Something strange is happening beneath chairlifts across the country: skiers are “earning their turns”—skiing uphill using alpine touring bindings and climbing skins—within resort boundaries in record numbers. A relatively new pursuit in North America, this discipline combines the aerobic exercise of Nordic skiing with the speed and excitement of downhill skiing; the exercise and adventure of backcountry touring with the ease and relative safety of resort runs. And it’s so popular now that resorts across the country, from A-Basin to Killington, are being forced to draft policies to deal with the unprecedented uphill traffic. Call it “fitness skinning,” “speed skinning” or “backcountry lite,” but know that it’s blowing up, and driving sales—and, yes, innovation—in the alpine touring market.
One of the great things about resort-based alpine touring is that it doesn’t require a whole new skiing kit—just technical bindings and climbing skins—or additional pricey backcountry gear like an avalanche pack, shovel, probe, etc. But for those who want to redline it on all-out uphill workouts, it’s best to get off of your heavy alpine gear and onto some of today’s newest lightweight skis, AT bindings and boots.
Dynafit PDG System
Austrian brand Dynafit is staking its claim as the North American leader in this growing category with its consumer-friendly, sport-specific PDG line. Start from the ground up with the 161-cm PDG Ski ($700), which seems very nearly Nordic light (each ski is only 1 pound 9 ounces) and skinny. As you’d expect, though, it’s much stiffer, offering a damp, crud-busting ride. Throw in the agile, 931-gram DY.N.A. PDG Boot ($850) for a nimble, race-ready setup. Along with hardgoods, Dynafit continues to be the only company that’s putting out a consumer-level speed skinning suit, with the wind-resistant, water-repellent PDG Polarite U Jacket ($200) and Pant ($180).
Scarpa FI Evo
A revolutionary update to a heritage racing boot from the 1990s, the F1 Evo boot switches between flexible, cuff-free “uphill” mode and stiff, cuff-locked “downhill” mode by simply clicking in and out of your tech binding. Add to that game-changing, time-saving tech high-end features like BOA closure and adjustable cuff lean, and you’ve got a great, lightweight (2.5 pounds) alpine touring boot for on- or off-piste.
La Sportiva Vapor Nano
A prime example of this year’s lightweight backcountry ski gear, the new Vapor Nano weighs just over 2.5 pounds, less than half the average alpine ski. Constructed of lightweight, stiff carbon nanotubes, this ski is said to be as impressive on the descents as it is on the skin track.
Osprey Kode Race 18
The diagonal ski carry on this new lightweight pack allows for fast storage and removal without removing the pack for fast transitions when boot packing is in order. Also, Osprey's BioStretch Wrap Harness wraps snugly around the ribcage for maximum stability when you're in motion. A large Velcro pocket opens from the side of the pack without removing it, allowing quick stowing of skins or crampons.