When word got out that Greg Hill and Killian Jornet would be designing a new line of backcountry products for Salomon and Atomic, we knew we’d be getting something out of the ordinary. In the end, many of these products exceeded our expectations but Salomon’s MTN Explore boots really stood out as an underestimated star.
Spring was approaching, which meant the ski-touring season was just around the corner. It was time to get ready for classic hut-trips like the Ortler Route in Italy and the Haute Route between Chamonix and Zermatt. In addition to these fun adventures was the announcement of a new endurance event in our hometown of Zermatt; the Ultraks - a 3k ski-mountaineering race under the shadow of the Matterhorn. I had already been using Salomon’s Quest series on a day-to-day basis, but now - with this must-do on the horizon - I really needed something that would be light yet durable enough to use for the remainder of the season.
Simply holding the the MTN Explore reveals that these are a different animal than the standard AT boot. They are incredibly light at about 1.4 kilograms - a full 600 grams lighter than my Quests. And the narrow profile of the shell along with the rockered Contagrip sole makes for optimal hiking in alpine terrain - as well as easy walking in Zermatt’s car-free streets. You can see that the boots are designed primarily for ‘real’ backcountry use, not short expeditions out of bounds yet they don’t come across as some dumbed-down version of their high-performance partner - the MTN Lab. The shell is made from lightweight Grilamid and the cuff from flexible Touring polypropylene, and the two are joined together using Salomon's oversized pivot, which provides a stable connection that's ideal for driving wider skis without slop or unnecessary flex. This is quite important for those of us who use a ski with at least 95mm underfoot and are still using a (heavy) traditional ski-touring binding. Although take note that the Explore does come with a toe piece that accepts a pin binding.
Range of Motion:
Salomon claims that the MTN Explore has 63 degrees of ROM, a full 16 degrees more than the Lab. This is particularly important to me since I’m more focused on the ‘walkability’ feature of the boot and the fact that I’m often skinning uphill without opening my buckles all the way.
Flex is a complex term to understand. Before buying a pair of boots, it’s always a good idea to try a wide range of styles from different manufacturers to get a feel for what the flex rating means to you personally. For example, one company’s flex rating of 120 might be similar to another’s rating of 130. Salomon stamps the Explore as having a flex of “110”. But after 20 days in these, I can assure you that they are no wet noodle. Of course, if you’re coming from a more traditional (i.e. stiffer) ski boot, you’ll find yourself needing to adjust for the ease of the forward-flex.
The liner of the Explore is admittedly quite thin. This is likely a result of Salomon’s need to shed weight. My colleague Jörg replaced his liners with a pair of Intuitions. Not only did this make the boot more comfortable, it also helped increase the flex ever so slightly. I have kept the original liners, but I did remove the thick tennis-shoe-like laces.
My first day in the Explore was initiated by a ski-tour from Zermatt, Switzerland to Alagna, Italy - an epic Switalian adventure that is worth its own story. The conditions were ideal; long powdery descents with clear skies over the Col de Lys (4,150m) for our return home the following day. The forward-flex was a bit awkward at first and I found myself in the ‘backseat’ for the first few turns, but once I got adjusted, I found the downhill performance to be outstanding. Admittedly, the stiffness of my prior AT boots had made me a little lazy. Since then, I’ve used the boots for several week-long tours in the Alps - in all conditions. The flex remains strong and the sole is still intact. As for the race in Zermatt, my partner and I came in second in the mixed-couples category. Not so bad when you see that many of your competitors are wearing ultra-light and very expensive rando-race boots.
Salomon’s MTN Explore is a very good AT boot and I never felt that I had lost out on the performance of its superior and more expensive partner - the MTN Lab. With this said, dedicated backcountry skiers should not feel like they need to go for the Lab simply for the sake of getting Salomon’s “real” touring boot. If you’re looking for something to ski with on the piste or if you primarily do shorter ‘slack-country” tours, then perhaps the Lab would be superior. However, in the end, I feel that the MTN Explore excels at both up-hill and downhill performance for nearly every occasion.
Stats: Salomon MTN Explore Boot
Available Sizes: 24.5 – 29.5 Size Tested: 27.5 Stated Flex: 100 Stated Last: 98mm Stated Range of Motion: 63° Stated Measured Weight: 1,462 grams MSRP: $700 Test Locations: Zermatt, Switzerland + Ski / Bindings Used: 186cm Salomon Quest 98/ Salomon Guardian 12 Days Tested: > 20