Alpine Hard Boots
Boots are probably the most important part of your carving linkage - if the
boots don't fit well, you aren't going to carve well, no matter what bindings
or board you are using. It's especially important for beginners to start off
with the right boots.
The most important thing is fit and comfort. Beyond that, there are several
Stiffness: Similar to board stiffness, your weight factors into the
optimal stiffness of boots. In addition, a stiffer boot will be more efficient
at directing power into the board. You will get better response, be able to
change edges quicker, and be able to put the board higher on edge with less
effort. However, because of the stiffer suspension, you will feel all the bumps
in the terrain, and you will be more susceptible to heel side chatter. With stiffer
boots, you will have a narrow margin of error to achieve the right edge balance:
if you don't use the right technique, you will either tip over or be unable
to get the board on edge at all. Beginners can benefit from either soft or stiff
boots - soft boots let you learn a new technique, and stiffer boots force you
to use proper technique. The stiffness of a boot is determined by:
- The stiffness of the plastic shell
- The stiffness of the tongue
- The stiffness of the spring in the lean adjuster (if any)
Cuff height: A taller cuff generally creates more stiffness and provides
more power transmission to the board. It also provides more leg support and
can minimize bruising and muscle strains.
Binding style: Step-in bindings provide a hands-free method for your
boots to engage the binding. Step-in systems for hard-shell boots come in several
flavors: rat trap, Intec, Burton Physics, F.A.S.T., and pin-latch. The rat trap style uses
a latch mechanism and does not require modification to the boots. The Intec
and Physics systems have a spring-loaded locking mechanism in the heel piece
of the boots, whereas the F.A.S.T. system has a spring-loaded locking mechanism
in the heel section of the bindings. The pin-latch mechanism, such as the one sold by G-Style, uses pins in the heel that mate with a latch in the binding. If you opt for Intec, Physics, F.A.S.T., or pin-latch
step-in bindings, you must buy replacement heels for your boots that work with
the bindings. For Intec, Physics, and F.A.S.T. and pin-latch, all the force is put on the
replacement heels, so you should periodically check the bolts that hold the
heels in place to make sure they don't loosen and fall out. Carvers have been
known to discover (either before or after it's too late) that their heels have
been held in by loose bolts.
Sole base: You will get more versatility out of snowboard
boots that have a shorter sole length, because they will result in a shorter
distance between the toe and heel blocks of the bindings, which will allow you
to use lower binding angles without boot overhang. Lower binding angles provide
more leverage and mobility when carving turns, and you may find that you prefer lower binding
angles overall. If you move to a narrow race board, shorter boots will prevent
you from having to crank up the binding angle.
Cuff cants: Boots usually have cuff cant adjusters on the inside and/or outside
ankle, which allow you to align the cuff of the boots to match the shape of
your ankle and leg (pronation/supination). These cant adjusters are not to
be confused with binding cants, which rotate the entire boot along the toe-heel
axis. To adjust the cuff alignment, loosen the cant adjusters, flex forward
in the boot, and while you are flexing, have someone tighten the cant adjusters.
Some bootfitters use a plumb bob: suspend the plumb bob from your knee, and
as you flex your knee forward, the plumb should stay on a path that passes
through the center long axis of your foot. Boots can have cant adjusters on
both sides of the ankle (like the Raichle SB series), or just one side of
the ankle (Raichle AF series).
Make sure that you tighten the cuff cants when you are carving. There is one boot model that does not allow the cuff cants to be tightened: the old Burton Freecarve boots, and as a result, these boots are not recommended for carving.
The cuff cant adjusters can also influence stiffness and forward lean: For
boots with cant adjusters on both sides of the ankle, the boot cuff can be
moved up or down without changing the lateral canting. Usually, moving the
cuff down causes the cuff to press against the boot shell, which stiffens the boots and also increases the forward lean.
Liner: The liner should conform to your foot, and it should be warm enough to keep your toes from going numb. The best option is a fully-moldable thermo liner, such as the ones provided by DeeLuxe, and the newer Virus boots. The liner is what ultimately determines the comfort of the boot. In general, hard boots with a fully moldable thermo liner are as comfortable as soft boots. In addition, if you need bootfitting modifications, the bootfitter will likely remove layers from the liner in spots that are causes excessive pressure.
- If you are having trouble getting the liner in the shell, you can put a
strip of duct tape on the inside back of the shell and spray a silicon lubricant
on it. This trick can also be used when heat-molding liners.
