The largest growing segment of the ski market for the last several years is all about going uphill. Alpine Touring (AT)—where skiers climb uphill then ski down, forgoing the need for a chairlift—has seen consistent growth in both participation and gear sales with no signs of slowing down. And it’s easy to see why.
Lift ticket prices have swelled to a staggering $209 per day at Vail and it’s rare to find a resort anywhere in North America that charges less than $150 for a day on the mountain. Meanwhile the rise of the so-called Mega Season Pass (such as Epic and Ikon) has clogged lift lines around the country, inspiring one Outside Magazine op-ed to suggest "The Mega Season Pass Is Killing Skiing.” As lift tickets grow more expensive and ski areas get more crowded, the backcountry beckons.
Luckily the rise of participation in backcountry riding has seen something of a renaissance in the design and development of AT equipment. There are more brands in the AT market than ever before, with gear growing lighter, more user friendly and—most importantly—fun to use on the ride down.
Despite the increase in options and users, prices for AT gear remains high. The cost of an AT setup—including skis, boots, bindings, and skins—comes to around $2,000. Whether you’re just getting into touring or you don’t log as many days on snow in the resort as you’d like, investing in a dedicated backcountry setup can be hard to justify.
To help offset costs, many skiers are increasingly looking for one-quiver setups that are AT-ready but still rip hardpack and the occasional park lap inbounds. And the freeride pioneers at Line Skis are paying attention.
2020/21 Line Vision 108 Freeride Ski
The Vision series is geared toward expert-to-advanced skiers who expect their equipment to keep up with their speed and terrain choice. We put the Line Vision 108 to the test on a range of conditions from the backcountry of Montana’s Tobacco Root Mountains to inbounds at Alta and found it to be stable at high speeds in everything from chopped up powder to zamboni’d East Coast style ice. The secret ingredient to the Vision’s rip-ability lies in its core construction.
Dubbed by Line “THC Construction” (sorry, no weed jokes here fam) the core is packed with a proprietary blend of carbon, Kevlar-like military grade aramid and fiberglass. The result is a ski that’s incredibly lightweight and responsive yet sturdy. The old backpacking saying that a pound on your feet equals five pounds on your back holds true, especially when you’re schlepping up a 30-odd degree slope in (hopefully) a foot of new snow.
Thanks to the ski’s high tech construction the Vision 108 weighs in in around 3.2 kilograms (varying slightly based on length). That’s comfortably in the ballpark of comparably sized touring skis from competitors like Black Diamond and Salomon, but this ski is designed to enjoy the ride down, too.
Moderate tip and tail rocker ensure easy float when the snow gods deliver. The 108 underfoot is the middle of the pack in the vision lineup (there’s also a narrow 98 and a pontoon-esque 118). In deep snow we found the Vision 108 quickly planed to the surface while remaining playful for slashes and airs.
While the Vision 108 leaves little to be desired in perfect snow, it really shines when conditions are sub-par. On wind-scoured hardpack and chopped up days old snow, the Vision 108 knows no speed limits and rips on edge like a World Cup race ski. While we wouldn’t subject such a ski to the abuse of rails and boxes, it handles park jumps with ease and the subtly raised tails are turned up enough for switch take-offs and landings.
2020/21 Marker Kingpin 13 Ski Touring Binding
The interplay in performance between skis and bindings is sometimes overlooked, but when considering a one-quiver AT/downhill setup, bindings are arguably the most important component.
For decades the tradeoffs between weight, energy transition and downhill performance were massive. Go for strength and a downhill-like feel with a frame binding and you’re lugging a lot of weight uphill. Opt for a Euro ski mountaineering race pin binding and you’re looking at a shaking ride down—and forget hitting any cliffs or ripping hard turns if you weight over 200 pounds. Today every category of AT binding has seen major improvements with a special emphasis on balancing weight with downhill performance.
Marker’s Kingpin 13 is one of the most dichotomous examples of pulling from the ski mountaineering and downhill design books. The toe-piece represents your classic pin-style AT binding, offering a lightweight and secure connection with all the range of motion you need for ascent. Meanwhile the heel looks and feels like a traditional downhill alpine binding. The key difference with the Kingpin heel versus a pin-style AT heel is that you maintain some elasticity, or movement, in the binding without ejecting.
This lends itself well to those who want to charge hard and eject only when they really should. The downhill experience on the Kingpins is not noticeably different than ripping on a pair of traditional alpine bindings—especially once you get over looking down and seeing your toes held in by two little pins. However, this confidence on the downhill comes at a slight weight disadvantage, with the Kingpin weighing around 200 grams more than the average pin binding, though still less than the comparable Salomon Shift.
The Line Vision 108 paired with the Marker Kingpin 13 was light enough for days of touring in deep snow but didn’t make us feel held back on the way down. Inbounds the Vision 108 is not just capable of playful in all conditions and makes riding decidedly bad conditions fun thanks to its lively core construction and generous sidecut. If you’ve only got room in your budget or apartment for one pair of skis and want to get into touring while still skiing like someone half your age at the resort, consider this setup.
Pomoca Climb 2.0 Skin
After all of this ski and binding talk, you may still be wondering about actually gripping the snow to walk uphill. We to pair this setup with the Climb 2.0 from the OG Swiss skin brand Pomoca. Not only do they coincidentally match the color of the top sheet within a shade of Taxi cab yellow, the Climb 2.0 balances grip with weight. The 70/30 mohair-nylon blend gives glide with every kick and sticks on even the steepest kick turns. We found the Pomoca Climb 2.0 stayed dry over the course of the day and was easy to manage on transitions.
All in all, top to bottom, this might very well be the one ski quiver.
Love the vibe but prefer to keep both feet on plank? Check our new review of the ultimate backcountry splitboard here.