Review: Scarpa Spirit 3 (2009)*
- excellent walk mode
- 'Alpine' feel
- softer forward flex
- 7lbs 3oz
Scarpa's Spirit 3 emerges as one of this season's better Touring-oriented boots—provided you're willing to put up with a few quirks.
Don't let the Spirit's three-buckle design fool you—Scarpa created the Dynafit binding-compatible Spirit 3 to offer not only outstanding touring comfort, but also, 'Complete rigidity for pedal-to-the-metal control on fat skis'. The Spirit 3 is thus intended to offer the best of both worlds: competitive performance up and down the hill.
Out of the box, the Spirit 3 makes an immediate favorable impression: it's light. At 3 lbs, 9.5 ounces (measured) per boot, the Spirit 3 is nearly as light as Garmont's excellent MegaRide. In contrast to the Mega Ride, however, the Spirit clearly announces its Alpine intentions. This may be a purely subjective observation, but the Spirit 3 looks like an Alpine boot. Despite the boot's low weight, the shells are beefy, with a medium-to-high volume fit, and impressive lateral stiffness.
The Alpine impressions continue when you try the boot on. Flex forward against the cuff, and you're rewarded with even, stiff resistance—no bulging or shell distortion. Flip the boots into walk mode, and the cuff releases more completely than any other downhill-oriented alpine touring boot I've tried. The fore-aft movement of the cuff in walk mode is superior, offering superb hiking and ascending performance.
The Spirit 3 offers two forward lean positions. You can chose either a more upright stance, at 19° or a more forward stance, at 23°, with +/- 2° of additional fine tuning. And here is where things start to get a little complicated: in the upright position, the Spirit 3's forward flex is quite stiff, easily enough so to qualify the boot as a downhill performer. But, switch to the forward position, and the Spirit 3 is suddenly much softer. This difference in flex is especially puzzling when you consider that most Alpine-oriented skiers will want to be in the forward position.
The flex profile is thus backwards for both groups. I noticed this right away on the slope. I found the softness in the forward position unacceptable, so I skied the boot in the upright lock. While I loved the stiffness in this position, I also felt like I was stuck on my heels the whole time. To cope with this quirk of flex personality, you have several choices. Scarpa offers an optional rear spoiler to add to the lean, as well as an optional tongue to increase the boot's stiffness.
Regardless of the forward flex issues, the boot is indeed quite solid laterally, making for a fine skiing feel overall. On the subject of modification, no discussion of the Spirit 3 would be complete without mentioning the shell's 'last'—the interior upon which the liner (and your foot) rests. In a perfect world, this would be a perfectly flat surface, allowing your custom footbed to seat with no trouble. Like many A/T boots, however, the Scarpa's last is quite rounded, and this is sure to cause grief when you go to your boot fitter.
To me, the Scarpa's hump beneath my arches mades it feel as though my feet were being high-centered. The sensation is not only annoying—in the field, it can quickly lead to unbearable foot pain. I queried fitter after fitter on the subject, looking for solutions. Some felt that the thermofitting process is enough on its own to compensate (I disagree). Some recommend using partial, rather than full footbed inserts.
Some recommend shimming beneath the forefoot. And some recommend grinding—either the footbed, to match it to the boot shell, or grinding down the hump on the shell itself. Whatever approach you take, expect time and trouble, and be sure you work with an expert boot fitter who is familiar with this issue. The easy solution, of course, is to just stick with the Spirit 3's stock footbeds—though this option won't make performance-oriented skiers particularly happy.
To sum up the review, if you get the footbed issues resolved properly, and the forward flex dialed in, I doubt you'll find a better performing A/T boot in this year's crop. The Spirit 3, at least potentially, stands at the head of the class. But personally, I like my gear to work out of the box, or as nearly so as possible. For that reason, I can't give the Spirit 3 a wholehearted endorsement. *(discontinued)
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