When K2 waltzed into the boot market roughly a decade 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 sizeable 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, née Luv, since rechristened as Anthem. While Recon and Anthem were in development, two other market forces commanded K2’s attention: the global trend to lighter weight, and the ski-market-specific demand for heat customization of both liner and shell at the time of sale.
The key to the Recon/Anthem “resort” series and the Mindbender Alpine/BC hybrids 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 Recon 130, the Powerlite construction is in the welterweight class of backcountry boots but it also works 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 Anthem 105 Heat, BFC 100 Heat and BFC W 95 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.
The Mindbenders are the extension of the Recon concept into the white-hot backcountry genre. The Powerlite chassis assures that the Mindbenders will be as light as chiffon, with a hike mode that delivers 50 degrees range of motion for climbing. All the MB’s – 4 for men, 3 for women – come with Gripwalk soles pre-installed. The Mindbender 130 and new Mindbender Team come in a 98mm last, the 120 is available in either 98mm or 100mm last width, and the MB 100 uses a generous, 100mm last.
Two years ago, K2 introduced two new standard-bearers for the brand, the Recon Pro for men and Anthem Pro for women. The Recon Pro boasts a burly 140 flex index, and while one can argue whether the Recon Pro is a “true” race boot, it’s definitely a cut above the rest of the Recon clan. Similarly, the Anthem Pro sports a 125 flex, on par with the stiffest boots made for recreational women and the firmest flex in K2’s female fit firmament.
Last year, all the Anthems except the Pro were been given a facelift, and two fresh faces joined the Pro at the top of the series: Anthem 115, in both LV and MV iterations, and Anthem 105 Heat in a medium (100mm) last with a built-in Therm-ic liner. For 2023, K2 has again raised the ante, creating the Recon Team and Anthem Team, essentially the same boots as their respective Pro models, with tech fittings added to facilitate the occasional off-resort foray.
The latest BFC family looks much sleeker than the original series, but it hasn’t messed with the main features that made the BFC’s so popular: its generous 103mm last and stunningly easy entry. The shells are heat-moldable, of course, and the Cushfit Pro liner on the BFC 120 (and BFC W 105) feels more sculpted than the first generation. The aptly named “Après Mode” that relaxes the cuff’s fixed forward lean for easier walking was upgraded across the line, and all the 2023 BFC soles feature Gripwalk.
While the new Recon Team, Anthem Team and Mindbender Team models offer a value-added alternative for elite skiers, their debut is over-shadowed by two more important developments chez K2: an all-new, full-on touring series called Dispatch, and the adoption of the Full Tilt family of 3-piece shells by the K2 family.
As dedicated hiking boots with rockered, fully treaded soles, 60-degree ROM in hike mode and Pebax shells and cuffs, the five new Dispatch models (3 men’s, 2 women’s) fall squarely outside Realskiers’ realm. The community best served by the new Revolver, Method and Diverge SC models – aficionados of the half-pipe and terrain park – likewise lands somewhere beyond our expertise. The “SC” in the SC Diverge stands for Sammy Carlson, who must have asked for the addition of tech fittings to this 102mm-lasted boot. The addition of tech fittings to a Park boot combines two worlds we know absolutely nothing about in a single product. About all we can do is wish all who essay them many happy landings.