The annual Masterfit Boot Test concluded after a 5-day ordeal in which some 35 volunteer testers donned 98 boot models and sallied outside to put them through their paces at Silver Mountain, Idaho.
If you're one of the thousands of skiers who would rather eat haggis than endure the rigmarole of buying a new boot, imagine putting your foot in 30 new boots and, whether you like them or not, going out and skiing them in conditions normally encountered in the middle of the North Sea.
This is not meant as a slight on Silver Mountain, where the management could not have been more welcoming or accommodating. If they could have dialed it up, we would have had snow every night and blue skies every morning. Instead, we encountered atmospheric wetness in as many forms as the Eskimos have words for snow. It wasn't until the last day that the precipitation, fog and mist finally morphed into snow, even if it was the consistency of, well, haggis.
You might imagine the boot room a cauldron of discontent, its sodden members moping over the marginal conditions as they mopped up the moisture that crept into every crevice on the human body. This didn't happen, not one bit of it. Everyone stepped up and did their job with a smile on his or her face, diligently recording on their test forms every nuance of the boots they essayed from bell to bell.
The Boot Test team has to be a polyglot lot in order to represent all the various sorts of participants (and their attendant feet) in the skiing population. But in one critical way we are all alike: we share a bottomless passion for the sport to which we have dedicated our lives. We don't really care what we have to endure if it permits us to ski another day in whatever conditions prevail. I am proud to be among their number.
By this point in the narrative, the Alert Reader may be wondering if I'm actually going to reveal anything about next year's crop of boots. Specifics will have to wait until the mass of data and narrative is crunched into a coherent presentation, a process that will take some months to complete. This is not the time or place for a final verdict on which boots were most appreciated.
To allay your frustration over gratification deferred, allow me to share my first impressions of the latest trend in Alpine boots, lightweight design. Inspired in part by the explosion of interest in backcountry equipment, where lightness has always been an important criterion, more Alpine boots are finding ways to shed significant avoirdupois.
New models from Atomic, Head, Rossignol, Fischer, Salomon and K2 are substantially lighter than what passed for the norm up to the present day. The lighter weight makes them all feel more agile, as if the skier's reflexes were suddenly sharper. Recreational skiers are likely to experience less fatigue and the decrease in mass also improves snow feel, the elusive quality that improves feedback from changing snow conditions. This is a trend that's going to be with us for a while.
There are a few factors about the new lightweight boots that an exercise like the Masterfit Boot Test can't quantify. First, we're not in the boots for long enough to gauge durability. Plastics all age differently and what will hold up over time can't always be predicted. Second, we only know the boots in the conditions in which they were skied, including temperature. Since we were in fairly warm weather, we can't accurately surmise how well they will insulate when the thermometer drops into the single digits. And third, will the reduction in mass entail some loss of shock absorption that high performance skiers will come to miss?
I'm not trying to raise red flags; I'm only saying there are some attributes we can test for and some we can't. I'm reasonably confident that the appeal of lighter boots will prove irresistible for a large slice of the skier population. While they probably aren't for everyone - racers, for example, need the boot to deliver some measure of shock absorption to stay on course - they are definitely here to stay.
The Masterfit Boot Test is the only one of its kind in the world. You'll find its detailed results on the pages of bootfitters.com and in the new America's Best Bootfitter/Realskiers Buyer's Guide Powered by Masterfit, which will appear on digital outlets across the web next fall.