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2006 Alpine-Touring Guide

2006 Alpine-Touring Guide

Gear
posted: 01/04/2006



Today's well-rounded skiers blur the distinction between resort diehard and crusty backcountry aficionado. Some like to charge the steeps, others might be fitness-obsessed long-tour nuts, but they share one need: a setup that balances touring capability with downhill performance—one that performs equally well inbounds and beyond the gate. Enter the top picks of our 2005—06 Telemark and Alpine-Touring (or AT) Gear Test. In the following pages, you'll find the results of the alpine-touring test. (See the related articles for the telemark results.)

For five days at Aspen Highlands, Colorado, we battered this year's skis, boots, and bindings during bell-to-bell test days with the help of pro skiers from both disciplines. We debated downhill and uphill performance. Then we crunched the numbers to come up with eight ultimate setups designed to do everything from dicing big-mountain lines to banging out lightning-quick ascents. So read, buy, and go skiing.

See page 7 for info on where to get the gear.

DECEMBER 2005["Big Mountain AT"]

BIG MOUNTAIN AT
Like to drop cornices, Mach down big powder faces, and huck the occasional cliff band? This setup is for you. You'll haul some extra weight on the ups but won't compromise on downhill performance.

THE ULTIMATE SETUP
Total package weight: 23 lbs., 8 oz.
G3 Reverend
$675; 126/93/114; 8 lbs., 8 oz.
"A crud-busting machine," said one tester. "The category's best all-around ski," said another. The Rev's ample dimensions smooth out terrain like butter, while the vertical-laminate wood core lends rock-solid edge grip on hard snow. Gripes: Not a quick turner. Props: Moderately stiff, damp, and maneuverable in tight spots. Loves to rip big, fast arcs.
Salomon E2
$450; 10 lbs.
The E2 is a reasonably stiff alpine boot with a walk/ski mode toggle, and we were curious to see how it stacked up against traditional AT boots. The upshot: Its downhill performance was the category's best, and its lugged sole was nice for boot-packing. Tip #1: They run big; consider downsizing. Tip #2: If you're touring a bunch, ditch the heavy alpine-style liner in favor of an aftermarket heat-moldable liner.
Naxo NX21
$475; 5 lbs.
The nx21 is like the older nx01—on steroids. Naxo upped the DIN (to 13), reinforced key structural members, and added a heel lock to prevent an inadvertent switch to touring mode. In terms of downhill performance, testers noticed no performance differ-ences between the nx21 and a standard alpine binding. In tour mode Naxo's energy-saving Virtual Rotation System mimics a natural, if somewhat clunky, stride. (Log on to bcaccess.com for tips on touring with the Naxo.)

THE BEST OF THE REST
Atomic Janak
$628; 123/99/115; 8 lbs., 10 oz.
Light, stiff, and wide, the Janak is perfect for stoutly built powder junkies (in the 200-pound range). The big boys wanted to steal it for the next deep day. Gripes: Too stiff and unwieldy for smaller, lighter skiers. Props: Busts through crud, but still maneuverers quickly in trees and bumps.

Black Diamond Verdict
$600; 128/98/116; 8 lbs., 6 oz.
"Stiff, but forgiving," observed one tester. "This ski rocks in crud." Black Diamond's widest ski to date was a hit among testers of all sizes, most notably for the smooth but lively ride it provides in crud and on the steeps. Gripes: Slightly less maneuverable than the Rev (left). Props: Loves to carve big arcs on groomed snow.

Karhu Jak BC
$539; 124/90/113; 7 lbs., 4 oz
Because it has a relatively deep sidecut, the Jak BC shone most brightly on soft, groomed snow, where it arced beautiful turns. But its soft flex and damp feel also translated well in powder. Gripes: Its width and versatile, all-mountain sidecut need to be complemented by a beefier construction. It felt overly damp and floppy. Props: Perfect for laiback cruisers or pure backcountry powder skiers looking for a light, fat ski.

["All-Mountain AT"]

ALL-MOUNTAIN AT
If you're not a strict, earn-every-stinking-turn purist, opt for a setup that tours easily but is also beefy enough to stand up to day-in, day-out resort skiing.

