Freeride Tour Boots — Cuff Security is Key

Post by blogger | February 1, 2013      
Scarpa Freedom freeride touring models.

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.

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.

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.

K2 boot cuff wedge system for downhill security while skiing.

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 and totally releases for cuff mobility in walk mode.

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.

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.

Scarpa latch is monster strong in fore-aft, and totally disengages for touring freedom.

Tecnica backcountry skiing boots.

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 Qwest backcountry skiing freeride boots.

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.

Eye candy, Salomon Quest now has tech fittings and looks to be huge.

Dynafit backcountry skiing boot cuff latch.

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.

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.

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.

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.


Please Enjoy A Few Suggested WildSnow Posts


43 Responses to “Freeride Tour Boots — Cuff Security is Key”

  1. Layne February 1st, 2013 10:05 am

    Great review Lou, thanks for all the info on this new crop of boots. I can’t wait to replace my Radiums next Fall, I’ll be looking hard at the Scarpa Freedom or the Technica Cochise 130’s (a friend has the Pro 130’s, he really likes them).

  2. John Gloor February 1st, 2013 10:24 am

    Lou, I cannot tell from the photos, but is the K2 latch similar to Scarpa’s latch? I have never had a boot with an exposed locking mechanism, but I wonder if they could ice up and be hard to put in ski mode. Not that that would dissuade me from buying them

  3. Lou Dawson February 1st, 2013 10:52 am

    John, the concept is similar but the K2 ‘wedge’ actually moves when the cuff latch is flipped, ostensibly to allow the boot to tour easier. Main thing with all these is that they’re located as high in the cuff as possible, so they triangulate with the cuff pivot rivets, that’s what gives the solid feel they’re supposed to provide.

    I don’t think icing will be a problem.

    By the way, I’ll put the BD Factor in there when I get a photo. Not sure what system they use, but whatever it’ll be good for comparo.

  4. Tom Gos February 1st, 2013 10:55 am

    Thanks for this very informative post Lou! Its great to see how these systems compare to acomplish the same end goal. I’m another skier very much looking forward to having so much choice in “beef” AT boots. Also looking forward to a blog post lising model names, weights, etc. (hint, hint)

  5. Lou Dawson February 1st, 2013 11:06 am

    Tom, we’ll probably do some sort of overview eventually, though perhaps that’s better left up to the dedicated gear websites. I’m inclined to put our energy towards actually using the boots and giving you a true take, instead of numbers that any schmo can dig up.

    One problem I can see with this is that there may eventually be so many ‘freeride touring’ boots (defined by beef and cuff latch), that doing an overview may be absurd. Might be better just to hit the highlights.

    For now, bear in mind that the major players in this space are (not in any order):

    Black Diamond

    And a few others that are so new I wouldn’t call them a player yet. Considering many of these guys have women’s models as well as multiple models in general, reviewing may be becoming a cream skimming mission rather than kludging through dozens of boots.

  6. Tom Gos February 1st, 2013 11:14 am

    Lou, one more thought, all of these boots must also have some mechanism of preventing the upper cuff from hinging backwards while in ski mode. The method of accomplishing this is pretty obvious in the photos of the Scarpa and Dynafit boots, but not apparent (to me at least) in the photos of the Tecnica, BD, and Salomon boots. Have you got any more photos that depict this aspect of each locking mechanism, or can you discuss?

    Also, I sure hope to be able to find a shop that carries most, or all, of these boots in order to make a side-by-side fit comparrision. Perhaps some of the bigger Front Range shops will have that selection, but the offerings may get so broad that that the specialty mountain shops will have to be very selective in what they offer, but I’m not complaining.

  7. Lou Dawson February 1st, 2013 11:23 am

    Tom, some of the cuff latch mechanisms are hidden. They’re all beefy and somewhat old-school, nothing that new and revolutionary, so trying to do a consistent photo series of each wasn’t necessary. If we review individual boots we’ll be sure to do whatever it takes to photograph that as a detail. Also, if you step back through some of our reviews we do make an effort in this direction.

    When I did this post, my direct intention was to focus on what I feel is one of the top three most important features that define a “freeride touring” boot. It’s a different approach. These boots have a lot of other features as well, but how the cuff locks and stabilized while downhill skiing might be the most important thing.

