Monday, December 3, 2012

The SCARPA Alien: The Future

Announcement: Tuesday (12/04) at 7:00 PM we will be having our second informal ski mountaineering race of the season.  It's free and all are invited.  Helmets and headlamps are required. Park along the row by the church at Brighton.  Be there ready to go for your chance to win a pie or prize.  Festivities at Molly Green's after!

In this sport that comprises backcountry skiing through the spectrum to ski mountaineering, I believe the single most important piece of equipment is one's boots (safety equipment and partners aside).  We spend well over 90 percent of our time skinning, climbing, scrambling, or simply walking and boots can ruin the day or enable grand success.  On the flip side, while skiing, our boots must perform at a standard that inspires confidence on potentially fatal terrain.  In the backcountry, they must endure and perform through powder, sastrugi, wind board, breakable crust, and every other form of frozen water.  

Where is the point of compromise?  Traditional mountaineering boots are great for technical climbing but suck for skiing as many folks have figured out over the years.  Alpine boots are great except when trying to go up hill.  

Testing out the Aliens
A few years ago, I walked into Bentgate Mountaineering in Golden, CO and tried on the Dynafit DyNAs.  My mind was sufficiently blown that I ended up with a pair only a few days later.  The walkability was incredible (touted at 60 degrees of cuff articulation) and they skied well enough to allow me to hack my way down enough classic descents to make me smile for years.  Eventually, they wore out and I moved on.  The TLT 5 was the next generation and while it didn't walk as well, it skied slightly better.  I relied on that boot for everything from the Grand Teton to skimo racing.  

Last year, it became obvious that the weight to performance ratio of the TLTs was no longer favorable.  Dynafit releasted the DyNA EVO.  SCARPA released the Alien series.  Sportiva improved the all carbon Stratos.  And, Pierre Gignoux still had the claim for the lightest boot in the world.  Ultimately, I raced in and selectively used the Stratos for some ski mountaineering projects but found it too fragile for my needs.  A friend has said that I'm like a gorilla on skis but I prefer to think I'm just hard on gear since I try my best to use it a lot in some fairly demanding places.  

The thing about this arms race for the lightest and best performing boot, is it's very hard to move backward.  Having skied in the the Stratos, I found the TLT to be very awkward and cumbersome.  Suddenly, the cuff articulation was inefficient and limited my range of motion.  And, the weight increase was noticeable although they continued to ski well in spite of over 200 outings in them.  A durable replacement was needed.  

Cue the SCARPA Alien.  

I knew the Alien 1.0 (separate review pending) would be a great race boot given it's weight, stiffness, and cuff articulation.  I figured the Alien (no carbon cuff) would also make a good race substitute, but was unsure of how either would perform in the real mountains under a variety of conditions.  

Over the last 3 days, I've been able to climb and ski over 20,000 vertical with the Alien and feel like I've put it through a good early test (I should probably wait and write a review after more testing, but I am pretty excited and want to share what I've found with those considering coming to the light side).  I used them skinning at the resort, doing a tempo style workout, booting up couloirs in variable snow, and scrambling on talus and pulling rock moves on granite.  The last three days have also provided nearly every condition imaginable for skiing and they were used for everything from tight turns on a bullet proof mid 40 degree slope to in-bounds bumps to powder (facets) to icy luge track type exits.  

My initial impression is that this boot performs as well or better than it's predecessors (all of the above), walks like a true race boot, and weighs in the very acceptable mid 800 gm range (853 for mine in a size 27).  Further, the cost is "reasonable" at $799 full retail.  Compare that to some of the above options and you could buy a pair for yourself and then one for a friend and still come out on top.  I'm convinced enough that I just dropped off all my skis (that still have functional edges) to be mounted for this one boot.  

Fully acceptable weight and true to advertising of 850 grams (I'll cut em 3 grams of slack).

It's BRIGHT!  

The Boa lace is quite revolutionary for the shell of a ski boot.  It's easy to use and dials down a perfect fit for both walk mode or skiing (although I tend to leave it as I like it for skiing)

Previous boots have demonstrated the importance of metal on metal at the main rivets.  These seem plenty beefy.

The single throw mechanism to change from ski to walk mode and back is the simplest, most elegant design.

