This is part two of our look at some of next year’s ski gear. We sent our reporter on a two-week backcountry trip with pro skiers Chris Rubens, Eric Hjorleifson, Jordy Kidner, and Alexis Godbout to check out, test, and abuse some of the equipment that the rest of us will be able to buy next fall. See more details on the trip and a review of the Salomon QST Blank and Pomoca skins in Part 1.
This time, let’s look at the most significant gear decision on the trip, the boots that might be the solution to your touring dreams, and a ringing endorsement for Oakley.
Shifts vs Pin Bindings
This trip was the ultimate test for free ride touring bindings. A two-week-long ski touring adventure that included both flat walking days, as we traversed lodge to lodge, and a bunch of filming days where the crew was trying to ski the raddest lines they could, led to a tough decision for the athletes. Do you lug around the heavier SHIFT bindings or use, the lighter, easier-to-walk-in, low-tech pin bindings (like Salomon MTN Tour or Dynafit bindings).
The crew needed to be confident their skis would stay on as they hucked airs at high speed and attacked some scary faces. But they also needed to have enough energy to keep doing it for 14 days. All the skiers brought two setups and had their second pair waiting at our second lodge, Meadow. Most of them started on Salomon Shifts, and you could see why.
Right out of the helicopter, the team toured a technical, short face directly above Sunrise Lodge called the Melting Faces. Near vertical, the wall’s many pillows resemble bubbles floating in a champagne flute. Blanketed in dry powder, the sluff overflowed, and the athletes celebrated.
Jordy may have thrown down the rowdiest line. Wearing pure alpine boots modified for the Cast System, he chose Shifts for this mission and didn’t regret it - at least for the first week. Rubens and Alexis (also on Shifts) made every line look so easy that it was hard to tell if bindings would have mattered.
Eric was the only one skiing pin bindings right from the start. And he pushed them hard. A straight-line on day two had him travelling at Mach speed. Any hard snow debris, unforeseen compression, or binding malfunction could have been catastrophic. He also sent a big air to a harder-than-expected landing which tested the pins, but both bindings and skier took it well. To Eric’s credit, he never let his tiny bindings hold him back, and the rest of the crew never complained about the extra weight they were lugging.
One of the pros skiing Melting Faces
Rubens said the decision was easy at our first location. The tours were short (30 min or less), and the lines were intense. “The Shift is perfect for this (filming and touring) shorter stuff.” Alexi added, “I don’t even own alpine bindings anymore. These (Shifts) do it all.”
On day four, we made the 3-hour flat walk to our next base, Meadow Lodge. It was a pretty easy tour, actually, but you still heard a few guys say they wish they were on pin bindings. The ascents around Meadow were a bit bigger (closer to an hour), and by the end of our three days there, Rubens had switched to his pin bindings.
Three days later, after another easy traverse, we found ourselves at Vista Lodge. Here we spent most of the week skiing longer, faster lines with fewer airs. With a few days left, Alexis switched to his pin bindings and on the final day, when we made the 15 km walk to Sentry Lodge and back, Jordy finally caved and switched as well (Jordy had changed to touring boots by day 4).
What can we learn from this? Well, even the most fit athletes get sick of carrying extra weight around on their feet, and as soon as they stop spinning cliffs or being afraid they might tomahawk, they choose pin bindings. Our guide, custodian, and your reporter skied many of the same faces but avoided any real air time. We were all happy to be on low-tech pin bindings the entire trip.
That said, standing beside Alexis as he prepared to drop into a steep face and launch the double drop at the top, I performed the classic Dyna-fiddle (attempting to clip toes into pins) as he stepped down into his Shift heels with a “clunk” of confidence. It was pretty obvious which binding he’d rather be on in that moment!
Earning those turns.
It’s tempting to say that goggles don’t make as big a difference to your ski day as bindings do. But if you’ve ever tried to see through fogged lenses or shred in flat light, you’ll know better. Generally, pro skiers wear whatever goggles they get paid to, so their endorsement doesn’t mean much. That’s why I found it interesting that Eric chooses to wear Oakleys. He does not have a contract with them and could easily get whatever goggles he wanted for free. He could also presumably get paid to sport eyewear he doesn’t like as much. But he’s been rocking Oakleys happily for a few seasons now.
For goggles, Hoji wears the Oakley Flight Tracker XM. “They’re great, and I’ve only used one lens all year.” he tells me. The lens clarity when I try them is surprising. You can look at the blue sky, towards the sun, at bright snow, or in the shade and still have great definition. They are somewhat oversized and offer a large field of view, which may help when you are spinning airs through the trees??
Oakley Clifden glasses
If you want the authentic Hoji look, though, you need to get the Oakley Clifden Glacier Glasses. Eric busts out the goggles for film lines, but otherwise, when he’s touring, he rocks the glasses on the way up and down. It’s a great way to speed up and streamline changeovers, but you need to find glasses that block enough wind (The Clifden has removable side and bridge shields) but also don’t fog up and are comfortable enough to wear all day. The Clifden checks all those boxes. Talk to the Fresh staff to get a pair ordered in for you!
DynafitRadical Pro ski boots
The most significant change in the Hoji world, though, is the new Dyanafit Radical Pro ski boots. These slippers are very similar to the Hoji Free but have been made wider in the forefoot and over the arch while maintaining the tight heel-pocket. For everyone wishing they could but unable to make a pair of Hoji’s work with their foot, here’s your solution. These puppies are radically more comfortable.
The Hoji Experience featuring the Dynafit Radical Pro boots
Our guide Isaac (who’s been forcing his foot into Hoji’s because he loves the performance) tried them on one day, “Wow. I have no pressure points in these. And the heel pocket still feels tight.”
Rubens has never fit a Hoji boot before, so he tried them and had the same experience, “You can even crank down the heel strap and lock your foot in without any pain.”
Other than the fit and new green colour, the only real difference between the Radical and the Hoji is that the Radical gets a Velcro power strap that is a bit lighter. Eric adds that the Radical is “supposed to be softer than the Free Pro (130), but I bet it’s almost the same. Maybe a touch softer. And the lever is wider, so it’s easier to move with gloves on.” Real gear nerds will notice that the boot sole length is slightly shorter, which shaves a few more grams (1380 grams in size 26.5).
Head to toe Hoji