Expert Review: Atomic Backland 85 Skis

This review is my honest opinion of the skis, which I purchased with my own money in February of 2020.

A skier at the top of a couloir.

North-facing couloir in the Colorado Front Range on the Backland 85. All photos courtesy of Will Shaw

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About this Review: This review is my honest opinion of the skis, which i purchased with my own money in February of 2020.

My take

The Atomic Backland 85 is a touring ski that specializes in ski mountaineering and spring skiing. It has an approachable shape and flex and makes a great second ski for intermediate to advanced skiers who want a more specialized ski for spring conditions.

The Atomic Backland 85 skis at the top of a steep ski run.

Looking down the line

About the ski I own

  • Model: 2020 Atomic Backland 85
  • Size: 179cm

About me

  • Height: 5’10”
  • Weight: 180 lbs
  • Experience: 20 years of skiing

Test conditions

  • When I bought these: February 2020
  • Days tested: 8
  • Mount position: Factory recommended
  • Boots: Scarpa Alien RS
  • Boot Size: 29
  • Bindings: Atomic Backland
  • Where I’ve used it: Ski mountaineering around the Colorado Front Range and Summit County
  • Terrain: Steeps, couloirs, ski mountaineering

How they perform

High Speed Stability
Turn Ease

What I was looking for

I was looking for a purpose-built ski that was lightweight and able to handle variable snow. My plan was to use the skis on big days and fast dawn patrols where I wanted more ski than an ultralight option, but weight was still a concern.

Why I chose this gear

I chose the Backland 85 because I had spent a lot of time on the Atomic Backland line and was really impressed with the narrower widths. The beveled shape of the HRZN Tech tip seems to give the ski a little more forgiveness and let it track through chop better than similar options. And the long section of traditional camber helps it feel secure in steep, icy terrain. I also like the flex of the ski. It’s relatively stiff underfoot and through the tail without being too demanding. I also considered the ultralight version of the ski: the Backland 85 UL. I already owned the Backland 95, Backland 78 UL, and Backland 65 UL, so the 85 filled a very narrow gap in my quiver. I ultimately decided that anywhere I would want to use the UL version, I would be comfortable on my Backland 78 ULs, so the heavier version of the ski would give me the versatility I wanted. I was replacing a pair of Blizzard Zero G 85s that I loved, but I wanted something that I could ski with a softer boot and would feel less demanding at the end of a long day.

A ski binding being mounted on a ski.

Mounting the Backland 85 for the Alien RS with Atomic Backland tech bindings

What I love about them

  • Speed: The Zero g 85 performs well at speed for its weight. I have mostly skied them in more technical terrain, but I have gotten to open them up on some aprons and open bowls, and they handle well for a lighter ski.
  • Edge hold: The Zero G 85 holds an edge well. I have taken them through lots of steep, icy terrain and always felt secure.
  • Turns: I love making quick turns on the Zero G 85. They have a shorter turn radius and feel nimble in most conditions. It is important to stay on top of them and out of the back seat, but they should feel fun and nimble to experienced skiers.
  • Backcountry: The backland 85 is a great ski for ski mountaineering. It would make a good general backcountry ski for someone who prefers a narrower and more traditional ski, but I prefer wider skis for winter tours. At 1240 grams per ski in the 172-centimeter length, the Backland 85 is an optimal weight for ski mountaineering and big spring tours. Its slight rocker in the tip helps with turn initiation and gives it a little float. The traditional camber through the tail lets the ski really shine on hardpack.
  • Durability: Within the realm of lightweight skis, I have been happy with the durability of the Backland 85 and the rest of the Backland line. I like the rubber bumper on the tail that holds skin clips in place and provides some extra protection plunging the tails into the snow. They haven’t taken any rock strikes that were hard enough to be memorable yet, but they are holding up well to general wear and tear. There is no excessive wear from bumping them together on the skin track, the top sheets are holding up well, and any scratches on the bases have been very minor.
  • Weight: Weight was a big consideration for this setup. But it wasn’t necessarily my top priority. My 179s mounted with the brakeless Backland bindings weigh 1683g per ski. I ski them with the Scarpa Alien RS and Dynafit TLT8 Carbonio—so altogether it is a very lightweight setup. For me, what stands out is how well it skis for the weight. The way the Backland 85 holds an edge and tracks through chop makes it feel like a heavier ski on the downhill.
  • Stability: The Backland 85 is a stable ski in the sense that it is predictable and tracks well through variable snow. It is quick edge-to-edge and likes to make tighter turns, so it won’t feel like a heavy ski that likes to sit on edge and make giant slalom turns.
  • Other: I really like the sidecut of the Backland 85 in steep, icy terrain. The HRZN Tech tip adds surface area to the shovel without extra width, so it has a versatile shape without needing a wide tip that hangs up making jump turns.

Issues I’ve encountered

  • Groomers: The Backland 85 could ski groomers well, but it is a lightweight touring ski. Something heavier and more durable with a similar shape would feel more stable and hold up better to skiing in the resort.
  • Powder: I have a great time skiing powder on the Backland 85, but I’ll have fun skiing powder on any ski. They can handle powder, but on a waist deep day I prefer a wider ski with more float and a more pivoty feel that’s quicker to turn in trees.
  • Trees: The Backland 85 can make its way through trees on the way back to the car at the end of the day, but it’s not a ski I would take out for a day of tree skiing. This is mostly because if I’m skiing trees, I’m skiing powder and like to be on a bigger ski. I also prefer just a little tail rocker for skiing trees to help pivot the ski while staying more upright.
  • Park: The Backland 85 is not a park ski. It’s lightweight, doesn’t ski switch, and doesn’t feel all that stable in the air.
  • Switch riding: The Backland 85’s directional shape and flat tails do not make it ideal for switch skiing.

Favorite moment with this gear

My favorite day on the Backland 85 was my last ski day before things started shutting down in March of 2020. The snow didn’t look great, I didn’t have a partner, and I wasn’t very motivated to get out, but my wife pointed out that the way things were looking I’d regret not skiing if I didn’t go for it while I could. I decided to go to Buffalo Mountain just north of Silverthorne, CO in the Gore range since it’s a zone I know well and had a good feel for the conditions that season. I made great time on the skin track, found soft snow in my favorite line on the mountain, and had just enough time to hustle back to the summit for an extra lap down the Silver Couloir.

Value for the money vs. other options

At $600 the Backland 85 is priced similarly to most comparable skis. The Blizzard Zero G 85 is also priced at $600, but I’ve found the Backland 85 to be a little more versatile. Its softer flex made it more nimble in powder and easier to ski at the end of a long day with tired legs.

Final verdict

The Backland 85 is a lightweight touring ski that still feels solid on the descent. It’s the perfect tool for big days with demanding skiing. While 85mm underfoot is a little narrow for most people to be their only ski, it’s a great ski for someone to start building a quiver who already has something in the 100mm range.

Selling Atomic on
Atomic Backland 85 Skis · 2023
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Ski Expert Will Shaw
Will Shaw
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Growing up in Oklahoma, I was fortunate to make regular ski trips to the mountains for most of my life. For the last 8 years I have been living in Colorado and exclusively backcountry skiing along the front range. I love waking up early to ger a few laps in by headlamp before work, but my passion is...

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