Salomon Ski Boots
Full disclosure: your Editor worked for Salomon from 1978 until 1987, most of that time in product management. I don’t always agree with the path the brand takes, but do have a deep appreciation for how they conceive and execute their products.
We doubt there’s ever been a retail feat like that which Salomon’s boot division pulled off in the U.S. last year. According to the most commonly referenced measure of market share in specialty shops, by mid-season last year a Salomon boot occupied each of the top 7 slots in retail sales. (This is in addition to a healthy slice of the boot rental market, but we digress.)
Salomon’s unsustainably high share of the alpine boot market is driven by what has always been the deciding factor in any boot sale: in-store fit. Regardless of the expertise possessed by either fitter or fittee, 99% of all boot sales boil down to a face-off between the last two models standing after what may have been an arduous triage. In this game, Salomon possesses a trump card, a means of heat-molding the shell (not just the inner boot) that even an idiot bootfitter can operate and any customer can appreciate.
Apparently not content with mere world domination, Salomon has added for 2016 a new genre of backcountry boot (the 2-model MTN series), developed a new X Max (narrow) liner with a more accurate fit in the heel and more room in the toes, and introduced a new flagship model in the entry-level Quest Access family featuring built-in heaters alleged to last from between 4 to 18 hours.
We don’t normally dwell on products aimed at the low-end skier, as they tend to be shapeless bathtubs voluminous enough to raise rabbits in. But the addition of what Salomon calls Custom Heat, a 3-setting heating element (made by market leader therm-ic) integrated in the inner boot, is notable for a couple of reasons. First, the boots that will bear this feature are intended to retail at most shops at $499, hoping to lure the lower skill skier into spending $200 more than they’d planned with the promise of tootsies forever warm. Second, the Custom Heat system ought to be adaptable to other inner boots in the not-so-distant future, which may forestall any erosion of Salomon’s stratospheric market share.
The only hiccup in Salomon’s boot world isn’t in the products but in how they’re sold at run-of-the-mill retailers. The best application of the Custom Shell technology requires fitting the customer into a narrow X Max shell and using the heat-molding feature to expand the shell only as much as necessary. Yet, all too predictably, the biggest sellers are built on the wider X Pro chassis, which is all to the good for big, wide, grape-stomping flippers, but is probably giving the average foot more room around the ankle and rearfoot than is needed—or desirable.
Salomon’s ingenious designs definitely render bootfitting easier, but no method is immune from operator error. Please remember that where you get your boots is every bit as important as what model you ultimately select. Without the guidance of an experienced boot fitter, the chances of extracting the full benefit from a technology as adaptable as Salomon’s seemingly foolproof Custom Shell is virtually nil.
This button takes you to the relevant America's Best Bootfitters review.
Flexes: 130, 110
We don’t normally report on honest-to-God race boots for several reasons, not least of which are that the fit is inhospitable and the flex unbudgeable for all but the most fit of athletes. But Salomon has brought race-room fit and function down to 130 and 110 flex indices, well within the realm of possibility for the “average” expert.
There are three principal features of the X Lab design that distinguish it from its cousin, X Max. First and foremost, the X Lab shells and cuffs are mono-injected, rigid pieces, while the X Max upper and lower are made in a bi-material construction that can be readily reshaped. Second, the X Max starts at 98mm wide in a 27.5 and can expand 6mm from there; the X Lab is 95mm and any extra room you’d like will have to be carved out of its PU ether shell. Third, the inner boot on the X Max, while snug, is still well padded; the slipper inside the X Lab has shed most of the buffering between you and the shell.
In other words, the X Lab is a racing machine mere mortals can bend. Like any true race vehicle, there are no cup holders or other amenities. Just a pure, stripped-down boot that delivers undiluted power to the edge.
narrow ↔ wide
Flexes: 130, 120, 100
The X Max 130 was already an impeccable boot, but Salomon decided to improve it for 2016 anyway. They pre-molded the heel and ankle pocket to give this area more definition and built the entire inner boot from layers of thermoformable foam. (As the X Max family descends the flex scale, the inner boots add a higher percentage of standard insulating foam.) The toe box on the new inner has a more vertical perimeter, so a generous toe box just became even more toe-friendly. In all, the new boot should fit more accurately, and consequently be more comfortable and warmer in the bargain.
The X Max series would be best-in-show boots if they weren’t amazingly malleable. As they incorporate the best adaptable shell technology (360o Custom Shell) in the known world, their value is through the roof. Because X Max boots begin with a round toe box and a deep, dugout heel area, they often allow the skier to downsize a shell and take advantage of the heat mold-ability to fit the larger foot not just comfortably, but superbly. In the hands of a skilled bootfitter, there are precious few fit issues that can’t be satisfactorily resolved.
Perhaps most brilliantly of all, as far as the masses are concerned, the X Max shell comes in softer (and therefore less costly) versions, the X Max 120 and X Max 100, without sacrificing much in the way of fit or performance.
