It was late June, and I was still skiing. Credit a lifelong obsession with the two-planked activity, and a massive winter in California’s Lake Tahoe area. More than 720 inches of winter snow had fallen, making my odd summer ski session possible. But that wasn’t the only curiosity that day. On my feet: a pair of Salomon S/PRO SUPRA BOA® ski boots, a new type of ski boot design. I tested the boots while skiing at Palisades Tahoe Ski Resort toward the end of the area’s legendary season. I’ll get to my feedback on the SUPRA BOA boots in a moment. But first, a little backstory.
The Year of BOA Ski Boots
Ski boot technology has remained relatively unchanged for years. Why fix something that’s not broken, right? But this winter, prepare to see new innovations on the boot wall of your ski shop. This has been called the year of BOA, and for good reason. Four boot brands (Salomon, K2, Atomic and Fischer) have teamed up with BOA—maker of the distinctive fit system with its telltale dial that you’ve seen on bike shoes, helmets or snowboard boots—to debut a new, better-fitting ski boot.
The technology as applied to ski boots may be fresh to consumers but hardly untested. K2 has used BOA systems in its snowboard boots for years and, more recently, in ski boot liners. Salomon has had BOA in other iterations like snowboard boots. But the companies are now putting the BOA Fit system into ski boot shells.
Ski boots with the new BOA tension system range from alpine touring boots to downhill ski boots. They suit a wide variety of foot shapes and ability levels. And they’re immediately recognizable because they dispense with the traditional bottom two buckles on your boot’s lower shell. Replacing them is a round knob, the heart and control center of the BOA H+i1 system. Turn that knob and it pulls a 1.7 mm-thick metal cable through a set of plastic pulleys. As the cable tensions, it cinches the boot’s two-piece overlapping shell around the bottom of the foot, for a fit that’s more even and secure than buckles can deliver.
Many boots can be customized or heat-molded to create a perfect custom. The idea behind this BOA technology is that it gives you a better fit right out of the box. While standard ski boot buckles tend to have a few notches that let you adjust how tight or roomy you want your boots to be, the BOA dial lets you make micro-adjustments.
Testing the Salomon S/PRO SUPRA BOA Ski Boots
- Pros: Uniform wrapping of the lower foot; a comfortable, secure feel; micro-adjustability.
- Cons: A bit heavier and more expensive.
- Best for: Skiers of all types who struggle to get a perfect fit in their boots; those with fickle feet who prioritize precision and comfort.
- Price: $599–$799
Feel and Performance
Now back to that June ski day. Picture sunshine and goggle tans, skiing in T-shirts and slushy snow. Full disclosure: I grew up with old-school, four-buckle boots. I was skeptical that the BOA system could provide the same support and structure I’d come to rely on from metal buckles during my years of all-mountain skiing. I’ve also seen BOA knobs break on bicycling shoes, leaving you with a shoe that isn’t snug anymore.
Getting my feet into the Salomon S/PRO SUPRA BOA on day one was a cinch, thanks to a supple shell and slick liner. The boots immediately felt comfortable. I clamped down the top two buckles as usual, then turned the BOA knob to the right to achieve my desired tightness. (Another plus: The knob is easy to adjust with gloves on.)
I was wrong about the fit: The boots felt as solid as any four-buckle boot—and were more uniformly secure. While skiing, I felt like my foot was swaddled like a baby or wrapped by a professional burrito maker. Yet nothing seemed tight; my foot felt protected, and my heel was locked in place.
To release the tension, you simply pull the knob out and the boot instantly loosens to a comfortable walking fit. When I did this in the lift line, it felt like I was wearing cozy slippers. At the top of the lift, I pushed the knob in again and turned it back to where I wanted it, and I was ready to ski again. Coolest feature: The boot has numbers on the shell—one through four—where the knob turns, so you can adjust to your favorite setting each time.
Another improvement: Previous BOA systems only turned in one direction; if you wanted them a bit looser, you had to release the knob and begin the tensioning process anew. The improved H+i1 system lets you go back and forth, micro-adjusting to add a little more tightness or create a tad more looseness, so you get a fit that’s just right.
Knowing that ski boots take a beating, and in tough conditions, BOA engineers developed this new system to be extra durable—and also easy to repair if something does break.
As a result, this is the most resilient system BOA has made yet. My fears of the knob breaking mid-slope were unfounded. (I tried to break the burly dial and had no luck.) The tensioning cable, meanwhile, is thicker and longer than in previous BOA systems. And since the system is external and attaches to the boot shell with screwed-on hardware (versus the rivets that ski buckles are usually attached with), parts can be easily replaced.
“Through design and testing, this BOA system has been fine-tuned to withstand the extreme nature of alpine skiing,” says Lauren Samuels, Salomon associate category manager for alpine skiing. “But if it does break, Salomon and BOA have a robust protocol for warranty and replacement parts.”
The thickness of the plastic around the foot was reengineered to be smoother and softer to enable that wrapping sensation. That means the boot actually feels lighter and more pliable, making turning easier. “We didn’t just slap a BOA on a previously existing shell,” Samuels explains. “We built a completely new boot and an entirely redesigned shell for the BOA system.”
The BOA knob does add a bit of weight. Models with BOA also cost more than comparable boots without the system. But the gain you’ll get for that is a boot that wraps your foot like no buckle ever could. I also found the boots to be a little warm—the latex-foam lining was cozy but not exactly breathable. Then again, I was skiing in June, and it was hot. On a cold winter day, they’d probably be just right.
The S/PRO SUPRA BOA is a downhill ski boot. It doesn’t come with uphill touring capabilities. (If you’re looking for a touring boot with BOA’s H+i1 system, check out the K2 Mindbender BOA. It’s a touring-capable freeride boot with a “tech toe” that inserts into touring bindings and a walk mode for skinning uphill.
The Salomon S/PRO Supra BOA boots have a