Radical of the Rad — Pierre Gignoux Carbon Fiber Boots & Bindings

Post by WildSnow.com blogger | July 14, 2010      

Michael Silitch

(Editor’s note: Michael submitted this guest blog just before our Denali trip. I tried to get it published but couldn’t quite do it. I felt bad about that, as if we’d published this back in May the timing for ordering Gignoux boots would have been better. But we do the best we can. Apologies to Michael for the delay. Sometimes I need to clone myself… At any rate, here it is, a guest blog regarding Pierre Gignoux XP 444 boot, and three other PG innovations including the Carbon Fiber Binding.)

Why make a ski boot out of carbon fiber? The obvious answer is to save weight and increase rigidity. Another reason, one that first attracted me to the Pierre Gignoux XP 500 alpine touring boot three years ago (besides the weight savings), was how incredibly sexy they looked!

For the price, they better look good!

For the price, they better look good!

Formula 1 racing, sailing, cycling, and many other sports use carbon fiber; even in skiing, you see it in ski poles and skis, so why not ski boots? Carbon fiber is high-tech, expensive, fast, strong, light, black, shiny and super cool looking. So if you are fond of your carbon fiber bicycle’s aesthetics, you might really enjoy a pair of the new XP 444’s.

It took a ski mountaineering race champion with a degree in biomechanical engineering to make the idea real. At the end of his illustrious ski mo career (wins in the Pierra Menta, European Championships, and a record up and down Mont Blanc), Pierre started tinkering with boots. His first all carbon fiber ski boot was released to the public in 2006, weighing half that of the existing race boots.

Pierre Gignoux is passionate about ski mountaineering and ski mo equipment. Here in his workshop displaying his XP 444

Pierre Gignoux is passionate about ski mountaineering and ski mo equipment. Here in his workshop displaying his XP 444

I bought my first pair of Pierre Gignoux boots in 2008 and have skied in this same pair for three seasons. I love the boot for racing, race training and ski touring. The old adage of a pound on the foot is like five in the pack is most certainly applicable when it comes to ski touring. With a lightweight boot and ski I feel so much more free and fast going uphill.

Not only does the weight savings make skinning much easier, it also puts less pressure on your feet–I feel so much more comfortable in the boot after a long day and never get blisters with these ultra light boots. The freedom of movement is also amazing; it’s almost like nordic skiing.

My wife, Nina, started ski mo racing in 2005 at an uphill race series in Switzerland. She was getting top ten and wanted lightweight race gear. I gave her a goal of five races first, and once she fulfilled that, we bought her the gear and she was instantly on the podium!

Nina at the 2010 World Championships in Andorra, Vertical Race, with her XP 500's

Nina at the 2010 World Championships in Andorra, Vertical Race, with her XP 500's

Nina is now a World Cup racer (7th overall in 2010) and she’s been on her PG’s for the last 3 seasons; this year she bought the new and improved XP 444. Her favorite things about the boots are their weight and edge control. Nina has racing experience in both alpine (high school) and nordic (college), so I respect her opinion a lot. She just finished the Patrouille des Glaciers Race from Zermatt to Verbier and she and her team had some of the fastest downhill splits of any women’s team.

So, maybe you’re convinced that light is good, but you’re wondering about downhill performance. Well, again, these boots shine. An all carbon boot gives you great stiffness and edge precision (I’ve heard that alpine racing boot companies have been experimenting with a carbon fiber boot). The Pierre Gignouxs have more rigidity than most ski touring boots, let alone other ski mo race boots.

The Gignoux locking lever is also super effective. Snap it up or down with one hand, you either lock and tighten the boot for downhill or open and loosen the boot for uphill. This is a real time savings in racing and a great convenience for long tours where the transitions become difficult and time consuming, fiddling with the buckles, powerstraps and levers each time you put your skins on or take them off. All other brands have copied this one motion style in some form or another, but in my experience Gignoux’s is the simplest and easiest to use.

Boots in the workshop.

Boots in the workshop. Here you see an example of the rubber rand for the XP Mountain.

