The Garmont Radium is one of the well farmed and tasty crop of overlap cuff boots that came out over the past year or so. By using a shell design similar to an alpine shoe, these backcountry skiing boots have a better ski flex and have more flexibility for walking because your stride isn’t blocked by the stiff tongue of “tongue” boots. Up and down better — always a good combo. I skied the Radium a bit last spring, then during a few months of “winter” in New Zealand as my only boot (both alpine and AT). About 40 days total.
Overlap boots tend to be stiff on the down, and Radiums are no exception. Although not quite in the realm of an alpine boot, there is plenty to push against when you’re maching the steeps. Even so, they still have great flexibility for touring during backcountry skiing and are reasonably light for a four buckle boot (1948 grams with my orthotics, size 28).
Another thing that makes Radiums a strong boot on the downhill is the high cuff. When compared to other downhill performance oriented boots the Radium does not appear that much higher, but apparently a centimeter or two makes a huge difference, because you can really feel a solid wrap high on your calf with this boots, and of course the shell is high in the front because of the extended overlap (which is sort of a tongue, but is out of the way when you’re touring).
It’s amazing how just a few millimeters of height makes a backcountry skiing boot feel so much more solid. All this makes the boot ski great. Not only is it stiff, but it also has a progressive flex, something that I think is very important in determining how a boot skis.
Radiums have a unique catch system that keeps the buckle in its slot until you press a release button. It took a little bit of getting used to this at first, but it is a useful feature. I’ve been keeping the buckle in the same slot all the time, simply releasing it on the hike and clamping for the down. The catch mechanism makes buckling the boot up at the top much quicker.
The Radium ski/walk mode switch is the simplest design I have seen, with with all components on the outside of the boot shell. I was worried about ice problems because of this, but haven’t had any. Most AT boots that I’ve handled and tested over the years had a considerable amount of play in the ski/walk mechanism. A few boots we have here at Wildsnow HQ have as much as 5 millimeters of movement in the cuff. This translates to over a centimeter of back and forth movement at the top of the boot, which allows the knee to move quite some distance for/aft without flexing the plastic at all! Most of this play seems to come from parts that are not machined or assembled to tight specs, so they wiggle quite a bit (especially after a bit of wear).
It has always puzzled me why boot manufacturers make boots with play you can feel from day one. Tightening this up would be a simple way to make a boot ski quite a bit better without adding any weight or compromising walkability. So, I’m happy to say that the walk mechanism on the Radium is the best I have seen yet. It offers quite a bit of movement in walk mode, but it locks down super solid in ski mode, with no noticeable play at all. Impressive.
Although the ski/walk lean lock switch works well, it has one flaw. The switch has quite a small space between it and the boot plastic when it is in walk mode, this of course doesn’t change the boot’s performance, but it makes the switch hard to operate with gloved fingers. The Scarpa Spirit 3s and 4s, for example, have a nice switch I can operate even with my pants draped over it. With Radium, while wearing thick gloves I had to take them off to work the switch. I tied a loop of string through the switch, which made it much easier. There is no forward lean adjustment on the Radium. They feel fine to me with the stock forward lean, but it would have been nice to be able to fine tune it. It seems like it would be easy for Garmont to put a few more holes in the boot that you screw the switch in to in order to change the lean.
Another moderate but nonetheless downside of the Radium is that the low volume toe area seems to require significant extra length for a given size. (What’s more, some folks have found that an interior ridge in the shell on top of the toes causes fit problems unless they go to a larger shell size or work with a boot fitter). For example, my size 28 Radiums are 325mm long, while the same fit in a Scarpa Skookum requires only a 313 mm sole. As a result, I had to remount my Dynafits in order to fit the Radiums.
Beyond the fact that some skiers might need a remount, a centimeter or so of extra sole length is perhaps not a big deal. But when you’ve already got large feet and you’re looking for efficiency, longer boot shells work against you in several ways: Mainly, the extended distance from your toes to the end of the boot results in a less efficient stride both in bindings and on foot, also, a larger boot is heavier. But whatever, I got used to it and cranked these shoes, so what’s not to love?
I should also mention that another reason Radiums ski downhill so nice is the liner. These have plenty of dense foam around the calf area, and a plastic stiffener on the tongue which I’m sure adds to the beefy feel of these guns. More, they come up nice and high around the calf. Front and bag grab loops you can actually get your fingers in are also a nice touch, as is a section of slick interior fabric that your heel slides down when you enter the boot, thus making what’s admittedly the sometimes difficult entry into overlap boots a bit easier.
In all, Radiums are a fantastic choice if you are looking for an AT backcountry boot that skis almost as good as an alpine boot, but tours well and is still fairly light. What is more, from the buckles, to the lean lock, to the liner — note quality and craftsmanship that no other boot maker I know of has surpassed — and that only a few others equal. Honestly — I’m impressed.
(Guest blogger Louie Dawson is Wild Snow progeny. He’s attending college at Western Washington University and Mount Baker, with summers spent on ski resort staff in New Zealand.)