Touring Skis: How to Choose

Published on 04/13/2023 · 12 min readThe right touring skis can make or break your day in the backcountry. Skiing Expert Adam St. Ours details how to choose the right touring skis!
By Ski Expert Adam St. Ours

You got to get up in order to get down. Cog Railway, Mt. Washington, NH. Photo by Adam St. Ours

Tl:dr: Over the past 5-10 years, interest in backcountry skiing and alpine ski touring gear has grown exponentially, and the increase in sales of touring-related gear has been one of the major factors in the growth of ski-related gear overall.

Due to the increased interest in backcountry skiing over the past decade and the high demand for ski-related gear, ski manufacturers have started making touring skis for every condition and style, much like they do for resort skis. Never before has the consumer had such a breadth and depth of choice in skis to use outside the resort gates or inside if they so choose. But how do you decide what’s the best backcountry ski for you? How do you even figure out what you’re looking for in a touring ski?

I’ve helped thousands of customers determine the best fit for their profile. It starts by understanding the different types of touring skis and recognizing the type of skier you are and the terrain you are most likely to encounter while touring. As I’ve started to do more alpine touring myself over the past four years, I’ve been able to apply my expertise in a practical sense, and really see how the different ski options feel in a real world setting. I’m passionate about helping people find the right product for their needs in order to enjoy all that the mountains have the offer.

What Is Alpine Touring?

Highest of the High Peaks in the Adirondacks. Mt. Marcy, NY. Photo by Adam St. Ours

Traditionally, alpine touring uses skis to “tour” a mountain range, to get from one spot to another, with a mix of human-powered ascents and downhill descents. Trekking across mountains is still the most common association of the term in Europe, where touring has a long heritage as it was a major way to travel between mountain villages. However today, especially in North America, the term “alpine touring” has a much looser connotation. It’s a more general term for hiking up a snow slope using skins on your skis (skinning) and your boots and bindings in walk mode and then skiing down. It can be done in a resort or the backcountry, ascending/descending the same slope, traveling across a mountain range, or any combination thereof.

What to Consider When Buying a Touring Ski

It’s important to consider the type of skiing you will most likely be doing and buy a ski most appropriate for that usage. With so many manufacturers making wide varieties of touring skis, choosing the most appropriate one for you will save a lot of frustration and make your tours more enjoyable.

Will the Skis Also Be Used in a Resort?

Hybrid, or 50/50, touring skis are becoming increasingly popular for skiers in and out of the resort. These skis are intentionally designed for either side of the ski boundary line or full-resort skis that are exceptionally lightweight. Either way, they have the downhill chops to be stable in the variable snow conditions found in a resort while also being reasonably light enough to be carried uphill.

What Kind of Touring Will You Be Doing?

Think about what touring you will most likely be doing with this ski. Do you plan on doing fitness laps in a resort? If so, you want something ultra-lightweight with a narrow waist width since you’ll be skiing on groomed runs. Will you mostly be doing short tours up local hills? Weight becomes less of an issue when the tours get shorter, and you need something wide enough to float and make turns in deep snow easier.

Are your sights set on more ambitious objectives, long approaches, and high alpine faces? This is the most complicated scenario, as you’ll need to balance a lightweight ski with the characteristics to perform in a wide range of conditions. Typically you’re going to want a stiffer ski that will be more stable on steep terrain, including highly exposed alpine faces and narrow couloirs, and balance that with a ski that’s nimble to deal with the unexpected terrain and conditions the backcountry has in store.

What Kind of Skier Are You? What Do You Prioritize in a Ski?

These questions are no different than what you’d ask yourself if you’re looking for an all-mountain resort ski. Like an all-mountain ski, touring skis come in all shapes, sizes, and style characteristics.

Do you prefer a directional ski to charge the fall line at high speed? Then you’d want a ski with less rocker and a stronger flex profile to provide stability and edge grip. Do you prefer a ski that’s stable in mixed snow conditions or one that’s nimble and easy to turn quickly? Your answer will determine the amount of flex and taper you should get. Finally, do you like to jump and spin off everything in sight? Then you want a freestyle ski with more rocker and tip taper to give it agility and a loose feeling that’s easy to pivot and slash turns.

