We are seeing the advent of a new norm in ski boot and binding integration. Many manufacturers are adopting a sole design that allows skiers to walk more naturally and safely in ski boots. WTR (Walk To Ride) is the name used by Salomon, Atomic, Rossignol, Lange, and Look. Marker and its associated brands call the boot sole GripWalk and the binding feature SoleID. So, what is this new boot design, why is it relevant, and, more importantly, do we need it?
Before this new sole design was introduced, there were two standards in boot lug design: ISO 5355 and ISO 9523. ISO 5355 is the traditional ski boot sole. It might be solid, like on a race boot, or replaceable, but either way it has a solid, smooth area on the front lug allowing for a consistent interface with a binding’s antifriction device (AFD). ISO 9523 is rockered and lugged for hiking in an alpine touring (AT) boot. Often it also has inserts for use with a tech binding such as Dynafit or Kingpin. WTR/GripWalk is a hybrid of these two: it has the flat area under the toe for smooth release of the ISO 5355 lug but the rockered sole of the ISO 9523 lug.
WTR/GripWalk is a consumer-driven design. The industry in general and manufacturers in particular conduct a lot of focus groups, and the one recurring theme among skiers is the difficulty of walking in ski boots. Yes, boots are for skiing first and foremost, but with ski area bases expanding and parking lots being moved farther away, it is a growing concern. Manufacturers are taking their AT platform soles and adapting them to an alpine application, which is great for skiers who stand and walk around in ski boots all day, like guides, coaches, and other on-snow professionals.
So, WTR makes it easier to Walk from the parking lot To click into your bindings and Ride your skis. It sounds great, but is it too good to be true? The concern is that the new norm is not compatible with all bindings, and definitely not with older bindings. Each manufacturer has taken its own path to accommodate this new boot standard, and almost all have adapted and modernized a previous toe piece design.
Atomic and Salomon Sth2 13 and 16 bindings were the first to integrate the WTR design. To change from DIN to WTR, you must change the toe height with the screw on the top of the toe and then visually check the toe height with a 0.5mm card between the boot and the AFD. Where the other manufacturers raise and lower the AFD under the boot, the Sth2 raises the toe height, which does change your ramp angle.
Dual WTR is Look’s model designation. Adjusting from DIN to WTR is simply a matter of resetting the AFD with a half turn of a screwdriver. The boot position stays the same height, so the ramp angle remains consistent. It is available on the Pivot 12/14, SPX, and NX series. The Dual WTR is the only alpine/WTR setting that offers a clear distinction between the two settings.
Marker coined its system SoleID. A #3 Phillips screwdriver changes it from alpine to GripWalk (WTR) via a worm screw at the front of the toe. Like any other microadjustment, its toe height and clearance must be checked.
The Tyrolia Attack collection offers the FR (FreeRide) toe, which is adjustable manually with a #3 Phillips via a worm screw from the front of the binding. As with others, toe height must be checked for each boot, which according to Tyrolia’s website, can be adjusted for all types of alpine boots (Type A only).
Another binding norm called MNC (multinorm certified) is found on the Salomon/Atomic Warden 13, Marker Lord, and Tyrolia Attack 14AT. MNC bindings will all accommodate all three soles: DIN, WTR/GripWalk, and AT. Look does not offer an MNC binding at this point.
Please note: this new design is not backwards-compatible, so a WTR or GripWalk boot very well might not work with your current binding. Think BluRay and DVD: all BluRay players play DVDs but not all DVD players play BluRay discs. You might be able to click into your old binding with a WTR sole, but there is a good chance that it will not release as intended. So if you have a quiver, it is likely that most of the bindings produced before this past season will not be compatible. Can you swap to WTR/SoleID bindings? You can on a flat-mount ski, but if your ski has a system binding, probably not.
If this sounds like the best thing since releasable bindings, you’re probably wondering if you can convert your current boots to this new design. Well, it depends. It varies from brand to brand, model to model, and even year to year. For example, the answer is yes for recent Lange boots with replaceable soles, because Lange will be offering WTR soles as a stand-alone option. But make sure to check with your shop for availability and compatibility with each brand and model.
So how will the consumer know the difference? The concern will grow as more of these boots hit the market. Each of these manufacturers has a YouTube video explaining its system, but it will need to be a constant education process through their own sites, retailers, and media like Pugski.com.We are not yet sure if WTR will become the industry standard; it could be a few seasons before the design takes off. Some manufacturers are going all in, and others are still waiting for a clear direction. For the sake of the consumer, I do think the industry needs to unify the name: no WTR/SoleID/GripWalk confusion. Whereas touring soles are currently the exception, some say that in 5 years the square-lugged boot will be the exception; others say the specialty boot and the WTR/touring sole are a passing fad. Even among my industry connections, I am getting mixed responses, I have talked to six industry insiders and feel like I received eight answers. I will say, members here such as @SBrown welcome this new design and feel that the pluses outweigh the small cost in day-to-day performance. It will be interesting to see where this new sole takes us.