True Race boots are a mixed bag: Delightfully precise, but too stiff for most skiers. The boots here are mainly bona fide “plug” boots-the real deal in racing. The name refers to the way they’re made. In commercial models, shells are injected around a form-or “last”-shaped like a foot. Race-room boots are injected around “plugs” that are only vaguely foot-shaped. They don’t need to fit well initially, because racers have extensive boot-fitting work done. Is any race boot right for you? The upside is thrilling performance, thanks to thicker plastics and closer fits. The downside is ridiculous stiffness that’ll toss you around in bumps and bury your edges on soft snow. Heavy and/or aggressive experts can tame them, but before you buy, know what you’re getting into. And start with these, which pleased our testers most.
1 Lange World Cup 150 ($850)
If the blue boot doesn’t dominate World Cup equipment standings the way it did until recently, it’s more for reasons of sponsorship money than performance. Today’s big-name racers have more alternatives, which makes it harder to turn down a lucrative contract. But the 150 remains as fundamentally quick and precise as ever. The venerable “RL1” design has been tweaked, with 5 percent more forefoot room, a more flexible sole and a stiffer flex. But the new World Cup retains defining Lange characteristics: tight heel-hold, offset ankle hinges, 3-degree ramp. Testers call it “surgically precise” and agree that if you can work out fit issues, it’s a great high-octane freeski boot.
Even for a race boot, the fit is unforgiving; plan to have work done. Top Scores (Scale: 1-5) Lateral Response, 3.8; Rearward Support, 4.0; Forward Flex, 4.0
2 Nordica Dobermann 130 Pro ($795)
Pro Nordica makes more boot than this (the World Cup 160 and 150), but we don’t care who you are: You don’t need it. Compared to its plug-boot cousins, the sleek, sculpted, shiny-black 130 Pro, a triumph of form following function, is 3 mm wider in the forefoot. But more important, it’s just soft enough that you can actually flex it at speeds under 50 mph, its liner delivers a level of comfort not found elsewhere in this category, and you can take it off without hiring help. But even among the true race boots, the 130 Pro holds its own. And the minor sacrifice in power makes it an ideal freeskiing boot. Testers say: “Great lateral response, immediately and throughout the turn.”Con Minor heel-hold issues. (Solution: Nordica’s excellent foam kit.)Top Scores Lateral Response, 4.6; Rearward Support, 4.6; Overall Impression, 4.3
3 Rossignol Race 2005 ($839)
Pro This year’s Rossi race boot features subtle improvements. It still shares the fundamentals that make its sister brand, Lange, so successful. The 2005, which we skied in a medium flex (different components can be used to either stiffen or soften it), is as precise as they come, defined by the quickness of its tight heel-hold. Its redesigned sole is no longer a solid block, but arched under the foot in a way that softens it, introducing an almost imperceptible give that allows it to work better with the flex of the ski and plate to which it’s attached. The result: smooth, round arcs and improved edge-hold. Testers say: “You’ll feel at home and centered from the moment you click in.”Con Low instep just won’t work for some foot shapes.Top Scores Lateral Response, 4.0; Rearward Support, 4.0; Steering Power, 3.6
4 Salomon Course X2 Spaceframe ($845)
Pro The honeycomb of relief holes perforating the lateral (little-toe) wall of the X2 remains its most distinctive design feature, and at race speeds on World Cup ice, it may indeed introduce enough give to make managing the inside ski a little easier. On April snow at Vail, testers could only agree that it looks cool and that Salomon’s full-blown plug boot is among the best in the category-holes or no holes. The hardware and overalll finish are what you’d expect from a Salomon boot, and while the X2 packs all the power and quickness of a real race boot, the initial fit isn’t utterly hopeless. Testers say: “It could be an everyday boot.”Con Be prepared to spend time dialing in the fit and flex to suit your needs.Top Scores Lateral Response, 4.1; Rearward Support, 4.1; Forward Flex, 4.1
5 Tecnica Diablo Race R ($825)
Pro Boot-out? Not a problem. No matter how high you’re tipping today’s shapely race skis on edge, there’s room between the snow and the exterior wall of the Race R. Through carefully placing the toe buckle and raising the forefoot in relation to the sole, the Race R stays clear of the snow at the highest of edge angles. Tecnica also took care in the way the foot is positioned on the ski-neither too duck-footed nor too pigeon-toed-to accommodate today’s two-footed racing technique. The Race R is best relegated to the race hill, but the power it yields, especially at the end of the turn, almost makes it worth the hassle. Testers say: “Feels like it has a gas pedal under the forefoot.”Con Racing might be an individual sport, but teamwork is sometimes required to get this boot off. Top Scores Rearward Support, 3.6; Steering Power, 3.4; Closure, 3.4