THE ULTIMATE SETUP
Total package weight: 21 lbs., 2 oz.
Black Diamond Havoc
$580; 122/88/110; 8 lbs., 4 oz.
Unchanged save for even uglier graphics, the Havoc is still burly, stiff, and responsive. It's wide enough to smooth out crud and plane over powder, while the park-and-pipe-friendly kick tail makes backward maneuvering in tight spots easy. Gripes: Skiers under 140 pounds might find the Havoc too stiff. Props: Terrific edge hold on groomed snow.
Garmont Adrenalin
$670; 8 lbs., 5 oz.
The first boot to marry alpine-style performance with touring features still sets the standard. Our testers praised the Adrenalin's from-the-box fit, snug upper cuff, and predictable power transfer. The top two buckles feature tour clips—telescoping clasps that allow buckles to remain loose for ease of movement. Bonus: Comes with two soles, a Vibram-like option for ski mountaineering, and standard alpine boot soles for use with alpine bindings.
Fritschi Freeride
$425; 4 lbs., 9 oz.
The Freeride's combination of downhill security and touring ability can't be beat, and it transfers skier energy precisely on all but the hardest snow. Four different climbing heights make touring a breeze, and the pivot point (just ahead of the toe) hinges freely. Tip: Mount the toepiece without its plastic shoe. You'll get more ramp angle (your heel will be higher than your toe), which puts you in a more athletic skiing position.

THE BEST OF THE REST
Dynafit Freeride Carbon 10.0
$599; 118/84/108; 6 lbs., 2 oz.
The Freeride 10.0 is light, stiff, and wide enough to handle any variable snow. About two pounds lighter per pair than the Havoc, it's the perfect ski for weight-conscious ascenders who like ripping big lines. Gripes: Not good at quick maneuvers, especially at slower speeds. Props: Felt like a super-G board, and didn't waver at high speeds.

K2 Mt. Baker
$499; 122/89/108; 7 lbs., 11 oz.
Like the Freeride 10.0, the Baker "gets better the faster you go," according to one tester. "Smoooooth jazz!" said another. It excels in deep-powder, big-radius turns and on ultrasoft groomed snow. Gripes: Chattered a bit on hardpack and during quick turns, and had a dead feel on groomed snow and in the bumps. Props: Floats in powder. Relaxed and comfy in soft snow.

Völkl T-Rock
$695; 119/87/111; 7 lbs., 4 oz.
"Aptly named," reported one tester. "This thing rocks." Lively and maneuverable, especially in shorter lengths (172 and below). Skiers under 150 pounds will appreciate its forgiving nature. Gripes: Wanders at top speeds, but if you aren't constantly Maching, you won't notice. Props: An extremely versatile, easy-to-use ski.

["Pure Tour AT"]

PURE TOUR AT
Do you ski tour to stay fit? Prefer daylong jaunts in spring corn? You need a setup that's light enough for extended cruising, but sturdy and reliable for big descents on firm snow. Look no further.

THE ULTIMATE SETUP
Total package weight: 13 lbs., 9 oz.
K2 Sahale
$420; 102/70/89; 4 lbs., 13 oz.
"Light enough for long tours," said one tester, "but didn't ski like it was made of balsa." Developed with input from Andrew McLean, the Sahale (it's a peak in the North Cascades) ripped round, easy arcs on hard, chalky snow at Highland Bowl, and it remained predictable at higher speeds. Gripes: Too narrow for anything more than ankle-deep snow. Props: Thanks to a moderate sidecut, the Sahale wasn't grabby in crud and didn't wander sideways during skinning.
Scarpa Matrix
$589; 7 lbs., 1 oz.
The Matrix is one of the stiffest Dynafit binding—compatible boots available. Forward flex is soft, but there's enough lateral stiffness to pressure an edge on hard snow. Consider downsizing, as the lower boot felt roomy. The upright stance may require some downhill technique adjustment—especially if you're used to alpine boots.
Dynafit TLT Comfort
$390; 1 lb., 11 oz.
Don't be put off by their minimalist design: They'll hold up—ask any of the backcountry guides who throttle them year after year. Three touring-mode heel heights and a friction-free pivot point (placed at the toe for ergonomic climbing) make for speedy, efficient ascents. Want to go super-light? Lay down $625 for Dynafit's brand-new TLT Race Ti—a whopping 10 ounces lighter than the 27-ounce Comfort.

THE BEST OF THE REST
Atomic MX:20
$403; 88/65/74; 3 lbs. 8 oz.
Favored by ski-mountaineering racers, the carbon-and-foam MX:20s are designed for running up mountains. A snow-shedding topskin prevents heavy build-up during ascents. To get a sense of what it's like to ski down, mount up a pair of kids' 160s and drop into Corbet's Couloir. Gripes: Going down. Props: Going up.