- When you are not using your boots, keep the buckles at least half way clicked
in. Otherwise, the shell plastic can warp over time.
- Some people go through life never knowing how to properly buckle boots.
Always tighten the 2nd buckle first (the one behind the toe buckle): it will
put your heel back into the pocket and make it easy to tighten the other buckles.
- To maintain consistency, remember how many clicks each buckle should be
- If you need to reduce the stiffness of your boots, you can loosen the second
buckle from the top, keeping the other buckles tightened.
- Some boots have an asymmetric shell, such as the DeeLuxe Indy/Suzuka, or the UPZ RSV Superlight. The asymmetric design causes the knee to move in an arc as it bends and moves toward the toes. Instead of taking a direct path to the toes, the boot cuff guides the knee and lower leg outward, and then back inward, which is a more efficient and anatomically correct.
- The boot plastic will vary in stiffness depending on temperature. At room
temperature, the plastic can be really soft, but on the hill, it can get really
stiff, which stiffens the boot flex, and also makes it difficult to get the boot on and off. Do not leave your boots in the car overnight. Otherwise, it may take a Houdini level of effort to get cold boots on in the morning. Also, if the plastic becomes very stiff from
the cold, you may have difficulty getting your foot out of the boot at the
end of the day. In the spring, if the plastic warms up in the afternoon, you
might find that you can tighten the boot buckles another notch.
- Some boots/liners are not sufficiently warm on very cold days, causing your
toes to go numb. You can:
- Switch to a liner that is warmer, like a heat moldable liner.
- Use the BootGlove, which goes
over your boots to add warmth. It also keeps snow from getting shoved
under the tongue.
- Add Hotronics to your boots, which are battery-powered heat pads that
go under the liner.
- Use disposable heat packs. You may need to tape them inside your boots to keep them from shifting around.
- After a day of riding, remove the liners from the shell, remove the footbeds
from the liners, and let everything air out. A few times a year, you may need
to use a hair dryer or hose heater to completely dry out your liners. Do not
put liners in the dryer, because the heat that is applied directly to the
outer surface of the liner can melt the glue that holds everything together.
- Stiffer boots seem to be more susceptible to cracking - the Burton and Head boots, in particular. If a crack develops, you can temporarily stop the crack from growing by drilling a small hole at the endpoint of the crack.
- It's a bad idea to use snowboard boots on skis. Snowboard hard boots
have beveled toe and heel soles, which won't work in ski bindings. The UPS
RSV Machs have optional DIN Toe/Heel pieces and are billed as dual-use boots,
however they are not stiff enough to be used effectively with skis.
- However, you can use snowboard hardboots with skiboard bindings.
- Some models of hard boots are prone to getting wet inside. There is no known
The lean/flex adjustment mechanism on the back of hard boots allows you to
set the fore/aft flex stiffness and/or lock in a forward lean position:
- Forward lean lock: Some boots have a walk/ride lever that allows the forward
lean to either flex freely, or lock into one of several lean positions. The lean positions usually range
from a neutral position (the boot cuff points straight up) to an aggressive
forward lean. Most people ride with a neutral position on the front, and a
slight forward position on the back. If you lock in a very forward lean, heel sides
will be more powerful, but your leg muscles will burn up quickly because they
have to do all the work of keeping you balanced.
- Fore/aft flex: Some boots have a spring mechanism that sets the pre-load
stiffness. Carvers sometimes go for more stiffness on the front boot and less
on the rear. In order to use the pre-load stiffness provided by the springs, you must lock the walk/ride lever into the ride mode; when in "walk" mode, the boot flexes freely, without the springs. The key aspect of boot lean is that the flex should be determined by a spring system, not by the flexing/strain of the boot plastic. Boots that rely on shell plastic for flex have several problems:
- On most boots, the flex of the boot gets stiffer with a more forward lean position, because the plastic of the boot cuff presses against the lower boot plastic. This is one reason why boot lean is not the same as binding toe/heel lift.
- On cold days, the plastic is stiffer, and hence the flex will be stiffer.
- The stiffness of the boot flex also depends on the cuff cant position: a lower position means more stiffness.
