Boot Reviews

2019 Atomic Boot Brand Profile

It’s unlikely that Atomic management foresaw just how much it’s boot brand would come to depend on a modest line of recreational boots it launched eleven years ago. Called Hawx, its unique feature was vent-like creases on both sides of the forefoot, perceived as a fit benefit but actually designed to improve energy transmission to the sole. The original Hawx came in only a single, 100mm last in a limited number of flexes for men and women. Atomic chose the aggressive commercial tactic of underpricing the Hawx line relative to market leaders; the Hawx 80, for example, retailed at $299, an irresistible cost/value relationship.

Once it had a toehold in the market, Atomic began to pile on the improvements. It enhanced the Hawx liners, changed the shell structure, added a narrow and a wide last and made the shells (and liners) heat-moldable just as this feature was gaining wide market acceptance. Of all the smart moves Atomic made to evolve Hawx into a brand unto itself, the wisest was to not just make narrower and wider Hawx originals (now called Prime), but to make the wide Magna a truly exceptional wide boot, with the widest aperture in a conventional shell, and likewise create a narrow boot, Ultra, that feels as close-fitting as a compression sock.

While we wouldn’t recommend it as a commercial strategy, a shop could limit its boot inventory to a full complement of Hawx. As long as its bootfitters took full advantage of all the fit and performance features found across the line, very few customers would leave its care unhappy or unshod.

The ubiquitous boot adjective of 2019 is “lightweight,” a trend Atomic spearheaded when it introduced Hawx Ultra two years ago. (Note to bootfitters: the upper cuff on the Ultra 130 S isn’t Grilamid anymore, but stretchable PU.) For 2019, Hawx Prime gets the Ultra-slimming treatment, with a new shell that wraps closer to the skier. The medium last is accurate out of the box, but is readily personalized as need be. Stance modifications for cuff cant and forward lean remain stock Hawx features.

The rest of Atomic’s 2019 in-resort line is comprised of the race-bred Redster Club Sport series, serious shoes for serious skiers that fit like a cast, and their antipode, Live Fit, the cavernous (102mm), two-buckle boot with elastic panels in the forefoot to accommodate recreational skiers with wickedly wide feet.

Dalbello Boot Brand Profile

No other boot brand has done more with the 3-piece, external-tongue shell design than Dalbello. Dalbello didn’t just copy the Raichle design they adopted; they improved on it. They optimized its performance properties by playing up its strengths: a stout spine and sidewall construction extending from the lower shell; correct pivot location, a key element in this design’s successful execution; and a ribbed external tongue to manage flex and forward energy transmission.

From a performance standpoint, the brilliance of the 3-piece “cabrio” design is the way it blends lightning lateral reaction with a progressive flex that’s well suited to handling the shocks of off-piste skiing at speed. If this doesn’t sound like your kind of skiing, fear not: Dalbello makes several very different flavors using the 3-piece shell as the foundation, from super cushy ladies’ slippers to rugged Alpine Touring iterations, in fits that range from tugboat wide to daringly close-fitting.

Dalbello would have a complete collection if they stopped there, but they also have an end-to-end line-up of four-buckle overlap shells for all-mountain skiing, a race boot series and a catalog of kids’ boots that sell like candy. The overall line accommodates so many foot shapes in so many different shell structures, it’s meaningless to say, “I like how Dalbellos fit.” With Dalbello, you have to be very specific about which shell and liner combo intrigues you, for they cover so many distinctively different fit environments and performance attributes.

Given that Dalbello’s 3-piece collection is well entrenched in the market, in 2019 its attention turned to its 2-piece overlap shells, particularly in wider lasts that would complement its existing 98mm DRS family. Enter a full line-up of DS (100mm) and DS MX (104) models in an eye-catching bi-material shell. The fully customizable shell and liner also feature a simple (ergo, possibly useful) cant adjustment and adjustable ramp angle. The medium last is generous and leans to the comfort end of the fit spectrum. The stock, textured sole can be retrofit with Grip Walk in all DS and DS MX models for men and women.

Dalbello’s take on heat molding is that it’s a fallback position when its boots aren’t comfortable right off the shelf, but it never hurts to cook shells and liners a tad to accelerate break-in and ensure a blissful first day. The MyFit package of heatable shells and liners are found across the high end of Dalbello’s 2-piece, four buckle boots and its signature 3-piece, 3-buckle cabrio models.