K2 Shuksan
$469; 117/78/105; 6 lbs., 15 oz.
The beefy Shuksan is a perfect all-arounder for the West (its flex is a bit soft for hard-snow descents), and it's wide enough to blast through light crud. Gripes: Too damp for quick maneuvering. Props: The carving sidecut arcs deep, stable turns on soft groomers and corn.

Völkl Snow Wolf
$650; 111/76/98; 5 lbs., 15 oz.
Nice and light for touring, the Snow Wolf is remarkably stable in crud for its scant weight and skinny waist. Gripes: Too bad there isn't a fatter version with the same sidecut. Props: Carves like a race board on packed and corn snow.

Your Boots aren't Dynafit compatible? Try these.
The Silvretta Pure
$399; 2 lbs., 11 oz.
Like the Naxo and Fritschi, it's a step-in. But like the Dynafit, it's quite light. Its energy-saving pivot point, set just behind your toe, makes touring mindlessly easy. Hollow carbon rails underfoot make the Pure stiff and light. Another advantage: Unlike the Dynafit, the Pure releases in both skiing and touring mode.

["Women's AT"]

WOMEN'S AT
This all-mountain setup is designed for the woman who divides her time between inbounds and backcountry, wants the support and security of an alpine-like setup, but demands lightness and comfort for touring.

THE ULTIMATE SETUP
Total package weight: 16 lbs., 9 oz.
G3 Siren
$599; 121/88/109; 7 lbs., 2 oz.
"Comfy! I loved them right away," said tester Nicole Pelletier. "Full throttle or cruise control—these girls love it all." Snappy and responsive in any turn shape, the Siren is a stable, versatile ski for women of all abilities. Gripes: Loves being on an edge, so feathering turns takes some work. Props: Terrific hard-snow edge grip.
Scarpa Magic
$579; 5 lbs., 10 oz.
Like its brother, the Matrix (see previous page), the Magic has soft forward flex, but enough lateral stiffness to lay a big ski on edge. Women's specific features include a narrower heel, lower instep, and shorter cuff. It's Dynafit-compatible (see previous page), but not stiff enough for hard-core resort skiing. If that's your bag, check out the Garmont She-Ride on the next page.
Fritschi Express
$370; 3 lbs., 13 oz.
The same great features as the Freeride (see review on page 3), but in a white-and-gray package designed for smaller boots and skiers. It's 12 ounces lighter than the Freeride and has a lower DIN range (3—10), making it suitable for aggressive all-mountain skiing—just keep the hucking to a minimum. Smart touches: You can switch between walk and ski mode without stepping out, and an adjustable toe height fits any alpine or AT boot.

THE BEST OF THE RES oz.
The Matrix is one of the stiffest Dynafit binding—compatible boots available. Forward flex is soft, but there's enough lateral stiffness to pressure an edge on hard snow. Consider downsizing, as the lower boot felt roomy. The upright stance may require some downhill technique adjustment—especially if you're used to alpine boots.
Dynafit TLT Comfort
$390; 1 lb., 11 oz.
Don't be put off by their minimalist design: They'll hold up—ask any of the backcountry guides who throttle them year after year. Three touring-mode heel heights and a friction-free pivot point (placed at the toe for ergonomic climbing) make for speedy, efficient ascents. Want to go super-light? Lay down $625 for Dynafit's brand-new TLT Race Ti—a whopping 10 ounces lighter than the 27-ounce Comfort.

THE BEST OF THE REST
Atomic MX:20
$403; 88/65/74; 3 lbs. 8 oz.
Favored by ski-mountaineering racers, the carbon-and-foam MX:20s are designed for running up mountains. A snow-shedding topskin prevents heavy build-up during ascents. To get a sense of what it's like to ski down, mount up a pair of kids' 160s and drop into Corbet's Couloir. Gripes: Going down. Props: Going up.

K2 Shuksan
$469; 117/78/105; 6 lbs., 15 oz.
The beefy Shuksan is a perfect all-arounder for the West (its flex is a bit soft for hard-snow descents), and it's wide enough to blast through light crud. Gripes: Too damp for quick maneuvering. Props: The carving sidecut arcs deep, stable turns on soft groomers and corn.

Völkl Snow Wolf
$650; 111/76/98; 5 lbs., 15 oz.
Nice and light for touring, the Snow Wolf is remarkably stable in crud for its scant weight and skinny waist. Gripes: Too bad there isn't a fatter version with the same sidecut. Props: Carves like a race board on packed and corn snow.

