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 come with Gripwalk soles pre-installed. The Mindbender 130 and 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. In 2024, all Mindbenders, both men’s and women’s, are offered both with and without a BOA forefoot adjustment in lieu of buckles.
Three years ago, K2 introduced two new standard-bearers for the brand, the Recon Pro for men and Anthem Pro for women. The Recon Pro boasted a burly 140 flex index, and while one can argue whether the Recon Pro is a “true” race boot, it was definitely a cut above the rest of the Recon clan. Similarly, the Anthem Pro sported a 125 flex, on par with the stiffest boots made for recreational women and the firmest flex in K2’s female fit firmament. Both models have since been retired from active duty.
Two years ago, all the Anthems except the Pro were 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. In 2023, K2 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 top BFC’s 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 BFC soles now feature Gripwalk.
While the Recon Team, Anthem Team and Mindbender Team models offered a value-added alternative for elite skiers, their debut in 2023 was 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 Dispatch models (3 men’s, 2 women’s) fall squarely outside Realskiers’ realm. Counseling 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 wide-body 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.
2024 could turn out to be a big year for K2 boots because the brand has adopted the BOA, cable-wrap retention system for all the models in its Recon and Mindbender series. The full line of Recons, Anthems, Mindbenders and Mindbender W’s are still available with traditional forefoot buckles; however, for a $100 upcharge, a skier can get the same boot outfitted with BOA. (To be clear, you can’t convert a non-BOA boot to a BOA boot; they’re pre-built one way or the other.) There’s no question that the BOA cable system holds the midfoot and forefoot differently than a pair of traditional buckles; whether it merits a C-note we’ll soon discover at the point of sale.
Of the four brands that boarded the BOA bus this season – K2, Fischer, Atomic and Salomon – K2 made by far the largest initial commitment to co-developing its boots with BOA. It’s interesting to note, this is the second major product development from K2 in recent years to focus on convenience features, the first being the introduction of the BFC. It looks like K2 will be putting plenty of BOA boots in play, which should provide a bellwether test of BOA’s potential in the Alpine boot market in the years ahead.