Update: Despite this being an old post, it still generates loads of traffic for those looking for a classic light ski mountaineering ski. While my opinion is that light is not always right, there are many newer options for lightweight skis (not to mention boots!) that are much better performing than the Mustagh Ata SL. To add some perspective, I regularly skied this ski with a pair of Garmont Megarides, which compared to more modern boots is not only heavy but also slipper soft.

For those seeking modern ski options, have a look at the TX and FX models from Kastle.

About touring/ski mountaineering skis:

Backcountry/ski mountaineering skis should do two things: help you climb uphill without too much extra effort, and get you downhill as comfortably as possible for the given snow conditions. Sounds simple enough, but my own web statistics (and internet trolling) seem to indicate that your average web-crawling skier spends more time scrutinizing over equipment than they do skiing or even reading about skiing. Fair enough, but I’d like to offer up some advice for the skier shopping for a new pair of touring skis. Despite thousands of boot/binding/ski options, there is absolutely no single ski that is going to satisfy your high expectations 100% of the time.

The maximizer in me refuses to believe that 100% satisfaction cannot be achieved, but my more reasonable self understands that touring skis are all about compromise.

For instance, let’s examine two common instances when those compromises are less than ideal.

  • Option 1: Your reverse camber 112+mm rockered powder beasts. These will be second to none as you slarve the deep stashes, but you’ll suffer (a little more than usual) on the way up and in the icy throws of a sun facing skin track you’ll be struggling to keep skins on snow with such a wide platform, ski crampons? not likely. We wish everyday were steep and deep heli-skiing quality pow, but you and I both know that the stars rarely align for those days.
  • Option 2: Your superlight, lightweight, carbon or any other ski option containing a featherweight superlative in it’s branding. You’ll cruise up the skin track demonstrating flawless kick-turns that only fresh legs or a skin suit regularly achieve. If the snow is all but the most uniform of corn or fresh ankle deep pow you will be cursing these chopsticks and wishing you suffered a little more on the up-track so that you could actually enjoy the down in the style your facebook persona would be proud to represent.

With Option 1 leaving you with an excuse for poor uphill performance, and Option 2 leaving you, well, with a downhill excuse. Surely there has to be some middle ground. For a review of a great middle ground, check out the Kastle FX 104 Review

Update: Feb 2014

I’ve always had a kind of bipolar perspective on lightweight backcountry ski gear, but lately I’ve been slightly more even-keeled with regards to ski selection. The Crested Butte backcountry is an area that hosts many longish 100% human powered ski tours (Crested Butte Mountain Resort is very much a closed boundary ski area) often with long flat sections on either end of the terrain.

The Mustagh Ata SL in the Elk Mountains

In recent years my preference in backcountry skis has varied between featherweight SkiTrab models all the way up to the >10cm underfoot rockered modern-day behemoths. Both have their distinct advantages, but really Crested Butte is “quiver of one” terrain. Enter the Dynafit Mustagh Ata Superlight.

“The Mustagh Ata Superlight represents the next phase of development for the successful Mustagh Ata model. It is the lightest ski in its class. It is equipped with patented Dynafit Insert technology and sports a modern waist curve. Its 88 mm width at mid-ski and its balanced core structure provide maximum skiing pleasure under all snow conditions. The ski adds very little weight when climbing, making it great for long high mountain tours and expeditions”

Summary

I like to think of this ski as the little brother of the extremely popular Dynafit Manaslu only better suited to more vertical and lending themselves to shorter radius turns. Remember that this is a lightweight ski and will certainly have it’s limitations when compared to large wood core skis that seem to be dominating the market these days. In most conditions, I find the ski to be perfectly suited for consistency like many of the lighter weight skis out there. I appreciate that this ski is on the stiffer side, especially in the tail, and find it to be quite lively and maneuverable. When skiing breakable crust, this ski responds well to aggressive edge release: which is easily accomplished with the low swing weight and responsive feel.

Other skis in this category include  K2’s Wayback (basically the Baker SL) or Black Diamond’s upcoming Aspect, which all have distinctly larger shovels.

Testing Notes

In the 25 days that I have skied the Mustagh Ata Superlights I’ve encountered backcountry snow that has ranged from glorious easy skiing powder to variable crust, crud and mank. Ascents with and without ski crampons. Conditions that I have yet to test: boilerplate ice and spring corn.

The Verdict

Pros: Leightweight, appropriate stiffer flex in tail, ski beautifully in soft snow. As with any light ski, will chatter some.

Cons: Lightweight skis are just not worth the weight savings.

The Mustagh Ata Superlight seems to be a perfect option for those looking for a do-all spring ski mountaineering ski. I’d recommend this ski for anyone looking for a lightweight setup for longer tours and/or spring conditions. Just remember, this lightweight mid-fat platform excels at shorter radius turns and won’t provide the crud busting prowess of a ski with more mass.

A ski with similar dimension, weight and much better performance in all snow conditions is the Kastle TX 87 . Kastle’s lightweight skis not only perform better in variable snow and firm conditions, but are also constructed of much higher quality materials. The difference in weight is negligible when compared to the much better performing ski in the Kastle’s.