WORDS: Chris Brunstetter
PHOTOS: JP Van Swae
Arguably the most important piece of a setup, boots are also the most personal. No one boot is right for everyone. So we tested a trunkful at Brighton, Snowbird, and Jackson Hole where traditional lace, speed lace, and Boa models were all given time to shine. Whether soft and surfy, stiff and responsive, or in between, these freestyle boots comfortably shredded their way to the top for 2017.
K2 Ender – $350
The K2 Ender lives up to its name as testers' favorite freestyle boot for 2017. It's a lightweight, low-volume, mid-flex killer with about everything one could want in an all-around playful boot. It employs traditional lacing on its outer with a locking loop at the flex point to keep the upper and lower zones as tight or loose as desired. The park-oriented Vibram outsole and Harshmellow midsole combine forces to do equal duty, dampening impact and powering up a bootpack with trusting traction. The Pro-Foam liner has reinforced ankle support and a fleece-lined collar, which fits great out of the box and even better after heat-molding or a few days on-hill.
The best feature, however, may be the Boa Conda inner lacing system. The molded plastic piece that tightens over the foot to hold the ankle in place is the most comfortable, functional innovation to inner liners in recent memory. The ability to adjust the internal lacing from outside the boot is one of those functions that seems so simple, yet until this point hasn't been properly executed. Pop it open on the chair to let your dogs breathe, and with a few clicks at the top, you're locked, loaded, and ready to rock. Foot fatigue? Forget about it. Like a modern sports car with a manual transmission, the K2 Ender is a perfect blend of technology-driven performance with tried-and-true features that make it the freestyle boot to beat in 2017. It's called the Ender for good reason: It lays the competition to rest.
Vans V-66 – $240
Vans has been making footwear for 50 years, so it's no surprise they deliver boots that meet the demands of most, if not all, riding styles. This includes satisfying riders still stoked on traditional lace-up boots. The V-66 has the classic Vans look, and the designers clearly didn't skimp on the outer materials, which felt rugged and held up to much abuse throughout testing. The toe resembles oiled nubuck (cowhide leather), and Jamie Lynn himself did the artwork on the side panels. It's not a bulky boot, but it feels solid, and it's definitely not heavy, tipping the scales at just 4.45 pounds a pair (US size nine).
The outer lacing system uses traditional laces with a loop at the ankle flex point to keep the lower laces locked down while tightening the upper zone. The inner liner has a cinch cuff closure and the Reach Around strap can either be closed around the inner liner or around the outer tongue to change the flex from mid-soft to mid-stiff. This was a standout feature of the V-66, and testers claimed that all-mountain freestyle riders would appreciate the versatility this boot offers. The Response liner was a bit cramped coming out of the box and took a while to break in, but that makes us think they won't pack out as quickly. The Ultracush midsole provided soothing impact absorption, and the four-zone tread on the outsole minimized slipping during hikes.
All told, the V-66 is a comfortable, responsive, and versatile freestyle boot that excelled in the park but also rode like a champ all over the mountain.
adidas Samba – $250
If you're looking for skate feel with aesthetics to match, the adidas Samba should land atop your list and ultimately under your foot. The outer styling is pulled directly from the shoe of its namesake, and the boot couldn't look better. Both the outer and inner lacing is traditional as it comes. You wouldn't want a fancy cable system on your skate shoes, would you?
A heat-moldable liner is reinforced with ankle support, and the 3D-molded tongue envelops the leg, offering substantial support and response on toe-side turns, something this boot does better than most—surprising, given its shoe-like flex with a sole that feels almost as ready to crack a kickflip as slash a windlip. The Samba's above-average board feel comes at a cost, however. Chop, chatter, and hard landings were more noticeable in this boot than in cushier counterparts. But if you seek a collegial connection with your board, the Samba is perfect.
Bottom line: After a day of hitting the park, it's obvious the playfully responsive Samba is for the rider who wants a forgiving, skate-inspired fit and styling.
Deeluxe Deemon – $270
When trying on boots, out–the-box fit is important. As much as imagination helps, if the boot doesn't fit well in the store, it's not going to feel great on the hill. That said, the Deeluxe Deemon team boot was one of the most instantly comfortable boots tested. "It felt like laying down on a memory foam mattress for the first time," one tester said. "It's a soft boot, for sure, and the cush liner puts it over the top in terms of comfort." The cinch-lace inner harness kept feet locked in place, and testers experienced minimal heel lift. The outer speed-lace system took some time to figure out, as the boot has several pull tabs that seem intuitive but turned out to be slightly cumbersome. The sole is fairly basic, with EVA foam and a few traction zones. It's not the best sole for hiking sketchy ridgelines, but the boot was right at home hiking park laps.
The Deemon wasn't so demonic on the mountain. Testers said it rode like a high-top sneaker, with easy movement in any direction not inhibited by a highback. It felt broken in immediately, a welcome feature in any boot, but after a while it felt like more structure in the tongue and ankle would make the Deemon a more serious contender. Thankfully, Deeluxe will include what they call a TPS Shield with each boot, essentially a rigid plastic insert that slips into the tongue to stiffen the ride. For those who shred all day and want soft, cushioned comfort above all else, the Deemon should earn a resounding, "Hell yeah!"