Depending on your persuasion, the bountiful crop of freeride touring boots we’ll be harvesting by next fall could be considered boat anchors — or passports to heaven. Whatever, the technology and design work going into these shoes is impressive. Super beefy tech inserts, swap soles that don’t wriggle, the list gets taller. Yet beyond all that, it is the multi-mode cuff that makes these boots work: Walk mode that’ll get you up the hill, and a cuff fixation system that strongly ties the upper part of the boot shell to the lower when you’re in ski mode.
One thing that makes AT boots downhill more poorly than you’d sometimes expect is that the cuff isn’t fixed to the lower shell. Alpine boot cuffs are riveted or otherwise melded to the lower boot. Thus, an alpine boot acts as one boot shell without independent parts. Conversely, most AT boot cuff latches only fix the cuff to the shell in the fore-aft direction while somewhat anchored by the cuff pivot rivets. In comparison to an alpine boot the AT cuff is still free to shift to the side.
So, how to make those floating cuffs on AT freeride boots behave more (or totally) like alpine boots? First, build a cuff latch that’s bomber. Then add a wedge or nesting system of parts that triangulates with the cuff pivots to reduce side motion of the cuff once the boot is in alpine mode. At the OR show, I checked out how a few of the big freeride touring ski boot players do this. Photos tell the story, click most to enlarge.
Throughout the history of AT gear, making a boot that skis like a beefy alpine shoe but tours ok has been an elusive goal. Part of that is cultural. The gnomes of Montebelluna didn’t seem to get the concept. They’d come up with boots that came close, but once pressed into service with big skis and agro skiers, those slippers would collapse. It appears 2013/14 will be the season that all changed, and part of the reason is designers and engineers who’ve figured out how to lock that cuff to the boot when you want it. Congratulations.
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.