Your boots are the most important piece of ski equipment you own. Besides keeping your feet warm, they’re the only connection you have between you and your skis. Go ahead – buy the best skis and bindings, and hire Bode Miller as your personal coach, but if your boot fit sucks, so will you. You’ve got skis for every pursuit and condition, why not have a whole selection of boots too?
With the backcountry product category still exploding, there are more boot options available every year. There are race boots with a walk mode, 3-pound skimo racers that you can legitimately run in, and just about every option in between. No matter what stiffness, features, or weight you’re looking for, it’s probably out there or soon to be. Are we closing in on the one boot that can do it all, or is the boot marketplace making the specialized quiver the way to go? The answer all comes down to fit and function.
I grew up ski racing, and still have the racer mentality when it comes to ski boot fit. I like my boots stiff, tight, and will sacrifice some warmth and comfort for the sake of precise control. It’s not the golden rule of boots, but it’s how I learned to ski and what I’m accustomed to. My narrow feet have been a big driver of my boot preferences as well. When I started backcountry skiing, I was on Alpine Trekkers and Lange RS 130’s, unwilling to give up a drop of performance on the descent. Unfortunately, with that setup, I didn’t get to do much descending. Spots that I now consider a quick ski mission were long weekend tours or just completely out of reach.
The next season I got some Marker Dukes, which was a little better but didn’t do much about the 10-pound concrete blocks still affixed to my feet. It wasn’t until I gave in and switched over to a Scarpa Freedom that I finally saw the light. Even though they weren’t much lighter, the walk mode and roomier fit made a world of difference on the uphill, and it turns out that they still skied OK. Eventually, I tried some MTN Labs, and lately, have been touring in the new Atomic Hawx, which is light enough for big tours, and fully buckled down, feels pretty good.
Have I liked skiing any of those boots inbounds? No. Even though all three of my past and present “touring” boots fall into the resort-hybrid category, they just aren’t the same as a true fixed-cuff boot. The fits are roomier, the liners are softer, and the flex of the lighter plastic isn’t as smooth and progressive. Those factors equate to all-day comfort, a better range of motion, and lighter weight, which are great for accessing untouched backcountry powder, but bad for Mach-speed resort ripping. If you charge hard off the lifts, having your foot move around inside your boot, even just a little, will quickly become a source of discomfort. The same can be said for touring miles in boots that don’t give your foot enough room to move in a semi-natural motion.
Is there a happy middle ground? Maybe, but for top performance and comfort I think the boot quiver is the way to go. Even though they’re both ski boots, resort and backcountry footwear have very different intentions, and thus require different fits. Expecting one boot to perform well in two different scenarios might just be too much to ask. It’s quite hard to make one boot fit two different ways….or is it?
What if you don’t want or can’t afford multiple boots? Liners! That piece of foam has a huge impact on how your boot fits and feels. A dense, moldable liner like an Intuition Powerwrap (huge fan here) will stiffen your boots and comes in a variety of volume options to customize your fit. Softer liners or those with built-in flex zones (Stock Liners or Intuition Pro Tour) won’t be as stiff or precise but will tour better and be more forgiving on the feet during a long day in the backcountry. Two liners, one shell = two different flavored boots. Maybe the quiver isn’t needed after all.
What side are you on? Have you found the one boot to do it all, or is the boot quiver taking over your garage?