“If everything seems under control, you’re not going fast enough.
Ski boots. The unsung hero of ski equipment. Often overlooked by excitement for the new planks; the bright graphics of a fat ski with a shiny top sheet. Always building a ‘quiver’ of different skis for every different types of snow and adventure. The less exciting, more utilitarian ski boot. What has also become the crux of the backcountry set up – one of the potentially heaviest pieces of gear, that can make or break any backcountry ski excursion. AT boots that can both climb and ski are where the ski industry has placed a huge focus on recent years.
Having begun skiing many years ago, with memories of Minnesota night skiing and standing atop a 7-second slalom course one quickly learned – a good ski boot hurt; they hurt a lot. The best connection between foot and ski, mind and snow, often meant cranking down on those buckles until toes were numb and feet felt like awkward tree trunks. Well, times have changed, you can now have your cake, and eat it too.
Over recent years I have walked the line between lightweight touring boots focusing on the up-ski, range of motion and skinning. I found I really hated some of these lightweight touring focused boots on the way back down. I have now drifted back towards the middle of the road; a slightly stiffer, more down-ski focused touring-boot: the Salomon MTN Lab. Salomon touts this boot as their stiffer of two AT boots, the Salomon MTN Explore boot being lighter, with a softer flex profile. The MTN Lab reports a stated flex of 120 and the Explore comes in around 100.
The MTN Lab is a two-buckle boot with a power strap at the top of the cuff. I had some intitial aprehension by the idea of a two-buckle boot but have found that the locking power strap additionally secures the top of the cuff for a solid all around feel throughout. The lower shell of the boot is constructed with “Grilamid+” (which is the same material used on the TLT6 and the Vulcan by Dynafit) and a cuff made from pebax. Salomon states the Grilamid+ material can be a bit livelier in it’s flex pattern and feel.
I have a narrow forefoot and have found the fit of the boot as well as the liner to be pretty darn good right out of the box (which is seldom the case for me). This boot has a more narrowed last coming in around 98mm. I found the width to fit me quite well from the heel cup up to the toe box.
I did have a small punch out done on the right foot near the small toe. There is a seam in the liner there that created a hot spot on the toe; I have read about at least one other person having had similar problems. The liner also has material that allows a unique flex pattern through the rearward heel when in touring mode. I suspect this is part of how they have maintained a stiffer forward flex; there seems to be little increased forward range of motion in touring mode while it all dumps out in the back. This can be really helpful for hiking, kicking steps, wearing crampons, and down-climbing; but is not the most helpful flex for the mechanics of steep uphill ski touring.
This may not be the best boot for long tours or a multi-day traverse. See my trip report from the Spearhead Traverse with the Salomon MTN Lab: The Spearhead Traverse – Garibaldi Provincial Park, British Columbia, Canada – April 2016. Having had unlimited options, I would have taken the Salomon MTN Explore on that trip; the MTN Lab being a bit much boot for that kind of distance and type of travel.
In summary, I have been extremely pleased with the Salomon MTN Lab. It has truly been the best boot at walking that line between functional lightweight uphill touring and powerful high-speed downhill charger. It seems we have to make less and less compromises each year as AT boots improve.
There appears to be little to no change in the boot coming into the 2016-2017 season. Salomon is releasing a new MTN Explore for women that will fill a needed void in the AT ski boot market.
SPECIFICATIONS: Salomon MTN Lab
- Flex: 120
- Last Width: 98mm
- Shell: Grilamid+
- Cuff: Pebax
- Spine: Carbon Fiber
- Thermo-moldable liner
- Weight: ~1600g (3.5lbs)
- MSRP: $800
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