Beef Cakes and Tongues – Backcountry Ski Boots

Post by blogger | December 10, 2008      

"Gram Counter." "Race Weenie." "Hey, wait for me!" "Beefcake. BEEFCAKE!!!" These are all common phrases heard by those of the AT set who still use boots with a tongue design.

Despite this year’s excitement about overlap construction ski boots, the standard in AT boots is still a tongue-construction design. From ultra-light race rigs to super-stiff boots rivaling any other shoe, this boot design yields the largest, most diverse selection to choose from. More, they tend to be light, and if you actually use your boots for core backcountry events such as sleeping in a tent, you can get a tongue boot on in the morning without giving your partner a hematoma from your wild kicks.

In this WildSnow Gear Guide, we focus on the beefier end of the tongue boot spectrum to give comparison to our previous Overlap Boot Guide. We also focus on Dynafit-compatible boots, as they provide the greatest spectrum of setup options. Thermoformable liners are so vastly superior, where possible we used that as criteria as well. As I’ve stated before, the biggest factor in what to buy (overlap or tongue construction) comes down to the individual buyer’s preference. There is no "right" answer.

That being said, lets take a peak at this years offerings.

  Weight (pair)* Best In-Class Price Previous Review
Stiffness Light Weight
Zzero 4 C-TF 7 lb 0 oz $749.95 Read
Zzero 4 PX-TF 7 lb 0 oz $649.95
Zzero 4 U-TF 7 lb 8 oz $569.95
Zzero 4 U-TF Womens 6 lb 14 oz $569.95 Read
Axon 9 lb 2 oz $699.95 Read
Mega Ride 7 lb 6 oz $639.95 Read
Mega Star Womens 6 lb 4 oz $669.95
Skookum 8 lb 4 oz $768.95 Read
Spirit 4 7 lb 14 oz $678.95 Read
Diva Womens 7 lb 0 oz $678.95 Read

*All weights provided by the manufacturer for a size 27.5 (Mens). Where possible real-world weights are available from, not all weights in the chart above above are verified.


Zzero 4 C-TF

Dynafit’s top offering in strength-to-weigh ratio. A stiff carbon frame for downhill performance and 3.5 lbs. per foot. Two forward lean settings, Pebax shell, and a shade of green that never looks slow! And of course this boot has Lou’s seal of approval as his go-to footwear for all manner of adventures.

Read the full WildSnow review

Purchase at

Zzero 4 PX-TF

This non-carbon version of C-TF has a slightly more forgiving ride and weighs in a hair lighter (5 grams) than its big brother. The PX-TF is the Carbondale to the C-TF’s Aspen – not as glitzy, more affordable, and still pretty dang good.

Purchase at

Zzero 4 U-TF

The ZZero 4U is the polyurethane model in Dynafit’s 4-buckle lineup. The most "downhill-oriented tongue boot in the collection thanks to the PU reactivity (they become stiffer when cold)." A great option if you are looking for a bit more stiffness, don’t mind extra heft, and are considering moving to Down Valley just to afford new boots. A Zzero 4 U-MF is also available without a thermoformable liner.

Purchase at

Zzero 4 U-TF Womens

For the girls that rock big skis too, Dynafit offers their woman’s beef boot. With a fem-specific liner and new cuff spoiler that is lower and wider to better fit a lady’s calf muscles. Is it just me, or is this by far the sexiest boot in the line up?

Read the full WildSnow review

Purchase at



Garmonts stiffest backcountry Freeride tongue boot with Dynafit compatibilty. Axon strives to be climb-worthy while providing an compromise-free decent – providing the same downhill performance as the Endorphin. The heaviest boot in the lineup, but worth every pound coming down.

Read the more in-depth WildSnow report here

Shop for the Axon here.

Mega Ride

Like a 100 lb. 3rd grader, the Mega Ride has the beef to beat up whatever the playground throws it’s way, but is still a small fry compared to the big kids. A friendlier boot for long tours, but still able to handle a big ski. The standard for years among many a posse.

