Would You Rather: Light Skis vs. Light Boots

Blister Topic of the Week
Skinning up the ridge of Red Lady (Crested Butte, Colorado)

Q: Would you rather use a very lightweight ski with heavier boots, or a heavier ski with very lightweight boots? To put specific numbers on it, would you prefer a 1300 g ski with 1800 g boots or an 1800 g ski with 1300 g boots? Or is there a certain weight where your answer might flip? And what if we threw bindings into this — which of the three do you want to be the heaviest (in relation to alternatives in that category), and which the lightest? The parameters for this are open to some interpretation, but essentially you get one heavy option, one mid-weight, and one very light piece of gear.

David Golay: I’m going to have to make some tough decisions here. To put this into perspective, my current resort boots are Head Raptor 140 RSs with Zipfit Gara liners (~2550 g per boot) and I’m partial to Look Pivot 15s/18s (1245 g) and skis like the original Blizzard Bodacious (~2500 g). I’m happy making more compromises for touring gear where I’m (1) dragging it uphill myself and (2) not skiing so much chopped up snow, but inbounds? Give me some weight to plow through all the heavy, set up Cascade Concrete that I encounter.

So for the first part of the question, I’ll take the “heavy” ski (everything in the resort part of my real-world quiver is 2100g+) and lighter boot. I’m specifically thinking of the Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro here, which is my primary touring boot these days. Its suspension and flex pattern aren’t even remotely in the same league as my beloved Raptors, but it skis remarkably well given that it comes in barely over half their weight, and I know that I can make the fit work for my feet (which, regrettably, are not nearly as forgiving of just any low volume boot as, say, Jonathan’s are). It’s a big compromise over what I actually choose to ski, but for my preferences, I think the gap between a boot like the Zero G and one that’s ~500 g heavier just isn’t as dramatic in terms of suspension and stability as the classes of skis that come in at similar weights. Or maybe more accurately, it’s less of a limiting factor in terms of me being able to ski them the way I want to.

Once we throw bindings into the mix, I think it actually gets easier. I’m choosing to free myself of the 1800 g ski weight suggested in the first part of the question — I can use anything, at any weight, since this is my “heavy” piece. If the Salomon Shift counts as “mid-weight” (debatable) it’s the easy choice there; if I have to go lighter, I can live with a Fritcshi Tecton. And I’ll do my best to drive all that with the Zero G again.

Luke Koppa: My answer depends a bit on where we draw the line on “lightweight” for both skis and boots, and also what sort of skiing I’m doing. It’s a very tough choice if I’m skiing how I do now, with most time spent in the resort and most of my touring done in the spring. It’s much easier if I get to split my answers into resort-only and backcountry-only.

A big part of this also comes down to fit — I just haven’t really tried any <1600-g ski boots that manage to fit my weird feet really well and just generally feel good on my feet. So I’m going to cheat a bit and assume that I can spend hours and hours with a great bootfitter to make most boots work for me.

So if we’re talking 1800-g boots and 1300-g skis or vice versa, it’s a tough call — especially for resort skiing. I haven’t skied any skis close to 1300 grams that let me ski how I want in all conditions, even if I were to ski them in fairly heavy boots. So I think for this arbitrary number we’re starting with, I’d go 1800-g skis with 1300-g boots. Like David, I’m mostly thinking of the Tecnica Zero G Tour Pro here, which is around 1300 grams and skis way better than it should (I’d just have to do a whole lot of bootwork to it to make it work, and I’d want to cheat and have a dedicated, heavy alpine liner). Then I could ski something like the Line Sir Francis Bacon and have a whole bunch of silly fun, or go with a more serious 50/50 ski like Black Crows Serpo or Volkl Blaze 106 and generally be ok. I wouldn’t be happy about it, but I think I’d be happier than I’d be on a ~1300-g ski like the old Fischer TransAlp and a heavier boot like the Tecnica Cochise.

