Back when we first looked at the Atomic Backland FR 109, we were left with several questions. Now, after skiing the Backland FR 109 inbounds at Mt Bachelor, and touring on it in British Columbia, Colorado, and Wyoming, we can address those questions. Luke Koppa (LK) has spent some time on the 182 cm Backland FR 109, and I (CW) have been skiing the 189 cm version.
Now, back to those questions:
(1) Given that the Backland FR 109 is lighter than the Automatic 109 it replaces, how similar or different is the new ski’s performance in variable conditions?
(CW): We’ve talked at great length on this site about the relationship between weight and stability, and while I definitely tend to like skis on the lighter end of the spectrum, it’s frustrating when an otherwise great ski sacrifices too much variable-conditions performance in an effort to decrease weight. However, the Backland FR 109 is not all that much lighter than the Automatic 109 it replaced, and I didn’t feel like it was drastically less stable. Those couple hundred grams do make a difference, but it’s not a night-and-day difference. The Backland FR 109 feels a little more twitchy in variable conditions than the Automatic, but it’s also a touch quicker and more maneuverable.
(2) Does the HRZN Tech in the tips produce a noticeable difference in feel over the Automatic’s traditionally rockered tips?
(CW): Eh……This one is hard to tell. I personally have never really noticed boat-hull tips like those on the Backland FR 109 or Armada ARV 116 JJ making that much of a difference. Maybe that’s because I don’t do a lot of butters, and when I do, I don’t really press into my tips that far. Sure, those tips may help make this ski a little looser and more surfy, but it’s already a loose and surfy ski, so I’m not sure how big of a boost the rockered tips provide. That said, I really don’t have anything negative to say about the HRZN Tech either. It’s a nice marketing point, and it doesn’t seem to have any ill effects on the performance of the skis.
(LK): I agree with Cy here — I didn’t notice any noticeable increase in the Backland FR 109’s flotation or smear-ability compared to similar skis, but I also didn’t notice any negative performance issues with the tips, so no complaints here.
(3) How does the Backland FR 109 compare to the current crop of intuitive and forgiving all-mountain skis?
(CW): In a word, well. It definitely falls closer to the playful end of the spectrum than the directional one — it’s easy to spin, slash, ski switch, and throw sideways, and we’ll get into more comparisons to skis like the Line Sick Day 114, ON3P Kartel 108, Blizzard Rustler 10, and J Skis Vacation in a Deep Dive soon.
(LK): I’ve spent the vast majority of my time on the Backland FR 109 while touring, and all of it while on tech bindings (Dynafit Rotation 10), so I haven’t had the chance to really A/B it against similar skis in the resort. That said, it has been a very fun touring ski. And as Cy said, it’s quite playful and maneuverable, making it a great option for the tight tree skiing in Colorado. The ski feels very intuitive, and I think lighter and / or less experienced skiers will get along well with it. But I also think that more advanced playful skiers who ski with more finesse and a dynamic style (and don’t have as their first priority maximum stability) will still appreciate the Backland FR 109.
Cy and I have both been skiing the Backland FR 109 with the bindings pushed a few centimeters forward of the recommended mount point (I have it mounted 5 cm behind center), and neither of us felt that it was very sensitive to mount point. So, I think that it could work for both traditional skiers looking for a playful option and those people that ski with a more neutral stance, depending on where you mount it.
And while there are plenty of playful skis out there, there aren’t that many that are also coming in at a reasonable touring weight, which takes us to the next section…
(4) Is the Backland FR 109 more suited to inbounds use? Or 50/50 inbounds / touring use?
(CW): After skiing the Backland FR 109 in a wide range of conditions, I’ve felt more and more that this is an answer that deserves a lot of nuance.
In soft snow, powder, or slush, the Backland FR 109 is an absolute blast, and if that’s what you’re primarily skiing inbounds, the Backland FR 109 could be a great choice. However, in firmer snow, chopped up dense powder, and icy snow, the Backland FR 109 can be a handful. I’d shy away from the Backland FR 109 as an inbounds daily driver for this reason. There are skis that don’t sacrifice too much of the Backland’s playfulness, and in return offer a much more versatile inbounds ride and higher speed limit (e.g. the J Skis Metal, Moment Deathwish, and Sego Bighorn 106).
While the Backland FR 109 is a little heavier than some people might want for a dedicated touring ski, it still falls in a pretty reasonable weight range for touring. I would have no problem using the Backland FR 109 for my one-touring-ski-quiver here in the Tetons. It floats very well for its waist width, it’s nimble enough to navigate tight drainages and bushwhacking exits, and it’s a whole bunch of fun on any kind of terrain features. Sure, it’s heavy enough that you’re going to notice it on all-day tours, but that’s just a good excuse to grow stronger legs.
So with all that said, I think that juxtaposition of a ski that’s a little heavy for long tours, but not quite as capable as a dedicated inbounds ski is the perfect recipe for a 50/50 ski, and that’s where the Backland FR 109 shines. Combined with something like Atomic’s new SHIFT binding, the Backland would make a very, very good 50/50 ski for a wide range of conditions. Its hallmark characteristic is consistency — it’s easy to find its limits and then ski within them, and it while it doesn’t shine in challenging snow, it does well across the whole spectrum of conditions.
(LK): I agree with everything Cy said, so I’ll try not to repeat him, but I will offer my thoughts on the 182 cm Backland FR 109.
At around 1820 grams, I think the 182 cm Backland FR 109 falls in a versatile weight class for touring skis. I’ve found it light enough for longer tours, yet it has enough mass to deal with difficult conditions significantly better than lighter skis like the Black Diamond Helio 105 Carbon. What makes the Backland FR 109 even more unique is the combination of its reasonably low weight and playful shape. As someone who likes to mess aroud on natural features in the backcountry, but who also appreciates the benefits of a lighter ski, I’ve really come to like the Backland FR 109 as a touring ski.
I’ve had a chance to ski the Backland FR 109 in wind crusts, ice, some of the deepest pow in my life, chop, and some very variable conditions in the Dragon’s Tail Couloir in Rocky Mountain National Park. In all these conditions, I’ve found the ski predictable and reliable, which echoes Cy’s comment about consistency.
Yes, I would have preferred a wider ski on the super deep day, and would have been better off with something narrower and stiffer for the firm snow in the couloir. But the Backland FR 109 never surprised me in a negative way, which is what I look for in a touring ski. It’s a ton of fun in anything soft / consistent, and I can’t wait to use it for corn-hunting missions this spring. The Backland FR 109 struggles most in firm, bumped-up conditions where its low weight is apparent, but as long as I slowed things down a bit and skied with a more active style (rather than attempting to plow through variable snow), I was happy with the ski’s performance in most conditions.
Finally, while I think I’d stick with the 182 cm Backland FR 109 for a strictly-touring ski, I’d probably opt for the increased stability of the 189 cm version if I were using it as an alpine or 50/50 ski.
Atomic’s Backland FR 109 has proven to be a versatile, consistent, and fun ski across a wide range of conditions. It performs well when compared to the growing number of 50/50 skis, and is unique in that it offers playful skiers a twin-tip option in this category. As more inbounds-capable touring bindings emerge, skis like the Backland FR 109 make it increasingly possible to have one setup that you can take to the mountains regardless of what you’re skiing, and if you’re putting skins on to do it.
NEXT: Rocker Profile Pictures