I’ve been searching for the solution for a while now.
Until now, good snowboard (SB) boots have had a good mixture of lateral and fore/aft flex versus responsiveness for riding high, exposed lines, but have typically lacked the sole rigidity for sustained front pointing. Your screaming calves would have to take up the slack, and indeed, on very hard ice it could be tricky to keep your front points in at all. This means that access to some of the lines I dream of is either dangerous or impossible in those boots. What’s more, cramponing in regular SB boots can be hard on them. I once blew a decent pair apart in about 30 hours on a trip up the Hooker.
On the other hand, the various pairs of racing SB boots and mountaineering boots I’ve tried have been too rigid, requiring dangerously blocky jump turns on steep, hard snow. Worse, the sole length, especially with large crampon welts, equals toe or heel drag, which is no fun for euro-carving and is downright dangerous on steep, hard snow, which is common in New Zealand.
Imagine my delight to hear that Italian brand Fitwell have just released a snowboard mountaineering/splitboarding specific boot. Imagine my joy at hearing Richard Harcourt, our pioneering Kiwi splitboard manufacturer from SPLITN2, was importing small batches of the handmade beauts.
Rich loaned me a pair, which I took into the Mt Cook region, where I formed the following conclusions.
They are exceedingly light. Lighter by far than any mountaineering boots I’ve ever owned, and even lighter than my K2 SB boots. They clock in at 1270g per boot. Despite this, they are tougher than any SB boots, the outer is braced with Cordura through the stress points, with a high, heavy duty PU rand right around the boot that protects them well from scuffing and seam damage while moraine bashing. Regular SB boots can’t handle that type of treatment.
The main drawcard for me, initially, was the stiff Vibram sole, with a carbon insole. They have only a very slight amount of flex through the sole. I found them perfect for climbing on a variety of sections including short mixed and water-ice steps, and grade MC3 face climbing. In fact, they were as good as anything else I have climbed in.
I would be perfectly happy using them simply as winter climbing boots, since the durability appeared far superior to any conventional SB boot and really pretty close to a purpose built mountaineering boot. The whole lower boot, below the ankle, was very solid, and more like a climbing boot than an SB boot. The conventional lace-up system did require some effort to crank in the morning, and a re-tighten before dropping in was good, but overall it’s much favourable to the chances of popping off a draw or boa type lace system, which are becoming prevalent in standard SB boots.
These boots are built to take either strap-on or semi-automatic crampons, and again perform highly in this area. The toe box is so solid that crampon straps don’t crush it in the slightest, leading to warm, comfortable toes all day, and no wear on the boots. The heel welt allows for lever action crampons, a possibility I’d never had with snowboard boots before. This is great, both for security of crampon fit and ease of transition, but I worried that the heel welt would protrude over the edges of my snowboard and create drag. Luckily this was factored in, and the construction pulls the welt back in slightly under the heel, hence I had no toe or heel overhang, something I can’t even say of my regular boots.
I didn’t go spiltboarding, but they seem the perfect tool for this also. The relatively low cut boot, while offering good heel hold, allows more mobility of the ankle joint than regular snowboard boots, and combined with the stock Fitwell soft liner (which is also designed to be a durable and dry hut/camp booty), I imagine would negate any possibility of shins rubbing raw, as well as allowing for a fairly natural gait. They were definitely very nice for approach walks, nicer than mountaineering boots. This was also an advantage for rock scrambling, with enough ankle flex for snow feel, definitely more than plastic boots, and a solidly cleated sole of good Vibram. This sole, together with the general stiffness of the sole and lower boot gave good security when step kicking without crampons.
In conclusion, I simply cannot fault the Fitwell Backcountry boots for practicality, speed, durability or performance in terms of ascent, whether walking, splitboarding, or climbing on technical ground. I was also very happy to disover they make for a very fun ride, they felt responsive and playful even under an overnight pack. The only disadvantage is that their low-cut profile and mid-range fore-aft ankle flex leave them feeling less aggressive when riding very steep (okay, over 50-degrees!) terrain, at least for one accustomed to riding in only the stiffest, most aggressive snowboard boots. I believe that with higher binding high-backs, this would have been less noticeable, as it was the flex back rather than forward that I noticed. To counter this I used a stiffer, higher, Intuition brand liner, supplied by Richard, and would recommend this if extreme is your thing, keeping the regular liner in reserve for general mountaineering/splitboarding and riding. The only remotely comparable snowboard boot with climbing capability is the Spark Deeluxe, which is known for its stiff, aggresive ride and value for money. However, the build quality is not comparable to the Fitwell, and neither is the soft front toe box. It’s not engineered for sustained front pointing. For real-deal snowboard mountaineering and splitboarding, the Fitwell is a clear winner, and I look forward to seeing what Fitwell can bring us in the future.
Fitwell Backcountry snowboard mountaineering boots. $699.00. 10% discount for NZAC members from www.splitn2.com/fitwell.