Dalbello’s core constituency of 3-piece fanatics will be relieved to hear its full menu of cabrio models returns intact. The market for traditional, 4-buckle overlaps is already abundantly served, but for skiers who crave a 3-piece shell’s unique performance and fit properties, only Dalbello offers the most diverse selection of what ye seek.

2019 Fischer Boot Brand Profile

Fischer had a long and illustrious history as a ski maker before they decided to jump into the boot pool, despite said pool already being awash with brands. The focus of their debut models was an abducted (toes-out) stance, a clever idea it slightly overcooked, leaving some test pilots feeling like they were traveling in a downhill herringbone.

Undeterred by the difficulties of getting traction in an over-served market, Fischer pressed on, tinkering with their stance and story until several years ago they went all-in on a fancy new system for custom molding the shell, Vacuum Fit. Vacuum technology had been part of Fischer’s manufacturing expertise for many years, so transferring this concept to ski boots may have been an easier step for Fischer to imagine than for other, tradition-bound brands.

Vacuum Fit was such a hit with specialty shops it enabled Fischer to steal the limelight from industry leader Salomon, even though Salomon was first to market with a shell-molding technology of their own called Custom Fit. The big deal about Vacuum Fit was that it didn’t just expand the shell (although it could); bring it closer to the forefoot. Even the one-in-a-thousand shops with a history of boiling boots to modify them never had the means of reducing shell volume all around the forefoot like Vacuum Fit.

Like many first-of-their-kind innovations, Vacuum Fit didn’t get everything right immediately. The biggest limitation was it didn’t have much effect on the critical rear foot, but a second-generation Vacuum station corrected this oversight. Today, the Fischer Vacuum is a Full Fit process, and still the only heat molding technology that facilitates reducing shell volume. For 2019, Fischer ups the POS technology ante with a podium that takes a 3D scan of the foot and lower leg, the better to match the skier to the optimal Fischer boot model.

Vacuum Full Fit is standard on the top three (140/130/110) RC4 Curv series of narrow (97mm) race boots, and the two best My Curv women’s models (110W/90W). The same pattern applies to the RC Pro (100mm last) 130 and 110 for men and My RC Pro 110 and 90 for women. Value options with a Vacuum fit only in the forefoot (Powered by Vacuum or PBV models) flesh out the bottom of the Curv and Pro series.

To Fischer aficionados, all but the 3D scanner is old news. (I admit it, I’ve been withholding information.) The big news in Fischer boots this season might turn out to have an even greater impact on Fischer’s future in the boot domain than Vacuum Fit in any of its incarnations. It’s the new Ranger Free touring boot, a category in which Fischer has been engaged for many years. But over those many years,

Fischer touring boots have been so specialized they haven’t bled into, or had much influence on, Fischer’s in-resort recreational boots. Ranger Free – and its interchangeable Grip Walk soles that work with Alpine bindings – is about to change all that.

Ranger Free is essentially an Alpine boot with every milligram of excess material removed. It’s insanely lightweight – only 1540g – but if its only virtue were minimal mass, you wouldn’t be reading about it here. In brief, it skis brilliantly: agile, reactive and most all, more close fitting than the RC4 Vacuum boots that currently occupy the center of Fischer’s line. After skiing in the RC4 Curv 130, the Ranger Free 130 feels like it was made for another sport. Which it was – namely, Alpine Touring – only it skis so damn well it’s a pity to limit its life to endless slogging uphill.

The Ranger Free is far from the first AT-compatible boot with real-deal ski-ability, nor is it the only one of its ilk debuting in 2019, but it does represent a new twist in the helix that blends the Alpine and AT genomes. All the security of an Alpine shell is there, with snow feel that has to be skied to be appreciated.

Everyone close to the center of the ski gear universe knows that Grip Walk soles will be the de facto norm before you can blink twice. It’s looking like better traction won’t be the only technology to migrate from touring back into the resort. Lightweight shell designs like Ranger Free might soon be ubiquitous, too.

This is probably not the right place to promote a ski movie, but allow me to notify my public that the 30th anniversary tour of Blizzard of Aahhhs is coming to a resort or population center near you this fall/winter. Why mention this now? Because one of the BOA stars, Mike Hattrup, is now working with Fischer on its touring collection. There is no better man for the job. You also won’t find a better person no matter how hard you look. I shouldn’t play favorites, but since there isn’t a right-thinking soul alive who doesn’t adore Mr. Hattrup, it’s not favoritism; it’s fact.