For the 2005/2006 season, Bomber introduced the BTS (Boot Tuning System), a
Raichle/DeeLuxe-compatible lean adjuster with long springs that have a constant flex. The new adjusters are compatible with all AF and SB Raichle boots except the old SB121, Snowboarder, and Concordia. Most carvers will want to replace the RAB system on AF700s with the BTS, and the BTS can also provide constant flex for the AF600. The constant flex will be a boon to any carver, and particularly useful for people doing ExtremeCarving.
| A BTS (top) and the RAB system (bottom). The BTS has longer springs which provide constant stiffness. In addition, the parts on the BTS that mate with the Raichle pins have pin holes with wider spans, which reduces the localized stress on the pins and prevents breakage. When the RAB system breaks, it tends to happen when the narrow bottom bolt shaft (6mm span) breaks the bottom Raichle boot pins. In contrast, the bottom piece of the BTS is 16mm wide.
A few guidelines on the BTS:
- The BTS comes with two springs: a 3" spring for the toeside, and a 1.5" spring for the heelside. Each spring comes in three stiffnesses: soft (yellow), medium (blue), and hard (red). A lot of folks go with the blue (medium flex) springs.
- When using the BTS on the low-end Raichle boots, such as the SB series, it's best to go with the softer (yellow) springs. The stiffer springs may not make sense with the softer boot plastic.
- You can adjust the spring tension to set both the static position of the forward lean, and also the preload, which is the amount by which each spring is compressed when the boot is not flexed.
- Installing the BTS involves punching out the pins that hold the Raichle/DeeLuxe lean adjuster mechanism, then installing the BTS using the same pins.
- Don't lubricate the BTS; the top nut may loosen itself, and cause the top spring to fall off. Also, the bottom nut may unscrew itself, which changes the static lean position. Actually, you might want to consider loc-tite (The blue version), or vibra-tite to keep the nuts from unscrewing.
The BTS fits Head boots as well as DeeLuxe/Raichle. It involves some drilling, and requires some custom pins.
See the instructions courtesy of Bosco.
Another spring system for Head boots is the ACSS (Advanced Carving Spring System), Arnaud supplies the ACSS kit for Head boots with 3 springs. The top two springs provide flex for toeside: the top green spring has a stiffness of 23 N/mm, and the top blue spring has a stiffness of 37 N/mm. Arnaud provides details on how to tune your Head boots to best accommodate the ACSS (with pictures and English translation)
Factory Standard lean adjusters
Manufacturers make different types of lean/flex adjustment mechanisms. The
type of mechanism best for carving is a personal preference. Here are some
The Raichle AF600 and high-end SB series boots can be locked into one
of 5 lean positions (1=most forward, 5=most upright), and there is no
spring to control the stiffness. When unlocked, the boot flexes freely
in walk mode. The problem with these boots is that the walk mode is too loose and doesn't provide enough leverage to perform a good heel side carve, but the locked-in mode is a bit too stiff, because the boot flex is controlled entirely by the boot plastic. Raichle boots do not come with instructions on how to use
the 5 position lean adjuster, so here they are:
- With the lever down and the dial pointing up, the boot is in walk mode. The lean is unlocked
and the boot can freely flex between positions 1 and 5. It's not a good idea to carve in walk mode, since you will have no leverage on heel side.
- With the lever down and the dial turned, the boot is in Powder Mode. The lean can flex only
between the forward-most lean positions 1 and 3. Powder mode is meant for riding in powder or chop
with moderate suspension. This mode is also good if you want the boot to provide less stiffness. You can further reduce the stiffness by replacing the tongue with a softer tongue. The Powder Mode option is not available with the 3-position
lean adjusters that come with the low-end models.
- With the lever up, the lean locks into the selected position. The
dial must be pointing up to flip the lever up
The Raichle AF700 has a RAB (Raichle Accelerator Box) spring loaded
system: The lean/flex is adjusted by turning two nuts on either side of
the spring. The bottom nut changes only the stiffness by compressing the
spring, and the top nut changes the forward lean by increasing the gap
between the cuff and base of the boot. Increasing forward lean also compresses
the spring, so you have to compensate by adjusting the bottom nut to maintain
the same stiffness. With the RAB, there is no walk mode: the spring is
always engaged, so you wind up walking around like the hunchback of Notre Dame. The RAB comes with two springs: a soft spring (silver),
and a stiff spring (brass). Some carvers find both springs to be too stiff,
but happily you can swap out RAB springs without removing the entire RAB mechanism.
The ExtremeCarving people use a much softer spring. See the Pokkis photo album for a gallery of various RAB spring modifications. The spring specs:
||closed and ground
||Force: Newtons per mm
The RAB mechanism on the AF700 does not have enough range to allow the
boot to lean back to a straight-up position, because the main bolt is
not fully threaded and does not allow the top nut to travel far enough.
