The explosion in available haute design AT boots this year is a phenomenon. But really? How many new plastic foot buckets will we all acquire in a year? Apparently, quite a lot.
The marketing magic (literally creating demand) is in great part driven by AT boot categories being refined and defined, as the Pebax purveyors are constantly cooking up new ways of grabbing customers from the boring alpine skiing market and extracting consumer treasure in return for “backcountry” or “sidecountry” capable ski footwear. More, fitness uphilling and super-light “race style” touring are seducing folks who formerly just alpine skied and ran or hiked for fitness.
Thus, what’s helped the companies stay in business, and helped us, the backcountry shoppers (by creating variety and hopefully bettering value vs price), is explosive growth at both ends of the boot spectrum. On the “beef” side, formerly trad alpine companies such as Tecnica have players in the shoe mix that compete with beautiful big boots from old reliables such as Garmont. On the skinny side, low-fat consumers have become addicted to feeling fleet of feet, and companies are responding hugely to that as well. Latest, La Sportiva.
Sportiva has of course been a boot and shoe company for millennia. About a year ago they entered the ski touring market with a ski line in addition to the full carbon ultimate race boot they’d been selling for a couple of seasons. Last winter I saw some ski boots they were working on, which in truth were a bit of a yawner me-too effort.
We’ll, I’m here to tell you that La Sportiva’s new line of backcountry skiing boots is now innovative, lightweight, comfortable and functional. Yes, another shoe for shoppers to consider.
This coming season’s new Sportiva ski boots will be available in three models, same mold and features, different materials. Additionally, they’ll continue with their full-carbon Stratos model which at around $3000 is rather ethereal, though perhaps we could have fun reviewing a boot some day that costs in the realm of a decent used automobile. Sorry, I digress.
The new Sportivas: Sideral ($699 MSRP) and Spitfire ($899 MSRP), with women’s model Starlet being virtually the same thing as the Sideral, only with a different shaped cuff.
All three models include:
– One motion closure/lean-lock via upper buckle that moves a rather innovative mechanical system. While not as elegant as other, simpler solutions on the market for one-motion boot closure, during carpet testing I was impressed by the positive “snap” of the metal hook this system employs. It also seemed quite fiddle proof (works every time), but field testing will of course have to prove that out.
– Nearly everyone is on the Grilamid plastic program these days, and all the La Sportiva plastic boots use it for their lowers. This stiff nylon makes for lighter and nicely responsive boot parts (now that injection molders have figured out how to make ski boots out of the stuff). Word I got from experts is not only is Grilamid difficult to squeeze through a mold, but due to its stiffness it is difficult to pull the boot off the mold after injection. To solve the removal problem, Grilamid boot lowers tend to have a longer opening, which is why you see various “covering pieces” of plastic down there on the toe area of Grilamid boots from various companies.
– The Sportiva boots will ship with lean-lock plates you can easily change out in the cuff; 12,14,16 degrees. Super nice feature.
– Shell has an insulating layer over the zeppa (footboard), this can be removed or modded for fit.
– To reduce weight, the shell is compact, with a BSL of 297 for size 27.5.
– Sportiva’s “Easy Flex” tongue has a rubber insert at the break point, yielding a super comfy touring flex (and of course sacrificing a bit of stiffness on the down).
– Sole has an odd but possibly effective little bump on it that’s intended to index your toe entry into a tech binding. We’ll see how that works…
– Fit: In carpet testing the un-molded liner and shell felt neutral, with lots of room for customization. Not much in the way of progressive flex, which is the norm for a lightweight tongue boot, but they felt adequately stiff.
Spitfire is the higher end model, mainly differentiated by the use of carbon reinforced plastic for the cuff. Catalog weight size 27 for all models is 1165 grams. Real-world weight will probably be close to that.
I’m never big on endless descriptions of liners that many of you will swap out anyway. But. La Sportiva’s “Skimo” thermo mold liner by Palau is quite nice, main niceness being an innovative lace system (from their alpine climbing boots) that simply tightens with a pull then wraps around liner cuff and fastens to a velcro tab. One handed operation, no knots to tie, no windlass to add weight and fiddling. Excellent.
In all, I see the La Sportiva boots as a worthy player. Perhaps most importantly, they’re one of only several brands/models with true one-motion mode change. Take my word for it, once you’ve experienced the reduced fiddle factor of simply slapping your upper buckle closed for downhill mode — and flipping it open to tour — you won’t go back.
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.