February 14, 2005
Major sticker shock will be hitting consumers next fall when they see $50 to $90 price increases across the board. Besides the very weak dollar, manufacturers cite a 36 percent increase in raw material costs due to the higher price of oil.
Once again, shops will have to contend with price battles from Barrabes.com (Spain) and Telemark-Pyrennes.com (France). Currently, both of these on-line dealers can deliver new products to a customer's door in the United States for significantly less than suggested retail -- even with the dollar getting hammered by the Euro.
Now that thermo-molded liners are the norm in telemark and alpine touring boots, it's best to think of purchasing a shell size instead of foot size. There's little reason that companies can't reduce SKUs by eliminating half sizes of boots with thermo liners.
The best method for fitting thermo-lined boots is to ignore the charts and put a bare foot in the shell. It's quite possible that a chart says a 29 shell when in fact the 27 shell is a better fit from two companies -- as is the case with one of our editors.
The problem of shell sizing is worse for smaller women. Rather than produce a size 23 shell, some companies make the 24 shell work for four sizes by making double-thick liners. However, suspending the feet deep inside a shell just doesn't beget performance. Companies that claim to make women's boots should support the smaller end of the spectrum -- there are a lot of 150 cm skis these days.
Overall, we're finding the women's tele boot story confusing. Scarpa says its 26 is a women's size 10, but the size 10 women on our staff can't get their feet into current samples, leaving us wondering if this is a glass slipper thing and only select folks get to marry the Prince or if the sizing is indeed a bit whacked. Crispi appears to be the only company making a woman's tele boot that fits larger standard sizes (its women's boots are available up to 27.5). Are we to believe that women on the "not so dainty" foot end of the spectrum don't require or want gender-specific footwear?
Too, from what we can see from initial evaluations, all the women's tele boots currently on the market are mid-range performers. There is little available that is equivalent to the Scarpa T1, the Crispi CXR or Garmont Energy that's built for girls -- and that's a mistake. We hope that manufacturers will run with the women's-specific boot story and develop more on the higher end.
Crispi -- While long considered the "distant third in a three-horse race" among tele boot manufacturers, Crispi appears to be getting new legs both in the marketplace and on the technology front.
The new X-R replaces the CXU and becomes the first telemark boot with semitransparent plastic and carbon-fiber frame -- it also moves into the most-expensive-tele boot category with a $685 retail. Rest assured that Garmont and Scarpa are working on similar upgrades in its high-end boots for 2006/07.
At long last, Crispi introduced its alpine touring boot line and it appears to be a strong start. The top-of-the-line Diablo Freeride is a four-buckle boot with carbon-reinforced frame and a thermo liner that will retail for $595. The three-buckle version, called the Diablo MS and LS, has the same lower shell and liner and will retail for $550; this appears the best value in performance AT boots next season. Although the Crispi AT boots appear to have a toe bellows, they do not flex
Dynafit -- The coolest thing about the new Freeride Aero four-buckle boot is an exclusive feature that is easily missed. Look closely at the pivot holes on this boot and you'll notice a small ridge that no other Dynafit-compatible AT boots has. This simple change makes the boots easier to orient in the Dynafit binding for faster stepping in; it's a subtle yet significant detail on a boot that will cost $660 with a thermo liner.
At the opposite extreme, the new TLT 4 Light is a two-buckle boot with a thermo liner (but not the ridges) that will retail for $435 and should appeal to those buying the $300 TLT Classic binding (a high-end package goes for $1,050 to $1,120). A three-buckle version called the TLT 4 Evolution will retail for $500, while a three-buckle version of the burlier Aero will run $630.
Garmont -- While it's no longer a new product, the Adrenalin (see SNEWSÂ® Reviews -- www.snewsnet.com/cgi-bin/snews/02493.html -- $670 next season) is still the most talked about AT boot on the market. The swappable outsoles are interesting but it's really the stiffness and power that set this boot apart -- it's the new standard against which all others are judged.
Filling in a noticeable gap, the new She-ride (based on the G-ride, both $570) becomes the first four-buckle AT boot with a thermo liner for women. Though the sizing doesn't go particularly small, at least taller female skiers can have full downhill performance in the backcountry.
Lowa -- Following the trend to four-buckle AT boots, Lowa introduces two new models in men's and women's: The Struktura Rodeo (stiffer) and the Struktura Pro (lighter). While there's no doubt these are fine boots, they only come with standard inners instead of thermo-molded liners. Since there are few hut systems in North America, walking soles are seldom needed and most customers expect the lighter, more comfortable liners. At $540, these are less expensive than other four-buckles, but those have thermo liners and are the better value.
Scarpa -- The best-selling telemark boot in the line gets major improvements next season. Now called the T2X ($560), both men and women will get significantly better control due to a taller line and double overlap cuff. To the delight of many, the new version has a much improved cuff lock and replaceable bellows guard. However, the penalty is an extra pound of weight for size 26, but we doubt many will care. These upgrades put the T2X back into direct competition with the Garmont Syner-G ($570).
The lighter T3 ($460) also gets some minor tweaks to the lower shell and tongue to improve performance and comfort. This will compete with the Crispi CXA ($425) since Garmont has no equivalent with thermo liner. The Scarpa T4 has been discontinued, leaving the Crispi CXT ($350) and Garmont Excursion ($390) in the light backcountry category.
In answer to the Garmont Adrenalin, Scarpa moved up production of the new Tornado ($630), though it still won't be available until December. Not quite as stiff as the Adrenalin, this will have interchangeable outer soles for use in alpine or AT bindings and should draw attention from hard-charging freeride skiers.
The three-buckle Matrix only goes up $40 (to $590) and gets a stiffer lower shell. At entry level, women will now have the option of the Avant Lady ($360), which fits down to 21.5; easily the best value in AT boots.