You can remove the mechanism and re-thread the entire length of the bolt,
allowing the boots to lean all the way back to neutral. The ExtremeCarving
people perform this modification so that they can fully extend their legs
in a turn. A picture on Carver.CC shows
before & after pictures of an RAB mechanism modification/transplant for ExtremeCarving.
They also have a .avi video showing how the modification allows the AF600
to flex for optimal ExtremeCarving performance.
||Burton hard boots provide a single nut to set the pre-load stiffness of two springs.
When the walk/ride lever is locked, the boot cuff will engage with the
spring mechanism at one of four forward lean positions. When unlocked,
the boot is in walk mode, and the cuff will flex freely without the spring.
||The Head Stratos, Stratos Pro, and S-LTD boots: The lean/flex is adjusted
by turning two slotted nuts on either side of the spring. The top nut
changes only the stiffness by compressing the spring, and the bottom nut
changes the forward lean by increasing the gap between the cuff and base
of the boot. Increasing forward lean also compresses the spring, so you
have to compensate by adjusting the top nut to maintain the same stiffness.
When the walk/ride lever is locked, the boot cuff will engage with the
spring mechanism at one of two forward lean positions. When unlocked,
the boot is in walk mode, and the cuff will flex freely without the spring.
photo: Ben Schurman
|The UPZ/UPS RSV Mach boots have two springs: one controls the forward flex
and one controls the rearward flex. When the walk/ride lever is locked,
the boot cuff will engage with the spring mechanism at one of four
forward lean positions. When riding in powder, you can unlock the lever by flipping it down, but you need to secure it somehow to prevent it from getting flipped back up.
- The low-end Raichle SB series can be locked into one of 3 lean positions,
and there is no spring to control the stiffness. When unlocked, the boot
flexes freely in walk mode.
- Some Oxygen boots have a +/- dial: turn it toward + to increase the
One limitation of the Raichle and Head spring-based lean adjusters
is that flex compression is provided only on toe side when flexing the boot
forward. Which means that on heel side, you'll feel the bumps and crud more. Ideally, lean mechanisms should provide balanced compression, both
when flexing forward and when pressuring the boots upright.
UPZ/UPS and Burton Wind/Fire boots have springs for both forward and rearward flex.
The ExtremeCarving people have developed various custom modifications for the RAB lean adjuster:
Other lean adjuster tips:
- If you have problems locking into one of the extreme lean positions, unbuckle
the top and maybe middle buckle, then lock in the lean position, then rebuckle.
- You can gain an extra degree of safety by locking the forward lean position:
it helps to prevent your ankle from over-extending during hard landings or
when folding the nose.
- For some boots, the walk/ride lever is notorious for flipping itself up
or down, especially if you tilt the board high on edge in crud with low binding
angles. Some people use duct tape or a small leash retainer to keep it in
Carving in Softies
You can carve in soft boots/bindings on a BX or all-mountain board. If you go with
softies for carving, stiffer boots and bindings provide better performance. There are several
- Many of the higher-priced, high-end soft boots are quite stiff. Some of
these boots also come with built-in lean:
- Salomon Malamute: Very stiff, and the liner is made with pockets that can accept inserts to prevent heel lift problems.
- Salomon F24
- Most of the newer DeeLuxe boots come with TPS insert strips to stiffen
the tongue. The DeeLuxe Spark (and the Spark Evo, Spark NT and Freak NT from
previous years) can accept TPS strips on the lateral side, medial side,
and tongue (up to 7 strips). The Spark Evo is also lightweight.
- The Burton DriverX is stiff, plus it comes with RAF insert strips (Rider
Adjustable Flex) that can be used to stiffen up the tongue.
- Many of the older clicker-compatible boots are stiffer than normal soft boots.
The K2 Transformer has a removable internal rear support to vary the stiffness. However, K2 discontinued the Clicker line after the 2004/2005 season .
- Nidecker ProjectX
- Northwave Concept
- ThirtyTwo Forecast: Comes with Intuition Ultralon thermo-moldable EVA foam liners, and is also lightweight.
Salomon Malamute soft boots.
- Just like with hard gear, soft boots and bindings from the same manufacturer
have a rock-solid interface.
- If you plan to ride an all-mountain board that is less than 24 cm wide at the waist, then you may want to look for soft boots with a shorter sole base, in order to prevent boot drag.
- Soft boots often come with multiple laces, for the inside boot as well as the outside soft shell. If you have trouble keeping your heel down, try the bootfitter techniques listed on the bootfitting page, but also try using a skate key to really crank down the tightness of the laces on the upper cuff, while keeping the laces on the lower boot comfortably loose.
