Scarpa Matrix

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The Matrix is the latest ski touring boot from Scarpa, the respected Italian mountaineering equipment manufacturer. Perhaps better known for their competition boots, the Matrix is designed to respond to ski mountaineers demanding both uphill and downhill performance. This sets it up against stiff competition in the form of the Garmont Mega Ride G-Fit.

The boot is a traditional low shell, three-clip + powerstrap design but responding to recent fashions in the alpine boot market it is moulded in translucent Peebax®. The colour is described as cedar, a kind of pleasant dull orange. The boot is compatible with the excellent Dynafit binding system, increasing the range of boots available. The boot can also be used, and was tested, with standard touring bindings. However the Scarpa Vibram® makes it unsuitable for use in standard alpine bindings, but why would you?

The shell offers a forward lean angle adjustable between 18 and 24 via an hex key at the rear of the boot. A moving indicator at the back of the boot shows the amount of lean that has been dialled in, so you can make sure that both boots are adjusted symmetrically.

One of the complaints of the Scarpa Laser was the soft forward flex with little progression. Some skiers found they lacked control and precision on descents, particularly in difficult conditions. The Matrix aims to address these problems. The shell is made from double injection Peebax and features a stiffer cuff. We certainly had no difficultly on steep boilerplate descents as you can see from the photo.

Scarpa Matrix

Scarpa Matrix Ski Boot

The lack of height in the shell, especially when compared to the Megaride, is compensated for the new Scarpa Plus Fit XXT thermoformable liner. This is made from hard foam, as it should be for touring use. With the powerstrap this offers quite a bit of extra support

The fitting process is an experience in itself and we would seriously recommend visiting a good boot-fitter with a range of touring boots, not just the Matrix. We found the shell fitted a larger foot than the Megaride. Scarpa are known for a high heel-arch. The thermoformable liner will never be comfortable until baked and will even pack out a small bit in use. A proper shell test is more important than ever as you won't be able to rent the boots, at least not with the thermo liner. The Scarpa website states that the boot is available in sizes 4.5 to 13 with half sizes. However shells and inners are actually only made in whole sizes. The claim is that the thermo boot will pack out at least a half size so there is less need for intermediate sizes. The smallest size should please women who are not that well catered for.

Scarpa Matrix Dynafit

Scarpa Matrix coupled with Dyanfit Comfort bindings

Normally our tester takes a size 42 (European) city shoe. This translates to a Mondo 27 but he normally skis Mondo 26.5. The Matrix 27 boot felt distinctly loose, not a good sign in the shop and a shell test revealed a good two and a half fingers behind the heel. The 26 Mondo boot (remember no 26.5) was a much snugger fit, just a finger and a bit behind the heel. The thermo liner was going to have its work cut-out.

The liner has to be baked in an oven at 140C for ten minutes. During this time the shop will put a special sockette, which covers the end of your foot and, optionally, bits of card between each toes. This will make space while the liner cools. You then put on your ski socks, thinner being better these days. The piping hot liners are replaced in the boots and you wiggle your feet inside, the boots are buckled and you stand around while the lining sets. Your feet really are very hot for a short while and it is impressive to see just much the lining adjusts. It is then recommended that you ski a few days after which you can re-bake the inners, if required, perhaps with packing on pressure points.

Scarpa Matrix in action

Scarpa Matrix in action

Well the proof of the pudding is in the eating. First off, the boots are light, just under 3.1kg per pair for 26 Mondo1 (3360grams in size 27). The old saw is that every 100 grams off your feet is worth 300 grams in your backpack. At around 800 grams lighter than our old Nordica TR10s that equates to a virtual 2.5kg saved. Most of this is in the very light inner boots. The shells still feel nice and rugged, especially compared to the flappier Garmont MegaRides.

Apart from the usual canting, which I always set midway, the walk/ski position has been augmented by a 'soft' option. This gives a certain amount of fore-aft movement when skiing but prevents you physically falling over backwards. Some people like this when skiing softer snow and powder but we found it something of a gimmick. The walk position is in the midway point and even after our extended test the lever was stiff and would frustratingly switch from ski directly to soft and back again. Much cursing and fiddling would eventually get it into the desired walk.

The buckles are high quality metal construction with micro-adjustment on the toe but the trademark heel buckle still uses a flexible wire loop, which is supposed to run over a pair of guide channels but never actually does (not even in the Scarpa publicity photos). It doesn't seem to make any difference to the performance of the boot but is aesthetically unpleasing. The black powercuff can be a bit fiddly at times, but nothing like the nightmare of the Nordica TR portfolio system. It is easy to get your foot in and out of the boot but we wouldn't suggest walking around in the inner boot, better to pack slippers. Naturally the boot accepts a ridged crampon and climbs well when needed.

Less pleasing were the natty silver decals. These fell off after a couple of outings and we feel it would be better to mould the canting positions into the shell. The dealer also fits special waterproof patches over any rivet holes in the shell. Again an icy stream crossing showed us how well these worked, not! The solution is to replace with duct tape.

To summarize, the Matrix is a modern looking, high performance ski touring boot. Some minor quality issues aside it works well and offers an alternative to the Garmont-Megaride. It is doubtful whether the boot will satisfy demanding freeride skiers but it provides a step up in performance for the rest of us. After one baking and 10,000 meters we didn't feel that the thermo liner adjusted completely for the missing 0.5 boot size but it was comfortable enough. We were the only person in the group without blisters. The inner boot was warm, we wore nothing but a thin silk ski socks in some rather cold conditions and had no complaints. This also meant a more precise foot-boot-ski interface.

The Matrix extends the range of boots available for the Dynafit binding system. The price, around 325 Euros, is not cheap but comparable with similar boots on the market.

2005 Update

The ski/walk/soft switch which we found so fiddly has been dropped on the newer boots. We have also met a number of other people who found that the thermolining didn't pack out a full half size. As with other thermofit boots be realistic about how much the liner will compensate for a boot that is unfortable in the shop.

1: Weighed on our digital scales

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