How Important Is Weight (or Lack Thereof)?

A lighter ski will be easier to hike uphill with. A couple of pounds may not sound like a lot, but when it’s attached to your feet, over the course of potentially tens of thousands of steps in the skin track, the difference can be significant. It’s important also to factor in a pack with accessories like warm layers, food and water, and possibly a shovel and probe for avalanche safety. The downside is that all else equal, a lighter ski won’t be as stable as a heavier ski on the downhill. Where the rubber hits the road is how you balance that weight savings with downhill performance.

If you generally keep your tours shorter or expect to use the same skis in a resort, depending on your style and preferences, you may be okay with a heavier ski and the increased downhill performance that comes with it. Likewise, if you frequently do longer tours and/or are looking for a dedicated touring ski, the weight savings of light skis with a tech binding may be well worth any compromise in downhill performance.

What Are the Different Types of Touring Skis?

Transitioning at the summit. Ragged Mt. Resort, NH. Photo by Adam St. Ours

Ski brands have responded to the increased visibility and popularity of the touring segment by making skis for alpine touring in every category of skis possible. From ultra-lightweight skis for basically running uphill to stable downhill chargers and freestyle skis for throwing tricks, you can get a ski to match any style or attribute you want.

Skimo (Ski Mountaineering)

Skimo is the most classic version of touring ski, which most people think of when you mention hiking for turns. Skimo skis are built to be as light as possible for fast and long mountain missions. Generally, they will be narrow and under 90mm underfoot to save weight. Skimo will be in the 2026 Olympic Games, an exciting addition for winter sports enthusiasts.


  • Lightweight
  • Mostly camber for increased grip on snow
  • Many models feature integrated skin clips for ease of use

Be Aware

  • Not as stable as resort skis in rough or choppy snow


If you’re not sure what your tours will look like, or if you plan on having a single pair of skis for both touring and in a resort, then an all-mountain ski is likely the most appropriate option for you. However, just like choosing a resort ski, there are different types to consider based on your individual style and the conditions you’re most likely to encounter.


  • Versatility
  • Can fit the ski profile to your preferred style
  • Can be used in or out of a resort

Be Aware

  • Likely heavier than a “traditional” touring ski


If you plan on using touring to get away from the masses in the resort and score untouched deep powder, then you need wide powder skis to make the most of your turns. Here, the decision is almost identical to considering a resort powder ski.


  • Extra width provides float and stability in deep snow
  • Increased rocker for easy turns in deep snow and tight spots

Be Aware

  • Greater width means more material and weight
  • Rocker lifts the skin off the snow in the tip and tail, for less grip while climbing


Do you like jumping off everything in sight and taking every opportunity to spin and jib? If so, then you should consider a freestyle ski. While you wouldn’t want a ski designed solely for use in the terrain park, numerous skis take the same basic premise of a lively, energetic ski that’s balanced in the air and skiing switch, applying it to a versatile ski to use around the whole mountain.


  • Ability to take advantage of the fun terrain in the backcountry
  • Can fit the ski profile to your preferred style
  • Most freestyle skis are loose feeling, and great at quick turns

Be Aware

  • Not as stable as all mountain skis in rough or choppy snow
  • Rocker lifts the skin off the snow in the tip and tail, for less grip while climbing

Features to Look Out for When Buying a Touring Ski

To put it plainly and simply, any ski can be a touring ski. Nothing special or unique is needed to take a ski and start hiking uphill with it. However, certain attributes can make a ski much more enjoyable to use while touring or in the backcountry.


The most obvious is weight; a lighter ski will be easier to carry uphill. Therefore, it makes sense and stands to reason that skis marketed for touring will be lighter than those intended for riding lifts.


Taper on a ski is when the widest part of the tips are pushed down away from the end of the ski. Increased taper makes it easier to initiate turns in soft snow, especially at slower speeds, as less of the edges of the skis are in contact with the snow when up in a turn. The taper is important because the backcountry is not patrolled or maintained like a resort run. The snow conditions can change quickly and unexpectedly from day to day, even throughout the day, and in the event of an accident, help is usually not readily available. With this in mind, skiers tend to be more conservative in their skiing, and having a ski that you can turn quickly and easily at slower speeds can make your day much more enjoyable.