Another view of the lever in walk mode.

Full Vibram sole for getting after it in the mountains!

Like many fine things, these boots are made in Italy.  Also note 287 is the sole length for a size 27 (whole sizes only).  This is quite short and the sole is rockered making for easy walking, scrambling, and climbing.  

Quick step tech inserts

With a quick lift of the lever, it's easy to adjust the cuff.  Also, note the power cuff, which I'll probably remove as I never secure it anyway = less weight.

Rear articulation is near my physical limit

Forward articulation maxes out my range of motion.  Perhaps more important is the lack of resistance when moving through the full range. 

A critical piece that appears simple to replace should something go wrong (in fact, all parts seem easy to replace).


It is not likely to be the high altitude boot of choice given it's open design but I think it's certainly warm enough for anywhere in the lower 48.  The Crested Butte guys all run them and they live in one of the coldest ski towns out there.  Although, with the boa lace system, it's rather easy to "open" the forefoot and improve circulation.  Perhaps by sizing up and using an overboot, these could be used on Denali or other like places?  Thoughts?  

It's still not a pure race boot for those looking for that sort of thing.  Weighing in at around 850 grams will put you at a 150-300 gram disadvantage per foot when compared to some of the lighter options for racing.  But that said, I have switched back and forth between the Alien and the Stratos and not noticed a significant difference when actually on my feet.  Also, when compared to the rest of the available touring options, the Alien is 200 grams to pounds lighter (except for the PDG). 

Finally, there is a lot of open space that allows such freedom of movement around the cuff.  This does allow some snow to accumulate (although this wasn't bothersome) but the boots come with a proprietary gaiter that fits perfectly around the boa, rear bar, and lever and thus far seems to keep the snow out quite well (only used it once skinning, booting, and scrambling up Superior and Caridac Ridge). 

The well fitting gaiter does a good job at keeping the snow out of the open shell.

Even though it's reinforced along the inside, it may not last nearly as long as the boots.  Perhaps some waterproof treatment like Nikwax would be the way to go?

Final thoughts:

I love it and I'm sure I'll love the 1.0 even more.  I think I've finally found a boot that appears durable, weighs less than any non race boot but walks like one, and is impressive on the downhill.  I'll try it out over the next few months with a variety of skis while using it for all of my skiing and then report back.  But preliminarily, they seem to be game changers by stepping up how far and fast we can go on what seems to be a reliable well performing boot!

So to close, here's a quote from the SCARPA web page that sums it up well,

"This new movement of merging rando race efficiency with ski mountaineering is changing the way we look at skiing on a big scale, even our backyard hills. This new freedom is taking the slog out of big days and turning large, formidable objectives into realities. Half of the adventure is simply getting there. And to have the tools that’ll take you farther than you thought? Higher than you’ve been? Oh, the places you’ll go."



  1. Great write up. I've been thinking about getting myself a pair of these for a while now, more for light'n'fast touring than racing, and the scales are definitely tipping.
    Just curious to hear your take on how big a ski you think these will drive?

  2. Hey Kaj, I think you're right on that they are best for light and fast touring/ski mountaineering. They aren't bad for a cheaper option as a race boot either. I took them out and skied the Ski Trab Volare's over nearly 9000 vert and found them to be more than adequate for that size ski (99 underfoot, 178 length, 1480 gms/ski). I was able to ski consistent dense powder pretty fast without problems. The only place they would give me trouble is in bounds on a bump run or in super variable conditions. But even then, I'll take the weight savings and walkability over other options.

  3. Any idea on the BSL of a 26 mondo?

  4. Hey Andy, can you compare downhill performance to the TLT5? Any noticeable difference in cuff height?

  5. Wow, I love my TLT5, and it is impressive to me that you seem to think these ski as well or better and walk better.

    Question about weights: how much does that gaiter way? Seems only fair to include it in the weight.

  6. How is the durability of that gaiter? And does it stay in place well?

  7. I'd also appreciate info on comparison to TLT5 (mountain) stiffness. It would be nice if it was at least as stiff as this boot with the tongues in, but that's alot to ask for in a non carbon boot.

  8. You said you were in a 27, what is your normal shoe size, I'm trying to decide between 27 or 28 ?