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I received the Backland's about 10 days before the MTN Lab boots so my first few tours were all in the Backlands. Along with the boots, Atomic provided me with a pair of the 2016 Automatic 102 skis mounted with a Dynafit Radical ST binding.
Although not really the ski you would necessarily match up to these boots as they are not really that light (Atomic also have the Backland skis which are crazy light) it would give a good indication of whether the boots had the power to drive a slightly wider ski.
My first few hikes were up Flute which is just off the side of Symphony on Whistler mountain. Although not a tough hike it does give access to some decent terrain and using Symphony lift I was actually able to hot lap Flute and really get some miles on the boots.
The Backland's are the first boots I have used with the option of removing the tongue so excited to try it out my first few hikes I took the tongue out and took full advantage of the full ROM. The best way I can describe the feel of the boot in Walk mode is by saying it honestly feels like a Hiking boot. The cuff is almost completely friction free and without the tongue the motion is amazing. I have actually worn hiking boots with less motion in the ankle.
You may think this much movement could give an unstable feel, but by using Carbon in the cuff, Atomic have been able to really stiffen the cuff and there is never a sense of side to side play which could make things unstable.
One thing I often struggle with touring is blisters on the heel and this was one area I was conscious of as it had been the tightest part of the boot. However never once I have got any type of rubbing or discomfort in any way and I put this down to a combination of two things.
Firstly to stop blisters you really want the foot held down, its when the heel lifts and rubs that you will get problems. The cable system used over the forefoot does a really good job of holding the foot down but without giving it a restricted feeling. Having the cable cross the foot twice means there is more hold over the instep then a single buckle.
The second aspect which really helps in my opinion is the liner it's self. Atomic have put a lot of work into not only making the liner light but also to make it as breathable as possible. When you get hot and sweaty in a liner, this can also lead to problems. Never once did I feel overly warm in the liners and even on the really hot days my feet were staying comfortable.
I did wonder how warm they would be on cooler days and although we have not had any really cold days to test them they do feel as though they would be ok but perhaps not the warmest. If in doubt a pair of heated socks from a brand like LENZ would be a great addition for cold winter tours.
I also tried a few climbs with the tongue left in and to be honest if I was doing shorter hikes (under an hour) this is probably how I would leave it. The ROM is still very good and when paired with a binding like the Radical I was still able to get up flute faster then I usually do. The fact it's a little faster to get skiing as you don't have to put the tongue back in at the top means if I was out chasing powder this would be the way I would go. Having as few things as possible to do at the top means more time for skiing.
The shell shape around the forefoot and toes has felt fine and I like the amount of space I have in the toes. Having your toes close to the front of the boot when climbing for a few hours can get quite uncomfortable very fast.
The weight, or lack thereof is undoubtedly helpful and if matched up with a lightweight ski and binding you could have a seriously light weight setup.
If climbing as many vertical feet in a day is your thing you will love these boots. The walk motion is simply un-matched and the weight is going to be hard for a lot of brands to beat.
So the Backland would get you to the top no problem but would it actually get you down the other side?
My first few descents were all fairly mellow but considering how firm the snow was, this probably was not a bad thing.
With the boot in ski mode the forward flex is actually surprisingly stiff. The boots do have a rather unique feel, the cuff is not typical of what you would find on an alpine boot. It is rather low and only about 5cm tall at the front but when the tongue is installed the boot does have a good amount of support. It does take a little getting used too but I never worried too much about overpowering the boot. The lateral stiffness is amazing but you would expect that from a carbon cuff.
Its hard to say exactly how stiff the boots feel flex wise as they do have a different feel to most boots. I would probably put them around 110, they do feel softer then the MTN Lab in the forward flex but the lateral stiffness is up there with 130 flex boots I have used and it feels stiffer to me then the MTN Lab
I quickly got the confidence to really throw the boots into turns knowing they would support me and if anything I was finding I was being held back by the tech bindings more then anything but feeling fairly confident in the boots I decide to tackle a few of Whistler's bigger lines.
Although I have skied these lines before, I must admit I was quite nervous standing at the top. The cuff of the boot although stiff when locked does not feel the most supportive to me. Being so small at the front it does somewhat give the feeling your being held in the middle of the shin and not really anywhere else.
I have been finding when you are leaning the skis over and carving the support feels great, the carbon in the cuff really allows you to push the boots. However when your attacking a bit more and pushing into the front of the boot, I find the Small Grillamid cuff does not really offer the same level of support.
This became especially evident when skiing the wider skis like the 115mm MTN Lab. Carving the skis felt fine and initially I figured there was no issue with wider skis but once I started hitting a few jumps and bigger terrain head on I was finding that the boot was struggling a little and the ride did not feel too stable.
I really would not be considering these boots if your idea of touring is a climb to find a big mountain run. Wider skis and big drops will certainly push these boots to the limit and the feeling of the cuff never really inspires confidence in me to hit things as fast or as hard as I can. For more mellow descents these boots are great. If your climbing for a while to get to a non rowdy descent you should have no real problems at all.
For many people having multiple pairs of boots is a nice idea but unfortunately not a possibility, so if you spent your hard earned money on the Backland's could you potentially use them as your every day boot?
Carving on groomers I must admit they feel excellent. The cuff is so stiff side to side you really can drive the skis very hard, I was laying down some big GS style turns with no problem at all.
While I was testing the boots we had a staff ski day and I decided to use the Backlands to see how they would handle a full day. Staff ski days, if you have never been on one, tend to be a lot of drinking and a lot of messing about, hitting stupid stuff. This day was no different and I was drunk by 10am. The rest of the day was spent straight lining things and jumping over stuff or attempting too at least.
I will admit I could not ride quite as hard as normal but it was not really the boots holding me back but rather the bindings. Even with the toe locked I had a few big pre-releases and some big falls. But that is me trying to ride a Dynafit in bounds as hard as I would my STH 16 steels. If your average riding is not too aggressive the Backland will do fine.
Other then the bindings the only real issue I found after a long day was the shins did get a little sore. The lower cuff and the minimal liner don't offer much in the way of protection but this is one area the boots are being improved before release next season.
So although perhaps not the boot the average Newschooler would choose to ride inbounds you certainly could do a few days resort riding in the Backlands.