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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Black Diamond Prime Ski boot

Here is BD's catalog speil:

The Prime is Black Diamond's premier lightweight alpine touring boot-designed to tackle the world's most challenging ski mountaineering routes or simply to save your legs for one last powder lap. This is our lightest alpine touring boot, featuring a unique 3.5-buckle design that skis with the stiffness and control of a 4-buckle boot. Its state-of-the-art construction keeps weight to an absolute minimum, while our revolutionary Pivoting Cuff Technology delivers the ultimate combination of freedom of motion in walk mode and instant power transfer in ski mode.

Black Diamond Prime Ski Boot Features:
• Lightweight (1.64 kg) 3-buckle alpine touring boot with 4-buckle performance
• Triax Pivot Frame with Flex 110 and unmatched 40° of resistance-free touring motion
• Efficient Fit AT Light Liner with lightweight Boa closure system
• Rockered, rubber outsole with integrated tech inserts provides dramatic grip and durability
• Weight Per Pair: 7lbs. 4oz.
• Flex Index: 110
• Number of Buckles: 3

Here is mine:

In the past I've spent a lot of time in ski boots.  Over a decade working full time at ski areas in different jobs including pro patrol, avalanche control and a tiny bit of teaching.  I've back country ski guided on 3 pin, tele gear and AT gear and heli skied.  All of it in the NW or western Canada.   Right up till this week.

I've had some great boots and some not so great boots.  But a warm boot and one that fit my foot hasn't been all that hard to come by.  I had orthotics made for me in the early '80s and continue to use a good footbed, custom made for my feet and stance.

So I was pretty stoked to get a new alpine touring boot knowing what was in store for me this winter in France.   Having generally skied in a competition style boot I was looking for ski/boot performance over a super light weight boot.  Although I might rethink that decision on my next pair.  No matter, comfort is the real key for me in any boot, climbing or skiing.

The Black Diamond Prime is a three buckle boot that uses a Y strap on the first buckle to avoid the 4th buckle and save a tiny bit of weight.  But as a "new generation" AT boot, it is not light weight by any measure.

But they do indeed ski very well.  Pretty much like a performace ski boot from what I can tell.  Nothing lacking on this boot for performance...I could use it on a pair of old school 207cm GS skis cruising at mach 1 and be happy with the support.

In the morning walking the 15 minutes to the Midi tram from my apartment here in Chamonix I curse the walk mode.  My toes are banging, the rigid sole is....well rigid  There is never enough flex in a ski boot to make them walk "well."   They may walk but it isn't going to be a pleasure.   The ski day here is generally half dozen runs and 20 THOUSAND vertical feet if I can stand up that long.  By then I am happy to unlatch and unbuckle for the walk from the train to the coffee house.  And I love how easy the Primes walk then and the final two blocks back to the apartment.

Life isn't hard on AT boots or your feet here unless you make it that way.

So they ski great, and they a few of the better AT boots I figure.  Which is well enough to keep you from crying at the end of the day here in Chamonix or on the long day trips at Rodgers pass...where the train is generally avoided.

Butttttttttt?!  There is always a but.  I did three trips to my local boot fitter at home with these boots before I left.  Which is excessive even for me.  The inner boot was tight.  Too tight.   You get the was getting ugly.  All to no avail.  Each time we remeasured the shell.  Remember I wanted a "performace fit".  Each time we all agreed the shell was perfect.  Calls to BD Custoemr service and discussions with guys there who actually wear the same size climbing boot as me, all...once more.....agreed on shell size.

Two of the trips to the boot fitter at home would have been ski days.  But the boots were killing me.  The third trip I just flatly ran out of time to ski in them again  before flying to France.  But they were a bit better with each visit.   "Better" being a relative term.

First run here was a 15K and 5000 of vertical down from 11K feet.  Think skiing from the summit of Mt. Hood to the parking lot at Meadows...or where ever 10 miles and a 5000 ft drop in elevation would put you.

At 10K feet I had to have help pulling my boot off and message away a cramp.  Unbelievably hard to get the boot off let alone back on at home.  Imagine that in 40mph winds and -15C.    I have never been happy with the Boa system on any boot I have used.  And the liners on the Primes just reinforce that opinion.  The Boa sucks.   One of the most unplesant 4 hrs I have ever spent in any boot finishing up the Mer De Glace. and walking home from the train.  And that includes walking off the summit of Rainier as my toes unthawed.   This was worse that walking down from Muir in socks.

My next move was find a BD ski boot dealer in Chamonix.  And most importantly someone who was REALLY good at fitting boots.    Easy enough to do here.  Ths place is over flowing with good gear shops and expert staff.  (amazing really just how many and how good!) 

