Gear Review: Atomic Backland 98 W Skis

I hate calling skis “versatile.” Every ski has some amount of versatility. Any set of planks on the market can make it to the top of the mountain to the bottom in more than one snow condition or type of terrain. The industry overuses the word in marketing. We as reviewers are just as bad. But I can’t talk about the Atomic Backland 98 W without saying “versatility” roughly a zillion times. The Backland a true Swiss Army Knife for backcountry touring.

The Backland 98 W is the most recent part of my personal quiver. I lug around a 1700g powder ski for winter touring and it needed a friend. I wanted something light enough for multi-day tours with overnight stuff and glacier gear. I needed enough stability for fast and rowdy alpine bowls, but enough forgiveness and ease for tight couloirs. I needed good edge hold for spring corn, yet enough float for vert-heavy powder stashes like Ruby and North Chiwaukum. It’s a lot to ask from a ski, especially since some of those priorities contradict. But I’ve got to say, I really nailed it with this one.

Construction (size 164)

To really appreciate how the Backland 98 handles, it helps to understand it’s made and how it’s different from its peers before connecting those features to its on-snow performance.

We’ll dive in to how these specs inform how the Pagoda Tour 100 RP handles, but to learn more, check out the Construction Cheat Sheet.

Backland 98 W and Ability Level

The Backland 98 W is great for advanced skiers and experts who value maneuverability. Intermediates? I’ve gone back and forth, but here’s where I’ve landed: yes, but err on the conservative side with sizing. Yes, but if you seek out tours that where you can ski with a bit of ease and confidence – there are some better options if you’re gripped and need to take one turn at a time. Yes, but if you feel confident with the amount of carbon in the ski. I know a few new backcountry skiers who didn’t love the light, planky feeling of carbon-heavy skis. If you’re not doing a ton of overnight or glacier travel, an extra 100g might make for an easier transition, especially if you’re getting used to pin bindings and lightweight touring boots as well.

Next, we’ll get into the Backland 98 W’s performance in various types of terrain and snow conditions, from best to worst:


If the Backland 98 W was an inbounds ski, it’d be the most boring, bland ski on the market – serviceable in all conditions, amenable to multiple ski styles, lacking any interesting, polarizing traits to make it stand out. But the Backland isn’t an inbound ski. It’s around 1200g and so light.

But it’s not just the weight that makes these easy on the uphill. The recommended mount point set my toe piece at a nice pivot point. On kick turns, the Backland feels very balanced quickly comes around. With my wider powder touring skis, the mount point is further back and the heavily rockered tips create a little spoon for hitchhiking snow. Combined, these two traits make the tips slow to rise in a kick turn. I stand in that “pee like a dog” stance for full seconds waiting for the tail to drop and tips to rise.

The Backlands also seem to carry a lot of its weight through the midsection (I… can relate). Not all weight in a ski is created equally. Weight closer to your foot and the binding feels lighter than a lot of weight in the tips and tails. I’ll attempt to explain the physics. It’s leverage. If you’ve got 2 people with different weights on a seesaw, you put the heavier person closer to the pivot point and lighter person further away, and they both balance out. Or if you’re carrying a heavy bag of groceries, it’s easier to carry them close to the body vs. raising your arms out in a capital T. The same goes for skis. The Backlands are noticeably thinner through the tips and tails, and the full sidewalls only run through the binding zone and tapers off through the tips and tails. That weight distribution influences how heavy the ski feels. It’s more than just the weight numbers listed in a catalog, folks!

Below, you can see the white part of the sidewall change width along the length of the ski. The tails of the ski are on the left side of the picture, and the sidewall starts about halfway along the tail. Under the heel piece, you can see that the white sidewall section is much thicker,

It’s clear that Atomic paid special attention to all aspects of the uphill experience for the Backlands, not just winning the gram wars.


With Atomic’s race pedigree, they know a thing or two about edge and sidewall design, plus how to maximize torsional rigidity. So while the Backlands might not have full tip-to-tail sidewalls, it still bites well in icy conditions. Last summer, my crew was the second group to drop into Mt. Adams’s Southwest Chutes. The top was still icy and most people opted to wait for things to soften up. We reasoned that a couple hundred feet in firm conditions would give way to a few thousand feet of corn, sans crowds and other ski tracks. The Backlands bit with every turn, and my tired legs didn’t even have to work very hard to pressure them slope or apply pressure at just the right angle.


This is the part where I’d like to apologize to my friend Ali Williams for shading her for bringing the Backland 98s one time on a powder day. (We have the same touring quivers and the same fat powder skis. I’m not a total asshole.) The Backlands hold their own in soft snow.

Outside of the Backlands, my personal quiver includes 4 skis ranging from 108 to 114 underfoot. I love powder. I spend hours each week tracking temps and sun exposure all across the Washington Cascades in search of powder. I was very apprehensive to trust a moderately rockered, 98-wide, shorter sized ski to be serviceable in powder, much less fun. But the HRZN Tech delivers on its promises.

The HRZN Tech is a slight bevel of the bases at the tips of the ski. It’s subtle, but when I put my box of ski scrapers on top, you can see the slight shadows on the edge of the ski.

