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Oct 01 2010

Garmont’s 2-buckle Kenai

Garmont has been transforming their entire line of ski boots with shells that hug your foot tighter to deliver higher performance. While the majority of interest in their line has been for the higher cuffed, big-boot version, the emphasis here is on earning turns, so a review of the most touring friendly tele boot seem appropriate.

In the telemark line, one of the most obvious visual elements of this ongoing refinement in performance is the elimination of the toe buckle. Sporting only two buckles, Kenai is the replacement for the SynerG, a svelte mix of power and touring pragmatism. So the question is, are two buckles enough?

In downhill mode they’re the only two that really matter, holding your heel in place above and below the ankle. For extra power, the cuff is as high as EnerG, but with a nice fat power strap to secure the upper lip. It adds enough leverage to handle mid-phat to full-phat. If you insist they can drive super fatties, but Garmont’s Voodoo makes more sense in that case. As you would expect, the flex is smooth, thanks in part to a new progressive bellows that collapses at the rear first, then the front. The bellows is curved to conform to the metatarsal line so you can weight your pinky toe better. All in all, excellent improvements throughout Garmont’s new tele boot line.

One of the coolest items is the new Easy-Lock cuff buckle. This utilizes a rib of plastic down the middle of the latches that grabs the mating hook and holds it securely in the groove. With the hook effectively locked in the groove, to switch from fully clamped for turning, to loose for skinning, just unflip the buckle. No need to take the time to hook it into a special touring tooth, or worry about it flopping around. Just flip the buckle open and it hangs loose without letting go. To completely unhook, or to even catch the hook, press down on a button at the end of the grooved side of the buckle to pull the plastic fingers back and let the wire go. This is far and away my favorite feature Garmont’s newest generation of ski boots, tele and AT.

There are other changes in the basic construction of this boot. It uses an overlap tongue, and triple injected plastic to reinforce lateral rigidity in the shell and in reinforcing ribs around the angled bellows. Plus the liner is completely new, with three zones of different density foam and reinforced lace eyelets that look like they can actually survive tugging on them more than half a dozen times, unlike the eyelets on SynerG’s or EnerG liners. Be forewarned, Garmont liners are the least preformed of any telemark boot manufacturer. Combined with a lower shell that is the narrowest available the correct size shell will probably be uncomfortably tight out of the box. In my case, even a shell that was a size large was tight on my forefoot, while the correct size shell was downright painful. Since it was my duty to get past first impressions I followed my own advice and despite the pain I trusted the molding process and voila, after molding they felt great. By design the end result is a very comfortable liner that resists packing out. This is due to the squished nature of the foam on either side of your forefoot (after molding), and to the use of a denser foam underfoot.

Though narrower than models of yore, these boots still favor those with a higher instep foot. Those with a low instep like yours truly will need to fill the extra space above the instep with extra foam rubber so the lone foot buckle can hold your heel down better.

Regardless of whether you have a low or high volume foot, the lack of a second buckle practically guarantees more heel movement in the shell. This isn’t noticeable while turning, but is especially true in tour mode where you want your upper leg to be able to flex fore and aft. As soon as you release the cuff buckle, the only thing attempting to hold your foot in the boot is the foot buckle. When you’re skinning, this is simply insufficient and your heel will lift with each step. On a long tour, that spells blisters – the longer the tour, the badder the blisters. On the positive side, the tour/turn lever that releases the cuff allows a lot more movement than its predecessor, the SynerG. It may move more, but it doesn’t feel any more free, owing to the higher cuff.

I agree with Kenai’s premise that the front buckle of most ski boots is vestigial. Unfortunately the lone buckle is not far enough back to keep my heel in place, especially with the cuff buckle loosed. Those with a higher instep, or a higher volume foot will probably not notice.

In downhill mode Kenai skis more like a T1 than a T2 or T2X. The closest boot in performance is probably Black Diamond’s Seeker, but even here, Kenai’s stiffer frame and cuff offer more. Bottom line, I’m not sure two buckles is enough to hold your foot secure enough in all modes of travel. For those who tend to judge a boot based on criteria like the number of buckles, Kenai delivers far more than you would expect. However, considering how little an extra buckle weighs, I’d recommend Voodoo over Kenai, not so much for turning as the ability to hold your foot in place for touring.

