2016-2017 Atomic Hawx Ultra 130
Stated Flex Rating: 130
Stated Last Width: 98 mm – 104 mm (can expand at least 6 mm in the forefoot)
Size Tested: 26.5 / 300 mm Boot Sole Length
Stated Weight (size 26.5): 1680 grams
Blister’s Measured Weight:
- Shells & Boot Boards, no Liners: 1270 & 1267 g
- Stock Liners (with rear spoiler, no footbed): 425 & 426 g
- Total Weight per Boot: 1695 & 1693 g
Shell Material – Cuff: Grilamid; Shoe / Clog: Polyurethane
Days Tested: 40+
We wrote about the Hawx Ultra 130 in our 16/17 Winter Buyer’s Guide, but I’ve been hesitant to say more about it before I could render a fairly long-term evaluation. And to be very candid, that’s because the news that Atomic was making a very light, 4-buckle, riveted boot was not news that made my heart leap for joy. In all honesty, I didn’t want to like this boot, on principle.
I spend a good bit of time on Blister arguing that weight is actually a good thing — and especially when it comes to inbounds equipment, where we have the convenience of lazily riding chairlifts and don’t have to drag heavier equipment up the mountain under our own power. So the drive to create a lightweight alpine boot struck me as rather misguided, just as the drive to make inbounds skis lighter and lighter can lead to people having a less enjoyable time skiing everyday, inbounds conditions.
But with all that said, I now have to publicly admit that I’ve been quite impressed with the Hawx Ultra 130.
Here’s what I wrote about the Hawx Ultra 130 in our Winter Buyer’s Guide:
“If you dislike the heavy feel of 4-buckle alpine boots, this 1694 g boot (size 26.5) might be your new favorite. We happen to like the solid feel and performance of heavy alpine boots, and yet, having put about 30 days in the Ultra 130 last season, the fact is that it skis well. Its liner, cuff, and shell are all heat-moldable, and the molding process yielded good fit results for us. If you spend a lot of time hiking and boot packing on your inbounds days, or if it feels jarring going from your super light touring boots to a heavy dedicated-alpine boot, you will want to check out the Hawx Ultra 130.”
And having no spent another ten days in the boot since I wrote that, I still stand by it. But to get a bit deeper…
This isn’t the only story with the Hawx Ultra 130, but it is certainly the primary one. A sub-1700 gram alpine boot in a size 26.5 is impressive. Or insane.
On Atomic’s website, Matt Manser, Atomic’s ski boots product manager, says that the Hawx Ultra 130 was inspired by Atomic Backland touring boot: ‘We learned a lot developing our lightweight Backland boot last year, including how to create a lighter shell that stays strong.’ He said. ‘We’ve now married this know-how with the best bits of Hawx and our racing expertise. It keeps your feet incredibly light and agile when you’re ripping down the mountain.’
That all sounds good. So long as my $700 alpine boot doesn’t go downhill like a lightweight touring boot…
We’ll talk more about the pros and cons of this low weight along the way. But I will say this — this past weekend, we hiked all day, bell-to-bell, almost every run, at about 11,000 ft. For two days straight. And no question, I was pretty psyched to be doing all of that boot packing in this lightweight boot.
Boot Sole Length (BSL)
[Note: if you really want to impress your boot fitter and / or ski nerd friends, memorize your BSL #. Like your social security number, this isn’t the sort of thing that you’ll use every day, but it will come in handy from time to time.]
In a size 26.5, most dedicated alpine boots (i.e., boots that do not have a walk mode) will have a BSL of 305-307 mm. The Hawx Ultra 130 has a shorter BSL — 300 mm / size 26.5 — which is in line with the BSL of a size 26.5 touring boot. A shorter BSL is nicer to walk in, and it needs to be made clear, a shorter BSL has nothing to do with the length or roominess of the toe box. In fact, this is one of the things that I like most about the Hawx Ultra 130 — it is relatively long in the toe box.
Sizing / My Feet
Length (Left & Right): 271 & 274 mm
Width (Left & Right): 100 & 99 mm
Instep Height (L & R): 79 mm & 75 mm. The Boot Doctor’s Charlie Bradley describes this as a “high arch / high instep” — on a scale of 1-10, he calls my arch / instep a 8 or 9.
Charlie also notes about my feet: Fairly stable, solid platform. A bit of pronation. A good amount of ankle range of motion (aka, “dorsiflexion”).
According to the charts, I ought to be in a size 27.5 boot, but I have always dropped down to at least a size 26.5 to get more of a “performance” fit rather than a “comfort” fit. I’ve always worn a size 26.5 in low-volume (“LV”), ~98mm-wide boots (e.g., Tecnica Mach 1 LV, Lange RX 130 LV, Nordica Patron Pro, Atomic Redster Pro, Fischer RC4 130 etc.), and so I went with the Hawx Ultra 130 in a 26.5. If I am reviewing a boot with a wider last (e.g., Salomon X-Pro or Atomic Hawx 2.0 120), I’ll drop down to a 25.5.
