Is Ultralight Skiing Here to Stay?
Skiing has seen trends come and go more so than almost any other sport. In the 80’s and 90’s skiers made a rapid transformation from hot-dogging and ski ballet, to tall tees and urban jibbing. In the new millennium, we’ve seen skiing take a turn from ultra fat powder skis to ultra light backcountry touring. It can be hard to tell which way skiing might zig or zag in the coming years and it leaves one wondering… is ultralight ski gear here to stay?
Ultralight touring came to the forefront of ski culture in at a time when FKT’s and first ascents are considered the new first chair and last call. As a skier’s time spent getting to the summit became as much of a right of passage as their style on the descent, hardgoods manufacturers have cashed in on the craze.
In today’s globalized world, materials like carbon fiber and lightweight metals have become more accessible to manufacturers. As engineers learn how to incorporate these materials into their ski, boot and binding designs, many hardgoods have become more focused on shedding ounces for uphill travel while forgoing the stability and durability found in the equipment that has traditionally gotten skiers down the mountain safely.
Most skiers are not ski mountaineers. That is a basic fact. Most modern day skiers grew up linking turns on the hills of their local resorts rather than wearing speed suites and headbands to shave seconds off a 50-mile traverse. While skimo is an interesting niche in ski culture, there is an argument to be made that hardcore ski mountaineers may have an undue influence over today’s ski hardgood trends.
Are we sacrificing reliable downhill skiing in the name of a lighter uphill setup?
Today’s backcountry ski equipment exists in 2 categories; ultralight and performance. Brands like Dynafit have made a name for themselves in the ultralight world by trimming off every single mechanism and feature of a traditional binding until you are left with something nearly unrecognizable, as seen in the release of their new P49 binding, which
earned hype at this year’s Outdoor Retailer tradeshow by weighing in at a mere 1.7 ounces.
Despite these 2 product categories being at odds with one another, we may be starting to witness a new era of backcountry touring that hybridizes the ultralight and performance classes of ski hardgoods. Brands like G3 are using lightweight materials and unique engineering to offer a reliable, fully-featured binding like the new ZED, which offers an adjustable vertical and lateral release, two heel risers and all of the features you would expect on a performance binding in a lightweight 345 gram package. On the boot front, brands like Scarpa are beginning to offer a diverse range of boots that let you dial in the exact right combination of lightweight uphill performance and downhill reliability. New materials like carbon grilamid and reliable plastics are making it increasingly possible to hybridize the two classes of touring equipment into a happy medium where one can get uphill efficiently and charge downhill aggressively.
I’m sure there will be some pushback from tight-knit crew of ski mountaineers and ounce shavers, but I envision the future of skiing having less spandex and more face shots.
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