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Hardboot -vs- soft


JohnE
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Don't know if this topic has been discussed earlier. The biggest dividing line here is probably hardboot -vs- softboot carving. Some do both. 

It seems to me that aside from the stiffness of the boots the biggest difference is in the width of the board and the angles one can ride. 

If that is so, why wouldn't someone put plate bindings on a wide board and ride at low angles? Why wouldn't someone put softboot bindings on a narrow board and ride that way? There must be some advantages (and disadvantages) of each. 

I started from "regular" snowboarding and loved soft snow and powder. Then I saw a group of guys on hardboots having a blast on weeks old snow. I gave hardbooting a try for many years but never got comfortable (or very good at carving). I never got comfortable at those high angles. So I reverted to softboot carving and found that suits me best. 

What is the fundamental difference? 

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I would say there isn't a fundamental difference.

Snowboard carving a turn implies the board balanced on edge, tracking along its length against the sidewall of a groove/trench cut in the snow.

That can be achieved on a wide board or a narrow board. It can be achieved with hard boots or soft boots. Binding design/setup needs to mesh with the riders skills and technique for any combination of board design and boot type.

Torsionally stiffer boards are generally easier to carve because less rider input is needed to keep the edge angle consistent along the length of the board.

Boot/binding setups of either type with boot overhang at the edge will be limited in high on edge the board can be successfully carved.

But it's very clear from all the videos of "Softboot carving worth watching" that hard boot setups are not the only way to carve great turns.

Edited by SunSurfer
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I would say it's simply a matter of comfort, stability, mobility and leverage in the optimum posture for the task at hand.  Softboots have less leverage, so they are typically used at lower angles so your foot and calf can contribute.  If you can imagine setting your softboot binding angles to be completely straight ahead (90 degrees), your foot and calf wouldn't be adding any leverage across the board.

Alpine boards used to be pretty wide because they were being used with softboots or hardboots almost equally.  For example the 1989 Burton Safaris were almost 27cm wide at the waist.  But to avoid boot drag you still had to use angles north of about 30 degrees.  From there it was simply an evolution of racers discovering that they could get better results in hardboots at steeper binding angles, which meant you didn't need a board as wide.  The boards were quicker edge-to-edge and therefore easier to change edges.  The more forward facing posture turned out to be more powerful and faster.  Softboots didn't work as well as the boards got narrower.

The pendulum swung too far though, and race boards got down to around 18cm wide at the waist or even less.  FIS then regulated a minimum of 15cm to be considered a snowboard.  Since then, race board waist widths have settled out at about 20cm, which is a happy medium for quickness and leverage.  Personal preference is a bigger factor for freecarving.  Swoard "extreme carving" boards have a 23cm waist.  The Donek MK has an 18cm waist.

The short answer is both have already been tried, and they generally didn't work as well.  But to each their own.  (I believe @BlueBuses hardboots on a typically wide freeride board pretty frequently?)

 

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7 hours ago, JohnE said:

What is the fundamental difference?

Athletic prowess on any equipment is in the eye of the beholder. There’s no divide in the art of carving. Perhaps a unity. I think we can appreciate it all.  Whatever works for the operator. Sometimes the flavor changes but goals remain constant. 

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To me, they're two different sports entirely.  Hardboot carving, narrow board, firm groomers is one physical activity.  Softboot surfing, wide board, sideways stance, off piste is a different physical activity entirely.  Narrow versus wide is what makes these experiences so different.  Hard or soft boots is just what you put on your feet, BUT softboots on narrow just doesn't work well, and hardboots on wide (often) doesn't leave enough freedom of motion.  So I just go to the car and choose which sport I want to play based on snow conditions, then change footwear accordingly.

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1 hour ago, Jack M said:

(I believe @BlueBuses hardboots on a typically wide freeride board pretty frequently?)

Yes, I do, for teaching, training instructors, courses, fooling around entire mountain... Mind you, my hard boots are noodles, or I unlock them if on stiffer ones, and I use very soft plates. On a hero cord day, a real free carver or a race board comes out 🙂

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@BlueB makes a good argument for hardboots being perfectly capable of performing on par with softboots off-piste, and his riding backs it up. Maybe one day we'll see them return to the BX course in a similarly soft configuration too.

As for slalom, there's just no comparison. Softboots are left behind.

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If you can ride hardboots and aren't relying too much on equipment stiffness or other weirdness to make the turn for you, softboots will be easy. You don't even need stiff softboots, nor even a fully cambered board.

There is almost no difference in technique other than the differences bought on by stance angles.