2019 Full Tilt Boot Brand Profile

Full Tilt has a habit of re-purposing existing components to create new models. It applied this method to cock up the Drop Kick out of a Classic shell and spiral liner, and went to the same playbook last year with the B&E Pro, mixing a Descendant 6 shell and Descendant 8 Pro liner. The Tom Wallisch Pro uses the same shell as the First Chair 6, with treaded walking soles.

So when Full Tilt decided to take its act to the backcountry, it anointed the Evolution shell (also used for Descendant and Plush models) as its choice to retrofit with a hike mode borrowed from buddy brand Dalbello (where it’s boots are now made) and low tech inserts sanctioned by Dynafit. The rubber on the cleverly named Ascendant’s sole comes from Michelin, where they know a thing or two about traction.

Because of its 3-piece shell design, any Full Tilt can be turned into a hiking boot via the same route taken by the Ascendant. The spine of all models rests on a shell carved into the lower shell; the latch is simply a block that rests on the ledge in ski position and is pulled off its perch to create roughly 40 degrees ROM for hiking. We wouldn’t be at all surprised to see a First Chair with HM in the near future. 

To the nostalgic with a Proustian urge to revisit the past, Full Tilt represents Raichle resurrected; to today’s high-flying Pipe & Park population, they’re dope. Kids who cavort and contort in the halfpipe or on rails feel about their Full Tilts the way Charleton Heston felt about his rifle, although it’s actually pretty easy to slide out of any of their 3-piece shell models whether your feet are dead or alive. The external tongue rocks completely out of the way, and the open-throat shell likewise poses no obstacle for exit or entry.

The irony of what was once Raichle’s World Cup race boot now serving a generation that intentionally aims backward down the hill – while lining up for a launch pad – is immaterial to the daredevils who have embraced Full Tilt as their preferred footwear. Landing big airs in switch position asks a boot certain questions to which Full Tilts know the answer: have an elastic range no 4-buckle boot can match – ergo less likely to trigger an inadvertent heel release in switch position – supple at the top of its movement and consistently resilient thereafter.

The biggest influence on a Full Tilt’s behavior and a key differentiator among their models is the flex resistance of the external tongue, indicated by a flex number that works on a logical 10-point scale, with 10 being the stiffest. Should the standard issue be too firm or flimsy, any model can be retrofitted with a softer or stiffer tongue. What won’t change much is the fixed volume in the forefoot area, so be sure the Full Tilt you fancy is a good match for your foot’s widest point.

As Raichle did before them, Full Tilt has infiltrated Intuition heat-moldable liners throughout their line. The Pro and Performer use Intuition’s distinctive, multi-density wrap liner; the Classic is a more traditional, tongued liner with its own recipe of soft and firm foams.

Aside from their exceptional range of forward flexibility, another prized attribute of Full Tilt shoes is their weight, or rather, the lack thereof. Their lightest models feel like they don’t weigh more than a baguette, a feature you value if you have to spin your feet three times around your head before you land.

You have to give Full Tilt credit for focus: every boot in their line is built on the same principle and aimed at essentially the same audience. Some are wider, some are stiffer, some are lighter, some can suck up a little more shock; but all use the same fundamental architecture with a shared bundle of benefits. If you take to the air a lot, you’re bound to land one day in a pair of Full Tilts.

2019 Head Boot Brand Profile

Over most of Head’s storied history as a ski brand, lighter weight hasn’t exactly been top of mind. They’ve been better known for building battleships as opposed to skiffs. Two pivotal shifts, one global and one local, has made lightweight design a priority, if not the priority, at Head today. The global trend is to make all consumer goods lighter, across all categories, a phenomenon we refer to as Lighter is Better, or LIB. The local event was Head’s license to use Graphene, first manifest in its ski line with the debut of the women’s Joy series four years ago.

Graphene, which is carbon in a one-atom thick matrix, was bound to find its way into Head boots, as indeed it has with the new Nexo Lyt, the most thoroughly transformed of the new generation of lighter weight shells. By “transformed,” I mean not just dependent on material change to deliver improved behavior, or even to expect lighter mass to be of sufficient benefit by itself, but using lighter materials as an opportunity to change how a seemingly conventional boot (i.e., 4-buckle overlap, standard 4o/14o stance angles) reads and interacts with the snow.

If the new wave of lightweight shells is to bridge the gap between novelty and necessity, it will be because of designs like Nexo Lyt. The Graphene-infused Smart Frame shell is sculpted so it can absorb shock (to some degree) and generate rebound (to a greater degree). The sensation of snow feel is as intimate as wearing a moccasin. The quickness to the edge is fencer fast.

