The 100 mm-ish underfoot lightweight backcountry ski is quickly becoming the go-to quiver of one for many backcountry skiers. They hit a sweet spot between float in powder, edging in the steep and variable, and light weight for the skin track up. Go skinnier for a mountaineering stick and powder becomes tougher, go fatter for float and edging gets trickier and the uphill gets harder.
Three of the best in this category are the K2 Coomback, the Black Diamond Drift and the Dynafit Stoke. Each is a variation on the formula: 100-ish waist, some camber underfoot, lightweight construction and some early-rise or rocker in the tip – so you can’t really go wrong with any, but the subtle differences might help you pick the perfect one for you.
First off, the K2 Coomback – a classic favorite in the backcountry dating back to its origins with legendary backcountry skier Doug Coombs. K2 has put this ski through an incremental evolution over the years, never totally overhauling it. Flat tails for anchor building, skin attachment holes at tip and tail, and dependable performance have been hallmarks of this ski for some time.
On top of last year’s additional tip rocker and a hydrophobic top sheet that aims to keep your skis lighter by carrying less snow on top, this year K2 adds a “carbon web” they claim adds more responsiveness without weight penalty.
Here at Tahoe Mountain Sports, we see the Coomback as a dependable workhorse we’d happily ski in-bounds and out.
“Although it isn’t the lightest in the group, it will stand up better against your day-to-day abuse at the resort,” said our Hardgoods Manager, Kevin. “It has quite a bit of rocker in the tip, which makes it a very easy ski to get used to.”
He thought the ski had good edge hold in firmer conditions after skiing with both Fritschie Freeride bindings and 22 Designs Axl telemark bindings.
TMS owner Dave also gave the Coomback the best all-around award.
“The Coomback is easier to ski, a bit damper and tends to absorb the crud more due to its softness,” Dave said. “I recommend the Coomback as a 1 quiver ski for anybody spending 50 percent of their time in the backcountry and 50 percent in the resort.”
Weight: 3600 g per pair (174 length)
Turning radius: 22m (174 length)
Construction: Triaxial Braided, Cap, Fir/Aspen
Black Diamond Drift
The Black Diamond Drift was a new ski for the well-known mountain sports company last year, and carried forward into the 2011/12 season. We think Black Diamond nailed it. A 3D CNC’d paulownia wood core with carbon fiber reinforcements keeps this ski ultralight without making it torsionally flexible. It’s a soft ski, so it’s going to flow through soft snow beautifully, but get bounced around in harder conditions.
Like the K2s, these have flat tails, and have a metal notch for the climbing skin clip.
“These skis preform like a dream in powder. I’ve had them on groomers at the resort a few times, and while they’re not meant for that, they did the job” Dave said. “This ski is better suited to somebody who spends 80 percent (or more) of their time in the backcountry. Otherwise, it is a 2 quiver ski with this one being a backcountry-specific tool and then a second pair of skis as your big powder slaying, hard charging resort ski like the Zealot or Amperage.”
Whereas the heavier Coombacks were damp and didn’t get tossed around in crud, the lighter Drifts tended to flutter more. Still, with sharp edges, Dave was impressed with edge hold in hard conditions in the backcountry.
“I thought they would be more like noodles and not hold an edge very well, but I admit, I was wrong,” Dave said in an earlier review.
He also said the Drift was the quickest to turn (the shortest turning radius of the group). In summary, this is a backcountry specialist that’s quick, turny and playful in soft snow conditions, and superlight for the hike up.
Weight: 3050 g per pair (176 length)
Turning radius: 21m (176 length)
Construction: 3D CNC paulownia wood core, carbon fiber reinforcements, Formula One Tech, Torsion Box, Racing Edge
Dynafit went in a different direction with the popular Stoke ski, developed in partnership with Greg Hill, who climbed and skied 2 million vertical feet in one year. They blended a wider powder ski with the design of their skinnier ski-mountaineering focused sticks that have made them famous, making for a stiffer ski with surprising edgehold in variable conditions, while staying ultralight (only very slightly heavier than the Drift).
Like K2, Dynafit has notches in the tip and tail that work with their proprietary skins and construction is similar to the other two, combining light wood, fiberglass and carbon fiber. Unlike the other two, it uses traditional sidewall construction, instead of cap, and it ends up being the stiffest of the three skis. That mean’s it’s less forgiving and more aggressive, but not punishingly so. It demands technique, so this one wouldn’t be the best for beginners. But what you get from that stiffness is unflappable performance in variable snow and serious edge hold when the snow is hard – perfect for that icy couloir that never saw the sun. If you’ve got the legs and technique, this ski gives you the width and early rise tip for serious powder skiing, along with the edge hold for less than ideal conditions you sometimes encounter out of bounds.
Another difference is the slightly kicked-up tail, it doesn’t seem to be enough of an upturn to make it hard to plunge into the snow, but if your side-slipping back and forth down the neck of a couloir, it’ll help keep the tails from digging in.
The least sidecut in the group also adds to tenacious edge hold but takes more work to swing the skis around on the way down.
“I found myself buttering these skis around more than carving when I needed to turn quickly – once I figured that out, the low swing-weight made these pretty responsive,” said TMS Web Editor Greyson. “The lesser sidecut also made them less hooky in variable snow, and the most confidence inspiring while side-hilling on the way up. If you think of the Drift as a playful ski, the Stoke is more business-like.”
Weight: 3100 g per pair (173 length)
Turning Radius: 34.5/20.1m (173 length)
Construction: Isocore paulownia ultralight wood with stringers in beech and bamboo with biaxial prepreg, fiberglass and carbon reinforcement
The Bottom Line:
Like we said, you can’t go wrong picking any of these three skis for a great all-around backcountry ski. They blend aspects of more traditional backcountry skis with a powder ski in their own ways, making them super-versatile. That being said, we’ll line it up this way: We’d say the K2 Coomback is the ski that’s going to do the most for most skiers – a jack of all trades, master of none. The Black Diamond Drift becomes more specialized as a soft-snow surfer for the backcountry committed. And the Dynafit Stoke is a serious mountain ski that can take serious skiers over the widest variety of terrain.