Of course we're smiling behind these masks!

Special Ops: Boot Test Team April 2021 Mt. Bachelor, Oregon

This year's ABB Boot Test was accomplished with the help of an agile, experienced team of veteran boot testers who were willing to don masks and spread out in physically-distanced fashion in our mountain-top test center at Mt. Bachelor to stuff their feet into 65 brand new boot models of all varieties. Without brand liaisons in attendance this season and without the typical after-testing social activities, this was an all-business sort of affair but that didn't dissuade these dedicated gear junkies from showing up. We utilized our Bend, Oregon home team to large extent but we had travel-in testers from Colorado, New Mexico and California bolstering our ranks.

The broadest and most popular ski boot category remains the All-Mountain Traditional group--mostly four-buckle overlap designs with non-releaseable cuffs--and there our testers find the most variety in fit profiles in narrow, medium and wide lasts and all possible flexes. These go-everywhere boots balance comfort and performance like no other category and will suit any foot, leg or instep shape and volume. While boots are getting lighter, the All-Mountain Traditional category is still dominated by polyurethane plastic, though increasingly in thin shell wall designs that reduce weight, improve wrapping for better fit and closure but maintain a strong foundation where it counts for stability and performance.

As a type of ski boot, the modern Freeride boot attempts to combine the downhill performance of an All-Mountain boot with the lighter weight and touring range of motion of the Backcountry boot. While this was rarely achieved a few years ago, the current crop of Freeride boots we've tested do everything the on-area, off-area adventure skier wants, without many compromises. Most of the boots in the Freeride group are utilizing GripWalk soles to enhance the boots' walkability and most also incorporate metal-to-metal cuff release mechanisms to maximize energy transmission during descents. Pin-style (aka "Low Tech," or just "Tech") binding compatibility is standard across this category, though the Freeride boot can be used in a traditional Alpine binding, so long as it's GripWalk compatible.

Our test team busts out the well-tuned carvers when we test Frontside Boots and we try to test in the morning on fresh groomed snow. In late March and April it's not uncommon to find melt-freeze boiler plate for the first runs of the day, and that's the perfect time to feel just how transmissive the Frontside category is. With typically solid sole, overlap construction, Frontsiders aren't World Cup race (plug) boots, but they're certainly race-bred enough for most all-mountain skiers who think they might jump in a course once in a while. Rigid bootboards and firm liners give these boots a reactive, strong feel on the hardest snows, and the best of the category make your sharp edges feel laser-honed.

Softer flexing, wider boots are always a little easier to get on but add a walk mode releasable cuff and the slide in and out is sublime! Our testers like testing the All-Mountain Walk boot category a little later in the day, after the legs are starting to complain and apres ski cocktail hour is imminent because one, these boots practically ski for you, and two, popping that apres mode switch at the end of the day makes strolling the deck mighty nice. This is not to say that these aren't skilled all-mountain performers...they are! The boots in the All-Mountain Walk category just don't offer up tech fittings and full-thermo EVA liners--these are about fun and comfort, in-bounds.

While the true Backcountry boot is an out-of-bounds animal—built for ascending with light weight, maximum touring range of motion, tech binding compatibility and a fully rockered and aggressively lugged outsole for walking and scrambling as needed—we favor Backcountry boots that trend toward a solid, dependable descent, regardless of snow conditions. This season we got a small batch of boots in the skin track in the Pacific Northwest and found a few that toured with the best but skied stronger than the rest.

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