Read the more in-depth WildSnow report here

Purchase at

Mega Star – Womens

Garmonts newest women’s-specific, light-weight 4-buckle boot. More than just a smaller Mega Ride, this boot is substantially lighter than its brother. Almost worth shaving my legs and wearing a wig again…did I say "again"?

Purchase at



"Alpine touring meets King Kong" claims the Scarpa website about the Skookum. You pay a weight penalty for those extra bananas, but ripping downhill like a 50 ft. gorilla will not disappoint you.

Read the more in-depth WildSnow report here

Purchase at

Spirit 4

Don’t quite ski like the 50 ft. beast above, but still need to drive a bigger stick? Swap out the regular tongue for the included, super stiff ski tongue. Out-climb your beefcake buddies and hang during the descent.

Read the more in-depth WildSnow report here

Purchase at

Diva – Womens

The woman’s version of the Spirit 4. Same 4-buckle closure, Intuition thermo liner and comes with the swapable, super stiff ski tongue. Ski like the boys do, only do it with style.

Read the more in-depth WildSnow report here

Purchase at

(Guest blogger profile: Dave Downing and his wife Jessica live in Montana, where Dave is a freelance designer and owner of Ovid Nine Graphics Lab. Dave’s ski career began due to a lack of quality skiing video games for NES.)


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


36 Responses to “Beef Cakes and Tongues – Backcountry Ski Boots”

  1. Eric December 10th, 2008 11:50 am

    With all the hype about overlap AT boots, my question is why? Do they ski differently (better?) than tongue boots? Or is it just a way for the manufacturers to try and convince me to buy a new pair of boots?

    I’ve been very happy with my Scarpa Spirit 3’s, but wonder if I’m missing something.

  2. Lou December 10th, 2008 12:29 pm

    Overlap boots have a different feel, sometimes more like a high performance alpine boot. It’s indeed no doubt part marketing positioning, but also a legitimate category. The best thing to do is just ski the two types of boots and feel the difference. Main thing is that the tongue boots have, a tongue, that give resistance in touring mode and makes the flex more bouncy and “blocked” in alpine mode. This can all be tuned with fit and buckle position/tightness, that’s why literally millions of people have done fine in tongue boots for decades.

    I’m now headed up to ski my tongue boots. See ya.

  3. scott December 10th, 2008 12:39 pm

    ZZZZzzzzz, Do you guys still ski? Go out side. Take pictures of the tawrdy showyness of nature and report back on lame snowpack. 🙂

  4. Lou December 10th, 2008 12:43 pm

    Scott, we do this every year. People shop like crazy up through Christmas and that’s when they want the info. So we deliver. I’ve been out skiing quite a bit but mostly just doing laps at the closed resorts. Up checking out some backcountry trails as well but wasn’t impressed by conditions. More later. We’ll be out this weekend for sure.

    I’ve notice a few other places on the web where you’ll read trip reports from past seasons. We’ve got those if you need em, a few hundred worth but I lost count:

  5. Court December 10th, 2008 4:00 pm

    This question is out of place, but what the heck.

    Lou, the medium Fritschi Freeride Plus bindng spec says it will fit up to 335mm. Do you think I can jam a 338mm sole into it? What’s an extra 3mm, right? I haveboth the boot and the binding, so I can run the experiment at home. What should I be looking for? Is it a “go” if it fits, or is it more subtle than that?

  6. ScottP December 10th, 2008 7:34 pm

    Has Scarpa discontinued the Spirit 3, then? It’s still listed on their website, but no place seems to be carrying it. What I’m wondering is, how much of an upgrade really is the Spirit 4? The extra buckle is kind of superfluous given the Spirit 3’s excellent toe buckle design, and it adds weight. The only real advantage I see is the use of screws instead of rivets throughout (which should be on every boot). I like the Spirit 3 and wish the trend were not towards more weight.

  7. Lou December 10th, 2008 7:41 pm

    Court, the length adjustment screw just needs to be flush with the housing when the boot is in the binding. That indicates correct forward pressure. Give it a try. I have no idea how much “slack” there is over the printed numbers.

  8. Njord December 10th, 2008 8:23 pm

    Good news: The snowpack ain’t so lame!