Your Boots aren't Dynafit compatible? Try these.
The Silvretta Pure
$399; 2 lbs., 11 oz.
Like the Naxo and Fritschi, it's a step-in. But like the Dynafit, it's quite light. Its energy-saving pivot point, set just behind your toe, makes touring mindlessly easy. Hollow carbon rails underfoot make the Pure stiff and light. Another advantage: Unlike the Dynafit, the Pure releases in both skiing and touring mode.

["Women's AT"]

WOMEN'S AT
This all-mountain setup is designed for the woman who divides her time between inbounds and backcountry, wants the support and security of an alpine-like setup, but demands lightness and comfort for touring.

THE ULTIMATE SETUP
Total package weight: 16 lbs., 9 oz.
G3 Siren
$599; 121/88/109; 7 lbs., 2 oz.
"Comfy! I loved them right away," said tester Nicole Pelletier. "Full throttle or cruise control—these girls love it all." Snappy and responsive in any turn shape, the Siren is a stable, versatile ski for women of all abilities. Gripes: Loves being on an edge, so feathering turns takes some work. Props: Terrific hard-snow edge grip.
Scarpa Magic
$579; 5 lbs., 10 oz.
Like its brother, the Matrix (see previous page), the Magic has soft forward flex, but enough lateral stiffness to lay a big ski on edge. Women's specific features include a narrower heel, lower instep, and shorter cuff. It's Dynafit-compatible (see previous page), but not stiff enough for hard-core resort skiing. If that's your bag, check out the Garmont She-Ride on the next page.
Fritschi Express
$370; 3 lbs., 13 oz.
The same great features as the Freeride (see review on page 3), but in a white-and-gray package designed for smaller boots and skiers. It's 12 ounces lighter than the Freeride and has a lower DIN range (3—10), making it suitable for aggressive all-mountain skiing—just keep the hucking to a minimum. Smart touches: You can switch between walk and ski mode without stepping out, and an adjustable toe height fits any alpine or AT boot.

THE BEST OF THE REST
Black Diamond Lyric
$580; 118/88/110; 6 lbs., 6 oz.
It has the same dimensions as its beefier brother, the Havoc, but with a softer tail suited to lighter skiers. The Lyric's rounded tip and mid-body girth eat up crud, and it's most at home arcing big C's down wide-open faces. Gripes: Anything this side of fast GS turns requires lots of effort. Props: Same responsiveness and rabid edge hold as the Havoc.

Karhu Betty
$479; 117/80/105; 6 lbs., 7 oz.
Because of a limited supply of women's samples, we weren't able to test the Betty (or the Hip Chick, below), but our female telemark testers raved about it (see review in the Telemark Test, page 5). A poplar core keeps it light and torsionally rigid, and the mid-fat waist makes it nimble in tight spots—trees and chutes—where maneuverability is key.

Rossignol Hip Chick
$489; 116/78/105, 6 lbs., 12 oz.
The Hip Chick's relatively skinny waist suits it to hard-snow and on-piste ripping, as well as spring corn touring. The Hip's tips have been reinforced to prevent getting jostled by crud, and they still have the trademark Rossi feel: buttery-smooth, consistent, and predictable. We also love the retro graphics—why on earth has it taken so long for Rossi to bring back that little Rooster?

["AT Boots"]

AT BOOTS
The number of fixed-heelers in the backcountry is growing. Here's a sampling of what they're wearing.








BIG MOUNTAIN
Dynafit Aero Freeride
$660 I 7 lbs., 11 oz.
With four buckles and a tall, supportive cuff, the Aero Freeride is now the beefiest Dynafit binding—compatible boot on the market. The new Quick Step-In ports are designed to facilitate the sometimes tricky process of stepping into Dynafit bindings.











Scarpa Tornado
$629 I 8 lbs., 4 oz.
This is Scarpa's response to Garmont's AT/alpine hybrid, the Adrenalin (see page 4). In addition to interchangeable soles (lugged rubber and DIN-standard alpine), it also has interchangeable tongues (soft and hard). Unfortunately, we were able to test only the soft tongue.











ALL-MOUNTAIN
Garmont G-Ride/She-Ride
$570 I 7 lbs., 8 oz. (G-Ride)
A high cuff and four buckles lend superb support for most conditions, but the G-Ride is light and soft enough for all-day touring. The She-Ride (same price) offers the same benefits, but has a slightly lower cuff and smaller sizes.












