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The Pilot Ski BootReviewed by Scott Dahlquist

Light weight, comfort, and control, are the three things that skiers look for when selecting a boot and binding system. This year the Salomon company has come out with a new boot. The Racing Skate 9 or otherwise known as "The PILOT." utilizes a new binding system that engages not only the toe of the boot with a fixed hinge but also is engaged at the ball of the foot for even greater control when the foot is off the ski and at it’s most vulnerable point, the end of the skating stroke. Salomon has made the boots useable with the old Salomon Nordic System bindings (SNS) however they go without the benefit of the second connection. This high end skating boot also has some other nice features. The lace system can be snuggged up one handed and secured with a cord lock type mechanism that totally eliminates tying laces and can be adjusted on the trail with gloves on. The laces when pulled, snug up evenly along the foot and with some practice can be tweaked to offer support or freedom where needed. There is also a heel strap adjustment that can snug down those skiers with the dreaded narrow heel problem. When Brad Weidt the sales representative for Salomon in my area, sized me up and informed me that the boot size I would find best might be smaller than what I was used to. According to Brad the foot is lower in the boot so there is more room. Consequently my selected size was 9.5 instead of my usual 10-10.5.

My first experience with the boot was wearing it to stir fry dinner in my kitchen. Minnesota’s lack of snow had me on roller skis until January and I hadn’t mounted the new boots on my wheels. A week before my first race I began to wear the boots around the house. They were comfortable but my kitchen was not a race trail and I was not connected to 3 crazed and race ready Alaskans. Things didn’t get any better when a some miscommunication between myself and my ski supplier found me waiting at the RPS freight depot at 5pm Thursday night before the race. A mad dash to "North Country" a local Nordic specialty shop and the staff mounted them on the spot. It pays to have a relationship with a shop in your area. Friday morning skis and boots loaded and dogs in tow I headed for Iron River, WI. to encounter one of the most beautiful and challenging Skijor race courses on the circuit.

Race morning I had a chance to ski a little and the boots despite their appearance, felt light and my skiing was lively. Temperatures the two days hovered around zero to ten below and I felt only slight discomfort in my toes on each day. The boots performed wonderfully on what is a very hilly and winding course. The boot held positively to allow me to power around corners and skate out of the turns with all dogs charging. Downhills are always difficult because of the need to keep pressure on the dogs lines. Slack lines from over skiing by the driver means a stumbling scared team, or worse. The boots allowed me to place pressure on the skis to decelerate and adjust my speed as needed. A testament to the positive connection between boot and ski was on one particularly tight corner where a trail berm caught the shovel of my outside ski. I began to stumble forward in what was to become a particularly ungraceful cartwheeling face plant. At the last minute I recovered and pulled the ski back in and just in time to fly past the trail help who thankfully hadn’t witnessed any of my acrobatics. My flailing ski never felt out of control and I only needed to regain my body position and the ski followed obediently.

"The PILOT" can be found at most better Nordic ski shops and carries the sizable price tag of around $300.00. Bindings go for around $100.00. This shocked me a little until I considered the prices I encountered the last time I shopped around for a lead dog (enough said). This system is at the forefront off Nordic skating technology and is an incredible boost to the control of a skijor team. I know Salomon when developing the system probably did not have Skijorers in mind but the results as it applies to our sport are outstanding.

*Scott Dahlquist is owner of ClearShot Racing Sled Dogs In Cokato, Minnesota. A skijor specialist, he sells equipment and races The North Star Sled Dog Club Pro-Skijor circuit

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