It has been several years since Alpina has made any significant changes to either their classic or skate elite competition boots. Alpina had a very tried and true formula in the ESK elite skate boot that a large number of elite racers were very happy with. The ESK was known for its exceptionally close fit, light weight, as well as a very effective blend of control and sensitivity.
Boot testing on a great day of spring skiing:
All competitive companies, however, are constantly looking for ways to improve their products. The ESK Pro would appear to reflect a desire to build on what had made the ESK so successful, namely fit and sensitivity, by finding ways to increase stability and incorporate the idea of lowering the heel relative to the toe. This in order to take pressure off the tips of the skis in a manner similar to using the now common “wedges” made in both NNN and Salomon versions.
Over the past several weeks I have had the opportunity to use the ESK Pro regularly. I have used in virtually all conditions and have used it in races on two occasions. What follows are my impressions so far – all very positive.
Beginning with stability, the most notable differences between the ESK and the ESK pro are that the ESK Pro has a much stiffer sole, and a much thicker and stiffer carbon cuff. Sizing and the feel of the upper remain very similar, but there is a slightly different lacing configuration. I can say with confidence that the level of stability provided by the new boot is unquestionably significantly higher than the ESK, and in all likelihood, more than most other boots on the market. Relative to the ESK, the ESK Pro shines in any situation where stability and control are required: downhills, corners, and hard, icy, rutted or uneven conditions. While the ESK expected the skier to do a fair bit of stability work him/herself, and in fact promoted this to some degree by allowing the skier to feel every nuance in the trail, the new boot allows the skier to simply relax and let the boot do more of the work in most situations.
The new sole, that is both stiffer and includes a design that is both lower in general, but particularly in terms of the relative heel to toe position, does give a feeling similar to using binding wedges-namely, lighter tip pressure. In my experience, this feeling is less dramatic compared to using wedges. My personal experience with the wedges was that while they initially made most skis feel faster, I also felt more awkward on them, and noted that the initial feeling of extra speed seemed to fade after a certain amount of skiing. That being said, there are many elite skiers who swear by them. The ESK Pro could be said to provide something down the middle-a little bit of the lighter tip pressure feeling that the wedges provide, but to a lesser degree. While I haven’t tried this, obviously, combining the ESK Pro with the wedges would provide even more difference between heel and toe height if you thought you would like that. Indeed, from the glimpses I have caught of World Cup skiers in action, virtually all combinations of Alpina boots/wedges have been in play.
The feeling of the ESK Pro is different enough from the ESK that I it actually took some time to get used to. Initially, I was hesitant to let the boot do more of the stability work for me, and the lowered heel was a feeling that I wasn’t particular used to because I had not been using the wedges. At the same time, I could immediately appreciate how stable the new boot was, and the fit remained exceptionally good as usual. Having used the ESK Pro for several weeks, I can say with confidence that I am a convert. For me, the ESK Pro provides unparalleled stability while preserving the fit and much of the sensitivity of the ESK. In addition, the moderate feeling of lightened tip pressure provided by the ESK Pro feels right from my perspective as it is a little more subtle than what is delivered by the wedges.
Alpina continues to produce the ESK, and I have no doubt
that some racers, in at least some situations, will continue to choose this
model. Partly, this has to do with the advent of the wedges. Between the ESK,
the ESK Pro, and the wedges themselves, a number of different relative heel/toe
positions are now possible. Indeed, from the glimpses I have caught of World
Cup skiers in action, virtually all combinations of Alpina boots/wedges have
been in play.Whether or not people prefer different heel/toe positions on
different skis is another question that I won’t begin to try to answer.
In pictures:From above -the uppers are fairly similar to the ESK:
As mentioned, the cuff is significantly thicker and more shaped than the one on the ESK:
From the side: