Back in the Nov. 26, 2013 issue of The Question, I wrote about how releasable tech bindings are quickly becoming the standard for ski touring, regardless of how much time you intend to spend in the resort on your touring setup. Though these bindings give unprecedented uphill function and downhill capability, the most important part of your setup is still your boots.
So where does one start with boot selection for touring? The most cost-effective solution, if you already have downhill boots, is to use the same boots in the backcountry, though you will soon experience the limitations of doing this.
Firstly, if your boots don't have a walk mode your boot cuff will remain locked in a forward lean position. This is great for downhill skiing, but sucks for trying to walk uphill or glide across a glacier. Secondly, the stiff polyurethane shell also freezes up in the cold, meaning if you spend the night in a tent you'll have to warm up your boots on a fuel stove before having two friends pry the boot open to get it back on your foot. Downhill boots are also quite heavy for all the uphill travelling you'll be doing.
The other option is to bite the bullet and buy a touring-specific boot. While in the past the selection was limited to light and overly soft boot shells, there is now a wide spectrum of brands and styles catering to various fits, functions and preferred stiffness. Bear in mind you will always have to compromise on some stiffness in order to obtain uphill function.
On the stiff end of the spectrum there are models like the Tecnica Cochise and the Black Diamond Factor. These are both an overlap design, meaning you can crank the buckles to approach alpine stiffness and they also have removable soles that will fit both tech and standard alpine bindings.
The exception in the “stiff” category is the Dynafit Vulcan. A design modified by local pro skier Eric Hjorleifson, the Vulcan has all the stiffness you need, a full 60 degrees of walk mode range and weighs in at only 1590 grams. If you fit this boot it could be your silver bullet — but be prepared to throw down $999 for the privilege.
If you are planning on spending majority of your time outside the resort then you should be looking at slightly lighter models with a greater walk mode range. The Dynafit Mercury has the same chassis as the Vulcan but with less stiffness, which brings the price down to a respectable $730. The Scarpa Maestraele RS is probably the most popular boot in this category, given that it fits a wider range of foot shapes than the Dynafit models.
As important as weight, function and stiffness is to the boot buyer, at no stage can you ignore fit. Remember, you will be walking in these boots for the majority of your day in the backcountry and a mediocre fit may result in screaming pain with no option to retreat into the lodge or download to the nearest aprés patio. There is significantly less fit range in touring boots than alpine boots, so you may end up having to compromise some of your features just to be comfortable. You can also try to get work done by an experienced boot fitter, but there's often only so much they can do before the boot starts to lose its structural integrity.
I recently read a boot review article by touring guru Lee Lau that stated an incredibly succinct fact:
“Generally men think they're better than they are; women think they're not as good as they are; which results in boot choices being made on the basis of ego rather than honest self-assessment.”
Way to hit the ball out of the park. Check your ego Whistler, and buy the boot that will let you enjoy the longest days in the backcountry.
Vince Shuley has one foot a half-size longer than the other, which makes boot selection an interesting process For questions, comments or suggestions to The Outsider email email@example.com