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By: Brian McCurdy
Among Scarpa’s impressive and diverse lineup of ski boots, the Maestrale RS alpine touring model is a standout. A stiffer version of their popular Maestrale, the RS is designed to be light on the skin track and extra powerful on the descent. Last winter, Scarpa retooled the boot with a new Grilamid shell, updated ski/walk system, and all-new buckle design. The previous RS was my alpine touring boot of choice for the past few years, so I understandably was eager to try out the latest model through a season in the Coast Mountains of British Columbia and Washington State. Below I break down the Maestrale RS’s uphill performance, downhill performance, weight, features, fit and sizing, and more. To see how it stacks up, see our article on the best backcountry ski boots.
With a high degree of flexibility, lightweight build, and new easy to transition buckle system, the Scarpa Maestrale RS excels on the uphill. When climbing, I release the single toe buckle, ankle buckle, and Velcro strap, but keep the heel retention buckle snug. This allows my calf and ankle to flex without my heel moving around. The total flex (forward and backward) of the RS is 60°, a huge increase from the previous model’s 37° (and this degree of movement actually exceeds my ankle’s range of motion). In the Mount Baker backcountry, I found myself on a skin track that pushed the limits of my climbing skins—and my Achilles tendons—yet the boots handled it with ease. For comparison, another boot I tested last season, the Salomon S/Lab MTN, has a 47° flex.
The Maestrale RS is extremely comfortable while bootpacking too—the Vibram Cayman PRO sole provides excellent traction on everything from rocks to snow and ice. Further, the boot is crampon compatible with most automatic or semi-automatic models. And to tie it all together, the RS is noticeably light on the feet, which is a huge benefit on long arduous climbs while skinning or kicking steps.
I’m no lightweight at 225 pounds nor do I have the grace of a ballerina, so I’m confident in saying I’ve been putting the RS through its paces. For how light it is, the new Maestrale is remarkable on the downhill. The stiff, Grilamid shell feels rigid and responsive when locked down, and the boot does an admirable job of keeping my backcountry skis in line and under control. Listed at a 130, the RS has a nice progressive flex to it and is capable of being driven pretty hard without feeling like a lightweight touring boot. The 2018 model is noticeably stiffer than the previous version, and I find this change to be most perceptible when skiing on harder, chundery surfaces.
The Maestrale RS is both AT and TLT binding compatible, and I’ve been using the boot with both the G3 Ion 12 and Salomon MTN bindings on skis ranging from 106mm to 124mm in width. The RS was my boot of choice for a recent outing to Mount Baker when the forecast was calling for several 12-inch days of snowfall. Because avalanche risks were through the roof, we chose to play it safe and lift ski, and I was surprised at how well the RS drove my DPS Lotus 124 both on choppy, skied out lines and deep, light powder. It truly is built to match the downhill prowess of a much heavier, stiffer boot.
Weighing in at 3 pounds 1.7 ounces per boot (size 27), the Scarpa Maestrale RS is on the lighter side of 3-4 buckle alpine touring boots (ski mountaineering boots such as the Dynafit TLT7 Performance are lighter but significantly less powerful on the descent). The carbon fiber infused Grilamid shell sheds ounces, and the new Wave Closure System keeps weight low by combining the function of two buckles into one (more on this system below). The weight difference between the standard Maestrale and the RS is barely worth mentioning—less than an ounce—but the RS is noticeably stiffer and more capable, making it the better option for skiers who want to put in long days of climbing to get to big lines. For comparison, the slightly less stiff Salomon S/Lab MTN is heavier at 3 pounds 7.6 ounces, and the Arc’teryx Procline Carbon Support, a ski mountaineering boot with less downhill prowess, weighs 2 pounds 15.6 ounces.
With heat-retaining Intuition liners and numerous vents to balance sweat and airflow, the RS is a warm and comfortable ski boot. After suffering cold damage to my feet while testing the old Arc’teryx Procline, I’m more aware of foot warmth now than ever. I’ve spent multiple long, cold (sub-20 degrees Fahrenheit) days in the RS now without any concern of cold feet. Even when standing around, the Intuition liners retain heat. While moving, the vents allow the liners to breathe and keep sweat build-up to a minimum.
Perhaps most important of all, a proper boot fit goes a long way in keeping feet warm. Too much space can make it difficult for heat to stay trapped, but too little space can cut off circulation. The Intuition liner is roomy enough for high volume feet like my own, and can mold to the slim footed. Plus, with the ability to add laces for a snugger fit, the liner has a great deal of versatility for a wide range of foot sizes.
