Posted on May 07 2015
In my search for the next innovative ski touring boot I was surprised to find it, not in one of the established uphill ski brands, but rather in Atomic, a company known for their downhill performance. This proves that the bigger alpine brands are taking notice of our little niche ushering in a new phase of innovation for the sport. The Backland Boot is the first of hopefully many times to come when an Alpine company really gets it right.
Previously the dedications of boot designers was into the “freeride touring” market. Designing a boot that would mimic an alpine boot’s performance while marginally touring uphill. The Backland forsakes this way of thinking and is a boot truly built with endurance touring in mind. At 1,070 grams it has become the lightest boot on the market that takes a half step up from the skimo race specific boot, while its range of motion is comparable to even the most expensive full carbon boot.
First of all, unlike many other tightly fitting European inspired touring boots, the Backland Carbon is spacious. According the manufacturer's specs the last comes in at just 101 mm, but coming from the owner of a caveman like foot measuring 106 mm across at a 27.0 size, the boot shape is accommodating. In addition to the standard heat moldable liner, that also boasts an added feature of being washable, the shell is heat moldable in a special oven. The boot fit so well I chose to forgo this added step, but my business partner Randy went for it. He found the boot really expands after heating, so if you are considering this, definitely size down.
My first experience on the Backland Boots was literally skiing uphill. Kevin Passmore, lead engineer of Upski, enlisted me on a massive loop in the Backcountry behind Marble Colorado. Upskiing is a unique form of “wind mountaineering” where you are pulled up the mountain by a large parachute type canopy instead of kite, resulting in a much more stable and safe ride up to your ski line. However, the wind was inconsistent and of the 10,000 plus feet of elevation skied that day we had to hike to the top of at least 7,000. These boots can really fly uphill! Through all the various forms of up hilling methods, skinning, booting, and even sidestepping, they had the same feel on my feet and range of motion of my old Dynafit PDG.
The one serious problem that day was that I forgot the removable tongues back in the car and paid the price on the descent. When my go to ski touring boot was the Dynafit TLT I would almost never bring the tongues on a tour, because they significantly shorten my stride and barely enhanced the downhill performance. These are both opposite in the Atomic Backland. The stride is very similar when the tongue is left in and the range of motion does not suffer. However, the downhill performance with the tongue out is almost unskiable and I was left nervous on even the moderate 35 degrees terrain of this trip. I later skied the Pearl Couloir off Cathedral Peak at 45 degrees with the tongue in and felt very comfortable. Either leave the tongue in while touring or double check they are in your pack for the descent.
In both my Cathedral Peak and Upski experience I had the boot paired with the Atomic Ultimate 78 touring ski. This paring was what the engineers had in mind and really worked perfectly. I would also consider the Kastle TX 82 if you want something a bit beefier or the Hagan Cirrus for a ski on the superlight side. On Aspen Highlands closing day I skied the DPS Wailer 99 Pure Carbons with the Backland Carbon Light boot and felt that even at 99 mm in ski waist the boot was adequate for the day, but felt a little unstable at speeds.
I toured a solid 20 days on these boots throughout the spring and found it hard to get to any of the other boots I should have been testing. If your goal is to tour fast and light, yet ski with stability and control this boot has my highest recommendation.