(SKIING Magazine) In the quest for backcountry untracked, the right gear can mean the difference between a merry expedition and a miserable slog. First you need to choose your weapon: alpine touring (AT) or telemark. The advantages of a tele setup are obvious: light weight, (relatively) comfortable boots, and the grace and enhanced sense of flotation that come with a free heel. But if you're already a strong alpine skier and want to get into serious terrain, an alpine touring setup makes more sense. By definition, AT gear (and backcountry telemark gear for that matter) will always be a compromise, but with this new stuff, you get pretty darn close to downhill performance without sacrificing the comfort you need for touring.
Think that's all you need? Oh, no, you're just getting started: Backcountry skiing is gear intensive. To make your shopping easier, we've also reviewed climbing skins, collapsible poles, avalanche-safety gear, clothing, a pack, and more. Here's the gear; the avy course is up to you.
1) To get the maximum performance out of your boots (and skis), you need a heavy-duty binding. The new Riva Z Comp ($130) has burly compression springs that provide a more consistent flex for touring, and its rugged aluminum and steel construction stands up to mega cranking in powder, corn, and muck. 801-278-5552, bdel.com
2) The all-plastic Garmont Veloce ($420) has extra wide bellows at the toe with almost leather-like flex for aggressive deep-kneed turns in the steeps. A stiff cuff with two buckles and a power strap secures the ankle, mitigating blisters and offering plenty of support for strong skiing. 888-343-5200, garmontusa.com
3) Sophisticated construction-a wood core with air channels and a dual-carbon-fiber torsion box-keeps the Tua Nitrogen ($499) lightweight (6 pounds, 6 ounces for 178 cm) for easier ascents and quicker turns. A wide footprint (107 mm at the shovel, 75 mm at the waist) rides high in powder and busts through crud. 303-417-0301, tuaski.net
4) The one-pound, 11-ounce Dynafit tourlite Tri Step AT binding ($299; $354 with brakes) is more than 2.5 pounds lighter than other touring bindings, a difference you'll appreciate by the end of a long hike. Featuring an adjustable-release toe and heel, the Tri Step also switches easily from tour (free-heeled) mode to ski (locked-down) mode. Rotate the heelpiece with a ski pole to click between three heel-riser climbing positions. 800-443-8620, life-link.com
5) Alpine skiers will appreciate the stiff forward flex of the Dynafit TLT 700 boot ($435; $460 with Thermoflex liner); it's got the support to handle turns in unpredictable backcountry terrain without mangling your feet on long climbs. The optional Thermoflex liners save more than a pound of weight and are custom-molded to your feet-well worth the extra 25 bucks. 800-443-8620, life-link.com
6) There's good reason the 5.3-pound Atomic TG.10 Super light ($314) is one of the most popular AT skis in Europe. The foam-core plank is slightly stiff and cranks on parallel turns. With a 96-mm shovel and a 67-mm waist, it's just wide enough to float in the deep stuff yet quick enough for precise, short turns. 800-258-5020, atomicsnow.com
7) Leki's one-pound, 2.5-ounce aluminum Classic Air Ergo poles ($100) have large baskets for the deep fluff and bulletproof carbide tips for rocky terrain. They telescope from 26 to 57 inches. 800-255-9982, leki.com
8) The ultralight (3.8-pound), 3,200-cubic-inch Wild Things Ice sac backpack ($199) has the key features for backcountry hauling (hydration sleeve, snow skirt, ski straps) sans the frivolous bells and whistles that add weight. Stuff the Sac with sleeping bag, clothes, and safety gear for the hike in, then compress it down to daypack size for shorter side trips. 603-447-6907, wildthingsgear.com
9) With its proprietary auto-lock system, one pull of the handle deploys the 9.5-ounce Life-Link Carbon Fiber probe ($80) in less time than it takes to screw in the nut on other avy probes-precious seconds when searching for a buried friend. The 280-cm, seven-section probe is marked every five centimeters to help gauge snow depth and locate weak layers. 800-443-8620, life-link.comCarbon Fiber probe ($80) in less time than it 10) The one-pound, 11-ounce G3 AviTECH shovel ($61) is made from aluminum (it won't deflect like Lexan) and telescopes for digging in variable snowpacks. 866-924-9048, genuineguidegear.com
11) Combining old technology with new, the Ortovox X1 ($280) is the only avalanche beacon that offers the visual vectoring and accuracy of a digital transceiver with an analog's range (65 meters) and ability to distinguish among multiple signals. 603-746-3176, ortovox.com
12) Thanks to the company's unique camming buckle, you don't have to be a yogi to remove the Ascension Glide Light STS skins ($101-$135) with your skis on. The rubber tail attachment is super pliable and easy to use, even in bitter cold. 801-278-5552, bdel.com
13) For gear and bodily repairs, the Cuts & Bolts Kit ($48) includes everything from duct tape and ripstop patches to ibuprofen and bandages. Just don't confuse the seam grip with benzoin tincture. 800-324-3517, adventure medicalkits.com
14) A mere two pounds, six ounces, the Exped Icebird sleeping bag ($399) features elasticized horizontal and vertical baffles to keep its high-loft down in place, so it stays incredibly warm (rated to five degrees F) despite its weight. A nifty internal storage pocket doubles as a stuff sack that lets you cram the bag down to airline-pillow dimensions. 253-735-6200, exped.com
APPAREL & ACCESSORIES15) Soft shells are great, but if you're only bringing one jacket into the backcountry, make it a seam-sealed, waterproof-breathable shell with a contour hood with visor, vents, and water-resistant zippers like Moonstone's Ridge Line ($330). 800-390-3312, moonstone.com16) Cloudveil's Four Shadows Beanie ($35) is made from breathable, wind- and water-resistant Schoeller stretch fabric with a soft fleece inner band. 888-763-5969, cloudveil.com17) Aside from scratch-resistant polycarbonate lenses, Briko's Lucifer kit sunglasses ($109) have an attachable goggle strap that keeps them secure even when you're tumbling down couloirs. 800-462-7456, briko.com18) The fleece liners of the Lowe Alpine Systems gloves ($119) can be removed for quick drying. Wear them without the waterproof-breathable shells on dry days. 800-366-0223, lowealpine.com19) Made from a lightweight stretch-woven fabric, Patagonia's Guide pants ($169) offer freedom of movement and breathability, as well as protection in any weather condition short of a deluge. 805-643-8616, patagonia.com20) For long, cold downhills, al fresco lunches, or midnight trips to the loo, the Columbia Thermocline down sweater ($140) works as an over-the-top warming jacket that doubles as a pillow in the hut and stuffs into its own football-sized pouch. 800-547-8066, columbiasportswear.com21) Your hut mates will appreciate the naturally odor-fighting silver yarns in Hot Chillys MicroActive long underwear (zip T, $48; bottoms, $44). 800-468-2445, hotchillys.com22) Thorlo's Ski Light socks ($17) are flat-woven on the sides, arch, and instep to fit smoothly and have increased padding where you need it: in the heel, ball, and shin. 800-438-0286, thorlo.com