LIGHTWEIGHT TOURING/RACING
Dynafit TLT 4 Race Pro
$500 I 4 lbs., 9 oz.
If the Atomic MX:20 ski (see page 4) made you drool, then don't miss these ultralight randonnée racing shoes. They're more than a pound lighter than Scarpa's race boot (the F1, not reviewed this year). Tip: They're made for going up; going down will be sketchy.






["Where To Get It"]

WHERE TO GET IT
Atomic: atomicscnow.com
Black Diamond: bdel.com
Bomber: bombertele.com
Crispi: alpinasports.com
Dynafit: life-link.com
G3: genuineguidegear.com
Garmont: garmontusa.com BR>Fritschi: bdel.com
Karhu: karhu.com
K2: k2skis.com
Linken: linken.com
Lowa: lowaboots.com
Naxo: bcaccess.com
Rossignol: rossignol.com
Rottefella: rottefella.com
Salomon: salomonsports.com
Scarpa: bdel.com
Silvretta: garmontusa.com
TwentyTwo Designs: twentytwodesigns.com
Voilé: voile.com
Völkl: volkl.com



REST


Black Diamond Lyric
$580; 118/88/110; 6 lbs., 6 oz.
It has the same dimensions as its beefier brother, the Havoc, but with a softer tail suited to lighter skiers. The Lyric's rounded tip and mid-body girth eat up crud, and it's most at home arcing big C's down wide-open faces. Gripes: Anything this side of fast GS turns requires lots of effort. Props: Same responsiveness and rabid edge hold as the Havoc.

Karhu Betty
$479; 117/80/105; 6 lbs., 7 oz.
Because of a limited supply of women's samples, we weren't able to test the Betty (or the Hip Chick, below), but our female telemark testers raved about it (see review in the Telemark Test, page 5). A poplar core keeps it light and torsionally rigid, and the mid-fat waist makes it nimble in tight spots—trees and chutes—where maneuverability is key.

Rossignol Hip Chick
$489; 116/78/105, 6 lbs., 12 oz.
The Hip Chick's relatively skinny waist suits it to hard-snow and on-piste ripping, as well as spring corn touring. The Hip's tips have been reinforced to prevent getting jostled by crud, and they still have the trademark Rossi feel: buttery-smooth, consistent, and predictable. We also love the retro graphics—why on earth has it taken so long for Rossi to bring back that little Rooster?

["AT Boots"]

AT BOOTS
The number of fixed-heelers in the backcountry is growing. Here's a sampling of what they're wearing.








BIG MOUNTAIN
Dynafit Aero Freeride
$660 I 7 lbs., 11 oz.
With four buckles and a tall, supportive cuff, the Aero Freeride is now the beefiest Dynafit binding—compatible boot on the market. The new Quick Step-In ports are designed to facilitate the sometimes tricky process of stepping into Dynafit bindings.











Scarpa Tornado
$629 I 8 lbs., 4 oz.
This is Scarpa's response to Garmont's AT/alpine hybrid, the Adrenalin (see page 4). In addition to interchangeable soles (lugged rubber and DIN-standard alpine), it also has interchangeable tongues (soft and hard). Unfortunately, we were able to test only the soft tongue.











ALL-MOUNTAIN
Garmont G-Ride/She-Ride
$570 I 7 lbs., 8 oz. (G-Ride)
A high cuff and four buckles lend superb support for most conditions, but the G-Ride is light and soft enough for all-day touring. The She-Ride (same price) offers the same benefits, but has a slightly lower cuff and smaller sizes.












LIGHTWEIGHT TOURING/RACING
Dynafit TLT 4 Race Pro
$500 I 4 lbs., 9 oz.
If the Atomic MX:20 ski (see page 4) made you drool, then don't miss these ultralight randonnée racing shoes. They're more than a pound lighter than Scarpa's race boot (the F1, not reviewed this year). Tip: They're made for going up; going down will be sketchy.






["Where To Get It"]

WHERE TO GET IT
Atomic: atomicscnow.com
Black Diamond: bdel.com
Bomber: bombertele.com
Crispi: alpinasports.com
Dynafit: life-link.com
G3: genuineguidegear.com
Garmont: garmontusa.com BR>Fritschi: bdel.com
Karhu: karhu.com
K2: k2skis.com
Linken: linken.com
Lowa: lowaboots.com
Naxo: bcaccess.com
Rossignol: rossignol.com
Rottefella: rottefella.com
Salomon: salomonsports.com
Scarpa: bdel.com
Silvretta: garmontusa.com
TwentyTwo Designs: twentytwodesigns.com
Voilé: voile.com
Völkl: volkl.com



reviews of 2006 Alpine-Touring Guide
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