Like a Lotus flower, the La Sportiva Vanguard beholds many secrets, first among them are attributes making this boot great for ripping and laser focused control. The uphills and transitions, like the flower, however, are more complex.
Oh, La Sportiva! You almost convinced me to start wearing Lycra and looking at toothpicks for ski options with the free-striding wonders of the Skorpius AR boot. Then the Vanguard entered my world, and I’m back to tromping around like a knuckle-dragging free rider with my boots unbuckled.
In all seriousness, though, the lightweight efficiency of the Skorpius boot has been one of the most perspective-shifting pieces of gear I have tried in my late-blooming ski career. Even before I could make it down a green run without yard-saling, I was convinced that cliff-hucking free rider was my destiny as a skier. My skiing skills rose to “slightly accomplished intermediate” about the same time I accepted that I was solidly into my middle-aged years and discovered the joys of tech bindings and touring-focused boots. So when I first experienced the easy-touring convenience of ski-mo-inspired design, my prejudices against the “fast & light” concept melted like crust on a warm May afternoon.
The La Sportiva Skorpius became my go-to boot; the wondrous ease of the two-buckle system, and free-striding cuff overlap were a significant advantage for my missions of exploring low-angle bushwhack routes. In peak mid-winter conditions of fresh powder, the otherwise ridiculous combo of 120 underfoot skis, tech bindings, and light touring boots was an absolute delight for harvesting overlooked powder stashes. In anything approaching “variable,” or less-than-ideal conditions, the limitations of driving an oversized ski with a skinny boot became very apparent. This frequently manifested as getting bucked forward, then over-correcting into a back seat flop. Crusty to frozen conditions were like riding a skinny tire road bike through a rock garden and praying you didn’t wad up too bad.
The La Sportiva Vanguard was released as I acknowledged the limitations of the “fast & light” boot and found myself willing to accept a few hundred more grams for a broader envelope of control. Even as I acknowledged the need for more control in my ski experience, I was trepidatious about the trade-offs in efficiency I had come to enjoy.
The top buckles with their seam-ripper configuration and burly bail and latch system are the must-have accessories of the “look at me, I’m a free rider!” crowd and the most significant functional departure from the Skorpius boot. Achieving any appreciable range of motion requires completely unbuckling the latches, adding more time in the always frustrating position of being hunched over and out of breath while fumbling around with mechanical connections. I found latching the system to be a laborious process of tightening the power strap, setting the first latch in the bail, tightening the cuff strap again, resetting the bails, then resetting the power strap to achieve optimum skiing performance. Each fiddly motion made me think, “I can do all this with one buckle on the Skoprius.”
One glance at the sharply flared buckles, and the first thing that springs to mind is, “that’s going to snag on something.” The elastic powder cuff on my bibs so fresh they didn’t even have coffee stains yet lasted two tours with the Vanguard boots before in a huff and puff moment trying to get them unbuckled at the bottom of a run.
The ski mode buckles are another study in intentions: the axially oriented buckle on the Vanguard provides substantially more mass, and surface area of engagement than the radially oriented latch of the Skorpius.
The standard Dynafit toe pieces of the Vanguard fittings require more precision when orienting the toe for clipping in. While the Quick-Step fittings on the Solar aren’t quite “stomp & go,” they are substantially more user-friendly.
The Vanguard adds an extra cuff layer to the top of the boot compared to the basic clam-shell design of the Skorpius. This reduces the main fiddle factor of the Skorpius, which was remembering which order of the various layers. The sticker on the shell added to the confusion, but I left it as a reminder to stop and think before buckling down.
Fully unbuckled the Vanguard tours with nearly the same ease as the much lighter Skorpius. On flat roadbed approaches, there is a slightly perceptible loss in the range of motion compared to the Skorpius, but for most of my touring, I didn’t notice it.
More noticeable was a lack of motion in the ankle. The Skorpius permits a slight degree of ankle roll, making sidehill traverses slightly easier compared to the extra material & layers in the Vanguard that provides a more cast-like feel.
For all the freeride frippery and fiddle factor, there is no denying they ski substantially better on the bigger boards than the Skorpius. While the Skorpius opened up new routes by freeing me from fiddle factor time, the Vanguards allowed me to ski more aggressive lines in those routes by providing more consistent control. While the Skorpius encouraged me to explore shorter routes knowing that transitions were a simple two-buckle flip, the archaic rituals involved in transforming the Vanguard from one mode to the other made me focus on routes that maximized vertical gain.
As the days get shorter, and my mind begins to cast itself toward the winter season, I ponder options for minimizing the touring hassle of the Vanguard, while retaining the ski performance I enjoy. The flopping, awkward buckles are held in place by t-nuts and could conceivably be removed and replaced with power straps. The additional layers in the shell should provide adequate support for powder touring, but what limitations come with deleting the buckle.
Aaron Mattix grew up in Kansas and wrote a report on snowboarding in seventh grade. His first time to attempt snowboarding was in 2012, and soon switched over to skis for backcountry exploration near his home in Rifle, CO. From snow covered alleys to steeps and low angle meadows, he loves it all. In the summer, he owns and operates Gumption Trail Works, building mountain bike singletrack and the occasional sweet jump.