The 100mm (medium) last is close fitting out of the box, which is essential to its quickness and accuracy. If the fit around the heel and ankle should relax over time, a viscous fluid, called Liquid Fit, can be injected into an internal pouch that circumnavigates this area. Head doesn’t promote Liquid Fit as a point of sale necessity but a fit-refreshing technology. Able to be extracted as well as injected, Liquid Fit is a nifty fit option that will prove beneficial to all skier abilities.

If any other shell or liner modifications (“mods” in bootfitter patois) are required, the Nexo Lyt shell is also heat moldable. Another standard feature is Grip Walk soles, which you’ll be thankful for the next time you face a long parking lot traverse. These embellishments are also standard on a new, more traditional 4-buckle, 98mm-last boot, the Vector RS. Also outfitted with Liquid Fit, the Vector RS’s offer a more cushioned, buffered fit environment than Nexo-Lyt. Freed from LIB orthodoxy, the Vector RS deploys ultra-clever Double Power levers in the cuff buckles for added cinching power.

Now that Head is comfortably LIB-centric, it has brought its collective imagination to bear on two categories where lightness has always counted, backcountry and women’s boots. I won’t delve into details on the new Kore BC boot as it lies outside our scope; suffice it to say, imagine a Nexo Lyt, only more so.

Head’s women’s boot collection definitely benefits from the trans-gender (old-fashioned meaning) focus on lighter weight. Nexo Lyt and Vector RS offer parallel lines of women’s boots with adjustable cuff aperture and inherently snugger heel pocket. Liquid Fit, working in unison with stretchable Form Fit shells, has particular value for women with low-volume feet who don’t want to absorb the shock of an injected inner boot’s price tag.

Nexo Lyt and Vector RS are meant to serve the mass of humanity that occupies the middle of the ski market. To coddle the divergent needs of those at either extreme, Head offers the Raptor series for racers and their ilk and Advant Edge for those who occupy the nether rungs on the ability ladder.

Both the Raptor and Advant Edge designs are supremely well adapted to their intended targets. You don’t even have to buckle a Raptor to know it will hold you in its velvet vise no matter how rough the road ahead. The returning Advant Edge models are all equipped with Grip Walk soles and a host of other design elements that subtly assist the less skilled at becoming more adept.

2019 K2 Boot Brand Profile

When K2 waltzed into the boot market six years ago, part of the story heralding its arrival was that its team required only 18 months to create a better boot line. There was a whiff of hubris to the claim, as if the marketing juggernaut was predestined to seize a sizable share of the arguably already over-served boot market.

K2 soon learned that no matter how attractive a marketing package it presented – the launch was accompanied by a whimsical ad campaign, a pledge of no Internet sales, and an appealing product story about its new shells and not-quite-as new liners – if you consistently lose the point-of-sale cage match against a competitor’s product, your success is going to be more limited than your expectations. In other words, what really matters happens in the first ten seconds of skier/boot contact.

K2 proved it got the message when it debuted its BFC collection of 4-buckle models that put an unabashed premium on first fit impressions. Its flexible shell and cushy liner allowed for “hands-free” entry and exit, without the writhing and acrobatics associated with high performance boots. The BFC’s won the instant-comfort face-off and sales ensued.

The lessons learned about positive first impressions carried over into the development of K2’s next performance series, Recon, and its feminized companion, Luv. While Recon and Luv were in development, two other market forces commanded K2’s attention: the global trend to lighter weight everything, and the ski-market-specific demand for heat customization of both liner and shell at the time of sale.

The key to the new Recon/Luv lies in the Powerlite shell’s material and how it’s molded. Four different densities of TPU (all PU used in ski boots is thermoplastic, but never mind) form shell walls of varying thicknesses, opting for thinner/lighter wherever possible. At only 1650g in a 26.5, the Powerlite construction is in the welterweight class of backcountry boots but it’s made for the all-terrain, in-resort skier.

As it’s made from TPU, the Powerlite shell is eminently heat-moldable except in its most rigid zones in the spine and sole. The Ultralon liners are meant to be molded, but don’t need to be in order to impart an initial sensation of “ahhh” instead of “ow”.

K2 teamed with Thermic to create the heated Recon 120 Heat, the Luv 100 Heat, BFC 100 Heat and BFC W 90 Heat. For folks with chronically cold feet, having the heat option integrated into the boot design improves ease of operation and eliminates the pain of installation.