Even in the all carbon game, the Pierre Gignoux boots stand out as the lightest and the most race tested. The XP 444 in size 27.5 with a “bikini” liner weighs in at 550 grams (and Nina’s in 24.5 weighs 500g) whereas other carbon boots we’ve checked out have an actual weight of about 780g in 27.5. The XP 444 is lower profile than most boots including the old XP 500’s, so you get a more precise fit inside the boot and less ankle bumping and lycra suit ripping on the outside. (Pierre works closely with Palau and has created one of the lightest and most comfortable thermoformable liners.)

Lightweight ski touring boots.

4 Big Innovations in ultra light ski mo boots: 1. The all carbon boot 2. The integrated one movement latching/cinching lever. 3. The bikini inner boot for flexibility and weight savings. 4. Too hot to show you, but really cool--the carbon fiber ski binding.

Back to the carbon boot for ski touring. It was tough to convince Nina to make the switch from telemark to alpine touring when we moved to Chamonix in 2001, but now it’s even tougher to get her back on “heavy metal” skis and boots. Whether we’re skiing the famous off piste Vallee Blanche run (10,000 ft of vertical over 10 miles), doing a multi-day ski tour, or a more technical ski mountaineering summit, she’ll always choose her Ski Trab World Cup skis (96-64-78mm), her ATK Race bindings, and her Pierre Gignoux XP 444 boots (Incidentally, this set-up weighs: 1 Trab WC 157 cm +ATK Race = 865 grams + 1 XP 444 and bikini liner= 1415g per foot. Isn’t that whole setup lighter than most plastic ski touring boots?

As far as durability goes, the Pierre Gignoux boots have been fine. They may be a little less durable than some of their plastic counterparts as I’ve heard of several problems, but I know that Pierre Gignoux will take care of anything quickly and easily (easily done in Europe, but would require shipping the boots if you live over the pond, which is perhaps the biggest downside to ownership if you don’t live in Europe).

The XP Mountain is a good solution for those who want a slightly beefier boot for the mountains but still want incredible weight savings and rigidity. It’s basically the same as the XP 444 except for a true Vibram sole and a rubber rand to protect from scratches. Stephan Brosse, a French former racer (world champion) has transformed into an extreme skier and skis the steep faces and chutes of the Alps in the XP Mountains.

Pierre Gignoux XP Mountain

A stock photo of the XP Mountain. A good choice as an all purpose touring boot, as the rubber rand prevents damage to the carbon fiber.

(A note about price and ordering: Yes, another downside of this boot is the price, which at over twice the average retail for AT boots can seem somewhat stratospheric. But when you realize these are basically hand made craft items that have a weight/performance ratio far exceeding perhaps any other ski boot out there, the price actually seems pretty reasonable. Note that Pierre has a waiting list as long as six months, so order with plenty of lead time.)

In the more cool stuff department: Pierre said I could let the cat out of the bag on his latest top secret project: a new race binding, thinking totally out of the box! This binding does not rely on the standard Dynafit solution to hold the toe in place, but uses the same fittings. I had heard of it being tested by several athletes during the Pierra Menta and when Kilian Jornet came for a visit on his way up Mont Blanc, I asked him about them. They weigh next to nothing and the toe works with a carbon fiber “spring”, a similar concept to new Look road racing bicycle pedal, the Keo Blade.

Once these new bindings are ready for prime time, they will make getting in and out of your bindings simpler, easier and quicker, plus they’ll save you a ton of weight.

The carbon fiber boot, one motion heel lock/buckle tightening, the ultralight two-piece bikini inner boot, and now a carbon race binding. What more can this man come up with?

Carbon fiber ski boots.

Gignoux's workshop is full of bits and pieces as he is always tinkering to find the best solutions with hardware, etc.

(WildSnow guest blogger Michael Silitch lives in Chamonix, France with his wife Nina. Michael works as a guide, check out his website.)


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37 Responses to “Radical of the Rad — Pierre Gignoux Carbon Fiber Boots & Bindings”

  1. pete July 14th, 2010 1:56 pm

    hey what about la sportiva stratos?
    made of carbon fiber and la sportiva made better job there i suppose

  2. Lou July 14th, 2010 2:39 pm

    Well, if anyone wants to review the Stratos we’re game!