With the arrival last year of the wider X Pro series, folks with medium-wide (100mm) feet will be presented with the X Pro instead of the X Max. Don’t get the wider boot unless you absolutely need it (at 100mm, you don’t), as it’s easier to keep the entire fit snug by selectively expanding the narrower shell than by trying to compress the larger one.
♀X Max W
narrow ↔ wide
Flexes: 110W, 90W, 70W
Make no mistake, a 110 flex is a lot of boot for a woman who isn’t competing, but if you have the skills, you’re going to be insanely happy in the X Max 110W. The expandable shell can handle the most common complaints issuing from the female foot and is even elastic in the cuff area, a godsend for the athletic calf. Even if you already fancy yourself an expert skier, there’s an excellent chance the X Max 110W will make you better. There are so many subtle things this shell does to make it extraordinary that the heat-mold-ability – which is astoundingly effective – is just a bonus.
All the essential features of the 110W live on in the suppler – and more suitable for the 20-day-per-season skier – X Max 90W. As is the case with the men’s models, don’t be in too big a hurry to sidle sideways into a wider X Pro 90W unless you really need the width. The American woman’s foot (yes, Virginia, there are differences among nationalities) is notoriously narrower in the heel and wider in the forefoot, proportionately, than a man’s. If you widen the forefoot area unnecessarily, you risk losing some retention in the heel, where it matters most.
medium ↔ ultra-wide
Flexes: 130, 120, 100, 90, 80
Salomon introduced the X Pro series last season and it immediately crushed the competition. There wasn’t much call to change what was working beyond any reasonable expectation and indeed aside from a cosmetic touch here and there, Salomon has left the X Pro collection intact.
If you have a hefty heel, an elephantine forefoot or an ankle the size of an ark, meet your new boot. Salomon has so much confidence in the moldable range of the X Pro series that when they launched it last year they submitted only one test boot for both the medium- and wide-foot categories. How could it fail? The shell can expand in any direction by up to 6mm, which is a mile inside a ski boot. In the hands of a skilled bootfitter, it’s hard to envision a foot deformity that can’t be accommodated.
All this adaptability is accessible to nearly every skier, for the 360° Custom Shell feature can be found in flexes from 130 to 90. (The X Pro 80 is stripped of this feature, but it still fits a lot of feet comfortably.) The X Pro series is what we call in the trade a “category killer,” for all the functional features they bring to the party make it hard for lesser lights to compete.
♀X Pro W
medium ↔ ultra-wide
Flexes: 90W, 80W, 70W
Women have notoriously wider forefeet than men, but it doesn’t matter how wide you are across your metatarsals, you’ll be able to fit the heat-moldable X Pro 90W. The X Pro 80W and 70W don’t have the moldable shell feature, but Salomon’s idea of a 100mm last for women is plenty wide enough for most ladies.
Almost all women’s feet share a common misfortune: due to certain undeniably alluring styles of feminine footwear, the bones in their mid-foot area are a hot mess. The usual solution of the lazy bootfitter is to upsize, which feels pretty good to the unknowing skier until she puts the show in motion. If you have a high instep, for whatever reason, the X Pro series offers one of the best solutions extant, for it solves for the high arch without sacrificing one scintilla of fit accuracy elsewhere.
Flexes: 120, 110
Having been the principal purveyor of rear-entry boots in their heyday, Salomon knows a thing or two about how to make a skeletal ski boot. Now that the alpine world is cuckoo over all things backcountry, this expertise is back in demand.
Introducing Salomon’s solution to the touring boot, the 2-buckle MTN Lab (120 flex) and MTN Explore (110). The touring trade is obsessed with reducing weight, so Salomon scrapped traditional PU and even passed over polypropylene, instead making the MTN Lab lower shell from Grilamid (think sunglass frames) and the upper cuff from Pebax (a polyamide (soft)/polyether (stiff) blend) putting the MTN models in the featherweight class. Equally lightweight carbon fiber reinforces the spine.
Touring is all about the stride: the MTN Lab has 47° of fore/aft travel, the MTN Explore, a massive 63° range-of-motion. Naturally the liners are minimalist constructions, with the accent on flexibility, and like any Salomon inner boots they’re heat-moldable.
The sole has the full tread of true touring boots so it should only be used with genuine touring bindings (for which the MTN boots have the requisite tech inserts), or alpine bindings that accept boots, like the MTN’s, that meet ISO 9523.
narrow ↔ wide
Flexes: 130, 110
To be clear, Realskiers is not your information clearinghouse for all matters pertaining to hiking uphill. (If you’re really into BC, the best-adapted products from Salomon are the new MTN models, reviewed above.) We are, and we represent the interests of, alpine downhill skiers. In recent seasons, the line between lift-serviced alpine skiing and leg-serviced alpine skiing has blurred. The Quest Max 130 and 110 are products of this limbo land, adapted for full-stride, uphill trekking without forgetting that we don’t want to just mince our way down the hill after we’ve burned 100,000 calories climbing it.
