Review — La Sportiva Solar Ski Touring Boot

Post by blogger | March 15, 2019      

Aaron Mattix

This post sponsored by our publishing partner Cripple Creek Backcountry. SPRING SALE.

Powder dingo approved plastic origami power.

Powder dingo approved plastic origami power.

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:

  • Overlapping Pebax Rnew bio-based shell and cuff
  • No less than three Velcro straps you pre-adjust for both uphill and downhill modes
  • Spider Buckle EVO lower closure system
  • Omar Jones inspects the system of Velcro straps. The layered plastic origami approach of various shells, flaps, and Velcro straps requires paying careful attention to what order the layers are to be assembled in, as the process of sticking your foot in the boot tends to discombobulate everything.

    Omar Jones inspects the system of Velcro straps. The layered plastic origami approach of various shells, flaps, and Velcro straps requires paying careful attention to what order the layers are to be assembled in, as the process of sticking your foot in the boot tends to discombobulate everything.

    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.

    Skiing Performance:
    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.”

    Notches in the toe fittings of the Solar boots allow stepping into the bindings in a closed position. It felt a little awkward on the carpet test, but after a few tries in the field, I found it to be nearly as easy stepping into the binding from an open position.

    Notches in the toe fittings of the Solar boots allow stepping into the bindings in a closed position. It felt a little awkward on the carpet test, but after a few tries in the field, I found it to be nearly as easy stepping into the binding from an open position.

    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.

    Buckling La Sportiva Solar.

    This is a thing for me: On all the boots I’ve ever put my feet into, I end up at the far ends of adjustment on the upper straps / buckles in order to get the fit against my upper shin snug enough to provide adequate contact. I would likely end up trimming the ends of the Velcro. The EZ-Flex Overlap tongue is incised with deep relief cuts on either side that caused me to wonder if me wondering if I had torn it while getting the boot on. After realizing it was part of the design, it got me to wondering about longevity – could the relief cuts tear farther into the tongue over time? Trust, but verify.

    (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.)


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    15 Responses to “Review — La Sportiva Solar Ski Touring Boot”

    1. Aaron Lieberman March 15th, 2019 9:01 am

      Can we get a review for the Powder Dingo and Jones Omar next?

    2. Lou Dawson 2 March 15th, 2019 10:01 am

      I’m interested in the dingo. He looks cool.

    3. Dabe March 15th, 2019 11:50 am

      Lou, do you think/can you test: will the S4 fitting step into TR2 toes without having to hold down on the lock lever?

    4. Sam March 15th, 2019 11:55 am

      Thanks for the review – as someone with a naturally very low instep, I’m actually encouraged by comments about tight insteps – that probably means I will actually be able to get it snug. 😉

      I’ve been happily riding my Salomon MTN Explore boots (first gen) and have loved how simple they are with only two buckles, one strap, and no interchangable tongues at a “flex” of 110. Have you tried the MTN Explore, or any of its ilk like the MTN Lab? I’d love to lose 300 grams per boot, but I’m only willing to give up a little stiffness and a little simplicity to get there.

    5. Aaron Mattix March 15th, 2019 9:09 pm

      Jessa James accompanies me on nearly every ski expedition; Omar Jones supervises equipment selection.

      Sam – I purchased a set of Salomon MTN Lab boots as back up to my TLT 6 boots, and took them out for one tour before testing the the La Sportiva Solar boots. Obviously a very brief comparison, but it seems the Solar skis on par with the MTN Lab. I would imagine the MTN Labs would have an edge in hardpack / inbounds skiing, but I’ve been very impressed with the downhill performance of the Solar boots. Today I got into a short bit of icy / refrozen snow, and felt like tit was my technique rather than the boot that made my skiing cautious.

      The MTN Labs were easier on transitions than the TLT 6, but the Solar is another level compared to the alpine style buckling of the MTN Lab, and TLT 6. I found I had to leave buckles completely open on the both of the above boots in order to get adequate range of motion for uphilling, and then it took some fiddling to get them cinched down for the downhill. With the Solar, it is merely a matter of flipping the buckle open for uphilling, closed for downhilling; this boot provides a range of motion that alpine-based boots can only dream of. Uphilling the MTN Lab felt like walking in unlaced logging boots compared to the closely fitting surety of the Solar boots.

      If you earn the majority of your turns, I think you will appreciate the fit, flexibility, and weight saving of the Solar, while keeping comparable downhill performance to the MTN Lab. Only if you were to spend a lot of time skiing inbounds, or on hardpacked / icy snow do I think the MTN Labs would have an advantage.