  9. Njord December 10th, 2008 8:24 pm

    oh… the non-lameness was determined by a “tongue-boot”

  10. Lou December 10th, 2008 8:25 pm


  11. Jon December 10th, 2008 10:00 pm

    Lou – what is your take on the F3 vs. Matrix for standard touring duty, with a slight empasis on distance and vertical?

  12. Lenka K. December 11th, 2008 4:29 am

    Hi Lou,

    I think you’ve got the price of the women’s Zzero wrong: at REI they’re sold for 569.95, i.e. the same as the men’s Zzero U …

    I was just about to post a nasty comment about women being ripped-off by Dynafit, but fortunately fact-checked first! 🙂

    Lenka K.

  13. Lou December 11th, 2008 7:10 am

    Too many facts for our pea brains here at the massive editorial offices of WildSnow HQ! Thanks, I’ll check on that. Remember our prices are only a guideline, and based on MSRP not “street price.”

  14. Lou December 11th, 2008 7:18 am

    Jon, I’m somewhat ambivalent to the metatarsal bend, having felt it’s been over rated as a boot feature for non-tele use. On the other hand, if what I’m doing has lots of low angled touring, boots such as F1 or F3 do help (which is why rando racers like ’em). As soon as the angle kicks up, they make no difference in my opinion, and just add extra issues to the mounting of the bindings, etc. They are nice while standing around the parking lot or bar, that’s another feature (grin).

  15. Dave December 11th, 2008 9:19 am

    @Lenka K. — Thanks for the price correction.

  16. Andrew December 11th, 2008 11:49 am

    I don’t understand the attraction of this style of beef cake boot. I was in REI a few days ago and they had all of their new Alpine boots on display, which will not only crush a touring boot for skiing performance, but were half the price (like in the $350ish range, full-pop pre-holiday price). It could be argued that Alpine boots don’t tour well, but they aren’t that much worse than some of the alpine boots. Better skiing, half the price, beautifully built… why not just use them?

  17. Jayson December 11th, 2008 11:50 am


    I had my Dynafit heel insert rip out of my Mega-Rides yesterday after the measley lone screw broke. Ever seen this before?? I can send you a picture of it….Garmont says after 1-year these are outside of warranty, which I think is b.s. I was gonna retro-drill and epoxy it back on, unless you had a tried and true method?

  18. Lou December 11th, 2008 12:32 pm

    Jayson, I’ve seen this happen a few times, but it’s rare. Might be more common as people use higher and higher DIN settings. I do maintenance on my heel fittings to prevent this and recommend for anyone. If you ski high DIN settings, you might want to do the following after you buy your boots:

    See this!!!!

    By the way folks, it’s not just the screw that holds the Dynafit heel fitting on. It has two prongs that insert in holes in the boot. But if the screw loosens, everything moves and fatigues. More, doing the maintenance I suggest makes sure there is NO micro movement. At the least, gently tighten the screw once or twice a season.

  19. Lou December 11th, 2008 12:38 pm

    Andrew, I’ve said for a long time that if a person’s on a budget, a valid way to tour is get a comfortable alpine boot, mount a frame binding such as Fritschi, and go enjoy. But alpine boots are usually heavier, don’t have a comfortable walk mode, and the lack of walk sole can bite you. The tradeoffs are pretty obvious. AT boots are expensive because the amount of design and engineering that goes into them is way out of line with the number sold. A blessing and a curse, if you will.

  20. Crested Butte Mountain Guides December 11th, 2008 12:56 pm

    Thanks Lou….as usual you & your site are a wealth of good useful ski information. My Mega-Rides definitely have 300+ days on them and lots of abuse. Now I know to check this, and let clients and other folks know as well. On a side note, I found the parts and used some rubber ski straps to hold my boot to the ski and binding to get down and out, which worked fine, even after a mile-plus of skating with the heel locked in.

    And anyone looking to beef-up the performance of a Mega-Ride, I have created a Scar-mont or Garpa boot that has a black Spirit 4 tongue bolted on to replace the soft grey Garmont tongue and Scarpa Intuition liners. Definitely ramps up the performance of the boot, but maybe contributed to too much strain on the heel inserts resulting in my problem.

