Tongued ski boots have a particular mystique and for good reason. Most experienced skiers get teary-eyed over the Raichle Flexon; gushing about the "smoothness" and "smoothness" of flex. The Flexon and its three-piece tongued design (tongue, lower shell and upper cuff) was so comfortable; so easy to put on/remove yet performed so predictably that it became and still is a cult classic.
The Flexon concept lives on via Dalbello which was a Raichle sub-contractor. Dalbello reintroduced the three piece design via their "Cabrio" line in 2004. Dalbello's boot line has evolved since then resulting in the introduction of the new "Lupo AX" line of tech-compatible touring boots. Tweaks to this boot lineup include a tad more width to the forefoot but still with that hallowed coveted smooth feel.
The Dalbello Lupo AX 120 is an exceptional representation of Dalbello's attention to detail and is a contender in the one boot that can do it all category. The outstanding feature of the Lupo AX120 is a the quality of how it performs downhill. However that is not to overlook the Dalbello Lupo's uphill performance. Its well-thought out tongue design makes removal a literal snap which transforms the Lupo AX120 into a capable free-flexing touring boot. The Lupo AX120 is reasonably priced for a touring boot at USD 600 and is produced in sizes of 24 - 29. The womens version (LUPO AX 110 W is sized from 21 to 27).
Other pricing for other boots in the Lupo AX line are as follows (for some reason I have these in CAD):
130C - $1249
130, 125 - $949,
120 - $749
115 - $649
110 (Womens) - $ 649
About the reviewer
At just 160 pounds I'm not a big guy but do spend 100+ days a season skiing, with most of those days in backcountry. I've had 20+ days on the Dalbello Lupo AX120 in size 27.5 (bsl 317mm). Predominantly days are spent in either backcountry of Whistler, the Duffey and the B.C. Interior with inbound resorts soft-skiing days. My skiing is usually in high moisture-content snow. Accordingly, my preference is for bigger skis and relatively stiff boots.
I currently ski on Dynafit Vulcans and Scarpa F1 Evo boots but have had experience with a wide variety of boots. If you have questions about the Dalbello versus other boots please ask in the comments or on the following discussion thread.
Before you read on some required reading about touring boots and why critical self-examination is the primary factor in boot shopping follows.
A 2017 article about what boots to buy
A 2016 general article from Wildsnow about what boots to buy
TGR forums AT boot flex comparative thread distilling collective input about AT boot flexes
Lupo AX120 in its natural environment
Stated website weight of the Lupo AX120 in sz 26 is 1670g and 1500 g (tongue removed). Weights of the sz 27 boot came in much higher at 1822g actual and 1545g (tongue removed). The Palau-made IF AIR liner is well thought-out (more on that later) but a boat anchor at 360g. Weights with an Intuition ProTour liner in place of the stock liner were 1707g and 1549g (tongue removed)
Other key features of the AX120 are as follows (marketing microsite)
- Wider forefoot last of 100mm
- 67o cuff movement (40 forwards/27backwards)
- Removeable bootboard
- Replaceble soles (GRIPWALK Soles are pre-installed; DIN Soles come in-box)
- Quick-removable tongue
- Forward lean is 11deg and is non adjustable without drilling or mods
- The MyFit process allows liners and shells to be custom heat molded to accelerate the fitting process
The Dalbello LUPO AX120 isn't the kind of boot that draws in weight nerds but here are some numbers if you want to go that way. An Intuition ProTour liner will yield approx 80g savings. The Bootboard is 67g and you can get lighter for another approx 30g of savings.
Lying down on the job on Blackcomb. Dalbello on one foot; Atomic HawX Ultra XTD on the other
Dalbello's touted defining characteristic is that three-piece design and their construction which allows their Lupo line of touring boots to ski identically to their alpine boots. According to Dalbello - "unlike overlap boots adapted for touring, where the lower shell is modified (weakened) to allow the boot to go into walk mode, with Dalbello’s cabrio design the lower shell has the same design in both touring and non touring applications.
Marketing bafflegab aside, the way the boot is constructed inherently allows for linear smooth flex. This video is from 2016 and shows the predecessor boot; Dalbello Lupo TI but is still relevant as construction/design are unchanged. In particular at 0:40 in the video see how the upper shell flexes forward against scallops on the lower shell in a friction-free mode with the tongue providing flex resistance. That aspect of plugging and playing with different tongues to fine-tune boot flex is the innate nerdy beauty of the Flexon/Dalbello design.
The entire Dalbello Lupo AX120 is made of IRFRAN plastic with fiberglass reinforcements laid up into the upper cuff. . The higher end boots (eg 130C, 130, 125) have combinations of Grilamid and carbon reinforced cuff to increase stiffness. According to Dalbello Irfran is a new polyolefin base material selected for cost reasons as well as for the following characteristics (I could not locate data sheets to verify any of this):
- High impact resistance
- Low stiffness variability at low and high temperature
- Low weight (30% less compared to TPU)
- Good rebound (ie can hold a punch)
Dynalink refers to a boot design feature insofar that the buckles are attached to the lower part of the shell and not the cuff. The buckle lengths to outer sole don't change when skiing. It's designed to help with heel hold in that the buckle prevents the foot sliding forward or the heel from lifting when skiing
Textured Irfran plastic paired with a polyamide external tongue (tongue plastic depends on boot). This is the stiffest available P tongue stiffness
Walk mode engaged - burly and fool proof. Buckle hardware is removeable
Walk Mode disengaged. The mech is on a stiff spine to improve lateral rigidity
Interior pic of the walk/ski mode. You would have to drill into the walk/ski mode bar to adjust lean
What should distinguish the the Dalbello LUPO from many other boots and make them appeal to those who wear our boots quickly are replaceable soles. Patrollers, sledders and bootpackers rejoice. Dalbello designed the LUPO so that soles are held on by metal bolts either into hard durometer plastic or into t-nuts which should aid longevity.
