Head Ski Boots
Salomon’s extraordinary success with its 360° Custom Shell technology has obliged Head to respond with its own heat-moldable shell and liner system, dubbed Form Fit. It’s a smart move by Head, as the only way to make inroads against Salomon’s dominant X Pro line is to fight heat with heat.
Readily heat-moldable shells represent an advance in fit customization, but don’t let yourself be blinded by its brilliance. It’s useful to look past this feature (as it’s often not needed or customization can be achieved by other means) to see what other attributes the boots possess. In the case of the new Vector Evo line of men’s and women’s models, there are three additional features—ones used every day and not just once a lifetime—that deserve highlighting.
First, Head’s Double Power lever is the greatest boot feature you’ve probably never heard of, although it’s been around for over a decade. A discretely integrated, spring-loaded lever extends latch length to multiply anyone’s buckling power. Second, the business end of the buckle is called Spineflex for the way its skeletal structure conforms to the shell. Third, the Velcro strap on the Vector Evo 130 is no ordinary piece of sticky fabric, but an elasticized 40mm Booster® strap; this under-appreciated feature not only tightens up the entire steering column, it also adds rebound that brings a boot to life.
The only other boots in the 2016 Head line-up to use the new Form Fit system are two new 3-piece models aimed at the freeride crowd, Hammer and Thrasher. We see the core market for these boots as Pipe & Park denizens, a constituency we don’t serve at realskiers, so you won’t find them covered here.
Most of the other changes to the Head collection involve juggling the hierarchy of offered flexes within each family. For example, last year the Raptor RS line consisted of the 130 and 115; this year the same shoes come in 140 and 120 flexes. The Adapt Edge family formerly topped out at a 110 flex; for 2016, the Adapt Edge ceiling has been raised to 125 and the models below it re-assigned new flexes as well.
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Flexes: 140, 120
The Raptor RS 140 and 120 are as close to World Cup race boots as anyone not wearing a start bib needs to own. Contact around the heel and ankle feels like a velvet vise before the boot is even buckled. Once cinched in with their low-profile buckle system, you feel welded to the monoblock structure, your every twitch instantly transmitted to the sole.
The foundation of all high performance skiing is the boot, which is why racers are notoriously hesitant to switch brands once they’ve tasted success. If you’re a fan of World Cup racing, you know that athletes with first-name recognition like Lindsay, Anna, Bode, Ted, Julia, Aksel and others are raising Head skis over their heads when they stand on the podium. They’re also wearing Heads on their feet, which tells you all you need to know about the racing bona fides of the Raptors.
The 120 flex is already plenty of boot for most mortals; the Raptor 140 RS is a no-frills, no-fooling race boot with instant communication to the edge. In the unlikely event that the 140 isn’t enough boot for you, it can bumped up to a 150 (or down to a 130) should the need arise. The other alternative lies outside the realm of what we consider suitable for citizens: the Raptor B2 RD and B3 RD are both ultra-narrow (93m in 26.5) and beastly stiff (up to 160 flex in the B2).
If you’re a devotee of Technical skis that reach for snow contact at the very top of the turn, one Raptor or another should be on your shopping list. The one-piece shell assures superb sensitivity to the snow and the elite energy transmission required to drive today’s best hard-snow skis.
♀ Raptor RS W
Flexes: 110W, 90W
Head has the unusual—but welcome—habit of referencing forefoot width by size, indicating just how scaled down this dimension becomes with each drop in shell size. Also unusual is a volume measurement for each model, which for the Raptor 110 RS W is 1800cc, or the same small interior as the unisex Raptor 140 RS. This confirms that the Raptor RS W is every cc the same shoe as the men’s boot, with its power and precision intact in the women’s version.
Just a word of caution: it’s not enough for a women’s boot just to fit; the pilot also has to be able to generate the power to bend it. The Raptor RS W in a 110 flex requires the woman who’s driving to be comfortable at the speeds needed to make the boot responsive. New for 2016 is the Raptor 90 RS W, which should be spot on for a lot of lighter weight ladies. The new 90W is relatively undiluted for a step-down model, dimensionally identical to the 110W, with the same liner and shell adjustments. The buckles on the 90 W aren’t quite as sexy, but otherwise it’s just a softer version of the 110W.
Flexes: 130, 120, 110
The Vector Evo series blends race-bred fundamentals with fancy customization features to create a new series for the elite skier with no interest in running gates. The chassis is a relatively roomy Medium (102mm in 27.5, 100mm in 26.5) that can easily be heated and expanded in any direction using Head’s Form Fit system.
While the heat-moldable shell and liner are laudable features, what really makes the Vector Evo awesome boots are all the elements not affected by custom fitting. The Dynamic Frame shell directs more energy to the heel/arch area directly under the steering column. To achieve a natural, balanced stance, the Vector Evo borrows its 4° heel elevation and 14° spoiler angle from the Raptor, but the hinge point has been relocated 18mm rearward to create a more shock-absorbing flex range.
The Vector Evo 130 is further embellished with the Raptor’s Booster strap, an extra touch that is worth more than the average skier realizes. The 130 also uses the nifty, twisty Spineflex buckles and both cuff buckles—the only buckles you ever want to reef on—boost closure power by 50% when the neatly integrated Double Power lever is deployed.
