Racers ready? 3…2…1…Go.
Blasting out of the start gate on the green course, rounding gates with grace and precision, 19.39 seconds of blinding speed and I have the Silver medal! A big thanks to my sponsors and family, and to Black Diamond for making such a solid…errr…AT Boot? Yup, as a NASTAR medalist, I can confidently say that BD has produced quite a worthy boot in their Factor AT ski boot.
I know, I know, the local NASTAR course is not your typical testing ground for AT bakcountry skiing boots. But, I can run it for free (I work the course 2 days a week for a pass), and as a freerider who has never raced, those gates and ruts expose any and every weakness in my technique and ability. More, the rest of my first day on the Factor’s offered a smorgasbord of terrain for further testing.
The day started with a skin up Aspen Highlands on beefy Kastle MX98 skis (review coming soon) mounted with Marker Dukes. Quite a nice outing, about 2,000 vert in just over an hour. The boot offered nearly a 1/4 pound (per foot) weight savings over my current AT Boots, which helped offset the heavier binding I was using. For the first run the crew headed straight for the Bowl, found some of the lower pitches to be in rare form, and proceeded to point ’em into Ball Room while everyone else achieved bragging rights by hiking to the top. I ate as much thigh deep fluff as I could on the way down, and was sold that I had a boot that could perform in the steeps at any level. So off for a few bump runs. Not a flaw, no sloppy skis, the boots were a solid connection from mind to line. And finally, some high speed runs to see how the boots held a carve. Again, as good as any alpine boot, pushing big skis through even bigger arcs. And eventually off to NASTAR…
|The shoes at hand.|
Along with having a solid overlapping shell, the Factor’s offer a rigid liner with their BOA Closure System. This system allows you to tighten or loosen the fit of the liner with a simple turn/push of a knob. Many of my knuckle-dragging friends have raved about a similar feature found in their snowboard boots for years, and now I know why. A better fit than laceless liners, and less rope burns on my hands from tightening laced liners. This isn’t the most plush liner out there. But over the course of a day it packs out less, thus eliminating the necessity of tightening your boots late-day to avoid your feet feeling like they’re swimming in empty buckets.
The kicker with these boots is the interchangeable sole blocks. Key for a one-boot quiver: Spend resort days on the Kastles and my Volkl Mantras using the Factor ISO Alpine blocks for reliable binding release, then swap to AT blocks for better traction and a rockered sole while backcountry skiing. Plus the AT blocks feature Dynafit fittings, so my binding options are unlimited. The heels require removing the liner to swap, but despite this inconvenience, this assures you don’t loose any screws if they loosen. Sole swap took me about 15 minutes. The sole-boot interface felt solid throughout the testing period. Over four days I was able to easily drive three pairs of big sticks, including my 185 Kilowatts, with no noticeable movement.
Another nice option in the Factor’s is adjustable forward lean. Offering 8 degrees of customization in 3 steps. However, this cannot be done on the fly, so figure out what setting you like and plan on leaving it once you’re at the slopes.
My final day on the Factor’s brought me out to the Marble, Colorado backcountry again. I spent my first two Marble winters in my alpine boots, and was concerned that the stiffness of the boots would be reminiscent of those first days and awkward climbs. After one steep switchback, I knew that wouldn’t be the case. Factor definitely climbed like a champ, or more importantly, an AT boot. The ski down, previously assumed to be another effortless pow run (of the type were getting used to during our record winter), ended up proving the boot’s ability to power through any condition. Eight different flavors of wind-affected snow greeted us, and I was still able to send snow cookies flying.
|Detail of sole configuration, they fit precise and strong, but we’re surprised you need two different tools for the swap (Phillips and hex).|
Lou told me I had to offer at least one downside to keep WildSnow authentic. Okay, if I was used to lighter weight backcountry boots the mass of these shoes would be a factor — but I’ve not been seduced to the light side yet, so no problem there. One bummer is that the sole swap takes two different tools* — with one being an allen wrench that not every freerider will have rolling around the floor of their Suby. Luckily, as an avid mountain biker, my tool box has plenty of allen wrenches. However I did have trouble locating a full sized philips screwdriver to remove the heal block. Yep, not many gripes. Sorry Lou.
*(note: the boots I used were a pre-production model, hopefully a toolbox will not be necessary to change the sole in next year’s release).
There are a lot of stiffer AT shoes entering the market. As BD’s first boot offering, Factor is definitely in the running as a first choice. It’s nice to see AT boots coming out that are not a compromise for the downhill, just true do-all boots.
|Lou’s attention went to the Dynafit compatible fittings like a dog to a bone. He pointed out how solid the rear fitting looks, as it’s molded into the boot plastic (an interesting difference as Dynafit brand heel fittings have been known to get loose and come off, perhaps this will prevent that from occurring?). The steel of the fitting is also thicker than the Dynafit brand fittings (indicated by left arrows) . The arrows to the right point to how the boots have a nice large entry slot for stepping into the Dynafit heel unit. According to Lou, this is nice if your boot is slightly out of line when you step in. The front fittings tested okay, but were not as nice as the step-in slotted ones that Dynafit brand boots have. I guess Dynafit is keeping those for themselves — can’t blame ’em.|