    A first-look is here:


  3. Tom July 14th, 2010 3:20 pm

    Good review. For world cup racers, they seem to be very popular. I’d certainly love to have a pair. I’ve handled them and they are so much lighter than any other ski boot it is pretty ridiculous what they are able to make these days.

    Sounds like you’ve had better luck as far as durability–I have a friend who has broken each PG 444 boot in at least 2 places in one season of use. (Latch & then cuff)

    Any word on when the carbon binding is set to debut?

  4. Jonathan Shefftz July 14th, 2010 3:34 pm

    “Once these new bindings are ready for prime time, they will make getting in and out of your bindings simpler, easier and quicker, plus they’ll save you a ton of weight.”
    — The cf design sounds intriguing, but any improvements must be very small. I mean, the Dynafit race binding for next year will weigh only 8.3 ounces: toe and heel, per pair. The ATK, Colibri, and Haere models are all within an ounce of that. So the potential for weight improvement has to be only a couple ounces per foot. As far as ease of entry/exit, I don’t see how that can get any better if using the DyNA boot with the patented interface . . . . although then again my boots do weigh an entire pound more than an all-cf model.

  5. Lou July 14th, 2010 3:54 pm

    Jonathan, yeah, the only way saving that small amount of weight will be significant is if everything else is super light, otherwise it does get somewhat pointless. That is unless the binding actually does work better AND weighs less. Now that combo would be pretty cool.

  6. grant July 14th, 2010 9:56 pm

    the toe is lighter that is fore sure! And not just a few grs, I would say its significant.
    It is easy to knock off a great idea like a lot of other bindings companies are doing, but from what I have seen Pierre has come up with a new idea, again………

  7. Omr July 15th, 2010 10:38 am

    Looks like Scott boots of late 1970’s, sans carbon fiber.

  8. Michael Silitch July 15th, 2010 7:39 pm

    The binding will be pretty darn cool and will save weight. It is less than a third of the weight of the lightest dynafit style race toe piece and is completely different. For a hint on how if works, check out how both Time and Look have replaced their springs of their bike pedals on their high end pedals. Look has a pretty cool video about their pedal, the Keo Blade.

    The binding is one piece of carbon with a lever, but no moving parts–just flex for opening and closing. Kilian Jornet has been testing them and loves them! Easy and quick to get on and off and light! True were not talking tons of grams but still!

  9. Lou July 15th, 2010 7:51 pm

    Indeed, but still! That sounds really really cool. I can’t wait!

  10. Mark W July 15th, 2010 9:55 pm

    This is the kind of gear Dynafit-type gear nerds like I am come to observe. Amazing stuff.

  11. Mark Donohoe July 16th, 2010 11:09 am

    One thing that has not been mentioned is how to customize the fit with CF boots. I don’t think you can punch out a CF boot, so the fit has to be pretty good or your options may be limited. I don’t know why the existing manufacturers don’t experiment more with CF.

  12. Michael Silitch July 16th, 2010 11:34 am

    As far as modifying a CF boot, you’re right, you can’t punch it out or change the shape. You can work with the liner—when you get it heat molded, tape on foam discs on all joint bones like ankle bones, heel spurs, bunions, and any other problem area, plus put on 1,2, or three toe caps to make them comfy for skinning. A good boot fit can go a long way.

    That said, Pierre Gignoux, like other boot manufacturers, prides himself in the fit of the boot and the boot last they build it on. It fact, lasts are trade secrets–Pierre would definitely NOT let me take any photos where a last might be in the picture, even just the corner of the picture!

  13. Lou July 16th, 2010 11:50 am

    Michael, there must be something about lasts I don’t understand, since as far as I know one can simply pour molding material in a boot shell and in 10 minutes make a facsimile of the last used for manufacture. Perhaps the last used for Pierre’s carbon fiber process has something tricky and cool?

    Hey, how about asking Pierre if he can give us a bit more hinting about the binding, perhaps even a photo of some sort?

    He is being very cruel (grin).

