With fresh snow falling all week long over the 4,200 acres of intricate, steep terrain at Red Mountain, British Columbia, 30 ski companies gathered to showcase their top skis for 2019 before the 33 skiers who make up the Powder Union. With zero influence from attending brands, the Union spent a collective 1,500 hours determining the best backcountry touring skis of the year found in the 2019 Buyer's Guide.
L: 165, 175, 185cm
Weight: 2900 grams
Black Diamond is more of a climbing company than a ski company. But that's not to say they aren't skiers. Their backyard is the Wasatch and come winter, the engineers swap carabiners for ski boots and ropes for skis.
Recently Black Diamond moved production of their backcountry line, the Helio, to a factory in Austria that has been making skis for 50-plus years. The move blends Black Diamond's precise American engineering with Austria's ski-making craftsmanship, tradition, and knowledge.
The Helio's core is made with uber-light balsa and flax wood and the skis' structure comes from a sheet of pre-peg carbon fiber. Sidewalls add weight, which is why many backcountry skis opt for capped construction.
But Black Diamond knows that the teensy bit of extra weight from ABS sidewalls pays off in the skiing experience and longevity of the ski. When I clicked into them, I found them to be light on my feet and pure joy on the descent.
We found the Helios to be a reliable backcountry stick for any condition. With a little bit of early rise, they float in pow. A long effective edge and balanced swing weight, they pivot easily in the steeps.
A tail that keeps you honest, they make beautiful, big, fast turns. "It's a great couloir or chalky edgy-conditions backcountry ski," says Powder Union skier Matt Cote. "Would be great for ski mountaineering, and they're still floaty enough for pow."
L: 168, 178, 185cm
R: 18 m (@178cm)
Weight: 3610 grams (Wailer 106)
Weight: 3460 grams (Zelda 106)
Over the years, DPS has experimented with innovative shapes (the Spoon) and ultralight carbon construction. The addition of the Wailer to their lineup allows users to have a go-to choice if a full quiver isn't realistic or necessary for their needs.
I'm always intrigued by tip shape and how much impact this can have on the overall performance and feel of a ski. The Wailer 106 has a noticeable taper to it, which allows the ski to knife through the snow and instill confidence (I always feel more comfortable when I'm not worried about the tip unexpectedly diving).
DPS refers to this tapering of the sidecut at the contact point as Paddle Tech. The Wailer 106 is best suited for soft snow with a frequent helping of variable conditions thrown your way. In terms of construction, it's offered in three different builds: Alchemist (pre-preg carbon and Aspen), Tour1 (pre-preg carbon and fiberglass), and the Foundation (unidirectional carbon with Bamboo and Poplar).
The obvious differences in the three are weight, liveliness, and price point. Smooth transitions into a turn and subtle release from the arc are the name of the game for this ski.
Their proprietary Chassis shaping is dubbed as a "mathematically scaled blueprint" combining flex, sidecut, and overall dimensions. This ski takes steady aim at being a one-ski quiver. It's robust enough to spin inbounds laps day after day, but the Alchemist build means you don't have to sacrifice weight on the skin track. DPS proudly crafts their skis at their factory in Salt Lake City, Utah.
L: 171, 178, 185cm
R: 21 m (@178cm)
Weight: 3159 grams (Naturl 101), 2801 grams (Mystic 97)
Icelantic's Natural 101 is as amazing as the people that run the Colorado-based indie company. It is the perfect blend of hard-charging and playful in a light, durable package. The women's Mystic 97 has the same construction and shape, but is narrower underfoot.
When picking a touring ski I look for something that will do everything well because you never know what you are going to get into. The 132-millimeter shovel combined with the rocker throughout the first 31 centimeters of the ski float the Natural 101 effortlessly through the pow and keep you above the snow on those deep days skinning to the top of your favorite backcountry line.
The 5-millimeters of camber paired with Icelantic's sustainably sourced, ultra-light Ochroma Core make for awesome edge grip and that extra little bit of energy when you load the ski up and want to blast into that next turn. Last but not least, the perfect amount of tail rocker is what sets this ski apart.
