To test boots, we returned to Mt. Bachelor, Ore., in the spring, as we have most years since SKI magazine created the first on-hill boot testing program more than 25 years ago.
We partnered with the pros from America’s Best Bootfitters and Masterfit University— the guys who teach bootfitters how to fit boots—to help us evaluate the 2014-15 offerings. The question we get asked the most? Easy: “Why are all the reviews positive?” The answer is simple. We begin the test only with boots we think are going to be good based on an extensive winnowing out process that begins at the Snowsports Industries of America trade show held each January in Denver, Colo.
Once the skiing starts, boots that don’t meet testers’ standards are eliminated from further review. So what’s left? Just the best of the bunch. Hence the positive comments. In short, we want to bring you the good stuff. Here’s a deeper look at what goes into the test.
The boot gurus › First, we bring in the experts to manage the boot test. We work with the top pros from Masterfit University. They teach bootfitting to shop employees at clinics in the U.S, Europe and Australia. Masterfit University’s curriculum director, Mark Elling, is the test director and he works closely with SKI's gear editors, and Steve Cohen and Jeff Rich, the co-founders of Masterfit and the originators of SKI’s on-hill testing program.
The preliminaries › The test is limited from the outset to high-performance boots—those that would interest skimag.com readers—and the test team divides them into three width categories plus sidecountry boots. We consult with each manufacturer to determine which boots to accept for testing.
The test team › Good boot testers are hard to find. Only with experience can a tester learn to put aside personal fit issues and assess a boot strictly on how well it serves the type of skier for which it’s built. The core of our team is comprised of the Masterfit University instructors and shop personnel from America’s Best Bootfitters, the international organization of ski shops that specialize in bootfitting. To that group we add experienced instructors and patrollers, former racers and other long-time skiers with testing backgrounds and an understanding of how a boot should fit and perform.
The venue › Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort, a 9,065-foot volcano with nearly 4,000 acres and up to 3,365 feet of vertical, is one of America’s spring skiing meccas with a season that extends to Memorial Day and sometimes beyond. Our testers love it, as they love the Bend area. And the mountain's nearly 400-inch annual snowfall ensures total coverage when we arrive in early April. Our mid-mountain test headquarters at the Pine Marten lodge area made for quick turnaround between runs.
A typical test day › Testers rise early for the 20-minute drive from their lodging at Mount Bachelor Village Resort to the mountain. Each tester selects a model, sets up the basic stance adjustments and swaps in his or her own Instaprint custom footbeds. First they evaluate the boot’s fit in 12 key zones, then flex, stance, entry-exit, hardware, adjustments and features. Then they hit the hill, giving each boot two or three runs. On the test card, they rate it for dynamic balance, edge power, stability at speed, rearward support, agility, snow feel, warmth, comfort, liner quality and even aesthetics. A full day’s work covers only about six or seven boots. It’s why we need a lot of testers.
The results › Testing boots is as much art as science, given the fit issues. But a good test team invariably comes to consensus on which boots just shouldn’t make the cut and which are worthy of review. That’s what you see on these pages. Only the best, tester-certified.
Check out our 2014-15 Boot Finder to find the perfect boot for you by narrowing down flex, width, and skill level.
Sincere thanks to our boot-test partners › Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort, Mount Bachelor Village Resort, Fits socks, Anarchy eyewear, Leki, Booster, Hotronic, Deschutes Brewery, Transpack, DryGuy, Pistil, SkiSkootys, BlackStrap Industries, and Slide On.