Nowhere is the interest in backcountry skiing as evident as in the number of choices being offered for ski boots next season. Ten years ago there were a handful of companies making boots for turn earners, and none of them had any affiliation with a major alpine ski brand. This year there are very few of the majors who don’t, and the only ones not offering a ski boot are those already burned by the passion of interest with too few customers for too many products. For those of us practicing what we preach, the added interest from more companies only increases the dilemma of what to chose – a position we only dreamed of a decade ago.
From the alpine side of the aisle, interest has been growing slowly but steadily to integrate a walk mode without compromising downhill performance. This year K2 joins with Atomic, Lange, Salomon, Fischer and Tecnica. From the backcountry side the focus is on appealing the mindset of the in-bounds skier without compromising mobility for touring. Dynafit and Scarpa selectively add more mass for mass appeal while Garmont bows out and Swiss titan Scott sallies forth with old molds and new enthusiasm. It’s a tightrope of a walk and there’s a ton of options to chose from.
BD ups the ante on their Factor MX 130 by making the liner fully thermomoldable, widening the last a bit to 100mm at the metatarsals. Thats in the fit department. In the performance arena the walk mode has improved to provide double the range of motion of prior versions. In keeping with the competition the interface on the swappable soles is improved now with BD making a specific claim that the new MX Direct Connect technology increases lateral stiffnes 70% over their competitors who bolt their soles in place. The proof will be in the pudding, but the changes are all positive. Dynafit
With the development of the TLT5 line from rando race boot all the way up through the Vulcan, was there anything more for Dynafit to develop? Besides a four pound tech binding I’d have to agree, not much. Nonetheless Dynafit continues tweaking that concept to offer the TLT6, a TLT5 without the flexible sole at the toe, no buckle at the toe, and two tongues for modifying the forward flex from stiff (high flex index tongue) to moderate (medium flex index) to soft (no tongue). Available in pricy ($750) and pricier ($1000) models.
K2′s interest in and commitment to the backcountry is long standing. The addition of ski boots only adds depth to their lineup. New for next year are two freeride boots, the Pinnacle 110 and 130. Their claim is a better balance of downhill performance and backcountry mobility with an acceptable weight. The walk mode comes via their patent-pending Synchro Interlock system. The boots come with lugged soles that are DIN-alpine or tech binding compatible. The liners are courtesy Intuition enhanced for more walk mobility and comfort. Although there are only three metal buckles, the power strap is buckled too, allowing it to deliver 4-buckle power.
The award winning XT continues on with no changes for next year. Not worth mentioning except to chastise parent Rossignol for their decision to not add the option of tech inserts. On the other hand, do we really need another boot with tech fittings? Maybe not, but even so, why not? Word on the street is Rossi is waiting for Plum to solidify a patented brake design before selling it under the Look brand and then we’ll see tech inserts in a Lange boot.
Continuing in the same vein as ever, La Sportiva will offer their Spectre AT boot aimed at rando racers and ultralight aficionados. Whether or not this boot packs enough punch for turning down what you earned depends on how much compromise you can live with, and how little boot is needed to apply skill to steering a pair of skis. Minimalists get in line, all others will be sneered at.
It appears parent Rossignol is following in Lange’s footsteps, but not merely as a rebranding of the head spinning XT. Rossi’s new freeride boot comes with a walk mode called the All Track. This boot is one of the few clearly marketed for short sidecountry tours or simply as a resort boot that makes walking to the lifts more comfortable. According to the marketing flex value, it will also be one of the stiffest, implying a clear preference for turning over earning.
After stubbing their toes on the tech inserts with the 2nd gen Quest boot, Salomon returns with the updated Quest BC boot. It sports a marketing flex of 130, meaning it has a stiff enough plastic to power aggressive skiing. This time Salomon took the time to make sure their interchangeable soles were TUV certified and beefed up the metal in the inserts ten-fold. While it only has three metal buckles, the power strap sports a buckle too giving it equal pull at the top of the cuff. The overlap style lower shell is made of pebax for a supple transmission of power from a polyolefin cuff.
Chris Davenport joined the Scarpa team last fall and is the spittin’ image of who the new Freedom boots are made for. These boots are made for charging up, down and around high mountains anywhere. Most of the stuff you expect is there like a 120 flex index, a beefy cuff that flexes forward 20° or back 7° when in walk mode. It also offers interchangeable soles for use with DIN standard alpine bindings or a lightweight tech system. What is different is how those soles are secured. Unlike all other such soles, these are bolted to the lower shell not just with screws in the plastic, but to T-nuts in the base of the boot for a more solid connection. Some alpine skiers will notice the difference, most will not.
Perhaps more practical is the Mountain Plus sole block that is lugged yet compatible with DIN alpine bindings, AT bindings, or Dynafit style bindings. Most lugged soles are compatible with alpine or tech bindings, not both. The SL version weighs in at less than 4 pounds per boot raising the usual question of how light can you go without compromising performance.
Remember Scott boots? Probably not. For you youngsters Scott developed a boot in the 70s that failed to develop a following except in the backcountry world where various parts from it showed up in prototype plastic telemark boots and AT binding systems. This year they acquired the molds to Garmont’s ski boot line and return to the market with most models with the Scott logo branded on the sides. The new Power-Lite series continues with the Cosmos and Orbit as well as the Radium and Delerium. In addition, Scott is also launching two lines of pure alpine boots.
In the tele world the Prophet and Kenai get flushed. Thankfully the Excursion and kids boots live on, along with the Voodoo. No changes except for the brand and colors (Update: Scott plans to offer the Voodoo in 75mm and NTN versions).
Nothing new for Tecnica next year. The Cochise will continue on as is since there is so little need for fixing. In the case of the Cochise Pro 130 I would agree there is little to change. However, the Pro Light would benefit greatly by including the buckle of the Pro in the Light version. It’s worth 40 grams to improve the power and convenience the buckle provides. Otherwise, if it fits your foot and you want interchangeable soles with a powerful upper cuff, this boot rocks.