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After being very impressed by the Backlands it was the time to see what the MTN Lab had to offer. Salomon provided me with quite a selection of skis to test, including 2 pairs of the MTN Explore Ski (95mm underfoot) one mounted with a Dynafit Radical and the other with a Salomon Warden binding. They also gave me a pair of the MTN Lab skis (115mm underfoot) again mounted with a Dynafit Radical so I could try the boots on some wider skis.
After getting my fitness up with the Backlands I decided my first tour with the MTN Lab boots should be with the slightly heavier MTN Lab ski. We had received quite a bit of fresh snow over night so the wider skis would be the more fun and luckily Salomon have done a great job at keeping the weight down and I would say they are actually lighter then the Automatics.
I initially started with the boots reasonably loose, like I do most boots to climb but I quickly found that I was getting to much movement inside the boots. I tightened the boots to close to how I would to ski them and found a much better overall experience. I have found that you can honestly leave the boots the same tightness to ski and walk and all you need do is flick the walk mode switch on the back. The way the shell and cuff are constructed allow the boots to move just as easily when tight as they do when lose. I really like this as again not having to adjust boots at the top really saves time.
The walking motion is again very good and the backwards motion is close to that of the atomic. The forward flex is certainly not as good but when in the binding you don't notice it too much, if at all. If you wanted more ROM and did not mind the slightly softer flex the MTN Explore boot does have a larger ROM, so if the uphill is more your thing the Explore may be the one to go for.
After a few shorter climbs I wanted to give the boots a longer climb to find out if you had too how far you could go in the boots.
The peak in the distance is where I would be climbing too.
With Symphony lift closed I skied down through some of the glades to the bottom of the lift. It was turned out to be so much fun as no one had been down with the lift being closed, if only whistler could always be like this. At the bottom I put the skins on and set off to attempt to reach the peak of symphony.
I decided to give my legs every chance possible so went for the lightweight MNT Explore skis. Initially going was good but I was having some issues with rubbing on my left heel which did unfortunately get worse as I went along. I'm sure with a little more bedding in of the liner and maybe some shell work I could relive this issue but it was a little annoying.
Apart from the heel issue I was absolutely fine in the boots. Going for the MTN Lab is going to give you a far better climbing experience then most if not all freeride boots currently on the market. No it is not as good as the Backland uphill but it really is very good. Although I do think the Backland is a better option for longer tours I have been pleasantly surprised at how well the MTN Lab climbs.
In my opinion one of the bigger selling points of the MTN Lab is the ability to use non tech bindings. With bindings like the Marker Lord or the Salomon Warden you could potentially use these boots on your alpine skis. Talking with people round town who have used the boots, quite a few are considering them as their only boot next season.
To see if they would compare to an alpine boot, I took out the MTN Explore skis with the Warden bindings so I could ski the boots hard and not be held back by the tech bindings.
To say they felt solid would be an understatement. When in Ski mode the cuff is so stiff backwards, there is no play what so ever and even compared to freeride boots like the K2 Pinnacle 130 or the Atomic Waymaker Carbon 130 the MTN Lab feels way more secure. This stiffness in the cuff really gives you the confidence to attack.
The forward flex is consistent and although perhaps on the softer end of 120 I have had no issues with the flex. The cuff does have the slightly softer lateral feel which is common to most Salomon boots but it is certainly still stiff enough to power the skis. I would say the Backland actually feels more powerful side to side but the MTN Lab does have a much more powerful forward flex.
I really can't feel any difference to a regular alpine boot and when you consider how well the boots walk you begin to realize just what a good job Salomon have done.
I also tried the wider MTN Lab skis to see how these boots would handle a wider ski and I was actually very surprised how well they did. Even with the Tech bindings I had confidence to throw the skis around and the boots felt solid at all times. I would not be worried at all about using the MTN Lab boots on wide skis.
Would I ride these boots in big, steep terrain? Absolutely, they feel as good if not better then a lot of alpine boots I have tried. I even took them for some park laps and although I may not use them as a dedicated park boot there is absolutely no reason you could not do a few laps every now and again.
If your aim for touring is to access some big zones these are your boots, seriously. All the power and control of an alpine boot but with the weight saving and ROM of a true touring boot.
I covered most of the resort riding elements in the last section for the MTN Lab but I really do believe these have the potential to be your only boots. There is nothing I have found that the boots can't handle and they give better all day comfort then the Backlands, up there or beating many alpine boots. You could potentially buy this boot and never tour but still be very happy with your purchase.
A lot of people will have bindings which will work with these boots and if you are looking at bindings in the future consider going for something like the Warden which will give you a lot of boot possibility's.
I will admit I am strongly considering these as my main boot for next season as there offer everything I need. Yes the Backland is better on the way up but for how I tour the MTN lab would be a far better option as I could ski them as hard as I wanted on the way back down, which for me is still the reason to tour in the first place.