Choosing an Alpine Touring Ski
Backcountry skiing was once a tiny part of the world of skiing, but you know a sport is getting big when a niche like AT has different niches of its own. Reminiscent of when mountain biking went from any bike with wide tires you didn’t mind trashing over rocks and logs to having very specific and expensive versions for downhill, cross-country and even freestyle, alpine touring skis have branched out as well.
The real difference between an alpine touring ski and an alpine ski is that AT skis need to be light and fast and ready to go up hill. If you don’t think this is important now you will when you tackle bigger objectives further into the backcountry. “Light” used to conjure up thoughts like flimsy, poor durability and poor performance. However, with recent technology such as carbon stringers and even all carbon skis, durability and performance come in light weight sks and you no longer need a heavy ski to charge hard down a mountain.
Here is a Weight VS Width Comparison Graph and Table to help with your decision.
At Cripple Creek Backcountry we have broken the sub categories of alpine touring into six groups.
Daily Driver: The “quiver of one” is a bit outdated. There is no ski out there that can handle every situation (especially if you throw rando racing into the equation) but these skis are damn close! If you want the decision of “what ski today?” to be a short one or if you don’t have the room in the closet or the budget for multiples, then pick one of these.
Hard Charging: These are the skis that will stand up to even the toughest skiing. These are the skis for the steepest lines in the backcountry or for lap after lift-accessed lap at the resort. Plus, all of our skis are light and just because you like taking lifts, doesn’t mean you have to make more work for yourself in the backcountry.
Pow Slayer: If only every day could be a powder day! These skis are for the days when you need the fatties to thoroughly enjoy yourself. Luckily now they can be light and performance oriented to handle unexpected hard pack turns.
Fast and Light: If you know you are looking for a ski to carry you deep, then these skis cut every unecessary gram. They are a bit narrower waisted to save weight, but with features like early rise/rocker and width in the tip and tails these skis will help you float on the down and definitely on the way up.
Ski Mountaineering: Skis you can count on if your life depended on it, because it sometimes does. These skis are specifically built to handle the challenges of big mountains and big lines. This skis are also perfect for farming perfect turns in the spring corn, if that's what you're into. Look for smaller waists and added stiffness, but keep it light. You have to carry this gear up the mountain. It's not mountaineering unless you climb it yourself.
Ski Mountaineering Race: The lycra look is not just for Euros; SkiMo Racing is growing rapidly in the United States. The courses are long and the skiing is challenging. You need the lightest skis possible and one things for sure, these skis are light! Almost sickeningly so, but they need to be. These skis are built specifically for the grueling ups and ridiculously challenging downs at resorts all over the country. Check out the United States Ski Mountaineering Association or Colorado’s own COSMIC series for races near you.
There is definitely some overlap and debate on where skis should fit, but for our ultimate quiver we would have one of each!
- Thomas Bull