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I love downhill and cross country skiing and am getting into back country skiing. Cross country boots are great for comfort because they're soft. Downhill boots are great for turning in part because the heel attaches to the ski.

My question is: can you get the best of both worlds. Can you get soft or semi-soft boots which attach to the ski on the heel when going downhill, but allow the heel to float when going on the flat or up hill? This is how Alpine Touring bindings work, but I've only ever seen those with hard plastic boots. Is there a way to make Alpine Touring bindings work with softer boots?

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I believe the answer to your specific question is no; the only boots I know of with tech fittings are hard boots made of plastic or carbon fiber. However, I think you may be underestimating those boots.

AT boots are hard plastic but can still offer a soft feel. Transitioning to skinning uphill consists of not just unlocking the heels but also switching the boots to a walking mode.

In walking mode, many feature a wide range of cuff rotation. For example, the Dynafit TLT6 boot offers a cuff rotation of 60°, and the recently released Atomic Backland offers an impressive 74° rotation. This means you can actually walk reasonably comfortably in them as opposed to being forced to clunk around as you've likely seen people do in alpine ski boots.

Depending on the boot you may have additional options. The older TLT5 model offered about 5mm of flex at the toe, and many boots feature removable plastic tongues that you can take out if you want even more softness. AT soles are usually rockered (curved, like hiking boots) to improve walking.

Weights for the lighter weight models range from around 0.8kg to 1.3kg per boot (or as little as 0.56kg if you have the cash).

Finally, you may also wish to consider telemark (aka 3-pin) boots and bindings. You won't be able to lock the heel but the telemark turn offers an alternate way to tackle steeper downhills. (And with good technique you can still pull off parallel turns.)

  • This answer basically covers it. From own experience I can add, that touring boots in walking mode are comfortable enough to walk the one or other hour uphill with your skis attached to the backpack of there's not enough snow down in the valley to start skiing right there. – Benedikt Bauer Jan 26 '16 at 9:40
  • Thanks for your answer! I should try out some soft AT boots then. – have_beard_will_ski Jan 26 '16 at 11:30
  • Let's say I get some really soft, light AT boots. How will they do on a rolling ski-mobile type terrain? I know they'll be great on steep uphills and down hills. But where I live has more access to the former. My fear is it'll be a real slog on the flat which has been my experience with AT boots before. But maybe I didn't rent very nice ones. – have_beard_will_ski Jan 26 '16 at 11:42
  • @have_beard_will_ski The weakness in gently rolling terrain is the mode changes. Switching to downhill mode is pretty easy; you just flip the heel pieces, rip the skins, and clamp the boots. But for uphill you need to put on the skins and often need to come out of the bindings to free the heels. – requiem Jan 26 '16 at 15:33
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    You are not going to want AT boots on the flat, They're built for steep terrain, you're going to hate your life if you try using alpine turning boots for touring anywhere but in alpine areas. One of my favourite skiing areas has a 2km flat approach to a long lake. Every single time I make that approach I wish I was wearing my light nordic skis. I'd bring both sets with me, and change my boots and skis after the approach, but I'm always with people who don't nordic ski when I go, so I just do the long slow walk with them. AT skis on the flat is more like snowshoeing than it is like skiing. – ShemSeger Jan 26 '16 at 19:56
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What you might want to look at getting are some randonee boots and some Dynafit bindings. They're designed more for racing up ski hills than they are coming down, but still do a good job on the quick descent.

Randonee Boots:

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They aren't super soft, you're never going to get the control you want on the down hill with super soft boots alpine boots, you'd be better off learning how to telemark if that's what you want, some styles of modern telemark backcountry boots are essentially hiking boots that you can clip into your 75mm telemark ski bindings.

Light Telemark Boots:

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  • Lusting after that lovely black LS Stratos; barely over a kilo for the pair! Unfortunately I don't think they'd take to mixed climbing all that well... – requiem Jan 26 '16 at 5:34
  • Thanks for your answer. I believe those nice AT boots do NOT come cheap! – have_beard_will_ski Jan 26 '16 at 11:31
  • How would you say those La Sportiva boots will do on flat terrain? Where I live is mainly flat with the OCCASIONAL somewhat steep bits. – have_beard_will_ski Jan 26 '16 at 11:44
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    @have_beard_will_ski randonee is the opposite of flat, we're talking about extreme alpinism, as in Ueli Steck with skis on his feet. And you are right, AT is not a cheap sport. You'd be better off investing in a light telemark setup, something better for the flat, but will still handle a couple slopes with some decent control. – ShemSeger Jan 26 '16 at 15:41
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I don't think you can find them anymore, but ~10 years ago Scarpa was selling a light and pretty soft plastic AT boot with toe bellows (like modern telemark boots). They were great for my Dad to transition to AT gear from 3-pin telemarking on leather boots. On wildsnow.com they have a pretty good write up about them.

Scarpa F1 ski boots

The heavier version (F3) might be easier to find:

Scarpa F3 ski boot

If I got serious about AT again I would probably try to find a boot like the F3.


In case you're wondering you will probably need to mount a shim to the ski to support the toe bellows. Depending on your ski bindings this may or may not be possible. This won't prevent you from being able to use ski crampons if needed. My dad's company makes crampons/shims specifically for tech bindings and F1/F3 boots.

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