Karl Saidla is a member of XC-Ottawa and the Alpina Racing team. The following does not necessarily represent the views of FasterSkier.com.
While at the Canadian Championships at Whistler Olympic Park, I was given the opportunity to test next year's prestigious Red Dot award winning Alpina ECL classic boots. The new boots represent a very significant redesign, but in ways that I think most racers will appreciate. For pictures of the boots, as well as information about the Red Dot award, please go to http://www.fasterskier.com/news5295.html
From the outside, the sole appears to be unchanged, but it sure feels different once you have it on your feet. For lack of a better comparison, it feels like the sole is very thin, giving you an enhanced feeling for what is going on underneath your feet. The forward flex doesn't feel substantially different, but that's a good thing as Alpina have had a very nice and supple flex in their classic boots for quite a few years if you ask me.
The upper has undergone major changes to pair the boot down to the bare essentials. There is nothing in the new boots apart from what you actually need for support and proper fit, making the boots very light and responsive. To give you an idea, the inside of the boot looks and feels much like a top quality soccer shoe, with addition of a lacing system that provides more wrap around fit adjustment than a soccer shoe would normally provide.
I skied a 7.5k loop with one of the old boots on one foot, and one of the new boots on the other. While I certainly liked the feel of the old boots, I do think the new boots represent an improvement in that they make it much easier to feel subtle differences through the skis. They are also lighter, which can never hurt. Lateral support felt solid as usual, and doesn't appear to have been compromised by the new design.
While I didn't have time to test the new Skate boots, I did have a chance to take a look at them up close, and the same principles used in the design of the classic boot appear to have been employed. I would expect that this would yield similar results in terms of sensitivity and weight savings. The cuff has been upgraded to a 3D design which, by putting shape into the carbon/titanium, has been found to create even better efficiency by making the transfer of power to the ski more direct. I look forward to getting them on snow next season.
If you are really attached to the current Alpina boots, don't despair, as Alpina plans to continue producing these as well. XC Ottawa athletes Megan McTavish, Alana Thomas, Karl Saidla and Wayne Dustin enjoyed them tremendously. Here's what Megan and Alana had to say about them.
I switched to Alpina two years ago after having numerous foot and leg cramping problems while skiing. I have found that the Alpina boots have basically solved all of these problems! In skating, I was always getting calf cramps while skiing up long gradual hills, especially when it was near the beginning of a race or workout. With my Alpina boots this problem has virtually disappeared due to the cuff not forcing your leg forward at the ankle, and the cuff being a bit lower at the back, accommodating longer calf muscles that women tend to have. I also really like the lateral support that these boots have to offer and I feel like it helps in keeping a flat ski. In classic, I was having problems with the hard back of many of the classic boots. I have bony heel spurs that like nice soft heels, but also I needed a boot that was solid and would allow for a strong kick. Alpina has a nice combination of hard plastic which forms a solid heel section to push back on, and a cushioned area in the middle which accommodates that part of my heel. Both classic and skating boots are adjustable to get a perfect heel fit, whether you have wide or narrow heels.
As Megan points out the fit and performance of the boots is also excellent. I wear the regular width boots, size 39 and was delighted to find that they fit well right away, unlike other boots which require extensive wear time to work in. An added bonus is that I like how they look. I think the flashy red and carbon-titanium cuffs look really fast, particularly when paired with an XC Ottawa race suit!
Making the big switch to Aplina boots this season is a chance I have no regrets in taking. As someone who was perfectly content with my previous boots it seemed a bit risky to try a new fit. Why would I bother switching then, you might ask? For me, it came down to the fact that I felt like Aplina is a more personable brand in Canada, with a very hard working sales rep and distributor in Mike Doble. I knew that if I had any troubles at all, which I have not, Alpina would be able to help me solve them while most other brands would not.
Megan and Karl rollersking in Ottawa – photo credit XC Zone