Now, if I was specifically talking about backcountry skiing, my answer is easier. I’ve been impressed by the downhill performance of some of the <1400-g boots I’ve used, including the Fischer TransAlp Pro and the new Salomon S/Lab MTN Summit, and I don’t require nearly as much support or suspension in my backcountry boot as I do in the resort. Those boots also walk really, really well — it’s kind of a win-win. So I’d opt for a lighter boot for pure backcountry use, and that’d let me go with a slightly heavier and/or wider ski, which I’d appreciate if I was touring all winter long. This is basically what my backcountry-specific setup would be anyway, so I’m not conflicted here. As for bindings, it’s tough to say what the “middle ground” is for bindings these days. If it’s a Shift or Duke PT and alpine bindings are “heavy,” then I’d just put a Duke or Shift on for a mix of resort and backcountry skiing, and stick with my heavy ski + light boot combo. If a Fritschi Tecton / Marker Kingpin is the middle ground, then I might go with a “heavy” 50/50 binding, lightweight boot, and midweight ski, cause I really value reliable release in the resort. For purely backcountry skiing, I’m again much less conflicted. I don’t need the release characteristics or downhill performance of heavier or midweight touring bindings for pure touring setups, so I’d honestly be pretty happy with a light binding, light boot, and moderately heavy ski. If I’m only skiing in the backcountry, I’d be perfectly happy skiing a Line Vision 108 with a Moment Voyager XII binding and a boot like the TransAlp Pro.

Would You Rather: Light Skis vs. Light Boots, BLISTER

Kara Williard: As someone who spent a decade as a bootfitter, and an advocate of the phrase, “you date your ski, but marry your boots,” (and several other cliché iterations of such phrases) which basically all hint at the fact that boots are infinitely more important than skis, I am going to go for a heavy boot on this one. Mainly, because I know the unique characteristics of my rigid foot and ankle, and I have found that a more supportive and stiffer boot definitely caters to a better, more pain-free experience while skiing (for me, personally). Unfortunately, for the most part, a supportive and stiff and stiff boot comes at the cost of more weight. I cannot imagine not not benefitting from the responsiveness and support of a stiff boot, and yet having to push a heavy ski around. It’s not really an option. Since the boot is the mechanism transferring energy to the ski, it seems a bit wild to think you’re even going to be able to drive a stiff ski in a light boot in any rewarding manner, so what’s the point? I think maybe if I had an easier foot to fit, my answer would be different. But even then, I am still such an advocate of a good fit, and for me this usually means relatively stiff flex (115-130), custom insoles, ZipFit Gara liners, ramp angle adjustment via heel lift, and the list goes on. What I am left with is a heavy boot, and the ability for me to ski pain-free for most of the day. Granted, I am also skiing about 80% inbounds, so if this were to shift, I might opt for the other way around, because I also know firsthand the disadvantages of lugging a heavy boot uphill. Recently I am, finally, feeling a bit more comfortable touring in a lighter boot, namely the Tecnica Zero G Tour Scout and the Atomic Hawx Ultra XTD 115, but if I am choosing the best scenario for a majority of my skiing, I still lean towards a heavier boot. That said, I haven’t skied many sub-1300 g skis, so I can’t really speak to what I might be setting myself up for, but at least I know I will be in a boot that feels supportive even if my lightweight ski is flailing and chattering across the mountain.

Dylan Wood: I have actually thought about this question a good bit. 1300 gram boots or skis are both very light, and I don’t think I’ve ever skied something so light since I’ve been an adult. I’d even consider an 1800 gram ski or boot on the lighter side, too. If you asked me this question a year ago, I probably would have answered that I’d prefer a lightweight boot and heavy ski without thinking much about it. Given that I had spent about three seasons in an Atomic Hawx Ultra 130 (around 1700 grams, which is light but not 1300 grams light), this is no coincidence. Although, after spending a lot of time in heavier boots like the Head Formula and Tecnica Mach1, it is getting much harder for me to answer this without thinking about it too much. And in the realm of skis, I can’t imagine that a 1300 gram ski would be very fun for the way I like to ski. I like to ski pretty fast on ungroomed terrain where I really appreciate the dampness and suspension of a 2100+ gram ski. So I am not very stoked on either answer. If I had to choose, I would probably go with the 1300 gram boot and 1800 gram ski. My thinking here is that chatter first comes through to your ski, and so having a heavier, relatively more damp ski can mute some of this input to your boots, which at 1300 grams, it would not be very damp at all. If we are going to throw bindings into the mix, I would want the binding to be the heaviest part of the setup, relative to the other gear. I don’t want to compromise on safety, and I definitely don’t want to ski on a pin binding inbounds. I can also think of plenty of 1800 gram skis I’d probably be pretty happy with, whereas I don’t think I’d be stoked on any 1300 gram ski for inbounds skiing. I’d probably opt for the Tecnica Zero G or something similar for boots, which I would be okay with. I think a more realistic adaptation of this question for inbounds skiing would be choosing equipment that is either 1700 grams or 2200 grams. In this case, I’d still go for the lighter boot and heavier ski. This would mean skiing something like a K2 Recon with a ski like the Sego Big Horn 106, which I would be very happy with. I suppose the other side of this would be skiing an Atomic Redster Club Sport with a ski like the Line Sick Day 94. In my mind, this setup makes a lot less sense as I think you’d be over-driving the Sick Day 94 into the ground and overflexing it with the Redster.

