Finer Points: Five-point sidecut and the art of the taper

Tester Dana Allen tries out the Atomic Backland 107’s five-point sidecut on the slopes of Powder Mountain, Utah. [Photo] Matt Kiedaisch

Even though antique skis are thought to be completely straight, a hint of sidecut has graced ski design since Norway’s early telemark skiers of the 1880s. The subtle one- to three-millimeter sidecut of old underwent a dramatic advancement in the early ’90s with the boom of turn-centric hourglass-shapes. And all that changed again about a decade back, with the introduction of a new sidecut concept that’s now almost ubiquitous in backcountry skis.

Taper, pintails, five-point sidecut, elf-shoe technology—whatever you call it, this design moves a ski’s widest points inward, closer to the binding, so a ski appears less like an hourglass and more like one of those wooden spoons that comes with a Hoodsie Cup. The concept is simple: by tapering a ski’s tip, tails or both, the narrower ends release more easily from turns and, if rockered, are less likely to unexpectedly catch. The design is hyper-common among powder skis, but is steadily creeping across the full spectrum of widths.

“Five-point sidecuts are the way forward,” says Steamboat, Colo.-based tester Jeremy Bailey, whose favorite skis of the test—the Armada Tracer 108 and Atomic Backland 107—feature a dose of taper at their tips and tails. “This design has hardly any drawbacks. It’s versatile in nearly any condition.”

Tester Cat Ambrose, who splits her time between Breckenridge, Colo. and Kirkwood, Calif., agrees—but also offers a note of caution. “A few creative ski producers have mastered the five-dimension sidecut, early rise and weight-to-performance combination,” she says. “Others are failing miserably to create this secret potion.”

ARMADA TRACER 108

$825 – armadaskis.com | SIZES (cm): 164, 172, 180, 188 | DIMENSIONS (mm):134/108/126 | WEIGHT/PAIR: 8.2 lbs. (180)

ATOMIC BACKLAND 107

$850 – atomic.com | SIZES (cm): 175, 182, 189 | DIMENSIONS (mm): 137/107/125 | WEIGHT/PAIR: 7 lbs. (182)

Grab your copy of the 2019 Gear Guide here.

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