Just like with alpine (downhill) skiing, one of the most important parts of your backcountry setup are your ski touring boots. Given the amount of walking one does while ski touring, boot selection is even more paramount for a pain-free time in the backcountry.
The most affordable way to start ski touring is with your regular alpine boots and a set of Alpine Touring (AT) bindings. However, now that more manufacturers than ever before have entered the backcountry market, many skiers are choosing to purchase lightweight downhill-capable ski touring boots instead.
Choosing the right ski touring boot
Fit, fit, fit. Forget about the features, colour or any other bells or whistles. Resist the temptation to buy online without trying the boots on. The best way to make sure your touring days are pain-free is to visit your local backcountry ski shop and let a boot fitter recommend some models that will work for your feet.
Once you’ve narrowed down to some brands and styles that fit well, it’s time to take a look at what you’ll be using the boots for. Are you looking to complete a week-long ski traverse in them or just poking around the side-country near resort boundaries? Remember, you want to give yourself a chance to grow into the sport and the boots should last a few years, so don’t be afraid to go for a boot that will help you reach your longer-term goals.
Stiffness Vs Walk-ability
The downhill performance (stiffness) and uphill performance (walk-ability) of touring boots used to lie at opposite ends of the spectrum just a few short years ago. Now you really can get a boot that does travel uphill and skis downhill really well (as long as it fits, of course). The distinguishing factor here is the price; stiffer boots with excellent walk mode get expensive quite fast, particularly with a lightweight material such as carbon fiber. Many skiers (mostly male skiers) tend to shop for boots with their ego, demanding the stiffest boot on the shelf to match self-proclaimed “aggressive” ski style. Remember that skiing in the backcountry isn’t the same as the resort; you will likely be on less-compacted snow, selecting appropriate terrain for the avalanche conditions and taking fewer risks. Shop accordingly.
Not all ski touring boots are compatible with all bindings. Here are just some of the differentiators:
Tech bindings such as Dynafit, G3, Salomon MTN etc. require a molded tech fitting in the boot’s sole (as seen in the Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD above).
Most AT boots and alpine boots should fit most AT bindings (e.g. Marker Duke, Salomon Guardian) though there are exceptions. Certain short-soled low volume boots such Dynafit TLT7 and Atomic Backland will fit tech bindings only.
It’s important to note that most AT boots will NOT work with an alpine (DIN) bindings. They may seem to fit, but rubber AT boot soles have increased friction and will not release consistently in an alpine binding. Some alpine/touring crossover boots now come with Walk to Ride (WTR) system on the sole which is compatible with certain alpine bindings. Always check with your local ski shop if you are unsure.
The best way to find your ideal boot is to try them not just in the shop, but also in the field. Our gear partners at Escape Route have a new demo center open in Whistler to try all the latest boots, skis, bindings and all other sorts of equipment. Check them out in the St Andrews building on the Village Stroll.
Of course, there’s more to the backcountry than what’s on your feet. Always carry a transceiver, probe and shovel and have the training to use them for self-rescue. Have the gear and ready for your AST 1 course? Book before November 15 and get 10% off with offer code MSAAsave10.
Written By: Vince Shuley