|Garmont Mega Ride backcountry skiing boot with lower buckle removed, and after-market liner. The stock thermo-form liner of the Mega is the highly rated Garmont G-Fit liner — also an excellent choice if it works for you. In my case the after market liner worked better, so that’s what I went with. I also removed the power strap for average touring, will replace for extreme skiing.|
Fun was had the past two days while working over a pair of Garmont Mega Ride AT ski boots. Been in Aspen at the boot fitter for hours, then testing by skiing the steeps of Aspen Mountain as well as doing a bit of hiking around. Follow along as I tune and ski a new pair of backcountry skiing boots — the way it should be done.
Out of the box, the Garmont Mega Ride shells (sans liners, since I use the same type of thermo-form liners in all my AT boots) weighed about 4 ounces more per boot than my pair of stock Scarpa Lasers. Unacceptable. If an AT backcountry skiing boot is supposed to improve on ancient history such as the Laser, the least it could do is match the weight. Ah yes, a chance to modify!
First weight question: Is that fourth buckle (near the toe of the boot) on the Garmont really necessary, or is it there for shelf appeal, making the boot easier to market to huckers? Perhaps the fourth buckle does add slightly more beef by limiting shell distortion when you’re going 50 mph on a pair of gigantic skis — but this boy doesn’t ride like that. So off came the buckles, which trimmed almost 3 ounces. Easy. Grind some rubber off the sole, and done, weight now matches that of Laser backcountry skiing boot.
On to fitting for backcountry skiing. It’s no secret that some ski boots are hard to fit, especially if they have a high arch and larger volume shell. While the Garmont still has an arch built into the shell, it’s much lower than some others, and thus easier for a boot fitter to use as a platform for a custom footbed. More, the Garmont shell has noticeably less volume. This can make boot fitting tougher for problem feet, but is good for me because all I usually need is a molded custom liner for backcountry skiing — and such liners work better when stuffed into a slightly smaller space.
In detail: Most quality alpine ski boots have a flat “footboard” under your foot that’s separate from the boot shell. The footboard provides a neutral surface, so a boot fitter can assume he’s working from a flat surface when making your custom foot beds (otherwise known as “insoles”). Conversely, with most backcountry skiing randonnee boots, your custom foot bed must compensate for the existing shape of the shell under your foot — a sometimes difficult requirement. More, the alpine boot footboard can easily be raised or dropped, thus changing boot volume, or allowing a heel/toe “tilt” known as delta or ramp angle in the boot fitting trade.
Without a footboard, fitting a backcountry skiing randonnee boot requires modification of the custom footbed to achieve changes in delta or volume — further adding to the challenge. Presumably, the reason most AT boots are made without footboards, and with built-in arch, is to reduce weight and allow for a hiking type sole — but it sure can make them hard to tune.
Thus, while the Garmonts still lack a footboard, it was a joy to work with their almost flat interior platform. The bootfitter made me a pair of custom beds, and with only a smidge of extra grinding they settled my feet into the Garmont Mega Rides like they’d grown with me in the womb. Well, almost. While the Mega’s sole measured exactly the same (28 cm) as my Lasers, the shell has less volume, and for some reason is slightly shorter on the inside.
One standard of boot fitting is to use the smallest shell you can. While in the case of backcountry boots that standard might be work against you, I generally try to stick with it because I get better skiing boots as a result. In this case, after molding a set of custom thermo-form liners for the shorter Garmonts, my toes were banging into hard plastic while in walk mode (they were fine when locked in downhill mode).
Again, the fix was easy for a competent retailer with boot fitting expertise: Using a precision boot stretcher with a “big toe” mandrel, Bill’s partner Mark Rolfus fired up the heat gun and stretched the Garmont toe box about 1/8 inch — all I needed for comfort in walk mode.
(I should mention that we also used the cuff alignment “canting” pivot on the Mega Ride cuff, along with the custom foot beds, to tune my knock knee stance — an essentail with all my ski boots.)
That was about it. The backcountry ski boots felt like tennis shoes — I even drove my stick-shift Cherokee home with them on (otherwise known as the “driving test”)!
But the real test is how they ski.
When switching boots, it’s important to compare your forward “lean” angle to that of your previous boots. If it’s much different your first turn might put you on your rear end. The Garmonts were the same as my Lasers, so no problem there. (If adjustment had been necessary, we’d have changed the lean with footbed modifications and shim material in front or behind the calf — or even modified the lean-lock mechanism.)
Another factor in a boot switch is how different the flex is. The stock Garmonts are similar in flex to a stock Scarpa Laser or Matrix, while a bit softer than my modified Laser “Frankenboots” . Over the past few years I’ve been learning to ski with less forward boot pressure, using modern skis to “turn themselves” a bit more. Thus, while I’ve enjoyed my stiff modified Lasers, I decided to stick with the stock Garmont shell, and work with it.
Aspen Mountain is a great place to test backcountry skiing boots. The gondola gets you 3,000 verts in about 12 minutes, and dumps you at the top of numerous double black diamond runs where your gear and technique are immediately on the edge.
No exception for this test. Even though I was on a pair of meager AT skis, with Dynafit bindings, I dived right into Walshes Gulch and Kristi Gully, where I found a few icy 45 degree bumps that immediately asked as much of the Garmonts as they could give — not to mention my fitness and technique. After that, it was on to Elevator Shaft (the name doesn’t lie) and a few other choice delights where visions of beefy alpine gear were immediately dancing before my eyes — especially when my son disappeared from sight, aggressively out-skiing me on his Atomic TMs and Salomon alpine performance boots, followed by “tele” Ned Ryerson on big alpine skis with his telemark rig and Garmont boots, of course (ho hum, at least my AT gear weighs half what their “junk” does).
But, the Garmonts did well. I had fun making slow turns down Elevator Shaft, and was delighted at how nimble and responsive the boots felt in moderate terrain similar to where I do most of my backcountry skiing. Custom fitting has a lot to do with such performance, but your foundation is key, and the Garmonts gave myself and the boot fitter something we could work with. In all, a big thumbs up for the Garmont Mega Ride, especially if you have an average to low arched foot, and are tired of dealing with the “Scarpa bump” pressing up against your foot.
One last evaluation: Known as the “beer test,” the question is, can you stand around in your boots after a day of backcountry skiing and enjoy a Corona? My custom fitted Garmonts passed that harsh trial with ease.
Fun stuff, and the Garmonts will accompany me on a few choice Fourteener adventures this spring.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain. For more about Lou, please see his personal website at https://www.loudawson.com/ (Blogger stats: 5 foot 10 inches (178 cm) tall, 160 lbs (72574.8 grams).