  8. Tom Gos February 1st, 2013 11:26 am

    Lou, you are spot on with your assessment of what is important in these boots, I hope you don’t feel that I was being critical, not my intent at all, always appreciate your bolg and reviews.

  9. Lou Dawson February 1st, 2013 11:31 am

    Tom, just clarifying things. Feedback and ideas such as yours are a gift I always appreciate. Lou

  10. Tim February 1st, 2013 11:34 am

    any guess on weight?

  11. Harry February 1st, 2013 11:39 am

    Way to cut to the heart of it Lou, awesome article.

  12. Lou Dawson February 1st, 2013 11:42 am

    Being concerned about weight of a freeride touring boot is like asking about the fuel economy of a 3/4 ton Silverado. (grin). Remember, you can always get a Prius, then you have something to banter about. I suppose we’ll have to cover weight eventually, but this is all about how the stuff skis, that’s the whole point.

    This lighter boots will probably be the Dynafits and the Scarpas, there, I offer that up to stay true to the WildSnow ethos. (grin).

  13. Tim K February 1st, 2013 1:33 pm

    the dynafits are the Vulcans or some incarnation of it? then I have a good idea on the lbs…..

    besides Lou , when your as uhhhhhhh, “comfortable” as I am, you have to look to weight savings anyplace you can….LOL

  14. RobinB February 1st, 2013 2:32 pm

    One issue with the Technica latch is a material mismatch. As far as I can tell, the latch part is made of aluminum, and the “pocket” is steel. My Cochise 120 have developed a fair amount of play after a year of hard use. I have skied probably 125ish days at the resort, and 15 touring in them.

    Looking down into the boot, it appears that the steel edge of the pocket has worn a groove into the top of the aluminum latch piece where it takes all the force of flexing the boot forward. While it is perhaps only 1/2 mm deep, that translates to a fair bit of play at the top of the cuff.

    While in reality, I do not notice the slop while skiing, it is unfortunate that an otherwise very good boot has this simple error in function.

  15. Lou Dawson February 1st, 2013 4:16 pm

    Robin, indeed, it sounds like they should make that part out of steel.

    Tim, I just shot photos of my TLTs, same mechanism and a cool thing that it can be used in both lightweight models as well as freeride touring.


  16. David B February 1st, 2013 4:37 pm

    This is not good Lou,

    Too many choices. I’ve been a Garmont man and now I don’t know what boot to go for next. I have the classic wrong foot for ski boots, broad at the front, high arch, high instep and narrow at the ankle with sizable calfs.

    I like meetier boots for the down hill.

    Tossing up between the Vulcan, Scarpa Freedom and the dark horse the K2 Pinnacle.

    Any idea which would have the best last for the above mentioned foot?

    Lost in a seea of choice.

  17. Lou Dawson February 1st, 2013 4:57 pm

    David, absolutely no idea about the lasting. Sounds like it’ll be time to do shell fits at a dealer if you really want to get it right.

  18. Jack Crognale February 1st, 2013 5:09 pm

    Hi Lou, No new Garmont or should I say Scott for next year?

  19. Lou Dawson February 1st, 2013 5:33 pm

    I think with those guys it’s wait and see about freeride touring boots. Remember we try to be real here, and just cover stuff that we’re pretty sure will be good, or know is good. No “gear of the year” awards and stuff for the unproven… It’ll probably be the formerly Garmont Delirium, updated.


  20. Tim K February 1st, 2013 5:41 pm

    David, Similar foot…. I ended up with a pair of Mercur’ys, cause my fitter was concerned about the carbon cuff on the vulcan, and being able to be manipulated with my calf…. a bunch of punches latter I’m pretty close to being very happy driving all my ski’s with it… (came off a Strolz custom race for Alpine) the transition has been interesting …

  21. Lou Dawson February 1st, 2013 5:42 pm

    By the way, what criteria do you guys think we should use to refine an overview list of freeride touring boots? I’m thinking two things beyond obviously being stiff: They need to obviously be more than an alpine boot with a cuff latch (meaning they need some cuff mobility and walking chops), and they need to have tech fittings. Anything else?