Key Features - Buckle System
The closure system on the Scarpa Maestrale RS features three easy-to-adjust and high quality buckles and one power strap. The strap, upper buckle, and heel retention buckle didn’t change much from the previous version, but the toe closure has been completely redesigned. Scarpa swapped the old dual buckles for a self-equalizing cable that attaches two points to a single buckle for a secure fit (called the Wave Closure System). I found that it can be slightly finicky to adjust with gloves on, but overall the design is well worth the hassle, both for the weight savings and extra control it provides across the front of the foot.
One of the biggest changes to this year’s boot is the alteration of the ski/walk lever. The new Speedlock Plus is a friction-free mechanism, designed to swiftly release the boot into walk mode when raised and to lock the boot into ski mode when lowered. When in ski mode, a notch in the lever securely attaches to a small horizontal steel pin (similar to the lever on the Atomic Backlands). I find that this mechanism is prone to getting covered with snow or ice when in walk mode, which can make it difficult to lock for the downhill. That said, this hasn’t been a major issue for me, and can easily be remedied with a whack from a ski pole or a few taps against the boot (no different than clearing off iced-up bindings). Furthermore, I was initially concerned that the simple Speedlock mechanism could release while in ski mode, but this worry has been put to rest after dozens of incident-free descents
Intuition has become synonymous in the boot liner market for excellent heat retention, comfort, and durability. After seasons of suffering through blisters, I became a believer six years ago and haven’t worn anything else since. The Cross Fit Pro Flex G in the Maestrale RS is another winner: it conformed to my feet quickly, even without heat molding, and has provided worry-free, consistent performance. In comparison with the older model, I found that the current liner feels a bit stiffer and sturdier. In addition, the Cross Fit Pro has a separate tongue and can be fitted with laces if you prefer an even snugger fit.
Build Quality and Durability
The RS is constructed with all the materials you expect to see in a modern, high-end backcountry design. Every detail on the boot has been attended to, from the carbon fiber infused shell and Grilamid cuff, to the innovative toe buckle and ski/walk lever. Both the cuff and lower boot have seen plenty of action and bear the scuffs and scratches to prove it, but their flaws are merely cosmetic. Further, the Intuition liner is still supple and has not packed out, and all the pivots, buckles, and straps on the shell are fully intact and are not showing any signs of loosening. Finally, the Vibram soles are holding up well, wearing at a reasonable rate without any rubber breaking off or feeling brittle.
Fit, Sizing, and Comfort
As with my old RS, I ordered a size 28 in the new model and found it fits true (it even has the same 314mm sole length). Fit and comfort have been issues for me with every ski boot I’ve owned, but the Intuition liners and my practice of punching to increase the width of the toe box have made the RS a very comfortable boot. Even without punching, it has one of the wider toe boxes on the market (101mm), and thus accommodates a wide range of foot sizes. And as mentioned, the Intuition liner is top quality, conforms to a range of foot shapes, and does not require a heat mold. In comparison with the previous model, the heel cup seems slightly roomier and the mid foot is marginally slimmer.
First, I should mention that I get all of my boots punched—I have yet to find a boot with a toe box that accommodates my wide foot. But with a width of 101mm, the Maestrale RS is one of the wider performance designs on the market and thus more comfortable than most. Since being punched for more width, they have been comfortable through multi-day trips of skinning, bootpacking, and skiing. The Intuition liners are a crowd-favorite (many purchase these separately, so it’s nice that they come with the RS), and I haven’t found a need to have them heat molded. The heel pocket does seem larger than previous models, reducing any issues with heel lift for me.
Getting in and out of the boot, however, has gotten a little more difficult with the new shell design. The updated RS has done away with the easy-to-use hinged tongue of the old model, and moved to a more traditional split boot. I find the updated system to be a bit of a pain, requiring extra pushing and pulling of the tongue for entry and exit. That said, if this is part of the compromise in improving downhill performance while keeping weight in check, I’m all for it.
The Maestrale RS is the men's or unisex version of this boot, but Scarpa also makes a women's-specific Gea RS. The design and features between the two are virtually identical, with the Gea RS having the same 101-millimeter last, a slightly softer 125 flex (but not by much), and different colorways (and not "traditional" purple or powder blue that many manufacturers go for). Similar to the Maestrale, the Gea was updated for last season but remains unchanged for 2018-2019.
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