|Scarpa Matrix (left) and Spirit 3 randonnee backcountry ski boots. Click image to enlarge.|
First, don’t let the Spirit being a three buckle boot fool you. By mounting the buckles on thick plastic reinforcements, we have no doubt this shoe’s buckles act more like 4 1/2 — beefy and solid feeling. Matrix is three buckle as well, without the mounting system and thus with the slightly less supportive feel that “touring” type boots tend to have. But get this, weight of shells (size 311) is almost identical! Spirit is 53.8 ounces 1526 grams, Matrix weighs in at seven tenths of an ounce less, 53.1 ounces 1504 grams. Amazing. For less than 1/2 ounce you get the full beef and added height of the Spirit 3. How can this be? Simple, Spirit has a much more sophisticated dual density molding process that yields thinner and lighter plastic in numerous areas. Matrix backcountry skiing boot has minimal dual-density molding.
|Leanlock on left, height comparo to right.|
Other interesting tidbits about these two boots. Both have the same leanlock mechanism but the Matrix has only one alpine lean lock position while the Spirit has two. We prefer only one, as in the heat of battle it’s all too easy to click the one you like least, then wonder why your knees are sore or you quads tired after the run. What’s ingenious about both boots is that the leanlock allow fine tuning of the forward lean angle by twisting screw on the outside of the boot, which in turn moves the thread/cam system visible in the photo above. While this adds a smidge of weight, it’s incredibly nice to tune your forward lean without resorting to shims and heel lifts.
Shell height is interesting. Spirit has asymmetrical side height, with the inside being about centimeter higher than the outside. As pictured above, Spirit is significantly higher on the side than Matrix (low side is shown), and the Spirit tongue is higher as well, but the rear spoilers on both boots are of equal height. The shell tongues are quite different. Matrix uses a classic one piece tongue with a ribbed hinge point, while Spirit has a two piece tongue that allows more forward freedom in touring mode, but doesn’t contribute as much forward resistance in alpine mode as the Matrix tongue. I assume the idea with Spirit is that the cuff contributes more stiffness, so the tongue can be relaxed. To that end, hidden in the Spirit cuff are small stops that limit forward travel in alpine mode — nice for a stiffer feel but easily removed for more progressive flex. As with most Scarpa ski boots, the tongues are easily removed for swapping or customization.
Our biggest problem with Scarpa is the high arch built into the shell, and while Scarpa claims to have reduced this a bit, we don’t see much (if any) difference in these boots. A high arch in the shell can make adding custom footbeds a chore for many people, and may cause hard to solve fitting problems for many different types of feet. To be fair, the high arch is created by using less material in the shell while sticking with a sole that has a defined heel, so it’s a necessary evil for weight reduction. Solution is to shim the forfoot up to effect a flatter platform. Doing so is a chore, adds weight, but generally takes care of the issue.
Both boots have Dynafit fittings of course, and the Dynafit toe sockets are mounted a bit farther back than other brand boots. This gives a slightly better touring stride but may necessitate remounting bindings to fit the shorter distance between toe and heel fittings. Both boots have a power strap, and both have the same type of buckles. Which to use? They’re both good performers in alpine mode with an obvious edge for the Spirit. Matrix will no doubt be easier to come by on a budget and perhaps tours slightly easier because of its lower side cut and overall less beef. In all, we’re amazed at what Scarpa stuffed into the Spirit for virtually the same weight as the Matrix.
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.