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    The reader should be aware of my inherent bias with Garmont. In general I really like the features and performance of Garmont boots. Unfortunately I rarely experience it all because I don’t have a Garmont friendly foot. It isn’t that I can’t get a good fit with Garmont’s, I can. It just takes a lot more work than it does with Scarpa, and a little bit more work than Crispi or Black Diamond. So any negative comments in the review that relate to fit should be viewed accordingly.

     

    The big change is that those who have traditionally chosen Garmont because it fit their wide feet easier are in for a rude awakening. The new line can, but you MUST heat the liners enough to squish ’em out so your forefoot isn’t crushed.

     

    Don’t confuse wide with high volume. When I say high volume, I mean a high instep, which I absolutely do not have. If you find the top of your foot back by the ankle is easily crushed by instep buckles such as those found on Black Diamond, Crispi, or Scarpa boots, you probably have a high instep and a high volume foot. You’ll still like Garmont, you just might need to spend more time making sure your toes are not getting squished from the side. Heat those liners and squish back.

  • http://www.thompsonpass.com Valdez Telehead

    Thanks Craig. I’ve been interested in two buckles ever since I progressed past t-3’s and lost that simplicity. I am currently skiing “buckle happy” BD Push’s and though performance is adequate, dealing with buckles and adjustments at the top of a skinning route followed by the gear transition is problematic in cold air and wild winds. (PainITA) I will give this boot some serious consideration for this season. The “fiddle factor” is as or more important to me compared to weight I will look for these in Los Anchorage later this month.

    Plus they have retained….the duckbill!!

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    You’ll LUV the Easy-Lock top buckle for reducing fiddle factor. It’ll be good to get additional comments on whether the lower buckle holds your foot well enough for tour mode. Based on a quick survey at TTips it appears it may, as long as you have a high instep. Unfortunately that’s just speculation since most folks are buying Voodoos, not Kenai’s.

  • DDB

    Craig
    Thanks for the review. Very useful, especially as I was concerned that the two buckles might be an issue for a lifting heal. I am currently skiing on Veloce. I gather that the Voodoo are a significant step up in terms of stiffness. Any thoughts about how hard it would be to transition into them?

    Thanks.

  • http://www.earnyourturns.com Dostie

    DDB,

    That depends on your foot. If you have a classic Garmont foot – that is, you have a high instep and fitting Garmont’s doesn’t take any extra effort, you’re probably okay.

    Compared to the Veloce almost any modern tele boot is a step up in terms of stiffness. If you like the soft flex of your Veloce’s you’re better off trying to find a pair of SynerGs, or T2s. OTOH, I think you’ll appreciate a slightly stiffer boot for turning control and the walk mode feature of the Kenai or Voodoo help compensate for a higher cuff since they rock backwards so much further than other boots with equally high cuffs. For instance, Kenai’s cuff rocks back further than the cuff of a T2X, even though it is higher. If possible, try before you buy, or get a fit guarantee and be prepared to upgrade to a bigger boot in the long run. If you have a free-pivot binding (Switchback, O1, Axl) the stiffer boot ceases to be an issue for uphill, and only helps for turning.

  • rider70

    I ski the Prophet NTN, but this tip came from a friend that skis the Radium and I think it should work for the Kenai as well.

     

    When you put on the boots, wrap the power strap BETWEEN the liner and the shell and pull it nice and tight. Then fasten the buckles with the shell tongue outside of the power strap. When it comes time to tour, just release the walk mechanism and open the top buckle. You should find that the power strap holds the liner securely around your foot, but the shell allows for an incredible range of motion. When it’s time to point ’em downhill, just close the top buckle and lock the cuff.

     

    When I was first told of this, I was pretty skeptical that I would be giving up downhill performance, but after a full season I have found that I get great touring comfort, great downhill power, with a minimum of fidgeting!

     

    I know that the cuff on the Kenai is lower than that of the Prophet and there could be a bit more of a trade off in downhill control using this method, but I definitely think that it would be worth a try.

     

    ps – I don’t use laces on my liners