Carving in ski boots
Chris Karol carves in ski boots, with Catek bindings.
You can carve in ski boots, which can provide maximal stiffness and a high
cuff. However, a carving setup in ski boots allows for a very narrow margin
of error. While you are trying to learn, a ski boot setup will knock you around
on anything other than perfect groomers, and you'll wind up fighting your equipment.
People who start off carving in ski boots and later switch to snowboard boots
often discover after the fact that ski boots were blocking their skill development.
Avoid starting off on the wrong foot - It's a bad idea to use ski boots even
when "trying out" carving gear, because you will quickly decide that
you hate it. There are a few scenarios where ski boots are of use:
- Several racers use modified ski boots as part of their world cup racing
- Some riders have an advanced carving style that makes use of ski boots,
and they are able to carve very well.
- If you have huge feet, you might not be able to find snowboard hard boots that
are big enough, which means you have to use ski boots. This situation imposes
a double-whammy, since ski boots will add extra length to your already long
sole base. If you are looking for very large boots, it's better to watch the eBay auctions for hard snowboard boots in your size; occasionally, you will see size US-11, 12, or 13.
When using ski boots, there are several issues to consider:
- You need to find a ski boot that can give some forward and lateral flex
(only available in low-end beginner models), but that has a tall cuff (only
available in high-end pro models). In addition, the ski boots must have the
right flex in the right places. The old Raichle Flexon comp ski boots fall
into this category, which you can often find on eBay. Some racers, like Anton
Pogue and Ryan McDonald, still use them (after modifications). Some of the older Technica ski
boots also qualify.
- To get more flex out of ski boots, they can be modified:
- Cut them in strategic places on the shell and tongue to soften them
- Unbuckle the top buckle
- Add slop to the cant mechanism
- Carving in ski boots may require additional tweaking of the setup:
- Ski boots are more susceptible to boot-out, since they have a longer sole
base and a lugged heel/toe, instead of the shorter sole base and beveled
heel/toe of snowboard boots. Because ski boots provide less clearance, you
will need to increase your binding angles to prevent toe drag, or go with
a wider all-mountain or BX board. On narrow boards, you may find that your
bindings can't be angled high enough: Bomber TD1s are limited to 70º.
- The longer sole base and stiffer construction of ski boots put more stress
on the bindings, so don't use ski boots with plastic bindings. Unfortunately,
stiffer all-metal bindings will make the whole setup even stiffer, so it's
a lose-lose situation.
- Because of the difference in forward lean between snowboard boots and
ski boots, you will probably have to fiddle with the cant and lift of your
bindings to get your knees where you want them. Unfortunately, ski boots don't have forward lean adjusters to help out the situation. Highly adjustable bindings
like Cateks may work better than other bindings.
- There are a few ski/snowboard hybrid boots available
- Rossi previously made a line of "soft" ski boots, which came out in '02, but it's nowhere near soft enough to work well
on a carving rig. It has only slightly more forward flex than a
ski boot, and no way to lock in a lean position. It comes with a DIN sole.
- Strolz and Dale are ski boot manufacturers that offer boots that can
be converted from ski boots to snowboard boots, with detachable DIN toe
and heel pieces. Strolz
sells an Intec model.
- One option is Alpine Touring (AT), or Randonnée, ski boots. They
are meant for hiking uphill in the backcountry, during which the binding allows
the heel to be free. Then, the binding heel clicks in and they act like releasable
ski boots on the way down. See the splitboard
- The Scarpa Denali boots are stiff, and might be good for carving on
- The Dynafit line of boots are light and soft, and may be more amenable
- Other ski boot considerations:
- Ski boots are designed with a smooth sole base to allow them to easily
twist out of releasable ski bindings, so when used with a snowboard setup,
there is less natural grip between the boot and the binding.
- Intec heels are not compatible with either ski boots or AT boots.
- The excessive stiffness in ski boots may result in shin bang.
- Stick to perfectly groomed slopes.
In 2006, Dalbello has purchased the rights to manufacture a re-make of the old Raichle Flexon Comp ski boot, with design assistance from Glen Plake. Two boots are available: The Dalbello Krypton Pro, and the Krypton Cross (wider, with a softer flex). The boots will use the three-piece Cabrio design with a tongue, which provides a constant soft forward flex. This boot design was adopted years ago by some alpine racers and carvers, and may be of interest to carvers who normally ride with ski boots.
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