If you want to romp around the backcountry, the Pinnacle series of hike-mode boots is back. The BFC’s and women’s BFC’s have all been given a makeover but haven’t lost their focus on convenient entry and comfort. All the new K2’s can be retrofit with Grip Walk soles if so desired.

2019 Lange Brand Profile

Lange has traveled a long way as a brand without ever leaving home. The motherland for Lange lies between the boundaries indicated by the start and finish of a World Cup race. The plastic boot that truly revolutionized modern Alpine design, Lange long ago established the template not just for its own future lines, but for the entire market. To put it more plainly, it’s the most imitated boot ever.

Lange’s commitment to the classic, 4-buckle overlap shell is evident up, down and across its 2019 product line. Every model is built on essentially the same foundation, whether for a race or recreational application, for men or for women and regardless of last volume (i.e., narrow, medium or wide). Lange has dropped two lines of hike-mode (HM) boots since the 2016/17 season, leaving only the XT Free and Free W, which are transparently Lange’s best-ever HM boots and just as clearly two of the finest hybrid AT/Alpine boots extant.

No brand with a history as long as Lange’s has an unblemished record, and on the rare occasions when it strayed from its roots it made some serious faux pas, such as an hilariously bad rear-entry that it tossed together to demonstrate its disdain for the whole idea. But even when distracted by trend chasing, Lange never stopped making – and insisting on the unparalleled performance of – its classic race design. It doesn’t take a forensic scientist to discern the similarities between any Lange RS of yore of its current incarnation.

But that doesn’t mean Lange hasn’t tinkered with its flagship. Just last year it changed how it molded its shells and cuffs, using two different durometers of PU and/or PE co-injected via 5 ports. This creates a sandwich construction called Dual Core that allows the plastic to be softer and more pliable in zones where elasticity is desirable (as in over the instep), and still stiff as a brick through the spine and sole.

This may sound like technical trivia, but lifelong Lange fans remember just how brutal it can be to try to pry off (note the “try”) a well-chilled Lange. Dual Core makes it possible to both put on and take off a pair of Lange RS 130’s without using the Jaws of Life. I know some of you still don’t believe me, so I’ll repeat it: all Lange Alpine boots are now as easy to don and doff as any other 4-buckle, overlap shell.

New for 2019 is Dual Core Light, which injects ultralight Grilamid® instead of PU/PE into a plastic sandwich comprised of soft and rigid zones. Dual Core Light was created to make the XT Free boots more competitive in the weight-sensitive AT market, but two new models, Superleggera (100mm last) and Superleggera LV (97mm last), available in both men’s (120 flex) and women’s (110), put an Alpine sole on a Dual Core Light frame so in-resort skiers can catch the Lighter is Better wave.

Lange is to be commended for having the most coherent, consistent line of Alpine boots on the market, even if the jumble of model names can be confusing at first. The challenge for Lange has always been how to be innovative (or at least appear so), without screwing up what it does best. Solving this ever-present riddle now falls to someone in whom we have the highest confidence, Thor Verdonk, recently tapped to lead Lange after many years of exemplary service for Lange and Rossignol in the U.S.

Great boots don’t make themselves. It’s people that make the difference, always and forever. We believe Lange has chosen its new capo wisely.

2019 Nordica Boot Brand Profile

No other leather boot maker profited more from the transition to injected plastic shells than Nordica. During most of the 1970’s and 80’s, Nordica’s unit share of the world market was so dominant the only competition was for second place. It responded to the surge in sales generated by Salomon’s wildly popular rear-entries by concocting a blizzard of convenient-entry alternatives populating every price point. By the close of the 80’s, almost all of Nordica’s line was made up of RE’s of one ilk or another.

When Nordica was sold to cotton sweater maker Benetton, it marked the beginning of the brand’s slide off its pedestal. Benetton drove the brand downward before selling it back at an eyebrow-arching loss to the Vaccari family who had owned it before Benetton’s disastrous stewardship. The rise back to relevance hasn’t been unperturbed, but by rebuilding its core line segment by segment, Nordica has returned to the first rank of boot makers. Its resurgence matters not just to the Tecnica Group that currently owns the brand, but to the ski trade at large. The ski industry fares better as a whole when its marquee brands excel.

Nordica’s renaissance in the recreational boot market began three years ago with the introduction of a new boot with an old name, Speedmachine. The new Speedmachines were (and remain) classic, 4-buckle overlaps with a generous, medium volume shell and saleable features such as moldable shells and cork-covered liners. Most importantly, the out-of-the-box fit was luscious, rendering modifications mostly moot. Speedmachine spawned the wide-lasted Sportmachine a year ago and for 2019 the final shoe in the series drops with the debut of Promachine.

