I’m a ski touring fanatic, so I’ll admit to a bit of disappointment when Black Diamond focused their 2008 AT boot debut on beef boots. But to be fair, this is America, where it seems a lot of skiers need the crutch of big heavy boots so they can get down stuff that Euros would lash into submission on their rando race gear. Or maybe they need huge boots so they can look good leaping off cliffs. If that’s the case, as long as they throw tricks while doing so and film it so I can watch, great.
Yet despite enjoying cliff jumping as viewed from the couch at WildSnow HQ, I’ve yearned for the Einsteinien thinking industrial designers at BD to address the needs of backcountry skiers who enjoy doing more with less. And now they have.
Today we’ll look at Black Diamond’s. new “Efficient Series” boots. (Note, most of this stuff will not be in retail channel till next fall, but per the usual product launch schedule, it goes public just before or during the Outdoor Retailer show. To make this review worth beans, we’ll try to give you the info you need to decide if you want to hold out for this stuff or go with product that’s already in the pipeline. Feel free to ask for clarification by leaving comments, but be sure to check BD’s own website featuring their Efficient Series.)
Knowing that I’m such a godlike skier and I don’t need anything with 4 buckles, the PR boys and girls set your loyal blogger up with a pair of Primes. As soon as I got home I of course ran to the scale like a dieting super model getting home from McDonalds. Much to my delight, the gram counter told me that BD has built a beefy overlap cuff boot shell that weighs only 1.4 ounces more than a Dynafit ZZero Carbon with one buckle removed (my standard rig). This with significantly more toebox volume for warmth, and a removable boot board for customized fitting. (Oh, and don’t get the idea I was totally geeking on this — I did get the boots out of the office onto some sweet Colorado powder laps.)
How they made an overlap boot this lightweight seems like magic, but it probably has to do with molding the boot as three separate plastic densities, and using their “Triax Pivot” frame (pictured to right) to provide beef while filling in the gaps with super lightweight layers. Quite impressive, though somewhat similar to other boot brands that construct with this sort of configuration — though in my estimation not to the degree that Black Diamond does. Super nice “skelatized” buckles also contribute to the weight savings, as does minimal sole material.
The Prime’s touring mode comfort is impressive. The cuff has a for/aft flex range of about 40 degrees. Though it binds a bit at the extreme limit of rear travel, the front travel is nearly effortless. This due to a lower cuff section “pivoting technology” (see photo below) that moves up and out of the way to prevent binding, as well as this being an overlap boot without the resistance of a shell tongue. During my testing I found the cuff action to be very smooth, to the point of feeling like I had a piece of well greased precision machinery on my feet.
In terms of how the cuff buckles operate in touring mode, you’ve got the choice of folding the lower one in if you prefer to leave it unbuckled, or if left hooked you can still fold it in to loosen. Whatever configuration you choose, the buckle bails stay caught in the slots due to a simple yet effective built-in catch system. If you set things up correctly with the Prime, you can get it so switching to downhill mode basically requires a flip of the buckles and no re-buckling. That’s a holy grail sort of thing that experienced ski alpinists try to achieve with any boot — Prime makes it easier to accomplish.
I’d call the Prime’s heel and instep fit average and easy for a boot fitter to work with. The toe is interesting. As pictured below, BD got away from the Italian street shoe look and volume that many AT boots have in the toe area and added some room. Lack of the pointy toe makes the Prime significantly warmer than many other boots on the market. Frankly, I really don’t understand why ski touring boots have to have minimal toe volume and resulting thin insulation. Apparently the BD designers agree. I guess great minds think alike.
I should mention the liner. There, I mentioned it.
Okay, that was trite. But I’m really not that interested in any stock boot liner, as my opinion is that by the time you get done with custom fitting, you’ll end up with something way different than stock — perhaps even an entirely different aftermarket liner. Moreover, if you’ve got a common ancestor with whom the OEM last is built for, you might get an out-of-the-box fit. But since that’s so random, why should I comment on out-of-box fit? Nonetheless, it’s worth mentioning that the Prime liners do lace with the Boa system (appreciated by blister prone folks), have aggressive heel retention due to truly thick padding in the ankle area, and are thermo formable. While the Prime boot liners do flex well in forward motion, they have the all too common resistance rear-ward. Building a rear hinge into the liner adds cost and complexity and may take away downhill performance, but I’d sure like to see more companies give it a shot.
Other Black Diamond Efficient Series boot features:
– Efficient series boots all have an interior boot board insole, which provides insulation and allows for custom fitting.
– All have Tech (Dynafit) fittings.
– Lower buckle on the 3-buckle models is mounted on a yoke to distribute the buckle closure force, said to yield more of a “4-buckle” effect.
– Cuff alignment rivet included on all models.
– While we’re not that impressed with flex numbers, they do help compare boots within a line and we know BD makes an effort to accurize this, so here goes: Quadrant 120, Prime & Slant 110, Swift 100.
In summary, I’m extremely impressed with the Black Diamond Prime three-buckle backcountry skiing boot. It is light in weight; tours comfortably; skis downhill with totally adequate power; is customizable. Indeed, BD appears to have a winner. Who would be the customer for this shoe? Easy answer: any fan of lightweight gear who still wants an overlap boot. As for those who like a beefier option, yes, the 4 buckle “Quadrant” model will be available as well.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.