This design adds surface area to the tips of the ski, which helps with float. But it also reminds me a lot of the bottom of a dinghy. Stick with me while we go on a slight tangent talking about boats.

If the Backland 98s are a dinghy, then heavily rockered skis like the DPS Pagoda Tour 100 are more like a speedboat with a planing hull. A speedboat won’t sink very deeply into the water and pierces through it with ease. Same goes for the Pagoda Tour in soft snow. The inflatable dinghy will plane too, though not as well, sitting a bit more in the water. But the wider and flatter hull comes in handy in choppy waves. Speedboats get knocked around and have a higher occurrence of seasickness. Same principle carries over in variable snow. Heavily rockered and tapered tips get knocked around a bit in variable snow. Meanwhile, our dinghy-style HRZN Tech tips are marketed for “better tracking through chop and crud and less tip deflection.” Another way to think about it: the outside edges of the tip prioritize float and the inner section of the tip prioritizes tracking and stability. Thanks for entertaining my boat metaphor.

Are they as floaty as my quiver full of pow skis? Not quite, but close. I’ve had 90-something skis where there was an extremely small sweet spot between being backseat or getting tip dive. I could adjust stance, speed, and turn shape without being too worried about tip dive. Going with a 172 would’ve allowed me to ski the Backlands a little more aggressively in soft, open bowls, but that was a sacrifice I made for nimbleness in tighter terrain.

The tails on the Backlands are also fascinating to me. In firm conditions, they feel like a flatter, stiffer, supportive tail that provides stability. But in soft snow, it feels surfy and progressive, not locked into turns. I think Atomic went full Goldilocks with the tip taper, rocker, and flex in the back half of the ski to deliver the best of both worlds.

Tight Turns

The Backland 98 W isn’t the easiest ski on the shelf when it comes to slashy, pivoted turns. But there’s just enough softness and rocker in the tail that they’ll acquiesce with a little effort. And the 14.6m turn radius sets you up for quick, nimble turns – not to mention, the radius shortens if you bend the Backland’s softer shovels.

Long Turns / Stability at Speed

For the same reasons listed above, the Backland 98s are a bit more predisposed to shot, quick turns. But they are happy to hang out pointed down the fall line. Most other nimble skis I’ve tried (like Sheeva 10s, DPS Pagoda Tour 100s) feel “hooky” and nervous when they’re pointed down the fall line. They need to keep turning to feel their best. With the Backlands, I could ride things out straight down slope in mellower areas and enjoy some speed before initiating a turn. But once the turn’s initiated, the Backland finished it pretty quickly.

In that same vein, the Backlands do admirably with speed. No ski in the <1300g range is going to be known for stability or hold a flame to heavier inbounds models. I do hold back on this ski compared to the rest of my quiver, but this is also the shortest ski in my quiver. Again, this is a place where you can size up or down based on your preference for nimbleness vs. stability.

I will also note that the HRZN Tech tips can feel batshit crazy if you’re too far forward on the ski. HRZN Tech is a feature for 3D snow. If you’re forward enough in firm conditions to weight that part of the tips, the bevel makes the ski track really erratically. If you’re a very aggressive skier, I’d err on the longer side for sizing to bring your mass further back from the tips. Or, I could definitely see scootching the mount point back a centimeter or two.


Any ski this light will struggle in crud. You can engineer some slight improvements, but none of them are nearly as impactful as a bit of extra weight.

Backland 98 W vs. Backland 100

The Backland 98 & men’s 100 are the same ski, same mount point, different graphics. The difference in number comes from the scaling widths and lengths. The shortest Backland (the 156) has a 97mm waist. The longest Backland (188) has a 101mm waist. Every size up gains an extra millimeter underfoot.

I imagine this is to create more separation from the Backland 95, which comes in traditionally men’s sizing.

Backland 98 W vs Backland 102 / 102 FR

I should also call out that this ski is a little different from the old 102 and 102 FR. Those skis were a little softer, both through the length of the ski and torsionally / on edge. They used only poplar in the wood core for a satisfying, snappy, flex. The older models also had a little more rocker in both the tips and tails that made them ski a smidgen shorter. Personally, I think Atomic would’ve been smart to adjust down each size by 1-2cm when they developed the 98 W to account for those differences.

Binding Choice

The Backland 98 W is a true touring ski that pairs best with a true touring binding. I personally went with an ATK Raider. But I’d recommend either a DIN certified, full pin binding (Rotation, Ion, Vipec) or partially-featured pin binding (Raiders, MTN / Backland, Zed).

I would not enjoy skiing the Backland for lift-serviced skiing. I’d personally gravitate towards a Pandora, Blaze, carbon Mindbender, Hustle, or Santa Ana Unlimited to do double duty with a Tecton, Kingpin, or Shift.

Backland 98 W vs Pagoda Tour 100 RP

The Backland 98 W is much better on hardpack with a slight trade-off in powder. The effective edge is also longer on the Backland 98, so I was able to get away with a shorter size (which cut even more weight) without feeling wildly shorter. I went with a 164 on the Backland 98 W and a 171 on the Pagoda Tour 100 RP. For the full review of the Pagoda Tour, click here.

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