Buying a boot? Flex and fit remain the chief considerations, according to your size, aggressiveness and performance expectations. But now there’s something else to think about: hike modes. Cuff-release mechanisms allow a skier to stand tall and flex his or her ankle for hiking or touring, then lock back into a forward-leaning position for skiing. They were once strictly convenience features for skiers who wanted to be comfortable and didn’t care that performance was compromised by the loss of rearward stability. But with the advent of “sidecountry” boots for turn-earning experts, walk modes, now called hike modes, are suddenly cool, and new designs have improved performance. Not sure what’s right for you? Consider these three examples.
Sidecountry Ripper: High performance, releasable cuff
The new sidecountry boots perform like regular alpine boots on the descent, thanks to snug fits and stiff flexes. But when it’s time to head back up, a flip of the switch frees the cuff for hiking and skinning. Any cuff-release mechanism introduces a measure of slop, decreasing power and precision somewhat. But the rewards—untracked powder, easily accessed—are self-evident.
Shown (below): Atomic Tracker 130.
Comfort Cruiser: Medium performance, releasable cuff
If you want to ski well, you’re still better off with the solid rearward support of a fixed cuff. But as we said, today’s hike modes have tighter tolerances (less slop), and they’re reappearing in light, roomy, soft-flexing boots built for comfort. Sure, the target customer is more likely to be seen hanging in the bar than bagging peaks, but ski-touring remains an option, and there’s certainly nothing wrong with bars.
Shown (bottom left): Salomon Quest 90CK
Frontside Power Plant: High performance, fixed cuff
The hell with hiking: That’s what lifts are for. And for the ultimate in power, quickness and precision, nothing beats boot with a riveted cuff. If you’re not planning on investing in an AT setup (a good $700 just for skins and binding) and aren’t interested in trading performance for comfort, just ignore the whole sidecountry craze and stick with fixed.
Shown (bottom right): Head Raptor 130CK