With the explosion in backcountry skiing that we’ve been seeing in recent years, there’s been an entirely new part of the industry carved out to serve those of us looking for a new balance of versatility and performance. There’s alpine boots, there’s touring boots, and then there’s the “crossover” boot that blends aspects of both - essentially a resort boot with a walk mode and tech fittings, a “freetouring” boot. It’s the 80-20 boot, where most of the time we’re using it to focus on shredding hard on the down, but it needs the ability for short skins and plenty of hiking. For a few years, Atomic has had exactly that in the lineup in the form of the existing Hawx Ultra XTD 130, and it just got completely redesigned for 2023. The most obvious update is the switch over to the new BOA fit system, but there’s a whole lot more under the hood that makes this boot the perfect choice for those of us looking for a freeride boot that can walk. We got the chance to test the new Atomic Hawx XTD 130 BOA GW for a few months in the Tetons this season, bringing it along for all manner of ski escapades including long tours, ski mountaineering missions, and freeride powder skiing.
Looking at the boot, it’s immediately obvious that the entire thing has been redesigned. The lower is now fitted with the brand-new BOA Fit system, that replaces the two forefoot buckles with a heavy-duty BOA closure. Atomic still makes a version of the boot without the BOA closure. Pick up the boot, though, and you’ll immediately notice that it’s heavier than the old version, and that’s because the boot designers in Austria actually decided to go back to using traditional polyurethane plastic (switching over from lightweight Grilamid), after seeing that most of the boot’s users were actually just skiing the boot inbounds. Matt Manser, Atomic’s global boot product manager, says “The move away from PA to PU was on the table for a long time and separate from BOA. As most people were using their Hawx Ultra XTD in the resort, often as their daily driver, it made more sense to make the boot out of polyurethane (PU) plastic. PU has a more progressive flex, feels smoother, is more damp, and is more durable – all characteristics geared towards a resort-oriented boot.”
The boot still keeps key features from the old one, including an adjustable forward lean (13, 15, and 17 degrees), a 54-degree range of motion in walk mode, and Atomic’s heat-moldable Memory Fit technology in the shell. The shell comes in at a 98mm last. The walk mode lever is external and replaceable, and the sole adheres to the GripWalk norm.
The BOA version of the 130 boot comes in mondo sizes 24-29, while the non-BOA version of the 130 boot comes all the way down to a true 22, great news for anyone with tiny feet looking for a burly freeride boot. There is a Hawx Ultra XTD 115 W with a BOA also available down to a true 22 - this boot comes with a lower cuff. One other neat detail is that the BSL of this boot is the same as the old version - though the inside of the boot actually feels a little longer, a win for those of us struggling with toe room. It fits nearly identically to the existing Hawx Ultra 130. Atomic says, "When the boots are injected into the metal mold and then removed, every plastic will shrink a little bit. PA plastics shrink a little more than PU. Even though the metal last is the same, taking this boot out of the mold dimensions that Atomic has kept will result in a little bit of extra length and a feel that is closer to the regular Hawx Ultra boots as opposed to previous generations of the Ultra XTDS that used PA."
Ok, so the first thing that you’ll want to know is about the BOA. Does it work? Yes. It works very well at what it’s designed to do. With traditional buckles, unless the boot’s shell fit was spot on, the buckles would actually compress the plastic in undesirable ways. Manser weighs in again, saying, “Buckles wrap, but at a very early point they begin to collapse the shell downward, into the foot, which creates pressure points, pain, lack of blood flow, etc. And this is precisely why every boot fitter will tell you that in a properly fit boot that your shell buckles should be closed on a minimal tension - doing anything more than that gets too uncomfortable too quickly. This collapse, however, does not happen with BOA. As you tighten the BOA, the shell continues to wrap, thereby providing a higher degree of fit and control.”
He’s definitely right on the part about wrapping - the front of the boot hugs your foot much better than I’ve ever felt with buckles. Compared to both the old Grilamid version and the non-walk mode Hawx Ultra 130 boot (both with traditional forefoot buckles), the forefoot fit is more comfortable.
I do, however, find that when it comes to touring in the boot, it feels harder to get the front loose enough to be comfortable for longer tours. The ease of popping two buckles open and having the boot relax is not there anymore - yes, you can just pop the BOA, but it actually holds enough tension without being “on” that my feet hurt while walking. This could probably be remedied with additional time at the bootfitter - but I did not have to do this on the old version.
Ok, enough on the BOA. Does this thing ski well? Yes it does, and wow, it feels nearly indistinguishable from the Hawx Ultra 130. The switch back to PU plastic really makes a huge difference in ski performance - not that the Grilamid boot was a slouch, but the PU version skis like a real inbounds-specific boot. There is a huge increase in damping and control at high speeds, and this boot has the ability to reliably drive heavy and fat skis in variable snow.
Does that mean the boot forgoes performance as a touring boot? I would say that depends on your definition of touring boot performance. Yes, it got heavier (26.5 weighs in at 1830 grams, up from 1600 grams), and I feel like the effective range of motion is less than it used to be due to the re-designed heavier-duty liner. But, for what this boot is intended to do (easy access freeride skiing), in my opinion, those are worthy trade-offs for how well it skis.
The Bottom Line:
It seems that Atomic listened to their customers when it came to re-designing an already awesome ski boot. While I’ll miss the incredibly lightweight and powerful Grilamid version of the Hawx Ultra XTD 130, the completely re-thought 2023 Hawx Ultra XTD 130 is a look into the future of ski boots that are focusing on nailing both comfort and performance to create boots that serve aggressive skiers in nearly every way. This would make a phenomenal one-boot quiver for those of us prioritizing downhill performance above all else but still need the ability to tour - a great option for mechanized guides, patrollers, snowmobile skiers or hard-charging resort rats that like to earn a few turns here and there.