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By the time boots are available for testing in April, most ski areas are hurting for snow. Not Mt. Bachelor, Ore. where it was still prime. The mountain consistently has a variety of snow conditions from corn to powder and an entire mountain that’s blanketed under feet of snow. There’s also no better place to find out how a boot will drive a fat, rockered ski on surfy, slashy, untracked terrain. Local boy Mason Tuor shows how it’s done on the Salomon Quest Max BC 120.
Black Diamond had its best results ever at this year’s boot test at Mt. Bachelor. Testers felt that the new Factor MX and Shiva MX were members of an elite group to offer excellent touring range of motion along with bomber energy transmission. We tested boots with and without hike mode features as well as non-DIN, tech-compatible AT boots like the Black Diamond Quadrant, Prime and Swift at this year’s test.
Our mid-mountain test center at Mt. Bachelor’s Pine Marten lodge is a hive of activity with testers heading out for on-snow tests and returning to select their next test boot. In between, testers like Kathleen Vandermoss spend contemplative time recording their impressions of each boot on a comprehensive form.
Mt. Bachelor’s pro patrol looked the other way on the mountain’s no-uphill policy so that we could test hike mode boots’ cuff release features in real world ascending situations. Just flipping a boot into “walk mode” indoors and walking around doesn’t really cut it. This year, several models combined true alpine descent performance with AT-style touring range of motion—like tester favorite Scarpa Freedom SL for men and women. Here Brian Elling points the new Rossignol Alltrack Pro 130 uphill.
What makes a good boot tester? First off, we love people that like to fiddle with their boots. Testers need to be able to quickly utilize a boot’s features to see how they change the fit and feel of the boot, all while ignoring their own fit and performance bias—not an easy job. Turns out rookie boot tester Quincy Young of the Start Haus in Truckee, CA (where she fits boots) is a natural.
This year marked a major step forward for boot technology as many versatile hike mode models proved to also be solid downhill performers. The new Head Challenger 130 and Venture 130 are good examples of this new development.
Hike mode boots this year fell into two main categories: they either had alpine DIN soles or they didn’t. Here Brian Elling, left, skins in the Rossignol Alltrack Pro 130. It comes with optional Walk-to-Ride norm soles that have a rockered toe and more lugged outsole. Kim Kinney is testing the Dynafit Mercury, a non-DIN true AT-style boot (that happened to be a blast going down too) with a rockered outsole and tech-fittings. These boots must be skied with AT bindings, either frame- or tech-style.
Because testers use their own skis for boot testing, the boot’s effect on stance balance, and ski performance are easier to spot. Some boots are rigid and transmissive, making skis feel shorter and sharper. Other boots flex and twist easily, making skis feel less responsive and long. Stance angles are easy to register as some boots make for a tall, elongated stance and others a more bent-kneed position. A boot’s side-to-side alignment has an obvious affect on edge angle. Here test director Mark Elling is about to check the new Dalbello Panterra 120’s shock absorption. Turns out this landing was molar-rattling flat.
We tested in a variety of different conditions this year, including one full day of driving rain. Good thing testers were rockin’ full Arc’teryx kits that shed water like a seal. Here tester Jana Rogers enjoys one of the better days on a quick skin loop while testing the new Black Diamond Shiva MX.
A veteran test team is tuned into how a boot company changes its line from season to season. Rossignol barely changed the already well-received Experience 130 S.I. this year by slightly thickening its exterior liner material. Our testers noticed and pushed the returner onto the narrow class podium. Here, some of our testers, like Erik Korman, look best if their head’s cropped out of the shot. We didn’t want to scare the kids.