Some brands created their “side-country” or “hike-mode” (HM) models by taking an alpine boot off the shelf, severing the spine, inserting a device patented as a walk mode in the 1980’s and calling all comers to climb on. This route was certainly open to Salomon, but as usual, they didn’t take the easier path. Instead, the Quest Max 130 and its downstream offspring, of which there are many, tried to re-imagine the full range of requirements and make special parts and tooling to fulfill the vision.
In our estimation, the Quest in all its manifestations (Quest Max, Quest Pro, Quest Access) is still primarily an in-bounds boot. Perhaps it’s because we don’t cross paths with the die-hard backcountry hiker as a matter of course, but we find the Quest design best suited to the season pass holder who gets bored with in-bounds skiing and occasionally strikes out on hikes of relatively short duration, either on an AT or alpine set-up.
But no matter how or for how long you choose to go uphill, once it’s time to head down, you’ll be happiest if your most important piece of equipment is a Quest Max.
medium ↔ ultra-wide
Flexes: 130, 110, 90
One point we overlooked in our peroration on the Quest Max (above) merits mentioning here as it applies equally to the Quest Pro family: the shells are heat-moldable. In the case of the Quest Pro, this means the shell can expand to comfortably encase a 106mm-wide forefoot in a size 27.5, which is a whole lot of hoof on a hiker. Prior to heating, a Quest Pro model is 100mm at its widest point, so it will fit a lot of feet even if all that gets heat-molded is the inner boot.
As the Quest Pro line steps down in flex (and price) from 130 to 110 to 90, the inner boots also alter their construction, reducing the total area of the liner that’s thermoformable. A close comparison of the Quest Pro 130 and its narrower cousin, the Quest Max 130, reveals that the two aren’t precisely parallel products. The Quest Max has several subtle enhancements that make it the better among equals, but the Pros will probably feel more comfortable on high-volume feet.
♀Quest Pro W
medium ↔ ultra-wide
Flexes: 100W, 80W
The Quest Pro series for women are aimed at recreational womenfolk who are as likely to use the hike mode in the plaza as off-piste. (More dedicated BC gals will gravitate to models with tech soles as standard equipment.) The top model, the 100W, isn’t as beefy as its “100” flex rating would imply, a comment that could be as easily be applied to the Quest Pro family as a whole. One unassailable attribute of the Quest Pro 100W is its 360° Custom Shell, a particularly valuable asset for women with a protruding bone in their instep, a common deformity that’s hard to treat by conventional means.
The Quest Pro 80W is unequivocally a recreational boot in backcountry attire. The “hike” mode might as well be “meander” mode, but for the woman with a relatively wide forefoot who wants convenience and comfort without shedding all vestiges of performance, it’s a viable alternative to a 4-buckle boot.
Flexes: 90CH*, 90, 80, 70
We love the understated irony in the name Quest Access as applied to this collection of roomy loungewear. Every detail in its design screams, “I deliver the comfort of a mukluk, the convenience of a clog and the steering of a Yankee Flyer!” The inner boot opens like a four-petal tulip, facilitating entry and exit to the nth degree. The lining around the tootsies is made of tufted wool and all around the foot a shield of metallic polyester traps heat, blocks cold and prevents the NSA from seeing your feet. The only untrammeled terrain this skier is likely to access will be due to a map-reading error.
Okay, so the NSA can probably still see your feet, but the feet they’re monitoring will be warm. The italics are called for because the Quest Access Custom Heat is the first boot the world has seen in a long spell with its own onboard heating system integrated in the design. And it’s not just some feeble on/off switch, but a 3-position heating system designed by therm-ic that’s so slick there’s no geeky battery pack. And it’s supposed to last 4 to 18 hours (depending on the setting, duh), which is, to use the vernacular, hot.
Quest Access W
Flexes: 80WCH*, 80W, 70W, 60W
We hope the main reason Salomon created the Quest Access line was so they could switch the cuffs and co-create a parallel collection for women. The arrival of Custom Heat in an inner boot (the top-of-the-line Quest Access Custom Heat)—at $499, no less—should create a stampede of recreational women to this special product.
Generally speaking, women are more likely to have some circulatory impingement that results in cold extremities. They’d have to swing their feet in a centrifuge to warm them up with blood flow. Now with Custom Heat they can just flip a switch and say, “Ahhhh…”
Women with high ambitions should remember that the Quest Access is built on a big-bodied, 104mm last. “Accurate” and “precise” aren’t adjectives that spring to mind. The top two models are labeled with an 80 flex index, but the walk mode switch on the spine is a tip-off that they’ll be “soft” 80-flex boots, and the other boots in the Quest Access family will be softer still.