Gear trends: 2015/16 Backcountry ski boots and bindings

Demand for touring and racing performance transforms ski boot and binding market. Check out the top products and trends headed to retail in 2015-16.
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Throughout the next month, SNEWS will recap its coverage of Outdoor Retailer Winter Market 2015 with select stories from the O.R. Daily we published at the show Jan. 20 – 24. It’s an opportunity for you to catch up on stories you might have missed in O.R.D., and for us to update and upload the articles to our searchable archives.

Best part of the ski day?Taking off those ski boots.

Or these days, perhaps not.

With the demand for winter backcountry and even randonee racing gear booming, brands are quickly innovating to make ski boots lighter, more comfy and easier to walk in. The advances are spilling into the downhill market as the lines between on- and off-piste performance blur like ski tracks on a powder day.

“Boots are getting better walk modes, and saving pounds continues to be a driving force for the touring crowd,” said Dynafit’s Eric Henderson.

Dynafit ups the ante in weight savings and performance with its new free-touring Khion Carbon (MSRPs $750-$900). It comes with a new Precision Lock System to lock down all its components in ski mode, increasing rigidity, along with a magnesium spoiler and carbon fiber exoskeleton. With a Boa closure system, 90-degree walk motion, One Touch Buckle system and Formula Pomoca sole for grip, it’s compatible with tech- and other touring bindings and comes in men’s and women’s versions.

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Manufacturers are also focusing on comfort, be it in range of motion or liner comfort. To ease walking for tourers, K2 upgrades its backcountry-oriented Pinnacle 130 and 110 AT boots (MSRPs $650-$850) with an optional Vibram ISO 9523 rubber touring sole for added traction. Tecnica augments its Cochise AT boot collection by adding dual-density, thermoformed microcell liners, enhancing out-of-the-box fit. They’re available on its Cochise Pro 130 (MSRP $840) and 120 (MSRP $720); Women’s Pro W (MSRP $720); and Cochise Tour 110 Light (MSRP $660) and Women’s Pro Light (MSRP $660). Addressing comfort and weight, Salomon unveils its new Mtn Lab (MSRP $900) alpine-touring/freeride boot for 2015-16, with a new Sensifit shell, Motion Flex technology, Surelock touring/ski mode mechanism and My Custom Fit 3D full thermo liner. It comes in at 1,576 grams per boot, with a full-length Contragrip rubber sole.

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Prioritizing tour-to-turn mode, La Sportiva debuts the Spitfire 2.0 (MSRP $899), a two-buckle boot with a ski/walk mode that’s built into its cable upper buckle for easy mode switches. Made from carbon and Grilamid, it weighs 2 pounds, 7.8 ounces; offers 68 degrees of range of motion; and is compatible with Trab TR2 and traditional tech bindings, as well as step-in touring bindings. La Sportiva’s new Sideral 2.0 (MSRP $699) is a 2-pound, 8.5-ounce, all-around ski mountaineering boot with a Grilamid shell, the same top buckle tour configuration and binding compatibility, and removable PU Warmsole. It’s also available in the women’s Starlet 2.0 (MSRP $699).

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Utilizing new materials to enhance performance is also a highlight for next year’s offerings. Scarpa fleshes out its Freedom line with the stiffer, 130-flex Freedom RS (MSRP $849) to augment its P-bax SL, made from Polyamide nylon with unisex fitting. It also serves up a redesign of the Freedom (MSRP $649), made from a thinner, proprietary polyurethane and Intuition liner. Both retain the original Freedom’s 27-degree range of motion. Alpine stalwart Atomic ups its presence in the backcountry sector with its new Backland Carbon Light (MSRP $1,000), which weighs just 1,040 grams per boot with a carbon spine, frictionless pivot, rockered sole and 74-degree range of motion. It’s also available in a women’s version, the Backland W offering the same features at 1,000 grams.

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Scott Sports sets fresh tracks in the market with its new 125-flex, four-buckle (plus strap) Superguide Carbon boot (MSRP $950), featuring a Powerlite Carbon shell and Grilamid carbon frame inlays for weight reduction (1,400 grams), a new PowerLight High Gore-Tex liner, and high-range-of-motion tour mode. “It allows for perfect and precise mobility on the up and stability during the down,” said Scott’s Topher Plimpton, adding that the Superguide also is available with Dynafit-certified tech inserts.

Better bindings for a wide range of skis
More consumers are eyeing AT bindings with releasability, lightness and ease of use driving the latest designs.

“AT bindings have become very acceptable, even to skiers using big/wide freeride skis,” said G3’s Gord Bailey. “A big trend is consumers looking for a durable, reliable and confidence-inspiring binding. Forward pressure heels and wide binding mounts assure durability and reliability for those pushing the limits.”

G3 addresses this with its new Ion LT (MSRP $475), a lighter, brakeless version of its Ion, weighing 456 grams per binding, with release values of 5-12. The step-in tech binding features a snow-clearing channel at the toe, 40-mm mounting pattern and consistent forward heel pressure.

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“Weight savings and DIN-certification for tech-bindings are also major trends,” said Eric Henderson of Dynafit, which addresses both with a freeride-focused addition to its Beast family called the Beast 14 (MSRP $750). It offers a DIN range of 5-14 and reduced weight from its Beast 16 brother. The company also augments its Radical line with the lightweight Radical ST 2.0 (MSRP $550), retaining the original’s simple operation with the addition of a rotating toe piece for added safety.

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Marker pats its back by entering the tech-binding category with what it says is the world’s first PinTech binding to gain DIN ISO 13992:2007 certification from Germany’s TÜV. The Kingpin (MSRPs $599-$649) has a defined, configurable release setting thanks to a toe piece with six different springs for security and energy absorption, and a unique heel design with wide contact points for play-free attachment and power transfer. It also comes with 7- and 13-degree, pole-tip-activated heel lifts and easy-to-switch heel for going from walk to ski mode.

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“Our goal was to engineer a frameless PinTech binding comparable with conventional alpine bindings in terms of performance, comfort and especially protection,” said director of R&D Michael Mangold. “It’s a real revolution in ski touring.”

Black Diamond updates its Fritschi Vipec binding (MSRP $600) with a new pin locker system, featuring an easy step-in/out adjustable front pin with enhanced releaseability.

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--Eugene Buchanan

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