While it’s fair to say Sportmachine is a wider version of Speedmachine, Promachine is more than just a narrower one. Speedmachine is aimed squarely at the middle of the market; Promachine intends to attract a better class of skier. (It’s an elitist sport, what can I say?) All the comfort and customization features are retained in the Promachine, but the 98mm-lasted liner is more accurate and the shell delivers steering power on a par with 130-flex race boots. Race boots don’t have Grip Walk soles, however, which are standard on the Promachine 130 and available for Speedmachine and Sportmachine models. For all-terrain, recreational skiers, Grip Walk just makes more sense.

All three Machine lines includes a full complement of women’s models with women-specific cuffs and liners. All women’s models (and most of the men’s) use Primaloft® insulation to keep tootsies warm and dry.

Last year Nordica returned from a several season sabbatical from making a hike-mode (HM) boot when it unveiled the results of its research, Strider. Strider models deliver outstanding downhill performance in a four-buckle boot with all the requisite HM elements: skeletal buckles, a huge 46o ROM in hike mode and Grilamid® for the lightweight hauling one’s butt uphill requires. The heavily treaded sole was developed in collaboration with Michelin, so you know it has some serious traction.

But it isn’t the Striders’ uphill features that grab your attention, but the accurate fit of its 100mm last and most of all, the ski-ability. Realskiers doesn’t normally report on serious BC boots because they’re part of a larger backcountry universe with special needs that don’t overlap with Alpine skiing. The Strider models are certainly top-notch shoes for ascent properties, but you’re reading about them here because they set the standard for downhill performance.

We have no business advising our readers on the ideal climbing footwear, but we have a very good idea about what works best when aiming downhill. If you’re in the market for a hiking boot, you simply have to try on a Strider.

Anyone who races knows that Nordica doesn’t need to inflate its resume to establish its credibility in this domain. Great racers of a bygone generation hoarded secret stashes of the venerable Grand Prix, and if Nordica ever stops making their Dobermann line of undiluted race boots, they’re also likely to be black market booty the instant they’re officially retired. With the arrival of Promachine, Dobermann spin-offs like GPX are now redundant, but Dobermann World Cup boots (93mm last) aren’t going anywhere and neither are the Dobermann GP’s, citizen versions in a more user-friendly 98mm last and DIN standard soles that don’t have to be ground.

2019 Rossignol Boot Brand Profile

One twist in Alpine product development that I did not see coming – notice how I subtly suggest an otherwise spotless record – is the direct impact backcountry boots might have on Alpine boot design. Over the last 20 years, the paradigm of high-performance recreational boot design has taken two, non-parallel paths.

One I’ll call the Classic Clones, boots clearly derivative of race boots but modified in several ways to make them more suitable for all-terrain skiing. Note that Classic Clones don’t have to use an actual race model’s chassis to qualify, and can be made in any last volume.

I used to refer to the other branch as the Innovation class, but I like the sound of the Deviants, iconoclasts who refuse to believe that the only viable solution is a 2-piece, 4-buckle boot. Over the past 25 years, many Deviants have come and gone, most deservedly so. While there are some remnants of Deviant DNA in a few Classic Clones, the market has taken a by and large homogenized approach to constructing their product lines.

Then along came the boom in backcountry interest and designers got creative again because they had to in order to meet the expectations of this new pocket of affluence. Boots for this skier would have to be lighter, much lighter, and incredibly easy to walk in, plus be compatible with whatever binding type conditions called for. Hmmm. Sounds like a boot a lot of skiers might like, whether they hike or not.

By now the Alert Reader might well wonder whether my medication should be discontinued or increased. What has any of this got to do with Rossignol? Rossignol doesn’t even have a touring boot. Well, it does now. The new 98mm Alltrack Elite LT and 100mm Alltrack Elite Pro aren’t built like the rest of the current Rossi line of Classic Clones. Rossi has been paring away excess material since the advent of its Alltrack series and it waffle-grid shell; the Alltrack LT shell takes the science of shell wall minimization a step further. Better yet, the entire last is more accurate in all dimensions, bringing the skier into intimate contact with the supportive shell.

Returning to my opening proposition, boots like the Alltrack LT represent a new, robust branch of Deviants based on backcountry requirements but outfitted with Grip Walk soles so they can be used with (most) Alpine bindings.

