1998-'99 CirclePlus Boot and Binding Review|
(October 16, 1998)
Results of this review are based on feedback from women riders and personal demos performed at the 1998 Snow Sports of America (SIA) on-snow demonstrations at Solitude Resort in Utah. Given the 27 varieties of women's boots on the market for 1998-'99, not all boots were tested, nor were they all available to test during the demo days. Check with resorts' rental shops for personal demonstrations before purchasing. This review is a representation of some of the best women's boot models available for this season. All of the boots listed are manufactured from womens' boot lasts.
Stiffer, higher, and more support overall continues to be the trend among conventional freestyle boots, while step-ins gain momentum among the new-school, particularly among women free-riders.
Among the conventional freestyle and freeriding boots, the Blax 7 Slim ($209) was one of the most comfortable and responsive boots I tested. Blax's patented EVA bladder is a super light material that literally molds to the shape of your foot, making it stronger than it feels initially.
Salomon's Synapse was another winner for its lightness and durability, specifically at high speeds and in the pipe. The one-pull liner lace makes it easy to tighten (unlike many boot laces that can literally callous your fingers by the end of the season). It's got a handy loop attached to the liner, which makes it easy to remove when you want to take your liner out to dry. Ride's Jennie Waara freestyle/freeride boot ($220) I was unable to test, but many riders will vouch for it's flexibility and support, especially in the pipe and for stomping massive airs. It also has a removable liner and a beefy powerstrap positioned uniquely along the top of the calf, which acts like a flex device that can be conveniently loosened or tighten depending on terrain. Rossignol's Diva F2 ($195) now offers women a moldable bladder, which basically means once your ride in it and your foot sweats, it'll eventually conform to the shape of your foot. But it takes a couple of days to make the fit compatible, as I discovered after a few awkward demo runs. Airwalk's Conventional Freeride boots with built in liners ($225) and removables ($225), still offer basic support for freestlye riding, but both have stiffened up their models noticeably. The linerless version offers a powerstap across the ankle, which helps to keep your ankle in placea key feature for linerless boots after your feet warm up.
Although some people prefer conventional boots with strap bindings, the real buzz this winter is step-ins, particularly Burton's Ruler SI ($229.95) and Drifter SI ($239.95) and the new boots from K2 Clicker, the Prodigy ($199) and Eclipse ($219). Burton is unique in that all their boots, step-ins, and conventional systems, all come in women's-lasted models. The Drifter SI remains comfortable, unlike some step-ins, because they took the highback (called Skybacks) out of the boot and left it on the binding. They've also added an interesting Bone-Out ankle straps on the boots, which help give more support. As Burton says, their SI's are designed for "Cadillac comfort."
The things about step-ins in general is that there are no straps, so it's up to the boot to provide the support. This can make many step-in boots super stiff, particularly those with internal highbacks. The Eclipse from K2 is an example of a softer step-in. Unlike what was previously offered in the Clicker family, like Burton, K2 took the highbacks out of this model and put it back on the binding. This HB system (highback on the binding) is a hybrid of the old school flat Clickers and conventional strap bindings. Basically, you've got both in one: a highback on the board, which makes the boots lighter and more flexible, with a step-in (Clicker) system. Given as much, as Heidi McCory from K2 puts it, "Why wouldn't you ride this system?" What I prefer about Clickers is the toe-to-heel click-in capacity, which work like clipless bike pedals. It feels as if the energy transfer is more direct from edge-to-edge than with boot/binding systems that attach on the sides. Unlike last year's Yak and Sherpa models, the Eclipse also features a removable Thermosoft liner and a snugger fit in the ankle. The Shimano Prodigy, on the other hand, is linerless and intended for intermediate to advanced riders. It's the softest and lightest Clicker boot in the line and comes with a super cushy powerstrap across the ankle. To clarify, the Clicker system as a whole, is built with the Shimano technology. The two are compatible with one another, just as Raichle, Nitro, and Switch are compatible with various other boots and binding brands.
Switch, which was recently acquired by Vans (and is compatible with Vans step-ins, and vice versa), have two stellar boots for women this season, the Stella ($239) and the Millennium ($299). It's Ferragamo-fitted last makes the Stella feel like a nice pair of beefy Milan loafers. Ferragamo is an Italian shoe manufacturer known for comfy, high-performance footwear. The Flexible Millennium with its combination of a powerstap latch around the ankle and Velcro powerstrap across the shins, is ideal for big mountain riders who are looking for a little more support. Just be careful this boot doesn't ride too high up the back of your calfit's got an internal highback that can restrict circulation if it doesn't fit properly.
Airwalk's Quad step-in system doesn't have any metal parts to contend with, which is a good thing in powder or in the backcountry when you're getting in and out of your bindings. Salomon, which has always been big on research and development (thanks to their deep-packeted ski program), has come out with a side step-in called the Pilot System ($429 boot with bindings). It features a high-back and a single-side attachment which helps riders feel the contour of the terrain. Blax boots at their high-end are also compatible with the Salomon Pilot step-in system. Device has a Ride compatible step-in which features anatomical baseplates and a unique forward lean adjuster that's easy to maneuver, but they are still working on developing their woman's-lasted boot models, so heads up.
Overall, boots and bindings for women continue to improve technically without sacrificing comfort. If anything, this upcoming season features some of the most comfortable snowboards boots yet. Just remember to try the boots on, then either step-in or strap-on to make sure you've got the most compatible set-up for your type of riding.