Paul Forward: I’ve thought about this kind of thing a lot and increasingly I see my ski, boot, and binding choices as more about my priorities and desired sensations for any given day and less about “the best” ski or boot for “how I ski”. It’s true that I’ve long preferred stiff, damp, heavy boots like the Head Raptor 140 or Lange RX 130/140 and heavy damp skis for charging around at high speeds in the mostly maritime snowpack around my home of Girdwood, Alaska. On the other hand, I also love skipping around on 1000gram boots and 1300g skis and enjoy the almost weightless feel on my feet (mostly on the up but also on the down!) and the fact that they coax me into being a more balanced and finesse oriented skier. When I’m just out skiing for fun (not guiding or reviewing) there’s no “best” combo for my overall skiing happiness and I’m delighted to have the option to bounce around on light stuff on some days and smash crud on heavy metal on others. For the question posed regarding choosing between a 1300g or 1800g boot or a ski vs skis of similar weight, I’d go the same route as everyone else above and stick with my Zero G Tour Pros and the heavier skis. If it was for touring only (mid-winter Alaska), my priority would be more on the dimensions of the skis (shooting for >115mm and at least 185cm long) than the weight but because of that, I’d rather have some flexibility with ski weight than boot weight. For inbounds, I’d still probably go with the ZGPT and something like the Majesty Havoc or, based on what I’ve heard from Luke et al, the Folsom Cash 106.

To me, the more interesting question here is where we sit right now relative to ski and boot design and weight. Let’s start with the premise that most of us accept here at Blister that heavier skis and boots generally yield better suspension and stability. In my experience, both skis and boots have made gains over the past 10-20 years in how capable they are relative to their weight. (This is coming from someone who skied various kinds of weird foam core and other lightweight touring skis in the late ’90s and early 2000s.) That said, I’m going to stick my neck a little and say that in the last few years I think boot weight/performance ratio has improved more than that of skis in this regard.

When it comes to stability and suspension in skis I still feel like there is a very direct relationship with weight. Allowing for some outliers, in general, I don’t think this has changed very much over the past 5-10 years. I’m not a ski engineer but I ride dozens of skis every year and it seems to me that we haven’t seen any huge changes in ski materials and construction in the last 10 years. Manufacturers have gotten incrementally better at blending carbon, fiberglass, different types of wood and titanal with small but real advances over time but the change has been gradual and linear.

Meanwhile, during that same time period, we’ve seen a more significant shift in boot materials. Eleven years ago I got my first pair of Dynafit TLT5 Performance boots and took them straight to a three-week glacier camping trip in the Tordrillo mountains where I was blown away by the kind of terrain I could ski on a boot that light (my pair was over 1300g once I added a few things to make them usable for me) that toured that well. As far I know that was the first widely available Grilamid boot on the market. Since then we’ve seen significant stepwise advances in boots materials and designs every year or two to the point where I can now choose between an incredibly capable 1300g ZGPT or a remarkable 1000g F1LT for ski touring. Meanwhile, I am getting almost the same performance out of my 1900g Tecnica Mach1 Concepts as I am out of my 2300+g Head Raptors, even with the same Intuition liners in both boots. In comparison, I think the stability and suspension performance gap between 1900g and 2300g skis is larger than that between these boots.

Are you going to see World Cup skiers racing GS on 1500g boots anytime soon? I doubt it, but I do think that 1800g (and lighter) boots like the Tecnica Cochise will continue to show up on the feet of more and more aggressive inbounds skiers with increasingly fewer compromises than those same grams would make if shaved off of inbounds skis.

12 comments on “Would You Rather: Light Skis vs. Light Boots”

  1. I have no idea. BUT if you get 1300 + 1800 grams TOTAL then I actually have a set up I don’t mind skiing in bounds. Vision 108 in a 183 + zgtp with the mach1 liners stuffed in there

  2. I’ve mostly been skiing Sender Squads with Pivot 15s this season, wearing the new Cochise 130 boots. So that answers that question :P

  3. I think is making the most sense here! As a skier who has become solely a backcountry user, I have enjoyed really light skis for most terrain and conditions. Lighter than 1300g, even, sometimes! I’m not charging hard when conditions are really bad, so that helps. However, even in the idea conditions, I’m always concerned about my power transfer and boot fit. In exposed and high consequence turns, I enjoy knowing that I am going to be able to hit a consistent wall of beefy liner and plastic.Maybe I just haven’t found the right fit for light boots, but my trust of lighter boots in steep terrain is pretty marginal. The lightest boot I ski anymore is the Hoji (still pretty light), but I’ve come around to the Hawx 130 UTD and some light skis. Uber control, and I can open up when the conditions are friendly.