Rossi’s Alpine line-up touches all the bases – narrow, medium, wide and extra-wide models for men and women, spanning all recreational flexes from 70 to 130, either with or without a hike mode (HM) – without leaving its home base of classic, 4-buckle, 2-piece, overlap shells. Both the Speed (no HM) and Track (with HM) extended families return in 2019 intact.

One noteworthy characteristic of all Rossi boots but the new Alltrack LT’s is a sizing shift that creates more toe room – roughly a half-size-worth – than you’ll find in most other models of the same size. If, say, a 26.5 feels a tad too short in Brand X, you might find a comparable Rossi in the same size to be a perfect fit.

2019 Salomon Boot Brand Profile

I was one of the many midwives who attended at the birth of the Salomon boot in 1979. I translated Salomon’s encyclopedic Boot Bible into English and later condensed parts of it into one of the first boot fitting manuals. I trained the North American field force, holding them hostage at the Parker House in Boston for weeks on end until they were ready to storm the marketplace.

I mention this not merely due to my bottomless narcissism and sepia-toned nostalgia, but because I don’t want to disguise my history with the brand.

When I was product manager at Salomon with responsibility for the North American zone, it was a very different ski marketplace and Salomon was a completely different company. It took Salomon several generations of non-rear-entry designs to eradicate the stigma associated with its convenient-entry roots. While Salomon continues to experiment with shell structures – witness QST Pro and S/Lab construction – its bread-and-butter boots are all variations on a 4-buckle overlap theme.

Once Salomon accepted that its credibility depended on adopting the market’s de facto standard design, it re-fired the engines of innovation, a process that eventually led to Custom Fit. Originally just a heat-deformable panel on either side of the forefoot, Custom Fit evolved to encompass every aspect of the boot but the sole and spine. The process of molding the entire boot to the customer was slick, efficient and man, did it sell boots. At one time in our recent history, Salomon had the top 7 selling boots in the U.S. That’s ridiculous, and unsustainable. The next year, it only had the top five.

No one gets to own the world forever, but if Tecnica or Head or Nordica wants to be number one they’ll have to wrest the crown from Salomon as it isn’t about to surrender it voluntarily. For 2019, the narrow-lasted X-Max collection has been retired in favor of S/Max, with a familiar last but very new shell and cuff. The new shells are super lightweight and so close fitting they feel like they’ve been painted on. The flagship S/Max Carbon is eerily lightweight yet digs trenches and rebounds like it was made of equal parts titanium and TNT.

The S/Max isn’t just a tweaked X-Max. It’s different. (The S/Race (92mm last) is new, too, but let’s stay on point.) The mono-injected frame delivers the snow feel of the best race boots, and the closeness of the light shell makes it feel even less like a foreign object and more like a second skin. The new Velcro strap may not appeal to all mankind, but it’s hard to quibble with Custom Shell HD, the latest – and fastest, at 10 minutes – total customization method on the market.

Not all brands – or veteran bootfitters – are fans of heat-molding shells. (BTW, everybody’s liners are heat-moldable, without exception.) Yet it’s hard for this observer and practitioner to see how the conscientious application of this technology is anything but beneficial. It won’t solve all boot-fit and/or stance problems, nor will it solve world hunger, but it sure solves any routine fit issues.

Salomon isn’t a core backcountry boot brand like Scarpa or Black Diamond so it has no inherent cachet with the BC crowd, but Salomon doesn’t enter a category to be average and does the necessary research to break fast from the gate. It was only a few seasons ago that Salomon got serious about backcountry with MTN Lab; the 2019 S/Lab MTN begins with same 98mm last, but the new shell sports the next generation of customization, Custom Shell HD. (Grilamid, the material of choice in the BC market, isn’t amenable to modification.) If your idea of fun is to run up the side of the mountain, God bless you and wear a pair of S/Lab X-Alp, which weigh less than a pack of Twinkies.

The credibility of Salomon’s BC boot offering is only going to increase with the advent of the S/Lab Shift MNC binding. You don’t have to choose between mounting your favorite pair of skis with a touring (Dynafit-compatible) binding or an Alpine binding; the Shift can be swiftly reconfigured to accept either style of standardized sole. Yes, they weigh more than a basic pin binding, but if your skiing life is a little bit backcountry and little bit rock the resort, the Shift is the binding you’ve been pining to pin uphill with.

