Typically when a brand says it can offer a “two-in-one” hybrid-style product, users are wary, especially for activities where certain technical aspects cannot be sacrificed. But what if the product isn’t a hybrid with compromises, but actually the first of its kind?
For climbers, by climbers
Arc’teryx, the Canadian outdoor apparel and gear company that was founded by climbers, has an ethos that revolves around advanced technical standards and seamless applications. With a minimalist aesthetic and well thought-out designs, the company has set the bar quite high with its outerwear, harnesses and bags. The recent debut in footwear is no exception.
We wanted the ultimate boot for skiing/alpinism.
With only one consumer year of footwear under its belt, Arc’teryx has come out with possibly the best intended ski-alpinism boot in the market, the Procline. Why? Because the makers wanted it for themselves.
“We (employees, athletes, guides) wanted the ultimate boot for skiing/alpinism!” exclaims design manager Greg Grenzke, “the sports of alpinism and ski alpinism are blending. Traditionally there is either a huge compromise of climbing in a ski boot, carrying two boots (ski boots and climbing boots), or terrible downhill ski performance such as in the old Silveretta bindings with climbing boots.”
The Procline is truly the first of its kind as a climbing/ski boot. The boot incorporates multiple materials for maximum efficiency, featuring a brand-new patented technology: a two-piece carbon fiber upper cuff system. This cuff gives the wearer vertical and lateral rotation allowing a 360-degree range of movement when unlocked, performing like a classic plastic alpine climbing boot. When the carbon cuff is locked, the boot performs like a stiff, yet lightweight ski boot able to handle some of the gnarliest lines.
The base shell of the boot is made with Grilamid; the weather-proof gaiter (construction above the base covering ankle and lower leg) is made from high density Cordura with TPU reinforcements, while the cuff is made from a carbon fiber blend with over-injected Grilamid containing 30 percent carbon fiber content. The boot is equipped with Tech Binding compatibility (Dynafit-certified inserts) and the sole made with a Vibram Procline dual compound rubber. In laymen’s terms, the base shell is hard, durable and light. The gaiter is warm, flexible and dry. The cuff, like a rigid exoskeleton when locked, creates the same effect as a full circumference piece.
The sole is firm but comfortable, and one can actually smear and edge for more accurate climbing. To top it all off, the top strap is a patent-pending design that is one of the most flawless features on the boot that spares the user’s from the dreaded pants-eating Velcro.
A climber’s point of view
All of this sounds nice, and perhaps almost too good to be true – surely it must perform better one way? Top alpinist Jason Kruk is one of a handful of athletes Arc’teryx tapped for the testing of the Procline. Kruk is more on the climbing spectrum and has been testing the boot across the mountains of western Canada and to Chamonix in the Alps. One of his favorite winter multi-pitch crags is the Husume Buttress in the Whistler/Blackcomb backcountry of British Columbia, where being one of the lucky few testing the Procline has given him an advantage.
The boot took three winters to test.
“When the climbing is in really good condition after a few melt-freeze cycles, the skiing is horrible and it can be quite treacherous to negotiate refrozen slopes with a heavy backpack full of the winter climbing arsenal of gear,” Krux tells Digital Trends. “My partners all choose to wear proper ski boots for the approach, then switch to climbing boots at the base of the route.
Some people ski in climbing boots with Silvaretta bindings with a serious lack of control! I bring just the Procline, and can safely descend frozen chunder to the base of the wall, then confidently lead traditional mixed routes (up to stout M8 thus far). I forget I’m climbing in ski boots.”
Stiff competition for ski boots
The climbing elements of the boot are the evident, but the skiing attributes are a bit more esoteric with the new cuff technology. Arc’teryx athlete Forrest Coots falls more on the ski side and grew up ski racing. He will always prefer a stiffer “race fit” when it comes to boots, making him the ultimate tester for the Procline’s ski features.
“The Procline does an amazing job bridging the gap between true alpine climbing boot, but also it is a ski boot,” says Coots. “My concern was that it would be fairly soft, like the flex of boot wouldn’t allow for a drive to the ski – but it is really laterally stiff because of the carbon cuff in the back. It skis as well as anything on the market in the same weight category, if not better. There are stiffer boots, but then you are going to deal with the weight. But this thing skis quite well.”
On a recent trip to Iran for the shooting of Jason Manley’s film series, A Skier’s Journey, Coots encountered conditions that exceeded his expectations in Procline. “We were in the Zargos mountains, skiing at like 13 thousand feet and we ended up climbing this couloir that was pretty firm and pretty choppy, not really smooth snow. I was like, ’this going to be the true test of this boot’ because it’s like fairly exposed and the cameras are rolling, so you have to be able to ski really fluid. It did everything I needed it to.”
For British Columbia film portion in the series, Coots wore his Procline the nearly the whole trip. “I didn’t bring shoes. Those were my boots to hike and bushwhack in and ski tour. I did have some river sandals for the river but once we got off the river, I put the boots back on. I more or less wore the boots for 25 days straight.”
360 degree rotation is key
Both Krux and Coots agree that what separates the Procline from all others is the 360 degree split cuff. “This is what makes the ski boot feel like a comfy climbing boot and allows you the dexterity to high step and precisely place the front points of your crampons on small holds,” states Krux. “This ankle articulation also helps to be more secure while skinning up a steep slope or using ‘French technique’ with crampons, as you are able to roll your ankles to get more surface area of your skins or crampons on the slope.”
“We had to make this super early morning icy traverse and we were super loaded down with all our gear,” recalls Coots. “I was able to lay the ski more into the slope so you’re not slipping down so much, like a traditional ski boot fixed cuff where you can’t bend, where the whole boot will collapse when you try to articulate it, with this split cuff it allows you 360 degrees of rotation – side to side.”
I more or less wore the boots for 25 days straight.
“There were a handful of completely different concepts to allow the cuff to float/rotate 360 degrees so the process of testing and validating the different directions was time consuming,” says Grenzke. The boot took three winters to test and by not having the rigid tongue construction, producing enough stiffness to it skiable proved to be the biggest challenge. There were also some other challenges; Arc’teryx had to reinforce the cuff at the pivot points several times. Many rounds of prototypes were had in order to establish a consistent locking mechanism that would perfectly transition from ski to tour and tour to ski.
“We are always exploring new ideas, and people here make their own gear they are passionate about. Sometimes those ideas become a reality,” says Grenzkle. The Procline might someday be old news as more advancements and creations appear in this new ski-alpinism boot world, but one thing is for certain: If it wasn’t for Arc’teryx commitment to excellence, ski-alpinists would still be packing two pairs of boots.