I’ve always used pretty heavy ski touring equipment. I’ve never paid undue attention to the weight of my gear. Comfort has always been the top priority — using my gear every day regardless of conditions I need gear that’s comfortable and reliable, with considerations of performance and finally weight ranking next.
The winter of 2019 though was a bit different. I was recovering from an injury and had a final surgery in September that was taking longer than I wanted to recover from. To add to that, I had a group of hard chargers from Vermont scheduled for the first week of January so I had to be all systems go January 5.
So I decided to do everything I could to be ready. My checklist had three items:
- Co-guide with Conrad Janzen, who can break trail all day every day of the winter without a break (as it happens, he broke his collarbone a few days before the trip and was replaced by Rich Marshall at the last minute, who is also a machine).
- Engage in a strength training program with Chelsea Deschamps, a local kinesiologist specializing in performance training and movement.
- Ease my load with new, lightweight equipment!
I had been hearing rumours about SkiUphill, a new ski shop here in Canmore that sells gear for the “weight conscious” — anything from ultralight skimo to tough no-frills ski mountaineering equipment that doesn’t tip the scales. It’s small and unassuming with a tuning shop-slash-servicecounter at the back. The air smells like fine coffee (there’s a high-end espresso machine in the back that keeps staff and shoppers buzzing). There’s a blackboard on the wall covered in best times for many of the local trail running objectives. It’s stuffed wall to wall with exotic performance skiing and running equipment — most brands I had never heard of before. SkiUphill is usually busy with young fit people milling around admiring the gear, as well as the older crowd who like myself are looking to shave a few grams to extend their adventure capacity. Staff are all adventure racing types who use their gear as hard as I do.
The weakest link with my equipment was clearly my ski boots, the old BD Quadrant. In many ways I loved them — comfortable, warm, tough — but they weigh an astounding 2.3 kilograms each! So I paid a visit to SkiUphill in late November to see what could be done.
First impressions of the Fischer Travers
SkiUphill’s staff talked to me a bit about my goals and quickly pointed me towards a pair of Fischer Travers Carbon boots. I wasn’t convinced. They looked ridiculously underpowered and I was pretty sure there was no way I would be able to get my foot into them let alone experience any kind of acceptable level of comfort or ski performance. But I did recognize the Fischer brand — who in the ski industry doesn’t? And… my friend and colleague Thomas Grandi had just got a pair and spoke highly of them… SkiUphill guarantees their work… picking them up I couldn’t believe how light they are. I decided to give them a try.
Bootfitting at SkiUphill: 10/10
This is a ski boot review, but unless you’re very lucky, every new boot needs expert boot fitting. Look no further than SkiUphill to get that lumpy foot of yours to fit. Cinderella’s wicked step sisters would have benefitted from the help of the staff at SkiUphill and so can you.
Surprisingly the Travers slipped on my foot with little effort out of the box. There was a bit of discomfort in the usual spots, but I let SkiUphill deal with that. James and Joel were thoughtful and cautious, trying to get a handle on the root causes of the discomfort. After a few visits, much to my surprise, we acheived what I had thought was the impossible: total comfort in a ski boot. Joel claims this is typical with the Travers, which he says is easy to work on.
Overall ski touring perfomance: 10/10
My first serious outing with them was a few weeks later guiding a 7-day heli-accessed ski touring trip at Selkirk Lodge, the backcountry ski lodge run by the Devine family near Revelstoke, British Columbia. We had a good week for weather and conditions with primarily low density powder snow, but also some challenging wind affected snow here and there. The temperatures were reasonably cold too, being the first week in January. A good chance to test my new boots out.
The Travers weighs in around and about 1 kg apiece (a bit more once I’d fitted them with Intuition liners). Shaving over a kilogram off each foot with just the boots alone was incredible — my legs felt almost weightless in contrast. In fact the change was so dramatic that my uptrack at first inadverently steepened by several degrees, and it took me a few weeks to adjust.
As for downhill performance, I was pleasantly surprised. These boots are great for doing exactly what I demand of them as a professional ski guide in Western Canada, which is classic powder ski touring day after day after day. And they perform more than adequately when the conditions get tough with temperature or wind crusts, steep terrain, and so on.
I used these boots on a variety of skis from 96 mm to 112 mm in the waist, 185-190 cm long range in all conditions from low density fluff to heavy coastal schmoo and crusts of all sorts. No significant issues or limitations. They aren’t just a “skinny ski” boot and paired well with whatever ski I used including G3 Sendr 188 cm. That said, a bit more lateral stiffness would help with the wider skis. My go-to ski last winter was the Fischer Hannibal 96 with a pair of lightweight Ski Trab Gara Titan bindings and Fischer skins — which shaved not mere grams but several pounds off each leg. Oh yeah! Unfortunately the setup proved very popular with my guests too and it was a rare week that I had them all to myself!
Light, comfortable and ski well: check, check, check. The fourth critical factor in a ski touring boot is how they perform in walk mode. The walk mode on these boots is simply unbelievable. The specs advertise 80 degrees of ankle mobility but it might as well be infinite — it’s more than you’ll ever use unless you’re practising crossing the finish line in a XC ski race. They are by far the most comfortable boots I’ve ever used for walking, skis on or off. They feel more like a light mountaineering boot on the feet than a ski boot when bootpacking or scrambling.
