Scarpa Freedom freeride touring models.
Depending on your persuasion, the bountiful crop of freeride touring boots we’ll be harvesting by next fall could be considered boat anchors — or passports to heaven. Whatever, the technology and design work going into these shoes is impressive. Super beefy tech inserts, swap soles that don’t wriggle, the list gets taller. Yet beyond all that, it is the multi-mode cuff that makes these boots work: Walk mode that’ll get you up the hill, and a cuff fixation system that strongly ties the upper part of the boot shell to the lower when you’re in ski mode.
One thing that makes AT boots downhill more poorly than you’d sometimes expect is that the cuff isn’t fixed to the lower shell. Alpine boot cuffs are riveted or otherwise melded to the lower boot. Thus, an alpine boot acts as one boot shell without independent parts. Conversely, most AT boot cuff latches only fix the cuff to the shell in the fore-aft direction while somewhat anchored by the cuff pivot rivets. In comparison to an alpine boot the AT cuff is still free to shift to the side.
So, how to make those floating cuffs on AT freeride boots behave more (or totally) like alpine boots? First, build a cuff latch that’s bomber. Then add a wedge or nesting system of parts that triangulates with the cuff pivots to reduce side motion of the cuff once the boot is in alpine mode. At the OR show, I checked out how a few of the big freeride touring ski boot players do this. Photos tell the story, click most to enlarge.
The reworked for 2013/14 Black Diamond Factor as a claimed 130 flex and we do not doubt that. Cuff security is provided by massive beef in the cuff and lower shoe that support a strong triangle between cuff latch and the two cuff pivot fasteners (which are incidentally user serviceable and allow complete removal of cuff for boot fitting work.) This boot is simply massive, I'd choke on my lunch if anyone said it wasn't stiff enough for them.
Black Diamond Factor cuff configuration is fairly traditional. Massive latch takes the place of rivets, white vertical wings indicated by arrow meld with cuff as it's flexed forward.
In my view, the most clever system is that of K2's new Pinnacle Series. Along with a sasquatch worthy cuff latch, a wedge locates between two vertical wings extending from the lower cuff. When the boot cuff is flexed forward, the wedge is trapped between the wings, resulting in solid union of upper and lower cuffs. Beauty of this is it's located high on the cuff spoiler, thus strongly triangulating with the cuff pivots.
K2 cuff latch is scary solid in ski mode, and has no resistance or blockage in walk mode.
Scarpa's method is similar to K2, in that a block of plastic rides between the shell wings when the cuff is flexed forward, thus eliminating most side-to-side play and giving that alpine 'feel'.
Scarpa latch is monster strong in fore-aft, and totally disengages for touring freedom.
Tecnica Cochise configuration looks different but actually takes the same approach. The steel part nests in a pocket when the cuff is flexed forward.
Salomon Quest uses what appears to be a similar system of a nesting block that blocks side movement of the cuff.
Eye candy, Salomon Quest now has tech fittings and looks to be huge.
Dynafit uses one of the more innovative systems, quite simple and crosses over from their touring boots to their freeride models. The cuff components have holes that line up with each other while in alpine mode. You simply close the buckle and the tab-tang on the buckle inserts in the holes and ties everything together. A vertical rib on the internal spoiler also matches up with a groove in the cuff for even more solidity.
Inside of Dynafit cuff showing how tab on buckle inserts in spoiler parts. The system is located high on the cuff, so it makes a strong triangle with the cuff pivots.
Dalbello Sherpa has a simple method of cuff stabilization, we're not sure how effective. We're also not sure we'd classify this as a freeride tour boot, but perhaps.
Dalbello Sherpa, inside rear 'tongue' is riveted to cuff, perhaps to help stabilize. We're not so sure about this, it looks a bit wimpy.
Throughout the history of AT gear, making a boot that skis like a beefy alpine shoe but tours ok has been an elusive goal. Part of that is cultural. The gnomes of Montebelluna didn’t seem to get the concept. They’d come up with boots that came close, but once pressed into service with big skis and agro skiers, those slippers would collapse. It appears 2013/14 will be the season that all changed, and part of the reason is designers and engineers who’ve figured out how to lock that cuff to the boot when you want it. Congratulations.