    Keep up the good word, and thanks again….looking forward to some snow this weekend!!

  21. Lou December 11th, 2008 1:31 pm

    Thanks CBMG!

  22. Andrew December 11th, 2008 3:51 pm

    Well, to put it another way, this style of ulta-beef boot has much more in common with Lange/Rossi/Salomon than it does with the Scarpa F3, so perhaps that would be a better future comparo.

  23. Jonathan Shefftz December 14th, 2008 11:11 am

    “what is your take on the F3 vs. Matrix for standard touring duty, with a slight empasis on distance and vertical?”
    — I used the Matrix for many seasons, and the F3 for part of a season. Even aside from the bellows, the F3 is noticeably lighter for the up, and the Matrix is noticeably stiffer for the down. I disagree with Lou that the bellows makes no difference once you’re above anything low angle — I’d say it gives a noticeable advantage for anything around optimal skintrack angle. But I agree with Lou on its various disadvantages (especially if you like ski crampons).
    — I’ve since switched to the Zzero4, mainly b/c it fits me better, and I could downsize shells such that in my size the Z4 is barely heavier than the F3 (and no heavier at all when shim weight is accounted for), yet stiffer (especially laterally) than the Matrix. (But the F3 and Matrix are still boots that any touring-oriented skier should consider, along with the Megaride.)

  24. Tim December 14th, 2008 12:34 pm

    As someone who survived 4 seasons on a Nordica TR-9, (early overlap design), and who wrestled with it on cold mornings in the tent, many a time, I would say that the “revolutionary” overlap boots are great for sidecountry, but I will continue with my “tongue” boot for any true BC usage.

    That being said, I was extremely impressed by the BD Factor I tried on. Ultra solid lockdown in the heel area, and the best walk mode that I have ever experienced. It could definitely replace an alpine boot.

    But putting it on was a real struggle, even in a warm shop. I can’t imagine putting it on if the plastic was cold, even though it is Pebax.

  25. al December 14th, 2008 4:48 pm

    hey lou is there a stiffer tounge available for the garmont xena /endorphin

  26. Cole N'more December 14th, 2008 8:38 pm

    Santa is gonna kick down for some new shoes. I wasn’t very good last year (he doesn’t need to know) and have a super wide foot. Probably won’t be good this year either and need a performer.

  27. Lou December 15th, 2008 7:43 am

    Cole, according to my measurements of shell sizes in shells that fit mondo 28, Scarpa Skookum has the edge in width and volume for the forefoot. Also, remember to try a larger shell size with a custom liner if all else fails, in any brand. But that can sometimes result in too much slop and a “frankenfoot” feeling, better is to fit the shell correctly and have it punched for width if necessary.

  28. Greg December 15th, 2008 10:27 am

    Question about adding beef to the Zzero. As AT gear improves and my old gear slowly dies, I am no longer carrying a double quiver- AT and resort. I would love to run my Zzero/ Verdict/ Dynafit setup almost every day. I would love to sell the Langes on ebay, and never suffer through cold afternoon boot removals again. I am curious if anyone has tried to replace the Zzero tongue with a stiff one like the black tongue off the Spirit 4. It seems like a chip shot, but then again not all chip shots are easy.

  29. Lou December 15th, 2008 10:33 am

    Greg, I’ve seen some people do that. It works.

  30. rod georgiu December 16th, 2008 9:44 am

    I bought the BD Factor boots, and skied them yesterday at Squaw.
    Great boot to ski, nice even flex. I tried my alpine boots immediately after skiing the Factors, same skis (Mantras). THe alpine boots, even though a 100 flex, were stiffer that the Factors, but in the soft snow (with bumps) it did not make any difference.
    The Factors also hike well.
    I don’t quite see why one would buy the Method. The Factors are definitely not too stiff.

  31. Andrew Sweet January 8th, 2009 4:07 am

    Thanks so much for this excellent source of information.

