This post sponsored by our publishing partner Cripple Creek Backcountry. SPRING SALE.
I could count on one hand the number of races I’ve entered, and still be able to grasp my favorite beverage. Though I don’t dream Lycra, I love how racing technology trickles down to make pedestrian ski touring life more enjoyable. The La Sportiva Solar uses design cues from skimo racing; Sportiva claims it’s a simplified entry-level skimo-race type boot. Works for me.
Any advances that help me get fresh turns quicker and easier are appreciated. Much of my skiing occurs as a side benefit of being the groomer for the West Elk cross country ski trails outside of New Castle, Colorado; located at the southern edge of the Flat Top mountains. This is “upside down” touring — the parking lot and xc trails are located at the top; you enjoy your turns first, then earn them back on the return to the car.
Skiing here brings a focus on transitions, as the runs are fairly short; 800’ is about the max you can squeeze out of one drop. I’ve gained proficiency at the awkward art of stripping skins with skis on. The remaining time suck and hassle is in switching boots between uphill and downhill mode.
My current boots, Dynafit TLT6, are well-known for their removable tongue fiddle factor. Swapping out the tongue at the top and bottom of every run feels a bit like bobbing for apples; take a deep breath, bend down, and begin the frantic task of buckling and unbuckling, weighing the speed of gloveless dexterity in dealing with buckles and wires against the numbing and fumbling effect of cold air and snowflakes on bare skin.
So even though I’m not a ski racer of any stripe, I was pretty excited when Lou started pointing out the Solar’s various features designed to ease and speed transitions. The Solar boasts three main design features that work in concert to achieve the competing goals of light weight, range of motion, support, and quick transitions:
First thing I noticed was a roomier toe box than my TLT 6 boots. My toes are jammed against the very end of the toe box on the Dynafit boots, whereas the Solar toe fit was much more relaxed both in length and width.
Fitting the boots went smoothly; the major challenge being having all the shell layers properly aligned before buckling down. While walking around post heat-treatment, I noticed a pressure on the arch of my foot that had not been present in my first test fitting. Sitting down to fiddle with the boots, I noticed the shell flaps at the arch had overlaid one another in the wrong order during the haste to get my foot in just-baked liners into the shell. Once I corrected the layers, the scaffo buckled together smoothly without the pressure point. More than just a first-try fumble, the tight instep has proven to be one of the defining paradigms of this boot for me. I’ve come to appreciate some of the benefits it offers, and will be working to the fit dialed.
Skier Info: Intermediate skier, 5’11’, 165 lbs (depending on taco consumption), 39 years old, seeks out low-angle pow jibs and tree runs; meadow skipper extraordinaire. Loves ridiculously large skis. Current ski: Line Magnum Opus 188
So far, I’ve been able to get in a quick tour with multiple transitions, and half a day of skiing inbounds. First ski was a quick tour at the West Elk trails during my grooming last week. Once I had the boots on for touring, the tight fit over my instep became apparent again. Even with the lower buckle open, the fit was still uncomfortably tight. Not enough to ruin a short tour, but they’ll need more fitting before a hut trip, or all-day tour.
Our tour was relatively short, but we managed to get three separate runs in; a total of six transitions. All the details of the Solar worked together to make for far easier transitions. Not having to fiddle with a removable tongue was a major step to streamlining the process; further accelerated by eliminating alpine style bail-and-catch buckle systems in favor the Spider Buckle lower, and quick-release upper lever and Velcro strap. Big props to La Sportiva for ensuring the upper quick release lever keeps a low profile whether open or closed. My other boots are currently out of commission due to the floppy upper lever getting hung up on the snowmobile-groomer trailer, and snapping off.
Touring action easily matched the freedom and range of the motion I’m used to with the TLT 6. If anything, I would give a slight nod to the Solar for how well fitted it feels during touring, even with the tight instep.
Descending crusty powder that was prevalent for the first tour, the Solar boots felt on par with the performance I was used to on the TLT 6. Riding the lifts a few days later at the local resort on a wet, heavy powder day, the Solar boots encouraged a much more aggressive, forward stance that would have overpowered the TLT6 boots. Website info claims three different forward lean positions. This may explain the more aggressive stance of the boot. The lean is changed by either inverting or removing the spoiler at the rear of the cuff, I’ll experiment with that, though removing it will exacerbate my problem with getting the boot cuffs snug around my legs.
Third trip out was my backyard tour in Rifle, CO, with about 2300’ of elevation, including a fair amount of sidehilling. The tongue that seemed so odd at first glance now made sense, as it allowed for a greater range of ankle movement, making sidehilling significantly easier. The snug fit on the instep also proved beneficial, keeping my heel locked down during awkward skinning maneuvers.
The tight instep didn’t seem so bothersome on the way up, but when I buckled in for the descent, the pain factor ratcheted up significantly. By the end of my run, I was quite anxious to unbuckle, and experience the the flooding, excruciating relief of circulation returning to my feet. The instep closure system was on the middle setting, so I will experiment with moving it to see if it brings some relief to my foot. Lou says he might have some fitting mods that could help as well and that “low insteps for some unknown reason continue to haunt us from a variety of ski boot makers.”
The Solar’s lean-lock is unusual in that it swings from the side instead of flipping to the rear, as most external lean-lock bars do. I’ve not had any issues with this, but can’t see any real advantages over other configurations that work.
Even with the fit issues I’m currently experiencing with the Solar, and only a few days of skiing, I’d choose it hands down over the TLT 6. With one caveat: This boot has a lot of plastic layers, make sure you get them right, otherwise you can damage things due to the effective leverage of the Boa and the buckles. The host of skimo inspired improvements on the Solar optimizes both the uphill and downhill. The coordinated effect of all the race-inspired touches makes transitions quicker and easier while retaining solid downhill performance for powder focused skiing.
Weight size 27.5 1135 grams, in there with any other “one kilo” class boot.
Flex is claimed to be around “90.”
Last width 102 mm, intended to accommodate most users without shell modifications.
Adjustable lean angles 12, 14, 16 degrees
S4 tech fittings are compatible with both standard tech bindings and Trab bindings, and have “lead in” notches that ease entry into tech bindings.
(Guest blogger Aaron Mattix grew up in Kansas and wrote a report on snowboarding in seventh grade. His first time to attempt snowboarding was in 2012, and soon switched over to skis for backcountry exploration near his home in Rifle, CO. His skill level is “occasionally makes complete runs without falling.” In the summer, he owns and operates Gumption Trail Works, building mountain bike singletrack and the occasional sweet jump.)