Hardboots is much more efficient and powerful. Anyone who thinks softboots are just as good for carving is completely out of their mind.

I wouldn't want to ride hardboots at angles lower than 45/40ish. Too much knee movement gets translated to board tilt movement on toeside. It's just really awkward unless the boots are not stiff.

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To me, softboots work at low angles and hardboots work at high angles. 

Hardboots at low angles the lateral stiffness is not needed, just limiting. 

My hardboots are probably softer fore-aft than my softboots. So I guess I like soft along the centerline of the board, stiff perpendicular to that. 

With a size 295 boot out is a problem for softboot carving. My current board is 27.9cm waist. Often when carving softboots I 'forget' the limitations, start carving deeper, and I wash out because my heel loop catches. Maybe with a 30+ cm waisted board, but  my legs would not last very long with the edge pressure of a proper carve at that board width.

So I keep the softboots for powder days, and will build a wider alpine board for the crossover days. 

Edited by TimW
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my  low profile bindings are durable stepin ,. my plastic shelled boots are soft, my boards are wide for hardbooters and narrow for softbooters. I regularly carve groom, snake the trees, dance in the bumps and surf the pow on a single run. been riding a happy medium since the '80s

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ps. 45*front/30* back on all boards except the skinnies that demand more to prevent bootout

Edited by b0ardski
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18 hours ago, JohnE said:

If that is so, why wouldn't someone put plate bindings on a wide board and ride at low angles? Why wouldn't someone put softboot bindings on a narrow board and ride that way? There must be some advantages (and disadvantages) of each. 

... What is the fundamental difference? 

I don't see a fundamental difference. Well not between the way I ride and the way my soft boot buddies ride. From a distance, or to people not familiar with the sport, we look the same. 

But then I don't do the "snow diving" thing. I also don't ride very steep angles on very narrow boards (like the Virus guys), or large boards on mostly smooth slopes (like many here?), or race. Also my mates too aren't massively ducked-out BASI-style sideways standers not allowed to twist their upper body. I'm saying that you can pick an extreme style (soft or hard) and you're looking at major differences, but for those who are closer to the middle of being expert, we can all do what we all do.

In powder I ride the same powder boards the soft boot folk ride, albeit with hard boots. I use the same board (2021 Hometown Hero) with the same boots, stance and 35/45 angles in helicopter powder and also in the snowdome and on piste. 

Advantages/ disadvantages

  • On piste, well it depends what you want to do. You can snow dive better on a board designed for that - a sword or whatever. You can cruise greens and blues faster on a long narrow board. You can race better on a race board. I ride the whole mountain, like ordinary snowboarders and my soft boot mates.

    Advantages of hard gear: carving is laughably easy. Disadvantages: I don't have the flexibility to do gymnastic tricks which require ankle flexibility, and riding backwards is harder. I think it's harder to learn how to hard boot, the whole thing is less forgiving of rider error.
     
  • Bottomless powder? Advantages of hard: probably not much. I can turn quicker in the trees, but that could be because I've practiced more than nearly anyone in those conditions. Comfort: I'm the one with my boots still on in the bar, because I forgot about them. 

One key thing with hardboots on powder boards on piste is that you can't have your toes/heels much inboard of the edge, so you need to get the right board for your stance, and a powder board on piste also needs torsional stiffness to be good.
 

"why wouldn't someone put plate bindings on a wide board and ride at low angles? 
Initially with snowboarding using helicopters, there was a mix of people with hard and soft gear, and no one made a big deal out of it. You could either ride or you couldn't. I didn't notice people with soft boots doing better than I was, or having more fun. I tried soft boots (and no boarding...) because I like learning new stuff, but I stuck with hard boots as they just work.

I'm not evangelical though - I've no interest in getting anyone not on hard boots to use them. Recently people have started asking me about the hard gear, maybe because of splitboards or Korean carving. 

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Thanks for all the collective wisdom. I have never raced and have no desire to. For me the high angles of hardboots on a relatively narrow board never felt "natural". Driving my knees side-to-side doesn't feel as natural as driving them forward and driving my butt back. 

I may not carve as well as the best hardbooters but I am having fun. Aside from people like Ryan Knapton and some online videos like Kira, the most beautiful carvers are the best hardbooters. 

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1 hour ago, JohnE said:

Thanks for all the collective wisdom. I have never raced and have no desire to. For me the high angles of hardboots on a relatively narrow board never felt "natural". Driving my knees side-to-side doesn't feel as natural as driving them forward and driving my butt back. 

I may not carve as well as the best hardbooters but I am having fun. Aside from people like Ryan Knapton and some online videos like Kira, the most beautiful carvers are the best hardbooters. 

