Disclaimer: the following how-to modifications are not the latest in cutting-edge rando race gear!
What? WildSnow.com providing outdated and lagging backcountry skiing info – well, yes, but for a reason. The very latest in rando race boots now entails significant use of carbon fiber, and hence significant cash outlays. See here for a terrifying summary. Or this. Or this.
The good news though is that unless you’re trying to win the Patrouille des Glaciers or Pierra Menta you can now make yourself a highly capable rando race boot by picking up a pair of used SCARPA F1 boots for about $200 to $250 (or buy some new) and then putting them under the knife (among other tools). Using a road bike analogy, I’d say it’s pretty similar to my humble used Klein Quantum aluminum bike with carbon fork and 105 components compared to, well, you know what’s out there.
My hand-me-down SCARPA F1 boots in a size 27 now weigh 4 lb 12.2 ounces (without any footbeds, for purposes of comparison), which is almost identical to the special “Race” version of the standard F1, except that the “Race” version is very hard to find in the U.S. even at full $700 retail. All of the following mods are feasible without any special tools or skills.
The following are pretty much all the standard mods for the F1 backcountry skiing and race boot. You can get far more exotic, especially in replacing the upper cuff with a carbon fiber after-market cuff from Europe, but all of the following are relatively easy and cheap to do. And they’ll save you the public embarrassment of showing up at a rando race with a pair of entirely unmodified stock F1 (the horror, the horror).
1. Shave away excess plastic on toe and heel lugs. The SCARPA F1 toe adheres to the AT DIN, but why? You can’t use it in a Duke anyway (because of the bellows), and even if you could, why would you? So I ground down the toe lip to make it a bit more like the Dynafit TLT4 and MLT4 boots that are compatible only with Dynafit bindings (or the Silvretta 300/400/404/500/505). Weight benefits are trivial, but climbs/tromps much better, and is still compatible with fully automatic crampons (i.e., wire toe bail). I also shave the heel a little bit, but only a little, since I still wanted the boots to be compatible with fully automatic or semi-automatic crampons. Whatever amount of grinding you choose, ensure that the Dynafit interface is still fully supported.
2. Grind away sole rubber. Weight savings from doing this are significant, and vary depending on how much you grind. Rubber is very heavy, so the potential benefits are huge. Just be sure to keep enough in the arch if you might compete in any course that features ladder ascents. Also, be warned that the more rubber you grind away in the arch, the more flexible the boot will be. I still haven’t planed down the lugs much, since I lack a good tool for that, but that’s definitely on the to-do list. (Cheap little sanders don’t make much progress, Lou used a pro quality disk grinder with heavy disk sandpaper and a spray bottle of water.) Be sure to grind with adequate ventilation and wear a mask. Also, no matter what, do NOT grind underneath the Dynafit toe interface, since you need all of that rubber left there to engage the binding actuator between the pincers (toe wings).
3. Modify rear lever and cuff closure. All sorts of mods are out there for this. My pictured mod is relatively conservative, as I just gutted out part of the rear lever and replaced it with a simple 3mm accessory cord loop (which is kept from riding up too much by some duct tape). Still, this saved about 1.8 ounces and had no drawbacks. The more elaborate mods involve replacing pretty much everything except the rear lever with accessory cord. Example can be seen here:
4. Remove power straps. This saves two ounces, as well as time in transitions. Plus if you keep the straps loose enough to avoid any stride length interference, then they’ll be flopping around and potentially causing problems.
5.Replace plastic tongues with simple cover. I was going to glue on some tongues from old winter work boots, but then I just used duct tape a few times for the ghetto racer look, and finally I just stopped bothering entirely with any closure. Saves 6 ounces, but more importantly, drastically reduces forward resistance when skinning. As part of this mod, reinstall the attachment for the rear lever so that it is in the more upright of the three forward lean positions. (The SCARPA F1 ships with the lever installed in the middle position.) With no plastic tongue, you want a more upright stance, since otherwise the rear cuff will be pitching you forward against where the tongue used to be, and you’ll always be fighting that over-the-handlebars feeling.
6. Remount instep buckle. I removed the plastic slat on which the buckle is mounted, then removed the buckle from the plastic slat, and mounted the buckle directly to the shell. I was disappointed to discover that this saved only a single ounce!
7. Replace liners with shorter model. I used some Morrow snowboard liners – which are genuine Intuition (re-branded) – and saved four ounces.
8. Use step drill on upper cuffs. I was disappointed to discover that all those holes saved only a single ounce. But oh well, looks kind of cool!
9. Shave bottom rear of upper cuff for enhanced rearward travel. I haven’t done this yet, since I think the boots already have more rearward travel than my flexibility allows, but this still might be on the to-do list.
Sound like too much effort? If you have the cash, just buy a pair of Pierre Gignoux and don’t bother looking back, because no one will be close enough behind you to see. Or for a good compromise, just get the Carbon SCARPA F1 or Dynafit DyNA.
(WildSnow guest blogger Jonathan Shefftz lives with his wife and daughter in Western Massachusetts, where he is a member of the Northfield Mountain and Thunderbolt / Mt Greylock ski patrols. Formerly an NCAA alpine race coach, he has broken free from his prior dependence on mechanized ascension to become far more enamored of self-propelled forms of skiing. He is an AIARE-qualified instructor, NSP avalanche instructor, and contributor to the American Avalanche Association’s The Avalanche Review. When he is not searching out elusive freshies in Southern New England or promoting the NE Rando Race Series, he works as a financial economics consultant.)