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Powder-light package for backcountry skiers

Sun., Feb. 27, 2011

Big Cottonwood Canyon, one of three iconic alpine valleys outside of Salt Lake City, was glaring in whiteness. Ten new inches of Utah fluff, was at my feet and sprawling downhill for a mile or more from the top of a peak at Solitude Mountain Resort.

“Powder!” an enraptured skier screamed. He pointed his ski tips down and disappeared into the cloud of snow.

It was a good day to test new gear. My ski setup for the day was an ultralight package made by Dynafit, a niche brand that specializes in backcountry ski gear.

On my feet, Dynafit’s TLT 5 Performance boots felt supportive and strong as I pushed off and initiated a turn. But the boots, which are built mainly for ski touring and backcountry descents, are among the lightest commercial ski boots ever made.

At about 2.3 pounds per foot, the TLT 5s feel more like shoes than hard-shell ski boots. They weigh half what a typical alpine boot weighs. With a close fit, some flex in the shell, and a rockered sole, you can run across the snow in these boots when not clipped into bindings. They are that comfortable and light.

Accompanying the Dynafit boots, I was clipped into the company’s ( Vertical FT12 bindings and riding the long and fat Stoke skis. The setup is made to handle nearly all type of downhill terrain. But its primary use is for ski touring, where you eschew chairlifts and skin uphill to earn your turns.

The heel on the FT12 bindings can be unlocked to allow for a hinged free-heel technique for striding and uphill travel. The boots have two modes – one for ascending, and a locked-in mode for going down. The skis, powerful boards with a paulownia wood core, have a metal insert area at the tip to accommodate removable climbing skins on the base of the ski.

At Solitude Resort, where my focus was primarily on the downhill side of the equation, I leaned in on a steep pitch to push the Dynafit setup to its limit. The boots, which have just two buckles and a light carbon-fiber cuff, flexed and commandeered the big Stoke skis through a series of make-it-or-crash turns in a tight woods.

Out of the skis, or while striding free-heel on an uphill, the TLT 5s felt like nordic boots. Clipped in, they performed akin to an alpine boot with four buckles and a stiff build. I was impressed.

Overall, the package I tested is a sweet setup for backcountry skiers not wanting to compromise on the downhill but in need of a lightweight system for going back up. The setup was not designed for resort skiing, though the Dynafit package can do double duty for an occasional day on the lifts.

But the good stuff does not come cheap. My Dynafit package of skis, boots, and bindings retails for more than $2,300.

The elite TLT5 boots, with carbon fiber and top-quality design, go for about $1,000. The skis are about $800. If you can afford the setup, Dynafit offers a very sweet ride.

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