The tail locks in and really carves a turn when you need it to, but it also releases and slarves when you want to grease the skinniest of couloirs.
You can tell tons of thought went into this ski. The unique tail shape makes putting on and taking off your skins a breeze, while also being able to set an anchor if you are getting extra rowdy.
The durability of the top sheet is second to none, it reminds me of those giant jawbreakers from my childhood, the kind you would lick until your tongue bled, and would take you weeks to finish, these skis will last.
The graphic is also perfect for a backcountry ski. The lighter colors help fight off UV rays that would generally ice up a black touring ski. This paired with a sweet mystical bird drawn by co-founder Travis Parr make for cool summer garage art or something to stare at if you ate one too many Scooby Snacks.
Bottom line is these skis were the best skis I clicked my boots into all week. They ski amazing in any terrain on the resort or deep in the backcountry.
With the new touring bindings skiing as well on the resort as they do off you should ski a ski that does the same. The icing on the cake is these skis are designed and handmade in the USA by skiers who love what they do, and truly care about the sustainability of skiing.
L: 166, 178, 189cm
Weight: 2800 grams
A pair of La Sportiva's Vapor Float skis weighs less than a single brick. Any faraway objectives you've been dreaming of? With this ski, a massive trip will feel that much more within reach. Bottom line: "The Vapor Float could be one of the best powder touring skis to date," says Wally Phillips.
La Sportiva wanted to create the toughest, lightest ski they could. They achieve this in the USA-made Vapor Float, with a redesigned carbon Nano Tube overlay pattern in the laminate layers, a Carbon Torsion Box construction, and Kevlar Weave Composite core.
As one Union member noted, this construction doesn't produce the hollow "ping" quality he's noticed in other full-carbon skis. But all you need to know is that this carbon setup increases the skis' resistance to twisting without making compromises on the weight.
Even so, this is not a frontside ski. It probably isn't ideal for someone who complements out-of-bounds runs with a few chairlift laps, either. And you might wish for a burlier ski when you encounter variable backcountry conditions like an avy slide filled with refrozen debris, or wind buff on an exposed summit.
But in powder—whoo boy, this ski is effortless. With dual rocker and a 117-millimeter waist, expect a responsive yet floaty ride. It's right on the money for those sweet, sweet bottomless backcountry turns. Not to mention, you'll be thankful for the energy you saved on the approach. "Ideal for surfing the untouched powder you just spent all day skinning toward," says Powder Union skier John Davies.
I skied these one afternoon at Powder Week. Soon enough, the sun was low and, based on the time, we knew beers were already flowing down at Rafters Pub. But we'd found a playful, rolling, low-angle zone that was barely a ten-minute skin from the resort boundary. It was deep.
Another run? Yes. When another lap is on the table, and you have La Sportiva's Vapor Float beneath you, the answer is always yes.
L: 174, 184, 190cm
Weight: 3450 grams
Everything you love about the Bibby in a shiny, new package. Moment's Mustache Rocker gives the ski healthy camber underfoot and equal amounts or rocker in the tip and tail, which allows you to easily scrub soft snow as well as engage the edge in firm snow.
Combined with a long effective edge and stiff profile allow this ski put the party into powder. Built with paulownia and ash, it takes bumps well—or just pumps right over them.
Weighing 1842 grams for the pair, it's a lighter option that charges like a heavy on-piste ski.
L: 175, 181, 187cm
R: 28m (@187cm)
Weight: 1850 grams
Designed to be lightweight enough for touring (weighing 1850 grams), but stout enough to confidently charge big lines, the balsa/flax Condor invites you to lean into your boots and drive the tip forward without fear of deflection. Sego's Directional Moustache results in 5 millimeters of camber underfoot for edge hold, while rocker in the tip with subtle early rise in the tail eliminates hookiness and gently releases from the turn. The long turn radius is real, however, and the ski trips up in tight trees. For the best results, spread the avocado on an open face.