Kira Kobayashi rides 160-wide Gray Desperado Ti type-R (256mm waist). The board is typically used for softboot slalom or Technical Riding competition in Japan. And it widely considered the softboot board closest to a hardboot board (vario camber, 90% of board length as EE, etc). 

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I'm one of the mutants here.  I ride hardboots at 60/62 angles on all my boards no matter the width.  On my Moss PQ60 with a 26 waist I have no problems in the pow at those angles.  Mind you I use 0/3 canting on my TD3 SI SW's and softer tongue and have the top 2 buckles loose on my Track 425's when bringing out the Moss for pow days.  I tried low angles to match the width of the board but that made the board feel like I was on snowshoes imo!  Guess you can't teach an old dog new tricks!

I tried the Burton Stepon system but that felt like a step down in response from Hardboots and a big step up in input effort needed...compared to Hardboots......but If you were a softbooter and  moved up to the Stepons I say  you would notice and appreciate the more response available.

It use to be Hardboots were just sooo  much quicker to get going once off the lift......compared to the old straps.  In fact that was one of the major reasons I started/tried plates/hardboots......because I didn't want to have to sit on the ground to buckle/strap in!    and back in the day with TD 1's I could buckle in while on the lift and just ride right off the chair.....which would be very frowned upon today.

I say if it works, Ride it!

  

 

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Interesting topic! I've been doing a lot of experiments past 1½ seasons and I'm not done yet. 😅

Here's one of the setups I liked a lot:

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The problem with those boots was that the shell cracked and now I'm investigating if Hawx Ultra XTDs would fare better (I can use the same DGSS springs). I also tried -20/+20 duck stance with those boots/bindings and liked that as well (with 170cm Head Kizamu board). The main advantage over softboots is less overhang since the boot+binding combo is quite a bit shorter. There's a weight advantage is well.

Then there's my earlier test of riding widish (275mm waist) Ride Timeless with -19/+19 duckfoot Deeluxe Track 700 boots:

... and I also tried to ride my 247mm wide 16m sidecut EC Contra with softboots and apart from binding canting ruining the riding pose, that worked great as well.

At the moment I'm most interested in finding a AT boot based duckfoot setup and getting a wide enough board that there would be zero overhang with around -18/+18 duck stance. I will also continue to ride the EC Contra with around +45/+52 angles with hardboots but I like to be able to choose from wide variety of setups when I hit the slopes.

Edited by Xargo
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hardboots are great in pow

for hikes ect AT boots come with the best ankle articulation and are lighter than softboots

Inbounds deep or slackcountry (and I suspect the same for cat/heli but havent been) stepin hardboots rock when you fall and cant unstrap but only have to reach your knees to disengage. Saved me a few times in treewells or when buried

 

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Great discussion.

I love hard-booting, but I prefer the feeling of soft boot carving. It begets the flow, fluidity, and body English that, for me (and perhaps not you) gets to the heart of what's beautiful about snowboarding.

Think: Craig Kelly. I was lucky, early in life, to take a few groomer runs with Craig at Snowmass. Seeing him ride in person burned into my brain a peak potential of soft boot carving, or, for that matter, any carving: very, very fast, always on rail, pencil-thin lines, very large radius turns, and very controlled but with very pronounced use of hips, a rear driving/rudder arm, and fore-aft weight throws accelerating out of turns and off of terrain. And then he'd flip around and do it fakie--at the same speed.

Craig's soft boot carving blew me away at a time, in 1990 I think it was, when we were first pioneering 55 degree stance angle and hip-dragging heel turns on steep groom--pioneering in the sense that, back then, before the days of youtube or social media, we were making turns that we'd never seen others make. It was a revolutionary and exhilarating time. Yet, even amidst that, Craig's carving was clearly supreme.

His aesthetic of grace at speed deeply influenced my own riding. It drew me, after my racing stint, quickly back to soft boots. I sought out long boards--like the 195 Glissade big guns--that afforded deep, damp stability railing long radius turns at high speeds.

At the heart of that transition from hard back to soft boots were heel turns and the issues of shoulder squaring, hip rotation, stance angles, boot-out and lost lateral leverage. For me, a front foot at 35-40 degrees and a forward-driving back knee, helped by heel lift and/or canting, affords hip rotation I need for a heel turn to feel right. The resultant forward pressure requires boards with enough forward profile and stiffness to not fold. Extra stiff boots--especially on my front foot--Talons--help with lateral leverage. Extra wide carving boards at long last resolve boot-out.