The talented skier with a narrow foot will probably be better off in the confines of the Raptor 120 RS, but those who have enough foot to fill them will find the Vector Evos’ unique combination of features will deliver enduring enjoyment.
♀ Vector Evo W
Flexes: 110W, 90W
Every so often boot designers come up with a feature that has more value for women than for men. Once in a blue moon you’ll find two such features on a boot, as is the case with the Vector Evo 110W. The boot components that the skier handles every day are the buckles, yet most buckles, particularly on high-end boots, are rudimentary affairs, often with short latches just to make closing them even more arduous. The two cuff buckles on the 110W incorporate Head’s proprietary Double Power buckle that extends to multiply the user’s closing force, a godsend to women who often struggle to get the fit tension they need to ski confidently.
The other feature (on both the 110W and the 90W) that benefits women in particular is Form Fit, Head’s method for heat molding the shell and liner around whatever deformity needs extra attention. There’s a bone in a woman’s instep called the first cuneiform that is often squeezed upward to form a nasty knob that’s tricky to accommodate – unless the boot can be re-molded in this area, which Form Fit makes not only possible, but simple.
With all the convenience and customization features a gal could ask for, the new Vector Evo W models also execute where it matters most, on the hill, where its neutral, powerful stance position puts women in balance to succeed.
Flexes: 130, 120, 110
Often a brand’s medium-lasted performance boot is otherwise a virtual clone of its narrower sibling, but Head started with a clean sheet when they created the Challenger series. Everywhere the Raptor RS is tight the Challenger is relaxed. The instep area in particular is generous, as is the forefoot. Creating all this room naturally requires a big shell with a cushy liner, which inevitably loses snow feel properties, but some sensitivity can be restored by using Head’s Adaptive Fit technology to snug up the fit in the forefoot. Envelopment around the lower leg is made easier to customize with a super-stretchy Booster strap on the 130.
In keeping with the current fad of putting a hike mode (HM) on every boot in Christendom, the Challenger sports a latch on the back. When in hike mode the range of cuff travel looks sufficient to take on the Alps, although we have a hard time envisioning the Challenger skier as a long-distance trekker. We recommend getting it for its fit and treating the hike feature as a lagniappe. The one feature you use every day, the buckles, incorporate the clever Double Power lever on the critical cuff buckles.
♀ Challenger W
Head’s helpful last volume measurement (2000cc) reveals the more relaxed fit dimensions of the Challenger 100 W, a model family of one. But fit is not a fixed fact in the Challenger 100W, which uses Head’s unique Adaptive Fit Technology to shut down the shell width by 2mm to fit a more slender foot.
Fit is only part of the Challenger story. Convenience has also been factored into the equation. Softer shell material over the instep allows the foot to slide in effortlessly, and a hike-mode mechanism on the spine makes walking less of a chore.
A flex index of 100 is rather stout for a recreational skier, suggesting that the Challenger W is best suited for the skier with polished skills.
Flexes: 125, 105†, 95
† 105 shown
A lot of boots made for high-volume feet start with a big bathtub of a shell and buckles long enough to close said shell around the foot, but don’t bring the shell and the foot into close enough proximity for accurate steering. The Head Adapt Edge boots also start with a big, wide fit that slips on easily, but they provide two built-in means for taking up any slack between skier and shoe.
The signature Adapt Edge feature is a mechanical means of narrowing the forefoot by actually moving the shell walls closer together, so the skier can dial in just the holding properties he wants in this critical comfort area. Managing the upper cuff volume is made easier by the Double Power buckle that gives the skier 50% more leverage to facilitate a firmer closure. The more precise closure makes the new Adapt Edge 125 one of the best skiing boots in its class with a secure ankle fit and substantial support.
♀ Adapt Edge W
Flexes: 95W, 85W
Intermediates won’t get help with their walking skills in an Adapt Edge W, for the series doesn’t include a walk position among its virtues; however, it does include a couple of nifty features that will definitely help their skiing. While the AdaptEdge feature that allows the shell to shrink or expand in the forefoot grabs the headlines, it’s the extended lever neatly tucked inside the top two buckles that will make every ski day better. The Double Power buckle makes any woman 50% stronger as she’s trying to cinch down her ankle fit.
The low cuff and soft lining on the inner boot puts the premium on fit and comfort for the high-volume foot and ample calf, but the Adapt Edge 95W and 85W aren’t mush buckets. They accommodate the comfort requirements of the woman with a wide foot without giving up on her need for solid steering.
The Venture 130 borrows several features from the Challenger series and cuts out the fat to create a high performance, medium-volume (98mm in 26.5) hiking boot. This substantial shoe is a solid blend of features made for uphill travel, such as a Vibram® sole, a lace-up inner boot and a hike mode with plenty of rearward movement, married to downhill devices such as flexible buckles, a Booster strap and a PU shell for better energy transmission.
Truth be told, no one has made the ideal touring boot that feels like nothing going uphill and magically becomes a beast when aimed in the other direction. With the Venture 130 Head has tilted this never-equal equation in favor of the downhill experience, and considering how much more fun it is to ski than to hump it uphill, who can blame them?