You have heard about it and the idea impresses you, but is the new line of boots from Black Diamond, and the “hard charging” Factor in particular, all it is cracked up to be? After putting these boots through a gamut of conditions across the world, I think it is pretty fair to declare the Factor a revolution in alpine skiing. Not back country skiing, but alpine. You heard me.
Black Diamond Factor Review from Anthony Bonello on Vimeo.
I just finished a 3 month shredding sojourn begining at home in Canada, before moving onto Japan and then bumping over to the lofty heights of Kashmir and the Great Himalaya Range. Along the way I encountered -20 degree temps, deep powder, isles of raw fish in supermarkets, steep chutes, apre ski parties, long tours, longer days, spring sludge, multi day tenting and wide open alpine bowls. The Factor was made for all of that, but especially the shredding.
The first thing to note is that the Factor is an alpine boot with a walk mode, not an alpine touring boot that has been beefed up. It looks like an alpine boot with four buckles, an overlap shell construction and a high cuff. The flex is rated at 130 and while it may ski touch softer than some other 130's this is most certainly a stiff boot.
Black Diamond put three years into designing this and have developed an exceptional boot to complement say the Marker Duke binding and those looking to tour without compromising the downhill what-so-ever. I ran these boots with a Duke and while it is a heavy touring set up, given the nature of my trip, I wanted a setup for shredding the resort and venturing into the backcountry. And this was quite literally the optimum boot for that.
Made from 100% Pebax on Black Diamond’s Triax-Pro frame with a walk/ski switch behind the achilles similar to traditional AT boots, the Factor tours remarkably well. Historically, AT boots have utilized a tongue design that when the buckles are released gives the boot a softer, easier walk mode. With the overlap shell design, however, the Factor stays snug around the forefoot. In mastering a tourable overlap construction I am sure there is some real magic that is largely understated. After testing the new Garmont Radium which has a hybrid overlap construction with a high tongue, I feel the Factor has a more natural walk. And let me remind you I wore these boots in Japan from 8am til 8pm most days, riding the bus, skiing the resort, hiking the slackcountry, downing a few pints and then skating through the streets from the bus stop back home. The tour mode is a joy to use.
As for the downhill performance, there is little more to say than again, the Factors are a joy to ski. As I mentioned before these are a stiff boot and the only real potential issue is play developing in the switch that locks the boot into ski mode, but this will be inherent in any boot that has a walk mode. After 60 odd days on my boots so far, there is little or no play in my switches. The switch is easily replaceable anyway so it isn’t really an issue. Another thing to note about the switch is that you can adjust the forward lean when in ski mode to be more aggressive or upright, as well as the lateral canting on the outside of the ankle, allowing you to tailor the boots to your style and stance.
Another bonus with the Factor is the interchangeable soles. The boot comes with plastic ISO Alpine DIN blocks with rubber in the right spots, but these can be interchanged for rockered, AT/Dynafit compatible blocks-another genius feature by BD. With the release of G3's new Onyx binding, slated to give greater downhill performance than other AT bindings on the market with improved ease of touring, there are few boots on the market that pair well with the new binding. The Factor will fit that bill.
The thermoformable liners that come with the Factor are innovative, including the BOA ratcheting closure system that is used in many snowboard boots. I do like the idea and it ads support in ski mode and allows the liner to be loosened in walk mode without being sloppy. It could be argued that it ads weight, and I could live without it, but it certainly doesn’t detract from the boot. The liners are a little cold in my experience compared to Intuition liners and I have heard similar sentiments from others using the BOA liner supplied with the boot. The liners also packed out over the day and quite a bit over the season. After punching out the shells to fit my foot, the liners are comfortable, no question, and the thermoformable footbed is a nice touch.
The only other qualm I have with the boots is that the buckles are so low profile that they can be a little difficult to release with gloves. The boots aren’t particularly light weight (4.13kg/pair) but these are all about the down. To quote the Black Diamond website, “skiers with tight pants or skinny skis need not apply.”
The market is about to explode with all matter of alpine boots made to tour, but it is yet to bee seen how these additions to a new category perform. Black Diamond now has a year under their belt and their first incursion into boot manufacture has essentially created this category. If you are thinking of getting out of your stiff, awkward and uncomfortable-to-tour-in alpine boots then the Factor is the now tried an tested option.
For more information, check out theBlack Diamond website.