Admittedly, when I do break out the hard boots--and it's rare these days--I'm guilty of still riding 90s-era race board prototypes. They rip, but are also lively to the point of being rude and rambunctious--too much so for a guy nearing 50. I like to think they showcase a rider's rustiness. Many posts on these forums mention the advances in GS alpine board technology--grippier, quieter, more stable and easier to ride. I'm eager to try one. It may well draw me back into more hard booting days.

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by TWM
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On 11/19/2022 at 10:46 AM, TWM said:

Many posts on these forums mention the advances in GS alpine board technology

They're not versatile, but on the right slope, with the right conditions, no crowd, and a wide enough trail, they're a dream.  You probably haven't experienced a carve anywhere near as stable.  It's eye-opening.  But for a more "daily driver" type freecarver, you'd want something else with more hook.  The easy recommendation being the Kessler 168 unless you're very tall or heavy.

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On 11/19/2022 at 8:46 AM, TWM said:

Great discussion.

I love hard-booting, but I prefer the feeling of soft boot carving. It begets the flow, fluidity, and body English that, for me (and perhaps not you) gets to the heart of what's beautiful about snowboarding.

Think: Craig Kelly. I was lucky, early in life, to take a few groomer runs with Craig at Snowmass. Seeing him ride in person burned into my brain a peak potential of soft boot carving, or, for that matter, any carving: very, very fast, always on rail, pencil-thin lines, very large radius turns, and very controlled but with very pronounced use of hips, a rear driving/rudder arm, and fore-aft weight throws accelerating out of turns and off of terrain. And then he'd flip around and do it fakie--at the same speed.

Craig's soft boot carving blew me away at a time, in 1990 I think it was, when we were first pioneering 55 degree stance angle and hip-dragging heel turns on steep groom--pioneering in the sense that, back then, before the days of youtube or social media, we were making turns that we'd never seen others make. It was a revolutionary and exhilarating time. Yet, even amidst that, Craig's carving was clearly supreme.

His aesthetic of grace at speed deeply influenced my own riding. It drew me, after my racing stint, quickly back to soft boots. I sought out long boards--like the 195 Glissade big guns--that afforded deep, damp stability railing long radius turns at high speeds.

At the heart of that transition from hard back to soft boots were heel turns and the issues of shoulder squaring, hip rotation, stance angles, boot-out and lost lateral leverage. For me, a front foot at 35-40 degrees and a forward-driving back knee, helped by heel lift and/or canting, affords hip rotation I need for a heel turn to feel right. The resultant forward pressure requires boards with enough forward profile and stiffness to not fold. Extra stiff boots--especially on my front foot--Talons--help with lateral leverage. Extra wide carving boards at long last resolve boot-out.

Admittedly, when I do break out the hard boots--and it's rare these days--I'm guilty of still riding 90s-era race board prototypes. They rip, but are also lively to the point of being rude and rambunctious--too much so for a guy nearing 50. I like to think they showcase a rider's rustiness. Many posts on these forums mention the advances in GS alpine board technology--grippier, quieter, more stable and easier to ride. I'm eager to try one. It may well draw me back into more hard booting days.

 

 

 

 

 

Agreed with most of this. My new setup is a new Donek Flux with a 27cm waist, Nidecker Supermatics and Nidecker (Flow) Talons. When carpet carving I'm finding that lower and lower angles feel more natural and stable to me. I haven't been on the snow yet this season but I'm anxious to try out this new setup. At 66 years old I need to keep this going as long as I can. 

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I ride both.

 

But over the year lack of comfortable fitting and flexing hard boots has pushed me into softboots more. Besides I feel I can look and feel performance oriented enough in both so I just went for comfort.

What I really would prefer is what I have advocated for ...forever...in snowboarding.---> A proper flexing ultra lightweight touring style boot.... plate bindings with very forgiving flex in the footplate but rigid bails. A higher performance firm flexing wider free carving type of board with minimal speed robbing magenetraction. and an advanced modern nose  shape.

 

And I would like it to split. as well as allow for high angled carving. 

 

Try to Match your set up in terms of Compliance to the surface. If its bullet proof - you should be in hard boots a firm plate binding, and at least a medium to firmer flexing hard boot and a stiffer board - because you need depth cutting power. 

If it isn't hard to cut deep.... you don't need a  hard boot set up if your skill level is there.

Here are my caveats. A hard boot set up requires precise stance adjustments to get it to perform because the entire boot binding system is stiffer with a smaller "circle of balance available- it is more focused.

