Monday, October 12, 2009

Race Boots

I imagine post after post about training might be getting a bit dry. For randonee racers fitness should be the focus this time of year, but in second place should be sorting out your equipment. I thought a breakdown of all the boots specific to racing would be helpful for people unfamiliar with some of these harder to find pieces.

The La Sportiva Stratos will be left out of the review as it wont be available this year.

In the beginning there was the Scarpa F1
This was Scarpa's first boot intended for racing. Now they have two additional models that are even more specific to racing (described below). But the original F1 makes a great backcountry boot that can quickly convert to race mode and back to recreational backcountry skiing mode by removing the tongue and power strap. At $689 it's also the least expensive of all racing boots currently being manufactured. 1350g.

For those used to "regular" AT boots the F1 will feel short and soft. With practice people find it's not long until the boot begins to feel normal and enables the skier to attack 95% of the terrain they would while wearing their stiffest boot. Aside from being lighter than a standard AT boot, the F1 has two major advantages that make it a great choice for racing. One, the large lever on the rear of the boot enables the skier to switch from walk to ski mode while it simultaneously tightens the cuff around your leg. It makes transitions faster and smoother. Two, the boot has bellows in the forefoot just like a telemark boot, but yes, it's an AT boot. The bellows allow the boot to walk in a much more natural fashion. When skinning on low angle terrain a skier can keep the ball of his foot on the ski much like a nordic skier does in classic technique. Thus, the skier is able to generate more power. When one must briefly skin downhill the bellows allow far more control compared to a boot that doesn't flex because the skier can keep the ball of the foot on the ski. Walking around in F1s is great. The bellows and the paltry weight make the boot feel more like a sneaker than a ski boot. The original F1 is a great choice for people who do some racing, but would still like to use the boot on their other randonee set ups.

The Scarpa F1 Race
Scarpa took notice that close to every racer on the F1 ripped out the tongue, tossed the power strap, replaced the two buckles with something lighter and ground the rubber off the area of the sole underneath the arch of the foot. Two years ago they introduced the F1 Race. It has all the those time consuming race modifications pre built-in. Or rather built-out. It costs a bit more at $799, but it's quite light at 1120g. It skis a bit stronger than an original F1 with the tongue removed as the F1 Race has a mini tongue attached the cuff to stiffen things up a bit and spread out the contact area on the skier's shin.

The F1 Carbon
Scarpa's third entry into the racing world is the F1 Carbon. At $1,500 it reflects the price of carbon and the price of racing on the lightest/strongest equipment. I own an F1 and I race it with no tongue. Really the only complaint I have about the boot is it's downhill performance. The carbon cuff addresses that, and retains everything that makes the F1 and F1 Race so great. Keeping the lower half of the boot in it's original Pebax material makes the boot more durable compared to an all carbon boot. I haven't skied this boot, but based on appearances it should ski quite aggressively. 840g.

New this year is Dynafit's DyNA
It even looks fast. Like the F1 Carbon only the cuff is carbon. Making the lower shell out of plastic allows it to be flexible (where it needs to be) and durable. The forefoot is designed to flex, but it is not a full bellow like the F1. It has only 5mm of travel. A friend who has skied the boot tells me that you can't really feel the flex even though you can see the boot moving. Since it is a true race boot the walk/ski mode lever also tightens the cuff. The DyNA also has a pair of fittings in the toe that allow the skier to slide their foot into the binding's toe unit until the boot's fittings mate with the binding. I have tried that feature out on another Dynafit boot and it really does work. That could save a racer the frustration of not being able to line up their boot when they're breathing hard. This boot is likely to ski better downhill than the F1 and F1 race, but it will be interesting to compare it to the F1 Carbon to see which of the two is strongest on the downhill. $1,400. 920g.

Pierre Gignoux XP444
"Who?" you may be asking. Pierre Gignoux is a former ski mountaineering racing champion turned equipment manufacturer. He has two boot models, a boot liner, a gaiter for the boots and a really cool binding heel unit that weighs 50g. His products are outstanding. Virtually every top racer in the world is on his boots.

The XP 444 by Pierre Gignoux is by far the lightest boot on the market at 444g. That's the shell only. If you include Pierre's 140g liner, which is sold separately, the boot comes to 584g. Not surprisingly, that liner is also the lightest on the market. How are these boots so much lighter? Primarily it's the fact that they are 100% carbon. But Pierre is also using a lighter sole than anyone else. The 444 is also the first boot to ever use dynafit fittings that aren't metal. They too, are carbon- Dynafit receiving holes shaped right into the carbon. Should be interesting to see how those hold up. Reviews I have heard from owners are that nothing comes even close for downhill power. The boot does not flex in the forefoot, which is actually better than a flexing boot on steeper skin tracks. The ski/walk mode lever will tighten the cuff for one-movement transitions. Weighing about two thirds of anything else reviewed here prompts one to ask, "Is there a downside?" Yes. First, carbon fiber may be the stiffest and lightest material out there, but it's also brittle. Many racers have expressed frustration about the XP's propensity to crack. I haven't yet heard of any catastrophic failures, more about rock punctures and quasi-repairable stress fractures. The only other negative is the price 1,300 Euro for the shell plus 100 Euro for the liner comes to $2,060.

My new theory is that the idle rich would make the best ski mountaineering racers. They have the money to buy all the best equipment. They have the money to hire personal trainers and nutritionists. They can afford to travel to whichever races they please. And with all that time on their hands they can train at unbelievable quantities. I foresee the world champions of the future arriving to their races in private helicopters.


  1. Thought you may be interested to see this, a 3 min video from the skimo kit guru, Diego Amplatz, showing all the secrets of the new La Sportiva Stratos. This is not a boot, this is a machine, no wonder its selling for €1600, it makes the rest look so old fashioned.

    Videos are in the upper right hand of page.


  2. The Stratos is apparently so advanced that a comprehensive video is necessary just to be able to put it on your feet: