Photo courtesy of Hagan.
Some parents start their kids on a journey of ski touring at an extremely young age. They may carry their kids in a backpack on an easy tour, or even pull their kids uphill with a rope tied to themselves as they skin. Those tactics get harder and harder as your kids grow, however. Eventually, it’s time to get the little ones their very own touring gear! More and more kids are skinning uphill by themselves, and the equipment is finally starting to catch up to the trend. In this article, we’ll investigate the gear options available for kids touring.
Junior Touring Boots
Finding an alpine touring ski boot for kids is the biggest challenge for parents. Obviously fit is important, but also the boots you end up with will determine what binding system you need. The smallest boot available with tech fittings is the SCARPA F1 Women’s boot, which goes down to size 21.5 mondo (approximately 3.5 in men’s shoe sizing, or 4.5 in women’s). The price isn’t particularly friendly for growing feet, but the F1s provide a high-performance option for good skiers.
Movement recently introduced a Junior touring boot with a very friendly price. The Explorer Jr is a great option with a good range of motion while skinning and with decent ski performance. Sizing starts at 22.5 mondo which is approximately a men’s size 4.5 shoe. The Explorer boots are very simple to use and fit a lot of feet.
For feet smaller than size 21.5 mondo, juniors need to look for an alpine boot and a compatible binding system. Unfortunately, this means a heavier system that doesn’t walk as well. You could look at it as a way to toughen-up your kids - they may end up with gear even heavier than yours. If you start your kids on this route, they will really appreciate the touring-specific gear as they grow into it.
Backcountry Bindings for Kids
As mentioned above, the boot you choose will determine what binding options are available. For the smaller kids in alpine boots, you essentially have two options. First, you can buy a frame touring-binding such as the Hagan Z02 Jr made for kids. This offers alpine-style release with values as low as 2 on the DIN scale. Note the Z02 binding is only compatible with junior boots that have adult-size toe and heel welts that meet the ISO norm for alpine ski boots. In other words, equipment labeled as “kids boots” won’t work.
The second option for small feet is the Contour Kids Touring Adapter. This adapter essentially changes an alpine binding into a touring binding. After adjusting for size, it snaps into an alpine binding and offers touring motion for uphill travel. Simply take the adapter out of the binding for downhill skiing. This means the downhill skiing is using traditional alpine bindings that you know already work. Your kids can thus use the same skis in the resort and for touring.
For kids that are big enough to start fitting into alpine-touring boots, you can start looking at tech bindings. The benefit of tech bindings is that they are much more efficient when skinning uphill so kids will be able to enjoy longer days before tiring. The drawback is that the release values for tech bindings have historically been limited to 4 or higher on the DIN scale. This is too high for smaller kids. For 2018/19, Dynafit introduced a Rotation 7 binding that can be adjusted down to 2.5 on the release scale, opening up the tech-binding option to a wider range of juniors. Please note that in practice the binding may not actually test below a 3 on the scale, even with the indicator bottomed out.
Junior Backcountry Skis
If you end up using the Contour kids adapter mentioned above, your choice of ski is already made as it will be the same ski your kids are using in the resort. Many parents choose to use alpine skis for their kids in the backcountry since they are widely available in many lengths. As with adults, it’s okay to go a little shorter on skis for backcountry use, which makes uphill travel easier. A good rule of thumb is chin-height for backcountry skis, measured with the tails on the ground up to your child’s chin.
If you’re looking for lighter weight specialty skis, several companies are now making backcountry skis targeting the junior market. Hagan, for example, has made kids backcountry skis for years. Their latest edition is their lightest one yet, the Ride Jr, available in 125, 135, and 145-centimeter lengths. Movement has a First Apple ski for taller kids, available in a 146cm length. Our favorite kid’s skis, however, are the Dynafit SL 80s. While focusing on easy skiing performance, they also feature the Dynafit-style skin system which is super easy to use. The SL 80 comes in 129, 139, 149, or 158cm lengths.
Kids Climbing Skins
If you end up with the Dynafit SL 80 skis, getting the matching skins is a no-brainer. The race-style tip-rip system means kids can learn efficient skin management from an early age. For most skis, however, you will need a more standard tip and tail attachment system. Most standard skin kits with tips and tails pre-attached are too long for junior skis, however. Contour recently came to the rescue, making a great kit for shorter skis that is appropriately priced for kids at under a hundred bucks. The last option for short skins is to build your own, with various skin materials available off the roll and priced per centimeter. There are plentiful options for tip and tail attachments available as well. Browse all the options here. If you’d like us to attach the tips and tails for you, add our skin services to your cart.
Junior Skimo Racing
In the Wasatch range in Utah, there are multiple junior skimo racing teams that compete head to head in the Junior division of the Wasatch Powder Keg Race. This is great training for World level junior competition, which targets young adults aged 18-20. There is a friendly Cadet competition for kids under 18, but there are no official world cup races for that category. The next step above junior is the Espoir category for ages 21-23. At age 24, racers must enter the senior level competition against the world’s best. Racing-age is determined by age at the end of the calendar year after a particular ski season. For example, for the 2018/19 ski season, your age on December 31st, 2019 is what counts.
While there isn’t racing-specific gear for kids, some will use a women’s length race ski which are around 150cm in length. This is good practice as kids are moving towards formal competitions. Note many race skis are fairly stiff and unforgiving, which may cause trouble for lighter youth. A particularly friendly model in terms of flex and ease of steering is the Wasatch Speed Girl from Voile. Please note that if you plan on racing internationally, boys still need to meet the 160cm minimum length requirement for races sanctioned by the ISMF.
Options for juniors are limited in the race-boot category. The smallest shell you’ll find is the Atomic Backland Ultimate, which starts at size 23.0 mondo (5 US men, 6 women). Dynafit makes size 22.5 in the PDG 2, but in reality that is just a size 23 shell as well. Most other brands start with a 23.5/24 shell in their race models. You should also note that for cadet and junior levels, competitors are not allowed to use stiff, full-carbon boots for their safety.
Since the junior bindings mentioned above are heavy, competitive kids will start to eye the various race bindings. Please note that race bindings are typically not adjustable for release value and may not release properly for lighter weight youth. The softest race bindings are around 6 on the DIN scale, such as the Race 99 and the Helio 145 R6. The best option for juniors is often the Kreuzspitze GT, which is race-weight but can be adjusted in release value to accommodate growth.
We recommend that your kids learn how to ski at a resort on groomed runs since skiing power and crusts in the backcountry can be difficult. However, when they are ready, skiing the first turns that were earned is a special experience. We hope this brief summary of available options help narrow down your choices when it comes to selecting backcountry ski gear for your kids. Gear is always evolving and as more parents bring their kids into the wild, more options will come available. Ski touring can indeed be whole-family fun!