As I said, I was impressed enough with the downhill performance of the MTN Lab in the backcountry this past spring that I felt the need to give the boot a more serious challenge. So at Arapahoe Basin, I A/B-ed the MTN Lab against the Tecnica Mach 1, one of my favorite alpine boots. (In New Zealand, I had two boots with me: the MTN Lab, and the Lange RX 130 LV.)
Both at A-Basin and down in New Zealand, there was no difficulty transitioning from this lightweight AT boot to either the Mach 1 LV or the Lange RX 130 LV. Certainly, the difference in forward flex was not an issue. At all.
And again, I’ll go out on a limb and say that most people who assume that they’ll really need more stiffness from the MTN Lab are kidding themselves. See the “Stiffness” section above.
Mobbing laps down and around the front and backside of A-Basin, I never felt that I needed more boot—not when I was skiing the G3 Zenoxide with a G3 ION 12 tech binding, and not when I jammed the MTN Labs into some Marker Jesters bolted to some stiff, 190cm, 113mm-underfoot skis, so I could A/B the MTN Labs against the Tecnica Mach 1 LV. (Note: you are not advised to do that, dear impressionable reader.)
Here’s what it really boils down to:
What my favorite 130-flex alpine boots have over the MTN Lab is not their stiffness, but the progressiveness of their flex. And now, given how incredibly good the MTN Lab is, progressive flex is really the final frontier: figuring out how in the hell to get the progressive flex of the best alpine boots into a very lightweight AT boot that has a walk mode.
I don’t know how you do that, and to be clear, I am not complaining about the flex of the MTN Lab. Paul and I both found it very easy to adjust to the flex of the MTN Lab. It is progressive, it’s just not as progressive. And Paul and I only really noticed this difference when we were going back and forth between the MTN Lab and much heavier boots. In the spring and in New Zealand, when I’d ski only the MTN Lab for a few days in a row, all I found myself thinking was how excellent the boot was. Unless you’re directly A/B-ing them, Paul and I doubt you’ll be missing your other boots.
Lateral Flex: I should also add that I have yet to spend any real time rail high-angle turns down pristine groomers in these boots. And so perhaps there, the lateral stiffness of those alpine boots will really set themselves apart. But I can’t say that’s true, it might not be true, and maybe you actually don’t really care about how well your touring boots handle high-angle carves on manicured snow…
Walking – the MTN Lab’s Rockered Sole
I’m not in a position to talk about how it compares to other AT boots out there, but I can tell those of you coming from alpine boots, it’s pretty effective and great, especially if you’re going to spend a lot of time boot packing or rock scrambling in these things. They make walking much more comfortable and natural even when / especially when you’re all buckled up and locked in ski mode.
That Black Material Over the Toe Box
That stuff had me pretty nervous—it looks like it would leak like crazy, or just get punctured / torn up. But 20 days in, and I can say that I have experienced zero leaking and zero durability issues. I don’t think about it anymore, I just know that I really like these boots. I had a couple tours last spring that involved extended periods of deep postholing, and there was no leaking or moisture in the boot.
So why is it there? It’s a textile material that Salomon has used in some of their other footwear. It was a way to allow them to do just 1 buckle on the lower / shoe of the MTN Lab, without using a ton of plastic like they use on the Salomon Ghost. I.e., it is a way to use less plastic and save weight. I wan’t into it initially, but what I mostly care about is that it works and it hasn’t created any issues.
The MTN Lab, with its ISO 9523 certification, that means it is only compatible with bindings that are designated MNC – Multi-Norm Certified, including the 14/15 & 15/16 Salomon Guardian and Warden.
I’ve also spent multiple days skiing in the Kingpin 10, Kingpin 13, and G3 ION 12, and have had no issues with the interface.
Range of Motion (and Salomon’s MTN Explore AT Boot)
Like Paul, I have no complaints with the range of motion of the MTN Lab. But I will say that if you are worried about this issue, then I would strongly encourage you to check out Salomon’s MTN Explore boot, with its greater stated ROM of 63°, compared to the MTN Lab’s 47°.
And given that the MTN Lab flexes more like a 130 alpine boot than a 120, I’m now very curious about the MTN Explore; I used to think it was probably just a dumbed-down version of the MTN Lab. But having now skied the MTN Lab, I’m certain that some skiers won’t want / need a boot this stiff, and so that “100-rated” MTN Explore might simply be the better fit anyway. We are getting time now in the MTN Explore, and will be reporting back very soon.
Backcountry Use vs. Resort Use?
Another bias of mine: I have said that I would never, ever use a walk-mode boot for lift-accessed skiing, because why would you eat soup with a fork? Wrong tool for the job.
I still love my alpine boots and I will keep skiing them in the resort. But if you’re skiing 20-30 days a year, and are close to a 50/50 resort-to-backcountry ratio, I’d have to say that the MTN Lab could be a legit 1-boot quiver.
And if more than 50% of your ski days are in the backcountry? Then I’d honestly just advise that you get the MTN Lab (assuming you want a legit 120 or 130 flex boot).
Or really, you can just forget all of the above number of days or ratio of resort / backcountry days: if you are committed to only having 1 boot for both backcountry and resort use—and you are actually going to do some longer tours, not just talk about doing some longer tours—then there is an extremely strong argument to be made for the MTN Lab.
The Salomon MTN Lab has blown me away, and redefined what’s possible in the AT boot category.
Update: Binding Compatibility
As we’ve reported, Paul Forward and I have skied two different pairs of MTN Labs in two different pairs of G3 ION 12s and two different pairs of Marker Kingpins.
A number of readers have been asking about compatibility with the Dynafit Beast. We haven’t skied the MTN Lab in the Best yet—we will as soon as Paul can tour on them in AK—so we reached out to Salomon’s product manager to see what results their own testing had yielded. Here’s what we got back from Salomon:
“We have had one of our athletes using the [Beast – MTN Lab] setup, and our industrial design team has confirmed that there is no interference with the toe as there was on the older Quest Max BC. Our team in Annecy France is going to be testing out the heel soon to ensure it complies with our standards.
Update: The heel passes with the Beast. Keep in mind, the Beast’s boot-heel fitting modification prevents the MTN LAB from being certified for safety release with the Warden or any other multi-norm-compatible alpine binding. Said another way, the heel modification takes the boot out of the ISO 9523 norm.”