When grading the overall ski perfomance out of 10 I considered giving this boot a 9 because it’s not a hard charging boot and the sole has some lateral softness. But to be fair, it’s an overall grade I’m looking for. Is there a boot I would prefer to use on any given day? The answer right now is no. So, 10/10. A few times at the beginning I switched to a heavier performance-oriented boot in anticipation of challenging snow conditions, but it was always a disappointment. I had become addicted to the lightness and comfort of the Travers.
Every boot manufacturer these days has some gimmick that promises to make it easier to use. The Travers is no exception. The boa lacing system saves weight and is supposed to make it easier to tweak the right tightness. The single buckle obviously is quicker to manage than a 4-buckle boot. My personal take on it is that every boot design has its pros and cons and none of them makes for a significantly more usable boot in the big picture — and yes, I do have a pair of Dynafit Hojis (review to come) which are no better in this regard.
I like the boa lacing system but I don’t trust it — it seems fragile. With gloved hands it’s hard to manage (I got to using my pole grip to unlock the boa, which worked great). I think the boa likely sacrifices lateral stability of the boot (and may be a contributing factor in the cracking issue I had, see below). The walk mode lever had a flimsy plastic tab to make it easier to use but that wore off after a couple of weeks. I replaced it with some 3 mm cord with an overhand knot that is perfect for grabbing at transitions gloved or not. The lever also has a groove that locks into a metal bar for ski mode. It’s a great, simple system but it’s prone icing. However, it’s much simpler to deal with icing on an external system than an internal one (e.g. my Quadrants), and I got used to dealing with it.
Overall the Travers is an easy boot to use and compares well overall with any other boot out there.
Keith Bontrager’s famous quote applies to ski gear too: “Strong, Cheap, Light: pick two”. In other words, there’s going to be a compromise somewhere. Well, the Travers is “Light”. At about 1000 grams it’s billed as a rugged ski touring boot that’s only a few hundred grams heavier than the very lightest skimo racing boots. So that leaves the question, where did Fischer compromise?
The Travers isn’t what I would call “Cheap”. But just under $900 the Travers costs at most 15% more than the average ski touring boot. Expensive is relative, so I’ll let you be the judge.
What about “Strong”? I asked Joel about this. He said that every boot he sells has had returns for some reason or another, and the Travers is no exception. Of the many boots Joel sold, only a couple of people last winter — including myself — experienced some minor (non-catastrophic) cracking around the toe rivets. For me this started at around day 60 of use but I used the boots until the end of the season without failure.
Boots are made to withstand common types of use and abuse. The 2019 Travers was built and tested to standards common for Europe, including temperatures down to -20 Celsius. But the winter of 2019 in Canada was really cold. So cold in fact that I used electric socks or heat packs every day of the winter into the beginning of March. I skied a few days in temperatures below -35 Celsius. When Joel mentioned this to Fischer reps in Europe they were astounded: “Who ski tours at -35?!” Joel of course had to answer: “Canadians.” So it sounds like the plastic used in the Travers wasn’t tested for extreme cold; perhaps that’s the explanation.
Also, in a typical winter I can easily spend 120+ days on skis between October and June and as a guide I am always breaking trail, and I weigh about 90 kg. So I really punish my gear. I don’t gauge a product by whether or not I break it — because it will break. Instead, I judge a product by how long it lasts before it shows sign of wearing out, and most importantly by how well the store and the company stands behind it.
I texted Joel from the field to see what could be done and he quickly responded telling me that based on my description it would be covered by warranty with a replacement. Unfortunately, Fischer was out of stock worldwide. So the good news is that I am due to receive the 2020 version of the Carbon Travers in time for the upcoming ski season. Reports indicate that the new boot will be upgraded to handle colder temperatures better and have a reinforced toe area where the cracking occurred.
So I would say that Fischer is trying hard to make boots that are both strong and light and at a price that makes them accessible. I believe they have succeeded for all but the most demanding users. I’m eager to see if they achieve the impossible with the 2020 Travers.
The 2019 Travers is pretty much sold out worldwide unless you’re bigfoot and I still haven’t got my hands on the 2020 model. But based on my experience with last year’s model and reports of the upgrades I can confidently recommend this as a solid choice. No boot can be all things to all people. But if your goal is a lightweight quiver of one ski touring boot, this is it!
I got to try out some pretty cool new gear in Winter 2019. Here’s the reviews (under construction, stand by!)
Fischer Hannibal 96 Ski Review
Ski Trab Gara Tinal Ultra-light Binding Review
Fischer “Fish Scale” & Mixed Mohair Skins Review
Check out this review for another positive take on Fischer’s awesome Travers boot, by Markus Baranow.
Great ski adventures
Bow Yoho Traverse – An awesome hut to hut ski traverse in the Canadian Rockies. Minimum skill levels required: Intermediate ski skills; no prior ski touring experience necessary
Svalbard Ski and Sail – an exotic ski adventure in the high arctic north of Norway. Access remote fjords and untouched slopes from the gaff rigged sailing vessel the s/v Noorderlicht.