  14. Jonathan Shefftz July 17th, 2010 9:07 am

    Even if this binding is less than a third of the weight of the lightest Tech-style race toe piece, that still saves less than two ounces per leg — I’m sure that world-competitive rando racers will find that compelling, but for the rest of us . . .
    However, the explanations I found of the Look pedal implies that the more important applications will be for regular touring bindings. Remember those G3 charts Lou published for toe unit retention as a function of off-center distance? Doesn’t take much imagination to recast all the claims for the Keo Blade Carbon in ski binding terms.
    BTW, has anyone torque tested either the Dynafit or Trab race binding? I’m getting tempted to take the plunge for this coming season, but I’d like reassurance of roughly where these test out — I know they disclaim meeting any sort of safety norm, but putting them through a torque tester is still possible.

  15. Lou July 17th, 2010 9:20 am

    Hi Jonathan,
    I’d tend to agree with you about the weight, but on the other hand, once one gets their boots and skis down to the lower end of the weight scale saving some binding weight is a nice way to add an edge. For example, with my lighter weight gear I totally notice if I’ve got my Dynafit ski brakes on or not.

    Another thing to remember in terms of pure business is that some bikies will pay nearly anything to save a few grams, and I’m sure the AT ski market has plenty of folks who would do just the same. After all, playing around with bindings is a lot more fun than spending money on expensive dining or new tires, isn’t it?

  16. Michael Silitch July 17th, 2010 10:45 am

    Granted the weight savings is purely for tech/weight weenies like me, I think the major thing to keep in mind with this binding (which is still in a testing phase, but already raced on in the Pierra Menta) is how different it is with total “out of the box” thinking.

    The pedal analogy is totally my own (because the concept is similar); I like it and am going to keep using it! The Keo Blade pedal (which both Contador and Armstrong are using at the tour this year) costs twice as much as Looks top pedal for 2009 (already with an all carbon body). That’s $500 instead of 250 to save 31 grams per pedal!

    I hope with the new Pierre Gignoux binding, the function will be another encouraging factor to buy it besides just pure weight savings. And unless we’re Kilian Jornet, whom Nina ran into skiing up Mont Blanc this spring in a recon for the record and testing the prototype, we’ll just have to wait and see!

  17. Michael Silitch July 17th, 2010 10:50 am

    On torque testing ski mo race bindings, that would be a great idea. i would love to see a comparison. I did talk to an engineer at ATK Race and he told me that his race binding and most others test at about a DIN of 9.

  18. Michael Silitch July 17th, 2010 11:04 am

    The Hareo binding is supposed to be the first true two position race binding. You can step in and ski and it doesn’t release (supposedly), and you can pull the toe locking lever up to and be super locked (again, no idea of the torque values).

    I do know that I forgot to pull up the toe locking lever on my titanium Dynafit binding while supporting Nina at the Patrouille des Glaciers this spring and while I was skiing a steep icy chute, the side of my boot, when it hit the side of the slope, caused the toe to release and me to tumble and hurt my shoulder! I have actually “prereleased” two times this winter on icy slopes in Dynafit when the edge of the boot contacted the snow.

    It would be pretty cool if Dynafit could print DIN numbers on their bindings as skiers already crank them up when skiing the steeps. Something like when the lever is horizontal 6, one notch up 6.5, two notches 7, 3 notches 7.5, 4 notches 8 etc. I know there are many challenges with this idea, but still….something for the future.

    Have you seen ATK Races new full DIN adjustable ultra light tour tech binding? Not that pretty, but light with adjustable DIN.

  19. Euro Rob July 17th, 2010 11:15 am

    When reading about high (and even higher, as in prototype) gear I always think how cool it would be to have a quantitative study of uphill time gain per saved weight.

  20. Euro Rob July 17th, 2010 11:21 am

    Michael, beware, I’ve already been told off by Master Lou for asking/suggesting a systematic correlation between lever position and release number. Failing to dig up the link though.

  21. Euro Rob July 17th, 2010 11:23 am

    Ah, there:

    Rob, I’m going to shout this:

  22. Michael Silitch July 17th, 2010 1:58 pm

    Quantitive yes I agree. But qualitatively, isn’t it amazing how the world’s best uphillers are also the biggest weight weenies. Contador, Armstrong (in hayday); and Kilian Jornet and Florent Troillet in ski mo race–you wouldn’t believe the mods they do to equipment to get the lightest they can.

