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. The Kastle FX 104 is the middle ground, and never feels like a compromise. In my mind, this is a true quiver of one touring ski.  Now I’m not one for trying a product purely on endorsement, but these are Chris Davenport’s skis, surely he knows a thing or two about how important a stable ski is in technical terrain…

FX 104 in treesphoto tayloralpine.com

2012 found me traveling with two pairs of skis, the Kastle FX 104 and the Kastle BMX 128, both with the PLUM Guide binding. I skied everything from absolute blower in Canada to death defying steeps in the Alps and everything in between at home in Crested Butte with the FX 104. I can say with 100% confidence that the FX 104 performed extremely well in every condition. Why? because they are the perfect blend of agility vs weight. Deep, firm, soft, icy, long uphill, short off piste, chunder and everything in between, these skis simply rip. After a few trips, I’ve found that the big skis only come out when the terrain and the snow conditions dictate them appropriate. Otherwise, I find the FX 104 perfectly adaptable to any terrain and conditions in the mountains.

There is one simple explanation, These skis have guts…

photo J. Hirshberg

… But, the more technical explanation is below from kastle

Features: By using a titanal base and top sheet of 0.3 mm each, which is unusual in ski construction, a very high stability could be achieved for on-piste performance. Simultaneously a high weight reduction has been achieved. Additionally this ski is equipped with extremely resistant ABS sidewalls. A further reduction in weight has been achieved with the Hollowtech technology that is not only applied in the shovel zone but also in the tail zone of the FX104. Core construction, sheeting and the Hollowtech technology all result in a very low overall weight of the ski, leading to a high ascending performance.

PROS

  • Lightweight but burley- I don’t have the facts to back this up, but one of the lightest skis with titanal construction.
  • Hold an edge extremely well, and are stable at speed even in a short (for me) 174 length
  • beautiful craftsmanship, excellent quality and really eye catching in photos or video (if you are into that kind of thing)
  • A great quiver of one ski

CONS

  • Traditional Camber. I didn’t find this to be an issue, but heavily rockered skis are easier to ski and easier to sell. Don’t stress, if you can stay centered (out of the back seat) this ski will respond well, otherwise you may get taken for a bit of a ride. I personally feel that rocker will find itself relaxing a little (ike parabolic skis/mega sidecuts did), but that is another rant.
  • a 180 length would be my sweet spot. In between the offered 174 and 184 cm gap.

In my experience with the lightweight skis that I’ve skied (read the Mustagh Ata Superlight Review), is that they just aren’t often worth the compromise in ski performance. My first day on the FX 104 brought a smile to my face and the forgotten experience of a stable, reliable and precise ski returned to my backcountry quiver. As harsh as I am on lightweight skis, I’m told that next years Kastle TX 97 and TX 107 bring Kastle performance to lightweight skis. I’m hopeful that finally someone will deliver in this underwhelming category.

*Full disclosure: In 2011 I was invited to join the Kastle Guide Team and therefore did not trade cash for the use of these skis. Rest assured that I wouldn’t ski fall-you-die terrain on anything but the highest quality equipment…