Pros: Superb out-of-the-box fit; great stance; plenty of adjustable power; easy on and off; heat-moldable liners
Cons: K2 having trouble getting liner cookers to dealers well into the season
I was talking to my long-time local dealer last spring about getting a more modern pair of boots with a more forgiving flex and upright stance after salvaging my old Lange X Zero 9s with a Scarpa-branded Intuition liner last year. The Intuitions fixed my fit problems caused by the broken-down stock Lange liners, but, in my mid-sixties and lacking the strength of my younger years, I felt the boot was just too demanding with its pronounced forward cuff angle (16°, I believe) and 125-ish flex index. I was tiring sooner than I wanted, from burning the quads in that aggressive forward stance. He told me about the new line K2 was bringing out for 2013-2014, so I focused on that.
The freeride Pinnacle models garnered the bulk of the press this past fall, with their clever hiking features and strong frontside performance, but I don't skin or hike much, so I wanted a conventional alpine boot. I really agonized between the SpYne 110 and the 130, since I'd skied in civilian-grade race Langes for more than 20 years and wondered whether I'd miss the precision of the 130-range models. I do have a Lange foot (12A on a Brannock device), but I really hated how difficult (and even painful) they could be to put on and take off. Again, with advancing age, those things get harder to do.
The shop had only the Pinnacle 110 in a 29.5 Mondo, so that's where we started the fitting process. Yeah, it was in a warm shop, but these boots went on as easily as a pair of work or hiking boots. Amazing. Then the fit, cold from the box. Amazing. The foot from the ball back felt like it was glued into the boot, no hot spots, while my toes had a ton of room in all directions. I didn't think ski boots could be that comfortable without being uselessly sloppy. We got everything firmed up and I walked around the shop for 20 minutes; it only got better. The cuff release is indeed a nice feature, and I would be strongly inclined toward the Pinnacles if my ski days involved significant walking in boots. Simply put, it didn't feel like walking in ski boots, at least not anything like the Langes, which could feel like anvils trudging across the parking lot at the end of the day, kicking my aching knees forward with every step.
The Dalbello rep happened to be in the shop when I went back for a second session in the K2s, and he (very open-mindedly) put their equivalent 110 model on my other foot. The difference was immediate, with a couple of hotspots right off the bat. Nothing that good fitting, liner-cooking and mods couldn't fix, but a noticeably less-perfect fit. I got the feeling that K2's competitors are impressed with the effort that went into this boot line.
After as much research as I could do from K2 literature, the magazines, and the Internet, I ordered the SpYne 110 LV in 29.5. Same deal: easy on and off, firm foothold with free toes, same fit.
OK, to the snow. First day (in this weird and delayed season here in the Sierra) was December 11. Easy on, easy walking from Squaw's parking lot to Red Dog, and felt cushy in the first few turns. I was skiing the way I did with my Langes, a fairly aggressive knee angle to pressure the tips of the Rossi E98s I got last spring. Everything worked well, but no great epiphanies. My first days seem to be early-fatigue plagued the last few seasons, and this was no exception. I probably wasn't as attentive to buckle tension as I should have been for new boots, and I had a pretty painful metatarsal pinch going after a couple of hours. Went home without firm conclusions about the upgrade.
At this point, I need to complain that K2 has neglected this product's release by dropping the ball on getting their specially designed ovens to dealers for cooking the liners, with is part of the design of the fit system. In early February, the dealers are still waiting, which means that the buyers are still waiting to optimize the fit. I understand that they had some ovens made in China that were defective, and that they're rushing production in Germany of ovens that will perform to specs. I'm inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt, because these things happen and the boots will only get better with molded liners.
After waiting all January for more snow, I decided I'd better make the most of my pass before February became April without a reasonable number of days on snow, so February 4 was my second day. I'd taken advantage of our warm, dry January to catch up on the conditioning I'd neglected last fall and got to work on the mountain bike locally. A dozen or so vigorous 10k, 25-minute minute rides later, I had regained pretty good muscle tone and wind. I was ready now.
This time, I fussed a lot more with the buckles, bearing in mind that I'd pinched those nerves in December from over-tightening the forefoot buckles. I firmed up the ankle buckles and powerstrap while leaving the toe buckle just lightly snapped over-center and the second one just snug. I focused on using the mid-foot, heel pocket, and cuff for control instead of steering with the forefoot inside the boot, which was what had made the Langes work well for me. With the fat Rossi 98s, I found a balance point that just blew my mind. Whereas with the Langes, initiating a turn involved a hard drive forward with the knees (and a knee angle that was close to 90°), this combination responded to a nearly straight-legged push into a carve angle and a sensation of steering from the heel, firmly embedded in that cuff. Simply amazing. With the initial angle of the knee much less, I had a lot more ability to absorb shocks and keep the edge engaged without chattering, because I wasn't bending my knees nearly as much early in the turns. The more I played with it, the bigger my grin became. If I had stuck my Langes out like that on my old RPM 17s, it would have been a quick trip to the backseat followed by a close encounter with the snow. This combination just zinged into a carve and held like a talon on that firm manmade pack that makes snow-short Squaw skiable these days.
I took three nonstop Mountain Runs just because the upright stance let me cruise indefinitely without quad fatigue. I take pride in never riding the Funitel down from the Upper Mountain, but it has been tiring in recent years. I was sneering at fatigue, and, when the trail got steep enough to actually require turns, the control was there in an instant. I was genuinely pissed off that I just missed the last ride up Red Dog (by, like, five chairs) on a beautiful winter afternoon after slamming nonstops down the hardpack repeatedly. That straight-leg heel-steering was an absolute revelation for one who began on wooden skis with beartraps in the 1950s and has seen all of the evolution of gear since.
It's the easiest that my kind of hard, fast skiing has ever been. And this is in a pair of boots with a 110 flex index. The control offered by the SpYne 130 must really be awesome. I think K2 is on to something with the rivetless design in its smooth transfer of power through the cuff. The sensation is linear, without a noticeable point at which the boot stiffens and gets more responsive. Want a little more? Just dial it in.
I did get a mild metatarsal pinch in the last hour on the right foot, but the left was pure bliss with uncooked stock liners. Dealer says the new ovens are on the way, and I fully expect the cooking to cure the minor sixth-toe issues while making the rest of the fit even better.
I wasn't able to ski any real bumps or off-piste, but I found a little patch of six-inch chop to make a few turns in, and there were no surprises. I would expect the upright stance to work well in both situations.
Bottom line: fresh, innovative approach to design; unreal out-of-box fit; easy and comfortable to ski as hard as you want; easy on and off, even after an exhausting day. One more thing: I've ALWAYS had cold toes and have been through several types of boot heaters without much success. It was 28-35° last Tuesday, and my toes would have checked out and gone numb after an hour or so in the Langes. There I was, dangling my new boots off the Red Dog lift at 3:30, 120 feet up, wiggling my toasty toes. Bliss. K2, I owe your rep a cold Sierra Nevada Pale Ale.