Flat Tail

A flatter tail is much easier to attach skin clips to. It also helps with grip when skinning up, as more of the skin is in contact with the snow and can grip compared to highly rockered tails that drastically lift off the snow.

How to Choose the Right Touring Ski for You

Family that tours together, stays together. Tenney Mt. Resort, NH. Photo by Adam St. Ours

Choosing the right touring ski for you can be a tricky task. Now that you’ve got a better understanding of touring ski specs, it’s time to consider your own style and touring objectives. Below I’ve described three skiers who I’ve helped on Curated who represent three primary “touring personas.” I’ve highlighted what they should look for based on their skiing style and goals!


Jake is a competent resort skier, comfortable on most trails on the mountain. He has some friends who have convinced him to start touring the backcountry a bit, and he is intrigued with the idea of fresh powder after the resort is tracked out. However, he’s unsure how often he’ll be able to tour and is concerned about investing in a setup that won't get a lot of use.

Features Jake should look for:

  • An all-mountain freeride ski that fits Jake’s preferred style so he can be comfortable and confident in any snow condition. Rocker-camber-rocker profile hits the sweet spot to take advantage of the soft snow he encounters while touring but also perform on firm snow in the resort.
  • A 50/50 hybrid ski that will perform both in and out of the resort. Even a resort-specific ski is acceptable, depending on how often Jake expects to tour, as long as he is okay with the additional weight as a trade-off for increased downhill performance.
  • Buying a single ski to use in the backcountry or the resort will allow him to dabble in touring without the cost of buying a full setup. If he only tours occasionally or has long gaps between tours, he can still get use out of his skis in the resort. He can pair them with hybrid boots and frame bindings for a single setup.

Ski examples: Head Kore 99, Blizzard Rustler 9, Black Diamond Impulse 98


Molly is an intermediate skier and avid hiker in the summer who wants to start skinning for fitness laps in her resort before work. She likes her current pair of skis but is afraid they’re too heavy to move quickly.

Features Molly should look for:

  • An ultra-lightweight ski that she can quickly take uphill and push the pace with.
  • Waist width should be narrow to save weight since she’ll be in a resort and skiing down on groomed runs.

Ski examples: Salomon MTN 86 W Pro, Atomic Backland 78, Dynafit Blacklight 80


Simon has been touring in the backcountry for a number of years now. He wants to upgrade his setup and focus on more remote peaks. He lives in an area that gets high snowfall and is looking to get in the steep and deep.

Features Simon should look for:

  • A lightweight ski that he’ll be comfortable hiking with for multiple hours and overnight trips.
  • Wide waist width with ample rocker to plane on top of deep snow easily and make nimble turns in tight couloirs.

Ski examples: K2 Wayback 106, Black Crows Corvus Freebird, DPS Pagoda Tour 112 RP, Armada Locator 112


Picking the right touring ski comes down to focusing on where/how you plan on doing your touring and figuring out the type of backcountry skier you are and the ski attributes that suit you best. Then, combining these, you can start putting together a list of possible options and figure out the pros and cons of each choice until you get the right fit.

If you have any questions or would like a Skiing Expert like myself to help guide you through the process, click my profile here to chat. I’d be excited to create a personalized list of recommendations for your unique situation and help get you started on your next ski tour.

Adam St. Ours, Ski Expert
Adam St. Ours
Ski Expert
Skiing is the most fun you can do on two feet. No matter where or how you ski, I can help match you up with the best gear up for your preferences and style..Consider me your personal shopper, shoot me a message to get started!
213 Reviews
3131 Customers helped
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Written by:
Adam St. Ours, Ski Expert
Adam St. Ours
Ski Expert
Skiing is the most fun you can do on two feet. No matter where or how you ski, I can help match you up with the best gear up for your preferences and style..Consider me your personal shopper, shoot me a message to get started!
213 Reviews
3131 Customers helped

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