The LUPO AX120 ships with Gripwalk soles. DIN soles can be obtained from Dalbello dealers for approximately Can $100.
Closeup of front of the Lupo AX120 and the Gripwalk sole. A tech fitting is molded into the boot. The front two fasteners go into T-nuts. The back two fasteners go into hardened plastic
REPLACEABLE rear Gripwalk sole; the tech fitting is molded into the boot.
If you had wide feet and you couldn't fit Flexons/Dalbellos previously (that would describe me) then rejoice. The new Lupo AX lineup is 2mm wider at the forefoot last by shaving 1mm off each side of forefoot plastic. Not only is it wider, it's higher volume all around. That doesn't mean that the Lupo AX has a garage-like boxy forefoot; Dalbello believes that a boot should be anatomical and by way of "Contour 4" has incorporated moulded fitpoints at ankle, heel, 5th met and navicular (what a concept - a boot that fits like your feet!).
Heel and instep volume is on the moderate side. It's noteworthy that Dalbello buckles offer massive adjustments; immense variation in foot and leg shapes can be accommodated.
It's also worthwhile noting that Dalbello allows thermo-molding of both shell and liners via Myfit technology. The IRF AIR Liner is on the lower-to-moderate side of volume so it may pinch for showroom testing. I benefited from a liner cook to the extent that no shell thermomolding was necessary. Anecdotal experiences from the friendly boot-fitters at Comor is that the Dalbello plastic holds a punch very well.
The MOST IMPORTANT THING FOR ANY BOOT IS FIT. Work with a good bootfitter at a good shop to get a good fit. Tom and Ian at Comor Whistler know their stuff
Lots of cuff adjustment
Removeable and recessed rivets in the bootshell interior are a nice touch to not scratch up liners. Flat removeable boot board to help with fitting.
Micro adjustable instep buckle to accommodate low instep and flat arches like myself where I need to crank them down. But yet can be expanded a ton for those with high volume high arches. Note the canting mechanism
Dalbello stock Irf Air liner made by Palau. Bottom is Ultralon foam. Top is Palau foam. In the higher end boots the entire liner is made of Ultralon foam
Tour cutout for bottom of liner
Review and impressions
By design the Lupo walk mode switch blocks the upper cuff from rear range of motion while the combination of buckles/tongue blocks forward ROM. This means that the the Dalbello Lupo AX120's touted 67o cuff movement is practically limited unless you undo all the buckles and straps when skinning. Go one step further by removing the tongue and you're off to the races with a free-striding boot. Removing tongues is not as big a deal as with Dynafits (not a hard bar to beat) where one has to deal with a spiderweb of buckles. Dalbello tongues incorporate a knob that can be rotated with gloves allowing you to snap the tongue in and out combined with a gasket that keeps out snow when going uphill.
With the tongue in, buckles loosened (but not undone completely), the Lupo walk mode is poor; resign yourself to shuffling along. Take out the tongue, undo the buckles and powerstrap and the Lupo walk mode is slipper-like and very much above average.
The Lupo AX120 is a joy to ski. One of the most frequently asked questions about touring boots is their stiffness. The other is the smoothness of flex (ie ski quality).
On the question of stiffness, the Lupo AX120 is true to its 120flex (read this discussion thread for more context). It's both fore-aft and laterally stiff, More important is the quality of the ski feel of this gem of a boot from Dalbello. Put plainly every other touring boot I've skied feels like sub-par compared to how the Lupo AX120 skis. The boot has a huge sweet spot and put simply is balanced. There's a smoothness to the flex of the boot that will bring tears to the eyes of anyone who is a Flexon cult member. The absence of the abrupt hitting-a-wall feeling to a touring boot necessitated by designing bump stops at upper cuff-lower shell junctions is almost miraculous. Then as the Dalbello nears the end of its travel (think of jumping off stuff or hitting a bump) the smooth flex of the tongue engages the scallops of the upper-lower cuff interface rendering the flex progressive. It's somewhat like sophisticated suspension for your skiboots. This fantastic creation of Dalbello is pure bliss on the downhill.
This sweet sweet smoothness of the Dalbello boot is due to the inherent flex of the tongue without which the Lupo AX120 is unskiable. Inherent to the three-piece design is the ability to tune the boot's stiffness by substituting different tongues. Bear with me as Dalbello's naming conventions keep changing and are bewildering.
The Dalbello website currently shows three different kind of flex-stiffness of tongues (stiff, medium and soft). The Lupo AX120 comes with the stiffest tongue
- STIFF - Flex index - 120/130 : Strong flex and very quick smooth elastic rebound for high / Pro level skier
- MEDIUM - Flex index - 100/120: Medium flex with gentle elastic smooth rebound for medium to strong skier
- SOFT - Flex index - 85/100: Soft flex with forgiven smooth elastic rebound made specific for woman / light skier
The tongues shipped with the Lupo AX120 for testing for the 2016-7 model year were P tongues which were the stiffest. In the 2016-7 model year there were just P and M tongues. Confusingly there were also legacy "B" tongues shipping with Dalbello boots as OE/factory-only tongues. Previous to the 2016 model year there were B, C and D tongues with B tongues being the stiffest.
Polyamide external tongue (tongue plastic depends on boot). This is a P tongue which is stiffest. B,C and D tongues are the "old" naming convention. Now there is just the P and M tongues.
Dalbello Lupo AX 120 - Dynafit Vulcan
Dalbello Lupo AX 120 - Dynafit Vulcan
Dalbello Lupo AX 120 - Dynafit Vulcan