    I am a die – hard telemarker but now skiing longer tours and steeper descents (with greater consequences from a tumble) and am thinking of going to lightweight AT gear for these particular days. I am focused on boot selection…Can you comment on “progressive flex”? I like the sound of the carbon ZZeros (and note you seem to love them) and I am comparing them to the ZZeus and the Radium. If the Zeros had progressive flex they would probably be my choice but I am hesitating after hearing others frustration with the tab limiters and also the apparent loss of stiffness for those who have filed off the limiters. Of course I plan to make the final decision based on actual fit in the shop, but in advance of my shopping trip next week, any advice would be much appreciated.

  32. Lou January 8th, 2009 8:40 am

    Progressive flex is an over rated feature, in my opinion. It’s definitely something, just not that big a deal. I think it depends on your style of skiing. If you’re a telemarker you may not be used to just letting the skis turn, since you’re making all those intense movements to initiate a turn. In that case, you might be more comfortable with progressive flex in a boot as it works with your leg motions. A stiff tounge boot lends itself to less movement of the lower leg, and more just the glide/tilt modern style of utilizing a modern ski.

    I would not try to modify the Zzero for more flex, it is already a minimalist boot (which is why it’s well liked).

  33. Sean January 8th, 2009 9:27 am

    When a phrase like “progressive flex” gets used in conversations about ski boots, I am always curious as to what is the relativity under discussion. In other words, progressive compared to what, exactly?

    A soft boot is progressive compared to a Dobermann 150. So “progressive” can be a substitute for “flexible,” unless defined accurately.

    I would be interested in what Andrew Sweet means when he worries about a boot not having “progressive” flexibility.

    Personally speaking, I like a boot that allows me some forward flexion so that I may absorb small terrain irregularities with boot flexing. But I don’t like a huge range of ankle flexion when I’m skiing tough, heavy chunder at higher speeds, I’d like some boot support in that situation. My AT setup using the Zzero 4 provides me with great flexion in the boot, too much for really aggressive skiing in thick chowder at speed, but great for terrain absorption at lower speeds.

    Boot flex is personal preference-oriented. It depends on skier strength, skier weight, skier anatomy, skier technique. Softer flexing boots will require the skier to provide the stability of position, whereas stiffer flexing boots will let the skier rely on the boot.

    I’ve never skied in a boot that wasn’t progressive in flex. I wonder where these non-progressive boots reside. They seem to escape my attention.

  34. Andrew Sweet January 8th, 2009 12:14 pm

    Lou and Sean,
    Thank you both for the input and advice – thats very helpful.

    Sean – my use of the term “progressive flex” may be wrong, I am just picking it up from conversations with others and some comments from readers on the discussion pages. In short, what I am referring to is while “progessive flex” means the boot can flex forward in a progressive, unlimited way, I believe the Zzeros have a tab in the inside cuff which acts to limit the forward flex of the cuff at a certain point. On the TetonAT comments a few people seem to have removed these limit tabs. thats all…

    Anyway thanks for the clear info.

  35. Sean January 8th, 2009 4:14 pm

    Andrew, you’re welcome. Let me add a bit more perspective.

    I’ve experienced a wide range of tibia position in my Zzero4s and the most un-natural thing I’ve felt is when I’ve engaged ski mode at the straighter setting, and then had it click into the more aggressive setting due to flexion at the ankle.

    The Zzero4 CF has amazing lateral stiffness and response, better than my alpine boots. On relatively even fall lines in smoothish snow, it’s possible to ski almost completely laterally in the 4CF. It’s also possible when I have those rare zen moments when I’m centered on the skis no matter what the terrain.

    The forward flex just seems a little soft to me for driving any ski stiffer than my T-Rocks. I weigh 150 lbs and ski reasonably fast in my alpine gear, but I slow it down on the Zzeros and T-Rocks. Aside from these things, I find the Zzeros amazing boots, super light, and very easy on the legs when skinning and hiking on steep boot-packed sections.

  36. Dominic January 12th, 2009 8:26 am

    Hi Lou, out of interest, have you heard about the new Dalbello virus and the La Sportiva Stratos (I think they’re out this season?) Any insights as to where they fit in the scheme of things



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