Ahead of the Curve: Two Decades of Backcountry Skiing Innovation

Twenty years ago, Larry Coats noted that the day had come when there was no longer a distinction between Nordic and Alpine skiing. And over the two decades since, a whole lot has happened with backcountry gear, from the boom and bust of telemark to the splitboard explosion. Here’s how it all went down, as reviewed, predicted and called out by us. (See below for the full text.)



Premiere Gear Guide – October 1995

“When Lito Tejada-Flores wrote his definitive work on backcountry skiing in 1981, he predicted the day when ‘the distinction between Nordic and Alpine skiing in the backcountry (will) disappear altogether.’ I humbly suggest that this day has come.” —Larry Coats

Hyper-Fat and Sidecut – November 1996

“There’s a whole lot of shaking going on with deep sidecut and shaped skis that cut curves with the precision of a laser beam, with hyper-fat skis that drool over suffocatingly deep powder and heavy spring chop.” —Brian Litz

Randonnée Rally! – November 1997

“Alpine touring boots—also called AT or randonnée boots— do the impossible. They’re warm, ski as well as many downhill boots, and have the comforts and weight of an old pair of leather telemark boots.” —Rick Sayre

First Splitboard Review – December 2001

“It doesn’t take a crunchy, crusty, backcountry snowboarder to realize that a snowboard is an inferior piece of equipment on the uphill. On the same note, it is hard to deny that a snowboard may be the most versatile downhill tool ever devised for all snow conditions.” —Jenny Ader

Super Light Dreams – January 2004

“I would hope that traditional alpine companies would start to create boots and bindings that are for alpine touring and I believe things will get lighter and stronger as we go forward. And I wouldn’t be surprised to see an integrated binding/ski setup at some point that is super light.” —Christian Gennerman

Silvretta, The Standard – October 2005

“We mounted the telemark skis with Rottefella Cobra R8s, a perfect test binding with its removable heel throw. On the AT skis, we chose Silvretta’s Pure.” —Mike Horn

Getting Fat – September 2007

“Manufacturers super-sized with abandon, in some cases keeping the name but literally broadening the base. Black Diamond suggested that its fattest ski [the Zealot, 136/110/126] was ‘average amongst industry trends.’” —John Dostal

Editors’ Choice Debut – September 2008

“For the first time, Backcountry is recognizing the best gear of the year with a newly minted Editors’ Choice stamp of approval.” —John Dostal

Rocker Rising – September 2009

“Rocker is King, with more skis than ever ‘rocking’ the distinctive, floppy-tipped look and feel.” —The Editors

Back to the Backcountry – September 2010

“After years of fatter, heavier skis; stiffer, bulkier boots; and stouter, sidecountry-oriented bindings, the bc market—and our legion of testers—has turned a corner…. Rocker technology allows narrower, lighter and more skintrack-friendly boards to surf and smear powder.” —The Editors

AT Booms, Telemark Busts – September 2012

“According to SnowSports Industries America (SIA), telemark gear sales fell by 21 percent in 2010—the exact percentage by which AT sales grew.” —Tyler Cohen

The Splitboard Explosion – September 2013

“Close to 70 splitboard models manufactured by 26 different companies are available for purchase in the U.S. and Canada alone.” —Mike Horn and Adam Broderick

This article first appeared in the September 2014 issue

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