A soft boot set up initially carves well toeside... but dialing in your heel side carves takes very careful adjustments to really get down. The system is very compliant - so works well so long as the snow is soft enough to penetrate easily and leave a carve. Ironically because the soft boot set up is so forgiving... it can be tricky to optimize your stance. IMHO you end up making a TON of adjustments to truly dial in your soft bondings. But its also worth it.

At Aspen Ajax, most days soft boots are adequate. There are perhaps just 20 mornings a year where I wish I was in hard boots for the first hour or two. We rarely have wind stripped slopes ...unlike say Mammoth or sometimes the front range. 

On the East Coast, you'll want hard boots more often than not.  

As far as angles are concerned... I am likely the exception in that I like 45 degrees for my front foot on a Jones Hovercraft with Union Carbons. My back foot is also really angled. Admittedly I'd probably have a nicer ride in the cheaper Union Force which are more damp. But when the snow demands more cutting power and isn't choppy I like the added pressuring the Carbons afford - but I wholeheartedly admit those days are few. The carbon is just for show.

 

In hardboots I'm typically around 58 front to 55 front and about 10 -14 degrees less in the rear. I use Gilmour Bias on both set ups  and rely on getting that precisely correct more heavily in softboots set ups as there is less leverage overall available in soft set ups. 

I am not a versatile rider, I do not ride switch much - just when messing around but certainly not a performance switch rider, I am not a park rat, I just enjoy leaving a set of lines at higher speeds and deeper trenches to relive/savour on my lift ride back up . The issue is the faster and deeper you cut, the less time you spend on the hill and the more time you spend with your ass on the lift...so you may as well try to relive the ride.

Sometimes I bring both sets of gear ... and often I stash gear if Im going to ride both.  You pull more G's on Hardboots - and there's the draw. The average snowboarder does not relate well to hardbooters, skiers relate better to hardbooters than softbooters. More G's is more tiring , but you build great legs and torso.

Personally I don't see much of a reason for softboots because we could make a higher performance, lighter, warmer set up if we embraced and enhanced a ski touring type boot.  Plus if I ever made one- I would put a boot dial in to convert it to a more firm lateral flex for split uphill.

I'd also make ASYM true articulating cuffs . And IMHO if you did it right,,,, softboots would go away and just persist in Parks. Because you would get more all mountain performance from a lightweight mid height hard shelled boot with a medium flex, I mean WHO would not like a pair of snowboard boots that weigh LESS than a single softboot and a lighter more versatile binding system?  Plus maybe the ability to swap cuffs and tongues and clip into a Firmer Alpine carving board? 

So JohnE- seeing you are in Colorado , give soft boots a go. And get a Hardbooter set up for the days when the front range has stripped the hill of loose snow. If you come out to Aspen- drop me a PM.

 

 

 

Edited by John Gilmour
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I've been swapping back and forth between hardboots and softboots on the same day this week.

I really don't notice much of a difference. If you can carve on hardboots, you can carve on softboots and vice versa. Unless you rely on some weird torquing of the boots as per some style/individual body thing. My softboots are softer than some women's boots; really not an issue.

50/45 hardboots. 12/3 or 9/0 softboots.

Edited by Odd Job
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John - I'm stuck in a pretty deep rut. I ride almost exclusively at Loveland. They have some new groomer cats and they have been doing a really great job of grooming lately. So I don't have to deal with scraped off / blown off snow. If the snow gets too icy, I discover that I'm not as good a carver as I imagine. 

I meet some college buddies once a year for 2 days at Vail. Last year their groom report showed that most of the mountain had been groomed. WHAT A LIE! Yes - maybe it had been groomed at some point in the past but certainly not in the last 24 hours. The snow was really scraped off and it sucked! 

Odd Job - you can switch between pretty high angles on hardboots to being nearly zero on softies and this doesn't confuse you? I could just never get comfortable at high angles. What is your boot size? What is the waist width on your soft board? Do you get much overhang or boot drag? Do you use risers of any kind? 

My new board has a 27cm waist. I wear size 10 boots. If I try to get near zero angles, I do get some boot overhang. I don't know if this will translate to boot-out. 

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@JohnE

24mp in hardboots Deeluxe 425.

25mp in softboots Burton Photon Boa Wide (really, they are softer than some female boots).

The waist width of ~26cm on a Tanker 171 and the new Virus Revolution board I bought let me get away with fairly low angles. I use Union Atlas FC bindings. No risers. I use minimal forward lean so my legs are straighter than most on heelsides; which would exacerbate any heelcup issues.

The lack of stiffness in the entire setup with softboots has helped my hardboot riding immensely.

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