Fit: Shoe / Clog
I got a very good result with the heat molding of the boot and liner. I am accustomed to a very tight boot fit, and initially, I worried that I should have dropped down to a size 25.5 in the Hawx Ultra 130. But now with a bunch of days in the boot, I don’t think that I needed to; the boot fits well, it just isn’t as tight across the instep, toe box, or forefoot as a size 26.5 Fischer RC4 130 Vacuum, the Tecnica Mach 1 LV, or the Atomic Redster Pro. Instead, the Hawx Ultra 130 feels more in-line (volume-wise) with the Lange RX 130 LV.
But if the shoe / clog of the Hawx Ultra 130 feels nicely roomy, it should; that’s the benefit of a heat-moldable shell, right? The shell itself will expand out. And while the Hawx 2.0 I reviewed didn’t seem to mold all that well, the new Hawx Ultra does. And given that the new Hawx Ultra does mold well, I would advise that if you are on the fence about whether to go up or go down, I would err on the side of going down; that shell will expand to fit your foot. So if you go too big right off the bat, you risk developing slop and play, and lose most of the benefits of having a moldable shell.
I’m not saying that everyone should downsize in this boot; I’m just saying those who are caught between two sizes may be wise to drop down.
Fit: Cuff / Throat
I’m getting a fantastic, extremely snug fit from the cuff / throat of the Hawx Ultra 130. I hate feeling like my lower leg isn’t entirely wrapped and locked in in a ski boot, and I’m not sure that I’ve ever had a boot feel like I was getting such a secure, snug wrap. Your mileage may vary, but I have a hunch that the thin Grilamid cuff wraps and conforms around the lower leg and shin better than many of the other dedicated alpine boots I’ve reviewed. I love the lack of play I’m getting here. Snug and locked in.
So, How Does it Ski?
But if the cuff feels like it is made of a thinner, more malleable material (which allows for that snug wrap around the lower leg / shin) … does that have an effect on the stiffness and responsiveness of the boot? In short, Yes. And this, too, has its upsides and downsides…
Flex + Suspension + Comparisons to Other Boots
This is not an “ultra-stiff” boot; the Atomic Redster Pro I reviewed several seasons ago was much stiffer — and also much more jarring and less forgiving. If I were racing, I’d take the Redster Pro in a heartbeat. But for skiing in bumped-up, off-piste terrain, the Hawx Ultra 130 is a much more forgiving / less jarring ride, and I would opt for it every time.
So two things here: if the Redster Pro is a boot you love … you will have no interest in the Hawx Ultra 130. They represent two very different ends of the spectrum. The Hawx Ultra 130 is lighter, more forgiving, and easier (thanks to its effective heat-moldable shell) to achieve a pretty dialed-in fit. But the Hawx Ultra does not have the lateral stiffness and power of the Redster Pro.
So while you did see world-cup racers in the “WC” version of the Redster Pro, I don’t think we are going to see world-cup racers in the Hawx Ultra 130. (But raise your hand if you’re reading this and you aren’t currently a competitive ski racer….)
So if this is not a race boot, neither does it have the flex pattern of a lightweight touring boot. I’ll say more about this in the Comparisons further below.
Soft Snow / Deep Snow
In deep snow, the Hawx Ultra 130 have performed and felt fantastic. In such conditions, you’ve got a ton of suspension built into the snow, and I can’t notice any obvious difference between the Hawx Ultra 130 and some of my other favorite 130-rated boots.
The Hawx Ultra 130 feels just fine on groomers. But high-angle carving at speed is where I have my primary hesitations about this boot; it feels like I’m getting a bit more lateral flex in it than in my favorite alpine 130-flex LV boots that are made of a different plastic.
You may not care about this, and I’m willing to wager that a lot of skiers wouldn’t notice any difference. And furthermore, I believe most of the remaining skiers could adjust to this difference, as evidenced by the fact that many of us ski heavy alpine boots inbounds, then adjust to skiing in lightweight touring boots in the backcountry.
But this is the single biggest reason why I hope that all boot manufacturers don’t start a weight-loss race when it comes to high-performance, 130-rated, inbounds boots. On ice and very firm surfaces, the lightweight Hawx Ultra 130 doesn’t offer the same solid feel that you get from (some of the very best) heavier boots.
Roughed-Up, Off-Piste Terrain
On a related note, when skiing in roughed-up, somewhat bumped-up terrain at high speeds, the Hawx Ultra 130 isn’t quite as solid as some of the other boots mentioned here. Again, if you aren’t nuking down beat-up groomers or open bowls in variable conditions, the differences here will be less and less pronounced.
What complicates this issue is that, while some may feel like the Hawx Ultra 130 lacks some power in such terrain and conditions, others may very well love how forgiving the boot feels, and absorbing of rough terrain.
So this is yet another Know Thyself moment: if you aren’t skiing pretty flat out in such terrain and conditions, then I doubt you will notice a big difference, or maybe any difference.
NEXT: More Boot Comparisons, Durability, Who’s It For?, What’s Next…