Ski boots used to be discriminatory. Stiff flex ratings were associated with narrow lasts, meaning fat-footed hard chargers needed to spend time and money at the bootfitter punching and grinding plug boots to make them remotely comfortable. Those days are long gone, and now the two largest 3-piece boot brands offer stiff, wide-lasted boots to accommodate those of us with feet commonly mistaken for swimming flippers.
Full Tilt Descendant 8
Full Tilt’s Flexon system has a devoted following, including the likes of Seth Morrison and Bode Miller. The brand’s Descendant series is unique, however, as it features a 102mm-last Evolution shell. Toss in the included Intuition Pro Liner, and you’ve got a high-performing, wide-lasted, three-buckle boot worth checking out.
While testing the FT Descendant 8 throughout Colorado’s I-70 corridor, I found that the boot could handle anything I threw at it—from Loveland’s moguls to Vail’s variable early-season terrain. The boot tongue’s stiffness is rated at an 8 (with 10 being the stiffest), which felt soft walking around parking lots but performed much better than anticipated while driving a number of skis with 100+mm waists. The Velcro strap really needed to be cranked down to drive the stiffest Titanal-layered skis, and might be better if replaced by a Booster strap if you prefer metal in your planks. But, while skiing fat, wood-cored freeride chargers, the Descendant had solid edge-to-edge performance and superb energy transfer with minimal fitting, which made me pretty stoked on this boot for chairlift-focused days. [$750, fulltiltboots.com]
Dalbello Panterra 130
Our Gear of the Year 2018 award went to the more-approachable 120-flex version of the Panterra line, but, since I am a bigger guy and a strong skier, I was drawn to the intimidating orange and black boot with a stiffer flex. Featuring four buckles and a cabrio three-piece shell, plus a walk mode and a last that can be adjusted between 100-102mm by simply using the buckle over the toes, the Panterra has a few more bells and whistles than the Full Tilt Descendant in terms of adjustability and comfort.
I took this boot from the slopes of Vail to Sölden, Austria and found it tested well in a variety of terrain, including early-season man-made hardpack and soft Austrian off-piste chunder. It is marginally harder to put on compared to the Descendant 8 as the cabrio shell wraps around the entire cuff, but it's still far more simple to slip into than most traditional four-buckle overlap boots. The Panterra is noticeably lighter than the Descendant 8, making it easier to travel with, and the walk-mode made it more fun to dance in when the après scene started to heat up. Like the Full Tilt, the Velcro-strap needed to be cranked to drive skis with metal, and the upper cuff felt slightly sloppy when skiing with an upright, neutral stance. The alpine soles can be swapped for GripWalk, which is great for walking around those notoriously slippery ski villages. I also appreciated the adjustable last as the boot packed out over time. [$800, dalbello.it]
Ski boots are incredibly subjective, and really require a proper bootfitting. But, if you know you have wide feet and desire a smooth flex only available in 3-piece boots, both of these options are worth checking out. The Full Tilt Descendant 8 had the best fit out of the box, plus the Flexon construction is consistently predicable in terms of on-hill performance. The Intuition liner was initially more comfortable than the Dallbello ID Liner, but the ID liner got better with time. The more I skied in both boots, the more the Panterra stood out in terms of sheer function, especially after breaking it in over a few days on the hill. With performance that gets better with use, a walk-mode, and easy on-the-fly adjustability, the slight overall advantage goes to the Panterra 130.
Note: Both boots were fit at Larry’s Bootfitting in Boulder, Colorado. With ski boots, don’t just stuff your foot in and go. Go to a professional bootfitter, get a consultation to compare with your research notes, get the right boot, and get it fit properly to have the best experience possible while skiing.