Check the manufacturer's suggested sizing based on user weight or ask your sales associate for assistance in choosing the right pair.
Width— Backcountry touring skis need to have at least a 50mm wide waist (the ski's narrowest part) for adequate flotation in soft snow. This extra flotation is useful for touring outside of established ski trails, especially if you're carrying a pack The greater width of backcountry skis also provides a stable platform on which to balance and learn striding techniques in variable snow conditions.
Sidecut— Sidecut refers to the long curves cut into both sides of a ski, or the difference, in millimeters, between the waist and either end. A ski's sidecut makes carving turns easier by keeping the ski's edges in contact with the snow. For touring where hills, valleys, trees and other obstacles are likely, look for skis with moderate (between 10mm and 20mm) sidecut to facilitate easier turning.
Camber— Backcountry touring skis are built with
Nordic camber— the ski's central arch with a gripping "wax pocket" underfoot. This type of camber is necessary for forward movement whenever you use classic striding techniques, whether on trails or in the backcountry.
Flex— The flex or stiffness of a ski affects how well it grips the snow when you put your weight on it and how well it rides through different types of snow. Backcountry touring skis have medium flex to help you maintain control, especially when turning. They also provide solid performance in a wider range of conditions than stiff-flex, general touring skis.
Metal edges— Metal edges help skis bite into icy, crusty and/or steep snow, making turning, stopping and maneuvering easier.
Poles designed for serious backcountry touring must perform two tasks. They provide forward momentum during uphill climbs and classic striding, and act as balance and timing aids during downhill skiing. For this reason, most serious backcountry skiers purchase tough, lightweight, telescoping poles. Also consider poles that can be converted into avalanche probes.
When choosing bindings for backcountry touring, keep three important factors in mind: durability, security and ease of repair. You'll need bindings that provide a strong, reliable connection to your skis, stand up to the abuse of wilderness skiing and can be easily repaired when you're out in the field.
This traditional system consists of a tonguelike extension on the front of the ski boot sole (with three holes in its underside) and a set of three metal pins rising up from the binding. The sole extension fits over the pins, and a curved bale is squeezed down over the extension to hold it in place. The sole extension on this traditional style of boot is 75mm wide, which is referred to as the Nordic Norm. This style of binding is favored in backcountry skiing as it offers reliable support and can be repaired in the field.
"New Nordic Norm" is a name given to a boot-binding connection system that has all but replaced the traditional 3-pin systems. NNN BC systems consist of a short, metal rod mounted in the toe of the ski boot sole, which clips into a matching ski binding somewhat like a door hinge. NNN BC bindings feature raised ridges on the ski's surface, which fit into matching grooves in the soles of compatible ski boots.
A more recent introduction, this integrated ski-and-binding system offers several advantages: It's lighter, it does not interfere with the flex of the ski, and it offers super-easy mounting and adjusting. With NIS, the binding is not screwed into the ski. Instead, the ski's top ABS layer has integral side rails. The bindings attach via a mounting plate that slides onto the side rails. Small ridges help the binding click into one of five locking positions, with adjustments made by a small tool. Note: Non-NIS bindings can be mounted onto skis that have the NIS mounting plate.
Backcountry tours involve more turning and downhill travel than those on flat terrain, so it's best to choose boots that provide solid ankle support and torsional rigidity. Although plastic boots are becoming the norm with dedicated telemark skiers, durable, all-leather boots are still widely chosen by backcountry touring fans for their flexibility, durability and warmth. Combination boots offer the extra weather protection and rigidity of plastic, while retaining the forward flex and warmth of leather. Your backcountry boots must be compatible with the bindings you choose. The toe bars on these BC boots are thicker than those on general touring boots, and will therefore not fit the general touring bindings. Three-pin or 75mm boots will fit in 3-pin bindings.
By REI Staff
Last updated: 02/18/2014
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