Spectrum Series: How to Choose AT Boots

As with everything related to backcountry skiing, there is a wide spectrum when it comes to picking a new pair of AT boots. Here are a few questions you should ask yourself before getting a boot:

  • What kind of skiing do you like to do? Big days with tons of miles? Short laps before work? Light and quick laps?
  • Is this boot going to be exclusively for touring or will it be skied at the resort as well?

What options are out there?

There is a give and take that exists. With the current boots in the market you can really find yourself the perfect match to what you want to get out of your equipment and how it performs. You can make this process pinned down exactly to what you want to do.

The Spectrum:

An image of 8 ski boots ordered from left to right based on weight and touring ability, from ski mountaineering boots to resort boots

Lightest.

For those looking to cover big miles, hit ski mountaineering objectives, a lightweight AT boot is worth looking at. These boots tend to be under 1300g/boot and excel at ascending. The offer phenomenal range of motion, making skinning/climbing easier and are just as at home in a crampon as they are in a binding. The downside is that when it comes time to ski down, these boots sacrifice some downhill performance to make them so excellent on the up. In exchange for their lightweight qualities, these boots tend to be softer and less confidence inspiring than many other models out there.

A photo of the Dynafit PDG ski mountaineering boot

Something like the Dynafit PDG is ski mountaineering boot. It offers a shorter cuff, carbon spine, and a shoe-like range of motion for the ease of climbing. Something like this though, does go uphill with insane ease, the downhill on the other hand is going to be fairly limited in it's structure for hard skiing. All of these boots run on a spectrum, this is on the farthest side of "Uphill: Awesome. Downhill: Eh...if I have to."

So if you are looking for the lightest, fastest, option, with limited skiing downhill. This would be a fantastic option.

A photo of the Dynafit TLT Speedfit alpine touring ski boot

The Dynafit TLT Speedfit. A bit heavier than the PDG, where it sacrifices a touch of weight, you get a lot more skiability. Boasting a stiffer ride offers the ability to ski harder. For someone looking to stay super light, get into some harder skiing, but not charging, this would be a killer option. "Uphill: Easy peasy. Downhill: Pretty decent."

A True Middle Ground.

Most people who are discovering backcountry skiing come from a resort background. Folks who want a boot that will perform to their standards when it comes time for the descent. Many new AT boots rival their traditional alpine competition in stiffness and downhill performance, but they weigh less.  These boots balance ascent/descent performance marvelously. Weighing in around 1,400g-1,600g/boot, most of these boots have a 40 degree range of motion in the cuff or more.

A photo of the SCARPA Maestrale alpine touring ski boot

The Scarpa Maestrale. Stiff intuition liner, and most of the rigidity in the flex pattern comes from the tongue. This is one of the boots you can have true touring weight on the uphill, without sacrificing shred performance on the down. These true 50/50 boots are awesome for the skier who really wants to put on some miles while also skiing some pretty gnarly terrain, while putting some days in at the resort once in a while.

Heavy? Clunky? Not Really.

These Boots are basically the when the 50/50 boot, and your regular daily alpine boots have a baby. What you are left with is a boot you ski at the resort most of the time, and when it's super good and you want to get out there, they tour well enough to make the uphill totally tolerable. If you want a one-boot-quiver this would be the side of the spectrum I would try on. When you move to this side of the spectrum, different flex patters emerge so the options based on skier are a little more clear. When compared to the last pair of boots a customer typically has purchased, all of these will feel like going from a 1994 Toyota Camry to a Ferrari. 

A photo of the K2 Mindbender front-side touring ski boots

The K2 Mindbender. This is a front-side touring selection of boots pretty new from K2. This space in particular is getting pretty crowded with some amazing boots. This will ski downhill exactly like any other high performance downhill boot, but when you get to the bottom and start ascending, the range of motion is adequate enough (with a few numbers decreased in range of motion degrees in comparison to something like the Scarpa Maestrale or the Tecnica Zero-G).

A photo of the Tecnica Cochise alpine touring ski boot

The Tecnica Cochise. This boot first arrived on the scene a few years ago. It was a great all-mountain boot with a walk function. Flash forward to now. The boot has had a full redesign, tech inserts, an awesome fit, in multiple flex patterns. This boot can handle long tours if you offset the weight with a lighter binding and lighter ski, but it's truly at home shredding the resort, and being pushed in the backcountry when the snow is deep and a stable platform is needed.

An photo of a selection of 5 ski boots ordered from left to right by ascending weight

The Fit.

First off. A boot you'll be walking in all day, and a boot you ski off the chairlift all day will require a different fit. Keep this in mind when trying to create a setup with a one boot to rule them all situation. For any fit stuff just come in to work with one of our bootfitters, it'll be the best way to be super stoked.

Generally though, a touring boot should be comfortable obviously. You'll want a bit more room for your foot to expand. Due to the specific volume and fit for boots with different shaped feet, coming in to get into a few pairs is the only way to really figure out what will work best.

Does your boot fit your binding?

Not all AT boots fit all AT bindings, and very few will fit traditional alpine bindings.Based on different soles on boots these days, will depend on what kind of binding you want to use. With this said, there are a few alpine bindings compatible with full rockered touring soles, like on the far right of the above picture. Same goes for Gripwalk, in the middle. Gripwalk is becoming the standard across a lot of 50/50 boots. With a small AFD under the toe, many NEW alpine bindings will work with these boots. Finally on the left we have a rubber boarder for grip, around a plain alpine sole. This is essentially what is on all alpine boots. Tech fittings on the toes will work for tech bindings, ones without will fit into alpine style touring bindings like the Salomon Guardian.

The most important take away from any of this when you start looking for the new boots, the best boot for you is the best fitting boot, that gives you the ability to do and ski what you want.

If you have questions, shoot us an email, DM on social channels, or come on in to get some boots on. See you in the skin track!

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