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Ski Reviews

Start Backcountry Skiing With This Perfect Kit

Staying away from resort crowds this winter? The backcountry can offer solitude, a wilderness experience, and the satisfaction of earning your turns. These gear picks will help you make the most of lung-busting uphills and whoop-worthy descents.

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black crows navis freebird skis
Photo: Courtesy

Do-It All Ski: Black Crows Navis Freebird

Buy the Black Crows Navis Freebird Now

Navigating the backcountry means adapting to complex terrain and variable snow. That goes for your skis, too, and the Navis Freebird is a versatility champ. It’s light enough for long tours but stable enough (thanks to a paulownia and poplar core) to bust through crud. It was responsive in narrow chutes, like the Coin Slot outside Frisco, Colorado, and the elongated sidecut—most of the ski stays in contact with the snow when you turn—is ideal for technical terrain. At 102 millimeters underfoot the Navis floats well, but isn’t too wide for hardpack.   $830; 7 lbs. 2 oz. (173); four length

Pomoca Climbing SKins
Photo: Courtesy

Grippy Skin: Pomoca Climb 2.0

Buy the Pomoca Climb 2.0 Now

Whether you’re a beginner or a backcountry expert, you’ll need solid footing in the skin track. The Climb 2.0 excels in that department, and gave us all the traction we needed to surmount slippery hills in Grand Teton National Park while our companions fell behind on a spring tour (yes, we waited at the top of each slope). With a 70 percent mohair/30 percent nylon blend, the Climb 2.0 has decent glide when called for. We also appreciated its easy-adjust, secure tail clip, and the fact that it packs down relatively flat compared to other skins.  $170; 1 lb. 14 oz. (110 mm, M); 100 mm-140 mm width; XS-XL length

Make sure you know the day’s avalanche forecast and the terrain you’re heading into. For more info, see Adventure U or find an AIARE course.

g3 zed 12 ski binding
Photo: Courtesy

Secure Binding: G3 ZED 12

Buy the G3 ZED 12 Now

Light, simple, safe: These traits are the ZED’s calling cards, and they’re everything we want in a touring binding. With a wide toepiece that absorbs enough energy to guard against accidental releases, the ZED is trustworthy in consequential terrain. It’s also incredibly easy to step into (“I get it on the first try every time,” one tester says) and switch between uphill and downhill modes, and the two heel risers engage smoothly. (We haven’t seen any icing problems, either.) While this binding’s minimalist design looks a bit fragile, after multiple seasons our pair is holding up just fine. $499; 1 lb. 9 oz.

mammut barryvox tranceiver
Photo: Courtesy

Powerful Beacon: Mammut Barryvox S

Buy the Mammut Barryvox S

Safety is something we’ll never skimp on in the backcountry, and the Barryvox S is worth every penny. With a search width of 70 meters, it’s at the top of the recreational field: “During my avalanche safety course the instructor had to tell me to give other students a chance, as I kept finding the buried practice beacons first,” one tester reports. The large display also provides clear, unambiguous readouts and offers the best directional prompts we’ve seen in a beacon. Ding: The included holster can be finicky to open and close with gloves on, and is prone to rubbing. $500; 7.4 oz. (including three AAA batteries)

scarpa maestrale boot
Photo: Courtesy

Easy Striding Boot: SCARPA Maestrale RS/Gea RS

Buy the SCARPA Maestrale RS/Gea RS Now

Getting up the skin track is just as important as getting down, and the Maestrale (the Gea is the women’s model) has both aspects dialed. At just over 3 pounds per boot and with 60 degrees of ankle articulation, it sits in the middle of the weight spectrum and promotes a natural stride, but it’s sturdy and stiff enough for wearers to make confident and powerful turns. The three-buckle design will feel familiar and secure to anybody who’s worn a resort boot—no ultralight dials here—and the Maestrale’s medium-volume last fits most foot shapes. $799; 6 lbs. 6 oz. (m’s 27); m’s 24.5-32, w’s 22.5-27