I recently went through the process of needing to replace my trusty old Dynafit Zzero 4C ski touring boots, a model that’s now over a decade old. There’s been a lot of advances in both boot and binding technology since then, so I really wanted to ensure I made the right choice if I was going to invest in a new setup.
The process of researching new model ski touring boots also made me realise that there’s now a minefield of potentially conflicting standards out there that can make things seem really complicated. This article on Evo.com goes into detail about the different sole types and standards involved, which can be summarised as:
- ISO5355 Alpine or DIN sole: These have a flat forefoot to match up with the release on a normal alpine or frame touring binding.
- ISO9523 Touring sole. These have tech/pin binding inserts in the toe and heel and a thick rubber sole that’s rockered / curved.
- WTR (Walk to Ride) sole standard adopted by Salomon, Atomic, Lange and Rossignol and GripWalk sole standard adopted by Marker, K2, Tecnica, Dalbello and Nordica. There’s also MNC (Multi-Norm-Compatible) and SoleID standards. These are all competing standards for a sole that matches up with an alpine binding of the same standard. i.e. You can’t wear a WTR sole with a GripWalk binding and be sure they’ll work properly.
As I replied to a question about this online recently, it’s best to first decide what type of ski touring you’re planning to do. Are you going to do the occasional side-country skin to hit some fresh powder before returning to the resort lifts (90% down, 10% up), or will you be skinning for 6 hours a day to get a couple of runs in (90% up, 10% down)?
For a side-country setup, my recommendation is go with a stiff boot that has a flat alpine (ISO5355) sole. These types of boots are designed for intensive resort and powder skiing and will release with either a normal alpine binding or frame binding like the Marker Baron. This will allow you to ski at full tilt with the confidence you’ll only release from your binding when you really need to. You’ll be doing minimal skinning up steep ascents, so the overall weight of the setup isn’t as important as its performance on the downhill.
Some touring boots with ISO5355 alpine soles will also have tech inserts for pin bindings if you also have a lighter touring ski you use for longer skins.
For longer tours, you want as light a setup as possible with the best performance on the skin track. This will lead you towards ISO9523 Touring soles that work with tech pin bindings from companies like Dynafit, G3, Fritschi and Marker etc. The soles on these touring boots are designed for good grip if you’re scrambling over rocks on the way up. You can still find touring sole boots that have good stiff flex for downhill performance, but as you’re in the deep backcountry you’ll be dialling the aggressiveness of your skiing back a couple of notches.
Despite big advances in freeride oriented pin bindings in recent years, I would strongly recommend against relying on them for smashing out laps of hard packed groomers or backcountry jumps, as they generally aren’t designed for that type of punishment. While it’s strongly not recommended for mere mortals, many professional ski guides will lock their toes on pin bindings when skiing down just to be sure they won’t release inadvertently.
Some frame binding manufacturers also claim they will work with a rockered sole touring boot. While I’ve personally had good results for this setup with Fristchi Freeride Pro bindings, I’ve had some unexpected releases of Marker Baron and Duke bindings in potentially critical situations.
Is there a one-ski-quiver setup that might suit a mix of 50/50 resort skiing and touring? As I’ve already recommended against relying on pin bindings on groomers, you’ll want a lighter frame binding like a Marker Tour (Around 1kg per binding) and a ski that’s not too heavy on the uphill, say under 2kg. The new Salomon/Atomic Shift binding is a bit of a game changer in this respect, but is still 900gm compared to pin bindings that can be as light as 300gm.
Ultimately, all of this will come down to your own personal skiing habits and what’s going to suit you best – there’s definitely no one-size-fits-all approach in this regard. Do your research, read reviews talk to friends and professionals in shops. It’s a big investment that you’ll be stuck with for a few years.
And what did I end up buying myself? I found a local retailer that must have had the last pair of Dynafit Zzero 4C in the world that were my size for 50% off retail price! Rather than risk being disappointed I decided to stick with the boots that had already given me many years of great performance, low weight and most importantly, no blisters!