I dropped down the steep bump run, knees pistoning to keep up with my turns. On my feet were boots designed to climb uphill and charge down, the to-be-released MTN LAB by Salomon, and they were manhandling the difficult and unpredictable terrain.
The conditions at Alta were pretty mediocre for skiing, with hardpack inbounds and tracked-out, chunky snow once through the gates. It was perfectly tricky for testing a new tech boot.
It’s been a few weeks since that day at Alta, which I spent chasing pro skier Greg Hill (a record-holding ski mountaineer who worked on the boot with Salomon). I’ve had a few more days in the MTN LABs and have come to the conclusion that they are great downhill ski boots that also tour very well. But there are caveats. Read on for the details.
The Gear: Salomon MTN Lab ski boots ($950)
Available: Fall 2015
Where To Test It: Steep and deep backcountry lines that you’ve gotta earn. The boot could be a quiver killer, especially for those who spend lots of time outside the gates. With a nicely progressive 120 stiffness rating that holds up well to hard turns, this boot can drive big skis with precision and power.
Who It’s For: Hard-charging backcountry skiers who want great downhill performance in a boot that’s light enough to skin uphill comfortably. Also, narrow feet don’t hurt.
A Narrow Last: The MTN LAB is built on a 98mm last. This is both good and bad. If you have narrow feet, you will be stoked by the performance afforded by the snug fit. If you have wide feet (I do), you may find the chassis a little too snug, especially in the forefoot. I sized up a little on the boots, and after heat molding they have proven comfortable enough to tour for a full day.
Weight: The size 27.5 boots I’m testing weigh 3 pounds 7.8 ounces on my postal scale. That puts them on par with the Scarpa Maestrale RS ($700) or Dynafit Vulcan ($1,000) in terms of weight.
Important Specs: Thermo Liner; “Surelock” ski/walk mechanism allows for 47º range of ankle motion for skinning; carbon-fiber spine; Pebax upper cuff; Grilamid+ lower shell; 24mm riveted pivot point.
Salomon stresses these boots are built, first and foremost, to go downhill fast, and that features like the oversize pivot, carbon backbone, and Sensifit Shell Technology are pulled right from the company’s downhill line.
Buckles: This is a two-buckle boot with a mechanically-synched booster strap. Buckles and strap are stout and easy to adjust, open, and close.
Walk/Ski Toggle: It couldn’t be much easier to lock and unlock the heel pivot. Just flip a small switch on the back of the boot and it responds quickly, locking into position with a solid “thunk” once articulated to the correct forward lean. The walk mode provides a comfortable range of motion for skinning while the locked ski mode is nice and stiff.
Awesome! The downhill skiing performance is exceptional. I feel that I give up very little in terms of control or precision versus my much heavier alpine boots. While these are good boots on the skin track, it’s also remarkably comfortable riding a lift with such little weight on your feet.
Flaw: The 98mm last is a little tight on wide feet. People with narrow feet won’t see this as a flaw, and even for my wide feet the boots are pretty comfortable, but it would be nice to see a wider last option in future years.
The boot also carries a hefty price tag; while competitively priced against similar boots on the market, $950 is a lot of cash.
Textile Cover: Salomon chose to use a waterproof textile to cover the tongue of the boot. While this allows for very smooth articulation, I’m a little concerned about the longevity of the heavy cloth material. It does seem tough, but only time will tell if it proves durable. So far, so good.
Rockered Sole: As with most backcountry boots, the MTN LAB has a rockered sole — specifically a Chevron Winter Contragrip sole that has nice deep lugs for scrambling over snowy rocks. But this does mean that it won’t work with traditional DIN bindings.
Compatible Bindings: The boots will work with most any AT bindings, including those requiring a horeshoe heel insert such as the Dynafit Beast models — a definite bonus found on few other touring models. They are also compatible with Salomon Guardian/Atomic Trackers.
Similar Model: Salomon will introduce the MTN Explore ($850) in 2015. This is a lighter, less stiff model. It’s really similar in design, but has a much greater 75º range of motion in exchange for a softer ride. We haven’t tested this model, but if you tour long distances or are more focused on uphill than down, it’s worth investigating.
Overall Impression: Once molded, these babies hug your foot, particularly in the heel. Walking is excellent with a full 47º range of motion and very little resistance. Once locked in, the boot might as well be a downhill specific model.
Who Should Buy It: Skiers looking for a hard-charging downhill boot that is light enough for comfort on the skin track.
Contact Brand/More Beta: Salomon MTN Lab
—Sean McCoy is managing editor. Our “First Look” column highlights new gear arrivals at GearJunkie.com. Photos © Monopoint Media LLC