2019 Tecnica Boot Brand Profile

Six years ago, Tecnica was at a point in its evolution where it had to change. The brand still had market mojo, but the line was due for an upgrade. Once a brand decides it needs new molds, all ideas are on the table until eliminated in the R&D cage match that is product development. The usual approach is to find some nugget that was previously shelved, make some prototypes and pass them around to cognoscenti for their comments.

Tecnica took a different tack. It assembled the cognoscenti, but instead of displaying an array of half-baked possibilities, its marketing team displayed only curiosity: what should the next performance boot look like? What features should it have? How can we make it easier for bootfitters to modify it?

The result was the Mach series, boots made for high performance recreational skiing and the technicians who fit them. If there’s one feature that defines the new Tecnica – little remains of the line of 4 years ago – it’s Custom Adaptive Shape (C.A.S.), the primordial link between ski, shell, liner and skier that determines the success of any ski experience. C.A.S. isn’t just an anatomical shape, but a fit methodology and a means of modifying the liner and/or shell without impinging on its structural integrity.

In a market besotted by heat molding, Tecnica sticks to its own customization methods for a very simple, yet compelling reason: their boots ski brilliantly just as they are. The fit process may not involve an oven, but the results are hard to ignore: the Mach 1 and Cochise are undeniably among the best boots in their respective categories.

New for 2019 is Mach Sport, the performance of a Mach 1 in a 103mm (very wide) last. For years, skiers with paddle-like feet had to settle for oceanic buckets with the support of an unlaced sneaker. The litany of features bestowed on the Mach Sport models matches those intrinsic to the narrower Mach 1’s, which return this year unchanged. Women get their own high-volumes Mach Sports, with a women’s specific liner, cuff and aperture-opening system.

Last year in this space I composed a paean to Tecnica’s then new off-trail collection of Cochise models, citing every feature and elaborating on their copious benefits. (2018 Boot Reviews are archived on our member’s section for those who wish to revel in the original copy.) I won’t reiterate the lot of it, but the following snippet still pertains.

The Cochise 130 is a 4-buckle boot with a readily modified C.A.S. liner and shell. It’s one of the few ski boots with an alpine norm sole incorporating low-tech inserts for use with a backcountry binding. This feature, along with its more accurate 99mm last and supportive inner boot, gives the Cochise 130 its uncompromised ski-ability. The stock sole can be replaced with a rockered touring sole if so desired.

Most significantly from a performance standpoint, the Cochise shell material isn’t polypropylene, Grilamid or some other less sturdy stuff, but high-grade polyether (PE) in a bi-injection that makes the sole and spine 2.5 times stiffer despite shell walls that are 30% thinner. This results in a boot weighing less than 2000g with the steering properties of a World Cup race clone.

While the latest Cochise is old news, the new news is Tecnica’s latest race series, Firebird WC. Think you’re hard-core? Ready for a 93mm last that would leave a mark on a No. 2 pencil? How about a flex index that goes up to 150 (with a non-DIN sole that requires grinding before use)? Or a lace-up inner boot and polyether shells and cuffs down to a 90 flex? That’s badass street cred. There are also Firebirds for future champions down to a 60 flex.

Two years ago, Tecnica significantly re-designed the women’s Mach 1 models, a direct result of Tecnica’s Women to Women campaign, a feedback loop similar to what transpired during the Mach 1’s development. The major changes were to the C.A.S. inner boot, the upper cuff and stance position. The women’s C.A.S. liner is softer, to improve initial fit impression and lined with Merino wool, which is cooling when it’s hot out and super insulating when it’s cold. To improve circulation and blood flow, all Mach 1 W liners feature a Celliant® and lambswool blend. Celliant is a bi-component fabric that converts body heat into infrared energy, which in turn enhances circulation and oxygen delivery.

The upper cuff, where women’s calves are often pinched or left to flop around in an overly flared opening, is an area of particular attention on the Mach 1 W series. C.A.S. Cuff Adapter remolds the top of the spoiler and liner cuff in a 6-minute heating process that can open the calf volume by 10% or shut it down by 5%. Having this broad range of adaptation is a major benefit for the large percentage of the female population that has trouble fitting this area accurately.

Research conducted with Cerism University Research Center found that women ski in better balance when at a well-supported 12o stance angle, so the Mach 1 W spine is taller and set to this natural stance position. Ditto the new Mach Sport W models.

The one part of your boots you have to use every day are the buckles, and Tecnica has one of the best buckle features, Lift Lock. After unbuckling, Lift Lock buckles move out of the way and stay out of the way so they won’t accidentally re-latch when you’re trying to get your boots off. Nice touch.

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