  22. Kyle February 1st, 2013 6:07 pm

    Lou, wondered if you have gotten the chance to check out the ST1/ST2 from first degree boots. It seems like an interesting boot with a lot of after market components coming stock and an adjustable lean built into the ski/walk mode latch. Seems like they fit in this category, but don’t have tech fittings.

  23. Nick February 1st, 2013 6:59 pm

    Personally I don’t care about my boots being as stiff as a high end alpine boot. But if you could make an AT boot that has that lovely smooth, progressive, flex that my old Raiche Flexons had I would be very happy.

  24. Sam F February 1st, 2013 7:07 pm

    Weight shouldnt be over looked. Your anology to a car doesnt really work because we dont have to push them up hills.
    Weight matters even in this catagory, or you wouldnt see so many tech bindings on what are basicly alpine boots.
    Also durability of the pivot points, impressions of the real world walkability, and something that is always overlooked BOOT FITTING potential, or lack thereof

  25. gringo February 1st, 2013 7:29 pm

    Nick got it right.
    stiffness is overrated. gimme a Flexon with vibram soles, tech fittings and a good walk mode and I’ll give you my money!

  26. Lou Dawson February 1st, 2013 7:35 pm

    Kyle, I think in today’s world, the boots we cover need to have tech fittings. But give a link to their company for those who are interested. Lou

  27. Richard February 1st, 2013 7:44 pm

    Boot fitting:

    I alpine ski race as well as tour. At the start of this season I had my Lange WC race boots re-punched by Matt at Teton Village Sports using a new hydraulic press that expands the entire interior of the boot at selected pressure points rather than a ring press that tends to push one area while distorting others.

    For the first time in 20 years and many different boots I’m able to keep my race boots buckled on the chairlift and leave them buckled all day. With the help of Boot Gloves I’ve skied comfortably on minus O degree days. And this is for a 95 last boot with minimal liner fitted to a forefoot that is at least 108!

    ps. Another cold weather trick I’ve discovered for making thin liners warmer is to place a layer of heavy duty aluminum foil on top of the boot board by fastening it to the bottom of the liner. Takes up no room, and adds a surprising amount of warmth by reflecting radiant heat.

  28. Richard February 1st, 2013 7:50 pm

    Gringo and Nick,
    Full Tilt, who now owns the Flexon molds is getting closer—-. Wouldn’t be surprised to see tech fittings before long, but I’m just speculating.

  29. XXX_er February 1st, 2013 9:13 pm

    “” I’ve been a Garmont man and now I don’t know what boot to go for next.””

    I was in a 24 Garmont Xena and I bought the 24 Mercury, the liner didn’t work but they never do for me so I’m using an old thermofit liner, if you have a thermo fit liner take it with you when you try the mercury on

    Mercury fits way better, way stiffer boot, good for a skinny foot/ankle with lots of toe room, better ROM, one buckle lock and ski as for weight a size 24 xena weighs 1750grams a size 24 mercury weighs 1389 grams

  30. JCoates February 1st, 2013 9:45 pm

    2013. The year of the ski boot divergence of species. Homo Sapien vs. Neanderthal. Up vs. down. Tiny elf boots vs. monster clunkers (“Look…the buckles go to 11!!!”). Lycra skin suits vs. baggy bro pants.

    I predict one of these species is going to die off in the next 10 years.

  31. Jason February 2nd, 2013 12:34 am

    Nick / Gringo,

    I have Scarpa spirit4s that I use soft krypton tongues with (with minimal mods). I tour w/o the tongues and they have a great range of motion. They ski very much like my kyrptons, with the big difference being in lateral stiffness. Am about to do a mod to open up the walk mode so as to rely only on the tongues for forward stiffness (may end up using the black tongues) while still having a stop in the back. Try the krypton tongues – they’re great!

  32. gringo February 2nd, 2013 2:36 am

    _Richard…my comment is squarley aimed at any Full Tilt employee who may read this blog….
    At the current development rate I suppose if they don’t have a tech boot in the next 18 months they will be the only ones in the industry not offering it.