  23. Lou July 18th, 2010 3:03 pm

    The first step, loose a few pounds of body fat, then one can justify spending $1,000/ounce to save some gear weight (grin).

  24. Lou July 18th, 2010 3:09 pm

    Euro, your comment got held in the que because of the link, I was gone for the weekend so couldn’t get it approved, did so now, sorry about that, imperfect science to all this!

    And yeah, again, in terms of specific increases in release values you might get certain results from the locking lever, but those won’t necessarily be the same results another person gets.

    It would be kind of cool if a binding had the following settings that could be adjusted on the fly by just flipping a lever:

    1. Pretty safe for your knees.
    2. Might be safe for your knees.
    3. Probably not safe for your knees.
    4. Help pay for surgeon’s airplane.

    The clicks might do something like that, but again, it’s hard to know where you are in the spectrum above…

  25. Euro Rob July 19th, 2010 3:37 am

    Lou, might be a nice tweak to have wildsnow internal links approved automatically.

  26. Lou July 19th, 2010 8:10 am

    Euro, am always working on that sort of thing but it’s tough. Best these days seems to be using some stuff that blocks the spammers, but also keeping a close eye on things. Problem is, this is a backcountry blog so the owner is sometimes in the backcountry where he can’t easily keep an eye on things (grin). And the spammers tend to attack at night and on weekends as they know their odds are better then.

    Things have actually gotten quite a bit better due to a big push I made last winter to win the battle, but it’s still tough. The blocking of posts with links is key.

    WordPress does automatically approve posts from folks who have a previously approved comment, but that’s based on IP number, and also seems to be inconsistent in other ways. It bums me out when it doesn’t work and blocks a legit comment like yours.

  27. Euro Rob July 19th, 2010 9:32 am

    Never mind Lou, and yes I’m a bit paranoid too with regards to cookies etc, so that might have played a role …

  28. Lou July 19th, 2010 9:55 am

    If you’re using a connection with a dynamic IP number (and you should be if you are paranoid) than the different IP each time will result in WordPress not knowing it’s you… WordPress also uses cookies. With most browsers you can set it up so it’ll keep cookies from sites you approve…

  29. Bill Graf April 15th, 2011 10:46 am

    Michael-how do you go about determining the sizing on this boot-short of a trans-atlantic flight. Not that I’m apposed to travel but my wife has set the limit on new boots to under 2 grand–doesn’t that sound crazy!

  30. Jonathan Shefftz April 15th, 2011 12:37 pm

    Bill, looks like you finished the Breck race solo with a time that would have put you right in the top half of the men’s teams — great job! (Although what happened to Karl?)

  31. Bill Graf April 15th, 2011 12:45 pm

    Jonathan- After towing Karl to summit of Peak 9 he was looking bad. When he asked me for help putting on his “sneakers” i new he was done. Turns out he was septic from abscessed tooth! He got down fine and Pete let me continued the race unofficially. Already stoked for next seasons New England race series!

  32. Jonathan Shefftz April 15th, 2011 12:50 pm

    Yipes — when you start mixing up rando races with trail running races, then you know it’s time to pull out! Glad to hear you still had a great race, and hope to see both of you next season (and in excellent dental health).

  33. Lou April 15th, 2011 12:53 pm

    Bill, I love it. I guess so long as your ski boots cost less than your bicycle everything is groovy?

  34. Bill Graf April 15th, 2011 1:10 pm

    Lou- as more and more of my toys are made of carbon and titanium I’ve had to make some hard financial decisions including wether I get a new cars or if the kids get to go to college but when I’m down to digging into the beer fund then the race to have the lightest equipment has gone way to far-right?

  35. Lou April 15th, 2011 1:23 pm

    Yeah, way too far!

  36. Jonathan Shefftz April 25th, 2011 7:16 am

    Documentary evidence now appears to exist for the PG cf toe unit.

  37. Lou April 25th, 2011 7:23 am


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