Unlike other industries, the ski economy has a well known calendar for releasing new products. The wave of product releases last season and this year are all aimed at showing off new shiny stuff for the 2010 Olympics. Sometimes we get the impression that that is just what we get: new shiny stuff. Despite the claims it isn’t always any better but there has to be something new to showcase. I have been skiing for a few seasons on the ‘black generation’ of the Salomon S-Lab ski boots and although there is always room for improvement I really did wonder what you could add to the skate boots besides maybe a carbon cuff as the trend currently dictates. Salomon delivered to shops this season a new top of the line skate boot that not only has a carbon cuff but also a pretty radical buckle over the top of the mid-foot. The buckle is quite the departure from traditional cross-country boot design so I was curious but also cautious about all the hype.
My first impressions were quite positive. The boot looks good, the materials are of good quality and it is all well assembled. Putting on the boot is just as easy as with previous versions for all the veterans out there and we still get to have a little chuckle when teaching new boot owners how to put them on. I had initial doubts about this given the stiffer cuff and the fact that the zip is now on the inside. The fit is quite similar to the black boots but the toe box feels completely new. It is very roomy, so much so that at first I thought I had a half size too big. Picture a nice racing fit with luxurious toe treatment. Once you’ve pulled the laces, closed the zip, fastened the buckle and clamped the cuff strap you feel very secure yet comfortable. It was time to see what this buckle actually does.
My first outing was on roller skis and I made sure to ski with my winter only ‘black generation’ S-Labs the previous training session to make sure that the improvements were not simply due to wear and tear in my skiathlon boots that I use in the summer. These boots sure are stiff laterally yet they’ve kept that typical comfort. By the end my feet were a little sore from over-aggressive buckle tightening. I had yet to be fully convinced but the snow came and I started to ski on them. It only took 2 or 3 skis to nail the proper tightness of every securing mechanism on this boot. For one you have to tighten up the heel strap just a little as they are shipped to stores as loose as they come. You tighten the laces just as you would with previous versions and you add just a little pressure with the strap. If the trail conditions are hard to balance on then you can tighten the strap a little more.
In the end I always ask myself if the boot cuts it in general and here the answer is yes. I felt like the previous versions of Salomon racing boots were the best boot in all but the nastiest conditions for balancing. The new cuff adds the lateral stiffness necessary for those hardpack days with uneven snow and an extra click of the buckle makes the foot seriously secure yet the boot remains very comfortable. Combine those features with the pilot bindings and the new RS 17 sole that has pushed back the pivot even further and well...I’ll be really happy up until Sochi 2014 where I will once again wonder how Salomon will one up themselves.