A two buckle touring boot that means business on the skin track and in the deep snow, the Salomon MTN Explore does it all.
When Aspen Highlands receives 18 inches of new snow is time for even a diehard backcountry skier to grab some fat boards and hit the lifts. For the big dump, the sticks of choice were the Kastle TX107 and the Solomon MTN Explore freeride touring boot. The snow did not disappoint and my first impression of the boots did not either.
The MTN Explore is the lighter little brother of the new MTN Lab boot by Salomon. Its for those that enjoy a softer, easier to flex boot with a way better range of motion, 75 degrees in the Explore where as the Lab only has 47 degrees. Both boots both have an overlap construction and are geared towards skiers that want one boot for the resort as well as charging hard in the backcountry.
I did a side by side comparison of the Salomon MTN Lab and the Atomic Backland Carbon Light for Wildsnow.com. Read more here.
I first put the boot through the uphill test, cruising up 1400 feet of vertical to reach the upper Loge lift of the mountain. It was early morning before any of the lifts were running and I was determined to beat the first chair to the top. I have tested many “freeride touring” boots and the range of motion was noticeably better than its competition. In fact I barely noticed a difference in my stride length from my lighter more touring specific La Sportiva Spitfires, although with the added weight from the Kastles I was certainly not running. My favorite design feature of these boots was the one cuff buckle that folds up against the boot neatly fitting under the cuff of my Strafe Cham Pants.
I successfully won the race against the first chair was ready to join the masses and with the simple closure of the top buckle and a flip of the “surelock” walk/ski mode I was ready to test the boot on the down. My fellow skiers were accurately described as powder starved savages and with frenzy we descended Steeplechase again and again without ever stopping to regroup before the lift line at the bottom. It had been a dry few weeks before the new snow and conditions were by no means bottomless. There were plenty of incredible light and fluffy turns but the troughs of the giant moguls could not be completely filled in and I was thankful for the control these boots offered in variable conditions.
After a handful of laps it was time for the rope drop on highlands bowl. No less than one hundred hikers were camped out at the base and one of my ski instructor friends was almost trampled when he was knocked over in the first couple steps. Although on a local’s powder day at Highlands one out of four skiers will have a touring binding, luckily they have not learned to pack skins, and I put a solid 10 minute gap on the field skinning with the MTN Explores in the track put down ski patrol early that morning. I hung out at the top waiting for the first boot packers to wallow their way to the top and then claimed the first tracks down the gut of the bowl. On my second lap I tested the pure hiking ability of the boots and fell into boot pack track that was now solidly in. Another great feature of the boots is for short hikes like Highland’s bowl I only flicked the ski to walk mechanism and left my buckles right where they were and still had plenty of range of motion for the hike.
Valley local and multiple Elk Mountain Grand Traverse winner Pierre Willie gave me a run for my money, the only other hiker to remember the skins on the deep day.
Getting in the drivers seat with the MTN Explores. Nothing like an epic day of powder bumps to make you fall in love with your boots.
Normally I would ski the Dynafit Vulcans for my few on piste days and I did not feel that the softer MTN Explore gave up any downhill performance. I am a 10.5 street shoe and usually cram my foot into a 26.5 ski boot when I am really looking for power transfer. Because of the narrow 98mm last I request a 27.0 to test and although I found the boot comfortable enough for a full day of skiing with a few thousand feet of hiking mixed in, they did feel sloppy and I would probably also downsize and do some custom shell work to force them into submission. I think when purchasing a pair of Salomon touring boots, step up into the MTN Lab for a boot that you really want to push the upper reaches of your skiing. It is really nice to see that Salomon is going away from changeable soles and “freeride” boots with negligible range of motion. The Salomon MTN Explore definitely offers an incredible ride in a full featured touring package.
I have spent a full season in the boots since my sneak peak. They are my goto boot for all serious skiing, both in the resort and in the backcountry. They have replaced my Vulcans based on comfort, but they do give them a solid run for their money on ski performance as well. If I knew how much I would ski them in the resort I may have tried the MTN Labinstead, since through carpet testing I couldn't find a discernible difference in the walk mode. I would recommend if you have a pair of alpine boots for in bounds skiing consider the MTN Explore, but if you want a boot that will do great at the resort pay the extra money for the MTN Lab.