by John Bouchard
I’ve always loved backcountry skiing. Skiing out from La Madonne de Fenestre in moonlight filtered through sharp snow crystals clinched it – and that was 45 years ago in the Maritime Alps where I started alpine climbing. The gear was makeshift, but the speed with which we descended to the cars was astonishing.
Shift forward eight years to Mount Washington in the White Mountains. I had to take a group up Pinnacle Gulley. It was April, overcast and ready to drizzle. To improve the experience, I borrowed a pair of 210 cm EMS touring skis with Ramer bindings and I planned to climb the gulley with the crowd, then hike over to Tuckerman Ravine and ski into the bowl. We topped out in a fine drizzle with limited visibility, so I took the three wet ropes and trekked over to the headwall while the others tramped down the trail.
I clamped my soaking wet leather climbing boots to the skis and slid off into the mist. My last recollection before the catastrophe was Bob Fisher’s quip to his group, “There goes a brave man.” I didn’t hit the rocks – but I should have.
In the early 80s I took a group on the Chamonix – Zermatt Haute Route. We made it to La Cabane de Bertol. However, the gear had changed amazingly! We had skis designed for the terrain, and the plastic boots were closer to ski boots than climbing shoes. The bindings were light and had variable lift. The skis stuck to the skis. And we could ski almost as well as with alpine gear. Impressive, very impressive! And this was 1983!
Fast forward to June 2017. My teenage daughters were race training on Mount Hood and I was skinning up to watch. I was wearing the Nordica Strider Pro 130 DYN, the latest in the batch of AT boots I was testing for my wife, Nancy. One of the previous testing pair in the batch was too soft (although it was really light); another too hard (although those boots were almost as precise on steep ski area terrain as alpine race plug boots); and still another was too tight across my instep.
Ok, so I had used the Nordicas a couple of times going up and down Mount Bachelor and was familiar with the forward flex adjustment for efficiency going up. The five buckles and top strap transmitted all the forward pressure needed to carve turns on the firm stuff and stay in control on the variable.
So on that late June day, I decided to keep going up, past the race training and catch up to the dots moving in the snowfields above the top of the Palmer Lift. There the snow was hard enough for walking. I strapped my skis to my back and headed towards the ridge they call the Hogback. On the snow, the boots felt nearly as precise as climbing boots. On the occasional gravel and rocky sections, they were acceptable. And then, at the Smile, I put on crampons. One of the parties I passed commented, “You’re pretty fast for an old guy.” My prepared response was, “It’s not like I’m still 60.” I could have told them that speed in the mountains is a function of weight and I wasn’t carrying a rope, climbing harness and gear, and an ice axe. And besides, my feet felt good – the Nordicas have a relatively short shell length in my size, 10.5, which adds to the climbing efficiency. Big boots are not good for climbing.
I hit the summit ridge at around 10:30 and waited a bit, hoping the sun would soften the snow in the gulley I just climbed up. Snapped that flex control lever in that back and tightened the buckles, transforming climbing boots into stiff, 130 flex downhill ski boots. 20 minutes later, I was 5,000 feet lower, standing with my girls ski coach, happily chatting about the marvels of modern AT gear.
Skied off Mt Hood in June. It was awesome!
The Strider Pro 130 DYN has a moderate to narrow fit. The last is 100mm, so the boot is sleek and not sloppy. The Tri-Force shell has a reinforced sole and spine that helps to move energy to the skis; we found the precision and control to be excellent. Lightweight panels (Grilamid) in the cuff and instep keep the weight down and increase control. The shell is fully customizable through Nordica’s Infrared technology; you can even heat the 3D Cork Fit Lite liners so that they fit your foot like the proverbial glove. The liners are insulted with Primaloft, so your feet stay warm, even when temps drop below freezing.
There’s a hike/ride mechanism on the back of the boot; you open it up for excellent flexibility hiking, you can lock it down fully for the downhill.
The Nordica Strider Pro 130 DYN retail for $849 and are available now.