The first gust of wind hit me in the middle of a kick turn while skinning up a ridge behind La Parva, Chile. The blast nearly knocked me over, and it was clear that this would be no ordinary day in the backcountry. The wind continued to pound us relentlessly at a sustained 60-70 mph. Gloves, hats, skins, skis, and cameras had to be lashed and locked down. It was especially bad while booting up a rocky scree field to the top of 13,954-foot Cerro La Parva. Nearly all of the snow had been swept from the windward side of the peak, creating an eerie Mars-like landscape. With skis attached to my backpack, it felt as if the wind might simply pick me up by my shoulders and send me into orbit.
Taking the lead last Wednesday was K2 Skis' director of international sales Mike Hattrup, who is also an AMGA guide and backcountry guru. Following was Tim Petrick, the K2 president who has worked in nearly every facet of the ski industry, from ski instructor to magazine publisher (for POWDER in the 1980s) to resort official and, for the last several years, brand executive. Barry Woods, V.P. of operations at Surefoot in Park City, Utah, was also along for the tour. Though we have all seen our share of weather over the years, none of us had ever experienced such brutally strong winds at a sustained clip. Which is saying something for Hattrup and Petrick, both of whom have skied all over the world in every type of condition.
We were just outside the boundary of La Parva, a ski area about an hour from downtown Santiago. The occasion was K2's annual Fall Training, an event started in 1994 to make final product decisions on snow, as well as get honest feedback from key retailers and members of ski media. The big showcase this year was the brand's new line of boots, which launched this fall with two categories: the freeride-oriented Pinnacle and the more resort-based SpYne. Claiming over 20 years of designing performance footwear, including K2 and Ride snowboard boots that were developed in conjunction with Intuition liners, as well as Full Tilt ski boots, inline skates, Madshus Nordic boots, and Zoot running shoes, K2 believes it has what it takes to answer the questions everyone has been asking: Why boots, and why now?
Climbing and skiing in strenuous Chilean conditions offered a great chance to check out the new Pinnacle 130. With a true 130-flex, two last sizes (97 and 100mm), walk/ski mode, and four buckles, one of which is a Power Buckle that joins the booster strap with a release buckle, the Pinnacle is K2's answer to the trend of giving walkability to hard-charging boots. (I used the 100mm last in a size 26.5. I am in-between sizes and it turned out the 26.5 was too small for my foot. It caused a decent amount of agony on the hike up Cerro La Parva. If you are on the bigger end of a shell size and plan to do a fair amount of hiking, as I do, I'd suggest going up a size.)
The problem with many of the new freeride boots with a walk mode is that they are generally softer than advertised. That is not the case with the Pinnacle, which had adequate stiffness, feeling neither too blocky nor too forgiving. I found the Pinnacle to also offer favorable mobility for ascending. K2 won't release the range of motion for the cuff, but says it is within five degrees of other boots in the category. But unless you are skinning or hiking long distances and need sufficient glide, which you probably won't be doing in this boot, you don't need a huge range of motion. I can say that the Pinnacle allowed enough motion to enable tight kick turns on steep, icy aspects. The boot also comes standard with tech inserts integrated into the shell injection. While a boot of this size and weight (2300g/boot) is not exactly what you want if you use a lightweight Dynafit binding 100 percent of the time, the tech fittings give you the option of using one boot for DIN and tech. Plus, you don't have to hassle with swapping soles, which is much more difficult than it sounds.
After battling our way up Cerro La Parva, we dropped off an icy ridge to the steep leeward side. We found respite from the wind along with a view of a striking couloir below. To our left was the ominous El Plomo, a 17,783-foot peak where the mummified remains of an Incan child have been found at its summit. Awestruck by the mountain's enormity, we listened to the wind roar across its face as if it came from the belly of a giant beast.
After clicking in to test samples of the Coomback, we descended one by one. The snow on the upper slope was firm and punchy, but it softened into windbuff as we dropped deeper into the couloir. Orange and red brick-colored rocks framed our route, making for some visually stunning skiing.
I was instantly impressed by how well the Pinnacle handled on the descent. Despite the funky snow, the boot put me right where I needed to be on a steep, challenging hill. It was powerful and quick, with excellent energy transfer.
Over the next two days, I skied on the SpYne 130 in the bigger 27.5 size. This boot is similar to the Pinnacle with two last sizes, but lacks the walk mode, tech inserts, or Power Buckle. And even though I sized up, the SpYne (in a 100mm last) still had a performance fit. We skied mostly inbounds on hard icy snow, sharing the resort with various national ski teams who were on hand to train for the upcoming Olympic season. We also hiked a half hour out to McConkey's, another lunar tour. No trip to La Parva would be complete without visiting the memorial atop this zone, and then ripping the steep lines that help La Parva stand out from neighboring resorts of Valle Nevado and El Colorado.
Due to the low snow, the ski area was actually closed for the season. But the always affable Rodrigo Medina, La Parva's marketing director, helped ensure the lifts would run when we needed them—and that no one was ever lacking a pisco sour at the end of the day.
(To read more of Powder's 2014 boot reviews, go to our Buyer’s Guide.)