2017-2018 Atomic Backland FR 109

Full Review

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.

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Cy Whitling on the Atomic Backland FR 109. (photo by Julia Tellman)

(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.

Cy Whitling and Luke Koppa review the Atomic Backland FR 109 for Blister

Luke Koppa on the Atomic Backland FR 109, Rogers Pass, BC. (photo by Chris Fuller)

(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.

Cy Whitling and Luke Koppa review the Atomic Backland FR 109 for Blister

Luke Koppa on the Atomic Backland FR 109, Rogers Pass, BC. (photo by Chris Fuller)

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.

Cy Whitling and Luke Koppa review the Atomic Backland FR 109 for Blister

Luke Koppa on the Atomic Backland FR 109, Rocky Mountain National Park, CO. (photo by Sam Shaheen)

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.

Bottom Line

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.

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21 Comments

  1. Blister Member
    Perkin March 22, 2017 Reply

    Looking forward to your comments on these. Am 6′, 165 lbs, directional skier mostly Lake Tahoe looking to replace an OG 185 cm Cochise with something a little less demanding and more playful. Liked the QST 106 in the 188 length (demo bindings on the line), except felt a little too much tail especially in the bumps and deeper mank. Also considering the SN 108 which am very interested to try based on your descriptions here as well as the 100eight. The new Blizzard Rustler 10 looks interesting as well. Love to hear your thoughts on any of these!

  2. DB Cooper March 23, 2017 Reply

    I use the Backland 109 inbounds in Utah. Love the ski. Very nimble in tight spots and feels great charging down an open face. I use it as part of a 2-ski quiver: the Backland for 6+ inches and an Enforcer 93 for everything else and it works like a charm!

    • davide December 7, 2017 Reply

      Hi.. Where did you mount the bindings? I installed them factory recommended, but I have the doubt that maybe it is better to mount them -1 or -2. What do you think about it? P.s. I mounted market tour 12. Thanks

  3. DB Cooper March 23, 2017 Reply

    Forgot to add that as a bigger guy (6’3″, 215), I find this ski plenty stable.

  4. Blister Member
    Perkin March 23, 2017 Reply

    Thanks for the feedback, what length are you on? Guessing the 189?

    • DB Cooper March 23, 2017 Reply

      Yes

  5. Mat April 28, 2017 Reply

    How does this compare to the automatic? And any thoughts on the 117?

  6. Jason October 21, 2017 Reply

    is your Blister’s Measured Tip-to-Tail Length: 185.7 cm
    for the 189 or 182? Is it measuring shorter or longer than stated?

  7. Dave K.L. October 23, 2017 Reply

    Has anyone skied the Backland 102? I haven’t seen many good reviews on that ski, but it seems to be the perfect dimensions for typical Colorado resort skiing…

    • Matus Kuchyna October 27, 2017 Reply

      I am about to test my Backland 102 skis this weekend. I will let you know how they ski. My previous skis were Volkl Nunataqs.

      • Dave K.L. October 29, 2017 Reply

        Looking forward to hearing how they ski. I’m 190lbs, a bit worried they might be too soft.

        • Matus Kuchyna November 1, 2017 Reply

          Dave, I spent 3 days on Atomic Backland FR 102 16/17, 188cm long. I am 181cm/83kg (naked). The skis are definitely not soft. I could ski the groomers (not too icy ones), powder… The ski turns easily and is playful. I liked it very much. But, I ski in Scarpa F1 shoes and I think that I can ski. For me this is one quiver ski.

  8. DB Cooper October 27, 2017 Reply

    when is the full blister review of the 109 coming? the preview was posted on march 20…

    • Blister Member
      petermck November 25, 2017 Reply

      +1
      Looking forward to the full review.

  9. mark horn January 7, 2018 Reply

    love the 102 light and quick great for backcountry

  10. Blister Member
    Michael February 2, 2018 Reply

    Any idea when the full blister review of the 109 is coming? I’d love to get thoughts on this ski as a backcountry one ski quiver…

    Thanks!

  11. Andy February 9, 2018 Reply

    At some point i’d love to see you guys more globally address “pivotyness” or “slarvability” or whatever you want to call it as it relates to construction and shape. I often think of flat cambered skis as super pivoty based on my experience with Katanas, Scouts and old Megawatts. That shape clearly does this. However, once things get cambered, knowing how loose a ski will be is a total crapshoot, and it’s not reliably covered in reviews.

    I see this ski’s camber and think: not going to be very slarvy. You say here they’re “easy to throw sideways” but is that a slarve turn, or is is that the rocker and light weight just provides less resistance to a more forceful motion?

    The OG Squad 7 was awesomely pivoty, and had a ton of camber. The OG pure carbon DPS W112 was similarly shaped (less camber, more sidecut), and didn’t pivot worth shit. The ZeroG 95 has pretty minimal camber and rocker and didn’t pivot at all for me (super locked in) even after an aggro detune.

    The ability to slide turns and slarve is super important to me in the BC, but it’s hard to know without demoing what ski will do this reliably aside from the few rocker-flat-rocker models out there, especially when a demo tune might be off.

  12. Blister Member
    Michael February 24, 2018 Reply

    Can you give me your thoughts on the Backland 109 vs. the Volkl VWerks BMT 109? I’m trying to decide between these two skis as my one ski backcountry quiver. Performance in pow, steep firm couloirs, etc? Thanks so much!

  13. Ian Faurot March 7, 2018 Reply

    I have been on the Atomic Blog 185 for several years. I imagine this to be similar to the backland 109… 132-110-124…but certainly with differences. The one knock I have on the blog is the tails seem too soft, and this seemed to be echoed by most people who review them. Does anyone have an idea of how these two compare, specifically in the tails? Thanks,

    Ian

  14. Ryan May 10, 2018 Reply

    Curious where you guys mounted them? I have a 189 and will be using it primarily as a touring ski. While being around 195lbs im not exactly a finesse skier but i do enjoying bouncing around off natural lips and hucking cliffs.

  15. Jonny July 18, 2018 Reply

    Hi, everyone! I hoped, there is going to be a review of Atomic Backland FR 117.. but, nothing!
    I’m sure many skiers wants to know the differences between 109 and 117, and many of them- between Backland 109/117 and Automatic 109/117…. still nothing on site.
    So… For the next season I have two new pairs of ski- 17/18 Atomic Backland FR 117 (186 cm) and 16/17 Scott Punisher 110 (189 cm). Wondering which to pair with Marker Kingpin, every opinion about these two pair will be appreciated!
    I have 50 + days on Scott Punisher 110 – my favorite skis, so far.
    And while expecting Atomic Backland FR 117 – I was unpleasantly surprised to find, that the weight of the skis is 2167 g per ski, nor 2050 g, what is written on the label and in the official specifications! 117 grams more- WTF?!? Bought these for touring, but now I’m wondering- The Punisher is about 2150 g per ski….
    Is anyone in the similar situation? Will be very helpful not only for me.. thanks!

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