My view on ultralight touring boots is that they need to be fast on the uphill, and simply get me through the downhills. Garmont Masterlights behaved that way — they definitely pulled through for me. Indeed, what better way to test a race oriented lightweight shoe then, well, race it? So yeah, along with a few training sessions I tested these guys and myself in what many are calling the toughest ski mountaineering race yet held in North America: 12,000+ vert, 26 miles, gnarly downhill sections. Humbling, to say the least. More info here, race photos by Jeremy Swanson Photography.
Weighing in at only 2.4 pounds, the Masterlights (size 28, BSL 314, tech bindings only) feel like sneakers on my feet. This made me smile thinking of how I would be able to run up the course of the “4-skin” as the race has already become known. I had my doubts about the downhill though. I have a downhill racing background. This means that the stiffer the boot the better. While most certainly the boot for rando racing, Masterlights don’t exactly fall into the “stiffest” category (note, the PU version is a bit stiffer and could be something to look at). I would have to make it work.
When it came to the uphill, however, Masterlite was all that I had hoped for. The Double Action Cuff Buckle was new to me, but I figured it out quite easily. Basically what this does is open at both ends of the buckle (the lever and latching ends). This means that when you take a stride the cuff can move about
twice as much as a buckle you have to leave loosely hooked to keep it ready to re-latch. Nothing has to be undone or unstrapped to set the Masterlite buckle to tour mode. Simply undo both sides and you are able to make huge strides. I was beyond happy to have this during the race. Being able to make bigger strides while skinning over 12,000 vert as fast as you can makes a HUGE difference.
The rockered sole coupled with the wide open cuff also helped during the small bootpacking section up Highlands Bowl. I was easily able to skip every other step on the bootpack and fly up the bowl. Or at least it felt like that at that stage of the race.
Changing the Masterlights from walk to ski ski mode was the only thing I had real trouble with. Cinching down the buckles to tighten the cuff around my calf was easy as could be. I would then flip the mechanism into ski mode and flex the boot forward, but nothing would happen. It would never catch for me. What I ended up having to do was open up the buckles and push the back of the cuff forward with my hand while flexing in order to get it totally into ski mode. This is certainly not the easiest nor the fastest thing to do during a transition. Needless to say, on my 11th transition of the day I became quite annoyed with this.
Now came the real test: skiing the Masterlights. To my amazement they downhilled quite well. They were nowhere near the performance of a plug boot or my AT beef boots, but they got the job done. The main thing I noticed was that I had to stay forward. Once I got a little into the backseat I’d get thrown a little. I had anticipated this though considering that the cuff height is quite lower than any other boot I ski. But since when is having to stay forward while skiing a bad thing? This might even help me develop good habits!
All in all I was pleasantly surprised by the Garmont Masterlights. They got me up all 12,800 vert of the the Power of Four Race, and down the cruel joke of the Silver Queen bump run during the last decent towards the finish with my legs feeling like total mush. The only gripe I had was the patience I needed in order to get everything dialed perfectly during the transitions.
The fact that the appearance of the boot made me feel a little like a skiing Michael Jackson is another blog post altogether. But I’ll share that they did make me feel like dancing, so I tried my best.
Wildsnow take: At a weight of 42 ounces (1196 grams) per boot (size 28), we feel the overlap cuff two-buckle Masterlite is a relatively affordable way to enter the world of lightweight ski touring or rando racing as this shoe virtually equals the weight of other sometimes more expensive options. Shop for Garmont ski boots here.
(Guest blogger Anton Sponar spends winters enjoying the skiing ambiance of the Aspen area, while summers are taken up with slave labor doing snowcat powder guiding at Ski Arpa in Chile.)