  4. I love that the binding entered the discussion here for one… like the number of people I see riding tech bindings in Washington in bounds… bizarre. But I’m with Kara… boots. I’ve blown up my ankles on damp skis in softer boots. I don’t think you can drive a damp ski as hard on a soft/lighter boot – and that lack of response invariably means worse skiing/more punishment in bounds.

    Backcountry… I’d say you generally have more margin for error, so you can get away with the ski handling more of that punishment vs binding/boot.

  5. Light boots, safe bindings and heavier skis. This is coming from a lifelong skier who just turned 60 and has arthritic knees. I find my quickness is leaving me as I get older and less weight helps to offset it a bit. I’m enjoying my new Scarpa Maestrales on Salomon QST 106s, Salomon Blanks, K2 Pontoons, DPS 124s, etc. Both in the resort and the backcountry. I won’t compromise on safety with pin bindings so resort bindings or Salomon Shift for me.

  6. It seems like you should specify if this topic is for resort or touring. I’ll just assume it’s for touring because 1800g is a horrible ski weight for the resort and 1300g must be a joke.

    That being said, skis > boots > bindings. Therefore 1800g skis/ 1300g boots/ Bindings, well those guys in the Alps sure seem to rip bigger and higher consequence lines than we ski in the US on light weight pin bindings. Maybe they know something we do not?

    For the record, I came across this researching/searching for reviews of ~1800g skis because I am going this direction with my touring setup. 1500g Hoji Free/ATK XII (Moment) or Armada tracer bindings/ skis? – still researching

  7. I would like to see this redone separately for touring and inbounds.
    And list what size boots and skis those weights are for. After all you get get a “lot of ski” for 1800g if it’s 75mm wide and 150cm long. Or, conversely, 1800g is still not “much of a boot” if you wear 29.5.

  8. I think roughly 2000g skis are the best for all around backcountry use and ive spent some time on the ATK fr14 and thats where i save a few grams. Ive found that skin type/boot rom have more to do with easy backcountry travel then boot or ski weight. Now at the resort power wraps and heavy skis make it way more fun. I ski in Alaska as well so maybe its just an AK thing. Plus (and i know this is arbitrary but…) you get used to weight, half way through the season my 2000gr Renegades, CAST bindings, Roxa R3 boots, and pomoca free pro skins become easily manageable as my legs simply grow stronger. I dont wear spandex and race uphill so i don’t really care about weight as much i guess. Good write up though, seams everyone would opt for heavier skis and that’s because you guys know what you are talking about.

  9. I have tried to assemble a do everything combo, I have given up and gone back to a quiver of skis and bindings. Boots, Atomic Hawx Prime with Intuition Tour Wrap liners are 3000g in a 26.5 and I am using them for everything. I see three categories not two, namely Touring, resort touring, and pure resort. Pure resort yes go for mass dampness suspension and good release characteristics there are lots of options. But if you want to be able to do a bit of sidecountry then weight does matter so lighter skis and boots become desirable, Shifts are 1800g, Dukes heavier, Tectons are lighter but fiddly/plastic-y, then there are good skis 1500-1800 g. Touring gear is currently my fascination, ATK Raider bindings are under 800g including the freeride spacers, and there are some very good light weight skis under 1500g, and if you are willing to slow down and ski with finesse then you can do some resort skiing on this gear, especially in soft conditions where the snow provides some suspension.
    When is the next hybrid binding going to emerge to challenge the Shift?
    I would like to see an article on good resort/touring gear as to me this is the area where the choices/compromises are more significant.

  10. Zero G Tour Pro is a bit of a game changer here. A 1300g boot can now drive wide skis in all conditions (if not with the precision and suspension of an Alpine boot). Think I prefer the way my ATK FR14’s ski versus shifts and that’s another big weight saving. With 1800g for the skis you’ve got some genuine freeride options. You can probably get down to 1500/1600 and still get decent performing skis. At 1300g you are making a lot of compromises in the skis.

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