    6. Aaron Mattix March 15th, 2019 9:15 pm

      Dabe – I haven’t had opportunity to test the with the TR2 toes, but I can report that they do step into my Dynafit Speed Radicals whether open or closed. It requires slightly more force and careful alignment to step into when the toes are closed, but is convenient enough that I have given up bothering with whether the toes of my bindings are open or closed before stepping in.

      I’ve developed a habit of doing a fair amount of my touring with the toes unlocked, and have noted that these boots release much more frequently when touring with the toes unlocked than the TLT 6 boots I was using before.

    7. Gary S March 16th, 2019 10:36 am

      “seeks out low-angle pow jibs and tree runs; meadow skipper extraordinaire. Loves ridiculously large skis.”

      This is fantastic. Light boots with huge rockered skis is such a strange and playful evolution in our sport and can be super fun!

    8. Joe John March 16th, 2019 12:17 pm

      I bet the Powder Dingo would like a pair for Easter.

    9. Aaron Mattix March 17th, 2019 8:15 am

      Joe John – I need the boots to keep up with Jessa James. She is perturbed at how long it takes humans to get ready to go skiing, and all the gear fiddling on transitions. Powder dingos are always at the ready!

    10. Jon Canuck March 17th, 2019 12:42 pm

      With low-angle slopes, on the climb portion, you can use wax. I waxed for about a decade of tele skiing. In the Brit Columbia interior, blue wax was perf. Though I had skins, they were too much fiddle. Eventually, when use of skins became so rampant, we waxers needed to change to skins to ascend the steeper up-tracks. I fondly recall the meditative pace of the wax ascents, way less huff-puff. Transitions are: go up, go down, repeat.

    11. Jim Milstein March 18th, 2019 8:52 am

      Okay, talking about waxing for the uphill suggests using “waxless” skis. My experience with them has not been good, but I have been talking recently with a pair of skiers on Wolf Creek Pass who are sold on waxless skis —but only from Voilé. They have tried the other makes and agree that the pattern slows them for the descents. For steeper climbs they use skins like normal people. As we move into spring conditions, the waxless skis climb better and better. But do they suck more and more on the descents?

      Will any other skiers want to out themselves on the waxless issue? You must be out there. Waxless skis for the backcountry continue to sell.

    12. Kristian March 18th, 2019 9:56 am

      Atomic Rainier Waxless Skis, G3 Targa Ascent Bindings, and Scarpa T4 Boots. Perfect for meadow skipping. (And summits way back in the day.) Rarely use them, but they are a simple joy to use.

      The skis’ camber keeps the waxless pattern off of the snow until a single ski is pressed down hard with full body weight. Avoids removing and adding wax for conditions and no matter how careful you are – messy klister wax.

    13. Richard A. Hesslein Jr. March 18th, 2019 9:58 am

      I was hoping to get some help for boot sole length adjustment on my recently acquired Fritschi Titanal ll bindings with green dot (s). The length bar goes to 330 mm + a little, but seems to mesh well on my 350mm boots at the 330 setting… How can I be sure this is a proper fit? I did have one release when I apparently did not step hard enough to lock in properly. The boot sole actual measurement is: 330 mm, even though they have a 350 sticker and are stamped 350 – 55; Salomon sx 92, hpg liner, my foot sz. 10

    14. Richard Hesslein March 18th, 2019 10:19 am

      I have a great time very often on the waxless skis I own, generally Voile’ Vector BC 160cm, Altai Kom BC 150 & 162cm, and Rossignol BC 125 – 165cm (also have Karhu Guide BC 165cm, and Fischer Boundless 98 waxless and waxable). The wider (1st. three) models have the great powder float capability, with the Altai seeming to have grippier edge hold in firm conditions, and the big camber of the Rossi’s and a forward mounting position I use (+ 2.5″ approx. for Rossi’s) giving a great fast, responsive ski! Soft snow best, firmer conditions might go with narrower skis. Really don’t notice alot of waxless pattern vibration or resistance in most soft snow conditions, though it is nice when dry powder waxable skis shine!

    15. Jim Milstein March 18th, 2019 10:22 am

      Ski crampons are the opposite of waxless patterns. They are fiddly, but they let me ski to a summit the other day, which companions had to boot. So, less fiddly overall, not having to get off and then back on the skis. The increase of safety sideways and traction uphill is astonishing with the ski crampons.

      I use the ATK cramps, 77g @, Dynafit compatible.

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