  33. Pablo February 2nd, 2013 2:22 pm

    Consider a new player the new Atomic Waymaker Tour line.
    Someone from Atomic Spain give me one of this and I begin last weekend to try it.
    Is a serious Freeride boot with swapable soles, tech inserts,intuition liner and a back spine made of carbon melted with pebax.

    If you want I can make a deeper review with pics for you.


  34. tim February 2nd, 2013 5:13 pm


    I am with you on this!

    IAm still fond of the ancient Laser with the Flexon tongue mod. Has that progressive flex you speak of, although they are getting long in the tooth….

  35. David B February 2nd, 2013 7:35 pm

    Tim K & XXX_er,

    I’ll look into the Mercurys.

    Tim from Stroltz to AT boots, you must feel like you’re skiing in ugg boots.


  36. mark February 3rd, 2013 2:00 pm

    Woa, so, many , choices! Those K2’s and Scarpa’s look interesting, can’t wait to see them in teh flesh.

    I’ve skied the Dynafit Ones and although a little on the soft side the worst thing skiing them aggressively with a bigger ski was the lack of any noticable rearward support (In terms of an alpine boot – not a touring boot, and on a big ski…). Is it likely that this would feel the same with the Vulcan as they have the same locking system, or does all the carbon etc etc etc stop this?

  37. Lou Dawson February 3rd, 2013 4:47 pm

    Mark, I don’t think you’ll have any trouble with rearward support with any of these boots. That’s the easiest thing for them to build in, and they’ve all done it in spades as far as I can tell. Lou

  38. Scooter February 6th, 2013 1:18 pm

    What you’re seeing in this “alpine crossover” market is a move to make alpine boots usable to those who wish to make smaller laps in the BC, but spend the majority of their skiing time in the resorts. The interactions between the upper and lower shells of the majority of the alpine crossover boots are very similar designs across the board. When Salomon and Atomic created this category a few years ago with the Quest and Tracker boot lines (slotted the lower shell up the spine and blocks in the upper cuff to solidify the upper/lower cuff while in ski mode) the other companies started to follow. Tecnica came out with an interesting mechanism which when engage in the downhill mode uses a pin to connect the upper/lower shell on the Cochise. Lange created on the XT, a V cut high in the spine of the lower shell with a flap build into the spine on the upper cuff which engaged create a strong upper/lower connection. This year Rossi and K2 jumped it fire with their “similar but different” upper/lower connections. The K2 being very,very close to the Lange and the Rossi drawing some inspiration from the Scarpa. The majority of these crossover boots do not have the range of motion found in most dedicated AT boots which is why you might not see tech fittings on a lot of them.

  39. MorganW February 11th, 2013 3:31 pm

    I definitely rate the Dalbello Sherpa so good to see it getting a mention. Currently using these with a pair of 183cm Bent Chetlers and Marker Barons in Japan. Such a step up from my last boot (Full Tilt classic) and can really drive a big ski in deep snow….i never seem to get tired on long runs which used to happen all the time and i’m putting in much better turns than just a month ago in europe.

    And they have THE BEST walk mode :p i haven’t even bothered unlocking the tongue and they “recline” very well…..not used them skinning up yet but this sure makes apres ski a breeze :p

    The new articulated intuitions are sweet and i’m definitely not going back to an overlap boot after this (i did toy with the cochise for a while).

  40. Lou Dawson February 13th, 2013 11:23 am

    Calling Frank and all beef boot fans, I just added BD Factor 2013/14 to this post. I’d encourage all you guys to check out this offering, they’re simply massive. Lou

  41. Dimitri February 14th, 2013 4:17 am
  42. steve February 20th, 2013 4:59 pm

    Im on day 4 of the First Degree ST2. I absolutley love them. And the stock liner and foot bed is probably the best available.

  43. Sean November 11th, 2013 6:47 pm

    I got the Dalbello Sherpa 5/5 last year and rode them all winter in about 50/50 mix of resort/tour and really like how they toured (Also coming from a full tilt and only went on a couple long tours (4+ hrs)). I do not like how the tongue has the hinge ring in it, it has a large range of motion without it. I will say they are not the stiffest boot, especially laterally, but still provide plenty of go to drive big skis. I would like to see them make it out of something lighter (pebax, etc) rather than the PU and ditch the weird tongue in favor of say krypton pro tongue.

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