No problem they tell me..10 Euro per boot.  They take 20 minutes looking at, measuring and marking my boot shells and liners.  I am a little worried.  The guys at home are good and I am beginning to think this boot will never be comfortable on my feet.  I'm in Chamonix for chrimney sake...I have to have ski boots I can wear just to get to the climbs.   And the skiing?  No place has skiing like Chamonix.

As I am leaving I notice that have several different models of Palau custom liners on one little corner wall.  Palaus are kinda like Intuition Liners back in the States just better made over all.   I own a pair Intuition myself.   But I also have some Palau liners made for the La Sportiva Baruntse I use in my Spantiks.  The Palau liner is a much better liner that the Intuition imo.  I turn around and we start the bootfitting converstion all over again.

Over lapping tongue on the Palau is much easier to get in and out of than the Boa on the BD liner.  Liners are warmer as well besides the obvious added comfort (dbl tongue for example) even if the BD liner did actually fit.

The retail sales mentality is different in France.  You aren't going to be pushed into buying anything.  Lucky in fact if you can get the sales staff to help you, let alone answer a question.  Sometimes it is annoying.  But I kind of like it generally.  You can look at anything and no one will bug you asking, "can I help you?"  Which can so often sound like "buy something or get the hell out of here!" in the USA.   When I start asking questions on the Palau liners I am politely told they didn't want to sell me something I didn't need.  But going on, in their opinion, as a BD dealer, all the BD boots came with liners too small for the shell.  Which certainly would seem to be my problem when looking at and trying to fit my factory liners.  And the boot fitter goes on,  "almost every BD boot they have sold had the liner replaced with a Palau".

BD boots are not cheap here!  But it does say something for the performance of the BD shell.

The opinions expressed by the Staff after I was fittted and the liners were paid for were even more to the point.   Sanglard, Chamonix's premier ski boot fitter.

20 minutes and 150 Euro later the Palua "Soft" liners were expertly fitted and molded with my orthodics.  Same orthotics that I couldn't even get in the BD liners.     The next day I skied 15K  vert in 2 hours and spent a total of 5 hrs in my boots walking, eating a great lunch and skiing.   I dropped off a nice bottle of wine that night for my sales person/ boot fitter.

Happy now in his new liners on the start of the 15k run down from the Midi.

I now like my BD Primes.  But it might well be a one night stand, 'cuz I aint in love.

Palau liners...designed, patented , serial numbered and made in France.
BD Boa liners.... designed in SLC, made in Thailand
For more on AT ski gear, gear reviews  and opinions, this is the US destination on the internet:
Palau liners in my Primes.


fulton said...

Really glad you got that sorted. It's so nice being in an enviroment where people know their shit, eh? Nice photo of you tearing that boot off below the midi! Man that wind was really blowing wasn't?

Anonymous said...

Do you mind telling why you're not in love with the Primes even after the new liners?

Dane said...

Sure.. first they are heavy in comparison to some of the state of the art BC boots. Price is right on the BD and I bought for price point and what I thought would be a light weight boot.

My old Salomons weigh less and ski a LOT better.

Performance is decent if they fit, not inexpensive if you have to change liners to make them fit.

But for the weight, IMO, the performance is only decent nothing spectacular.

Gear is always a trade off. But the difference in weight these days on a full race boot and what can be had from a TLT is striking.

In the grand scheme of things even with a custom liner the Prime is a ho hum boot for me. Good enough for most things spectacular at none. If I was working at a ski area again it might well be a "perfect" boot. Durable and will do most anything, even ski well. Not a boot I would ever think about taking on a week long tour. But might be my first choice with a custom liner for a heli ski trip on really fat skis or working as a heli Guide.

I know that is not very complimentry....but it is also a not a bad comment on the Prime. May be not what the designers intended just my thought after using the boot for a season.

Justin Walmsley said...

Really interesting review, I have been considering the primes.

I (unfortunately) only get a few weeks (4-5) skiing a year, and like to head off into the back/slack country after a days ski instructing.

I use a pair of G3 Onyx bindings and currently use a pair of black diamond factors, but was thinking about going for a full touring boot.

If you are not taken by the Primes, what would you use? Also have you tried the primes in an alpine binding, I know the manufactures never say to do it, but do they fit?


Anonymous said...

Just found the good adress for Palau :,fr,4,PAL-OVSOFT.cfm


Anonymous said...

Hey Dane.

What size liners did you get? The same size as the Primes or larger?


Dane said...

same size as the shell

Unknown said...

BD liners are now going for 20 dollars new. I think I see why now...