Whether you own your equipment or rent seasonally, chances are you ride with soft snowboard boots.
While soft boots are made with a soft exterior in a variety of different stiffness ratings, hard snowboard boots, also known as alpine boots, are in a league of their own.
Soft boots are more versatile across freestyle and freeride terrains, allowing for a large range of movement in any direction. Hard boots, which have a hard plastic shell, give you more control for racing and carving at high speeds on hard snow by firmly supporting your feet and ankles.
While soft boots are great for those looking to alternate between powder runs, the park, groomers and choppy terrain, hard boots are designed for those who prefer hardline carving down steep and hard terrain.
In this post we look at fundamental differences between these two types of boots.
What are hard snowboard boots good for?
Hard snowboard boots are ideal for deep carving turns and high-speed bombing on hard and even icy terrain. They’re ideal for alpine racing and aggressive all-mountain riding.
They’re also great for slalom, giant slalom racing and even split board riding. In all these riding styles,
Alpine boots are optimal for directional riding and are usually set up with both bindings and feet facing in a forward direction.
Because of the angle of the bindings, as well as the stiffness of the boots, these setups aren’t well-suited for riding switch and in general for freestyle, powder and park riding.
Pros of hard snowboard boots
Hard snowboard boots offer little side-to-side flexibility while riding, allowing a snowboarder to experience unmatched response while locking into high-speed, hard-lined carves.
The tight-fitting metal straps on the hard-shelled boots (similar to ski boots) help strap your foot in extra tight and reduce heel lift.
This provides you with a solid connection to the board and the snow beneath it, enhancing precision and aggression in your riding.
By altering your binding stance angles to be slightly higher than usual, e.g. 45º front foot and 40º back foot), your posture aligns your mid-body over the back of the board and point your shoulders more forward than sideways.
This helps increase speed, making this setup ideal for speed racing snowboarders.
With this dramatic forward-facing stance, you are able to carve at high edge angles and transition from turn to turn super fast, making it possible to engage your core and lean into carves where your body is parallel to the snow.
Carving at high speeds and with superior edge control provides the exciting adrenaline of gravitational pull associated with alpine racing.
By providing strong ankle support, hard snowboard boots also protect your feet when riding through choppy conditions and when landing natural feature jumps.
Hard snowboard boots cons
Limited range of motion
Alpine boots aren’t as maneuverable as softer boots and have limited flexibility, which is needed for riding through tight tree lines or choppy terrain.
They offer a limited range of motion other than what is needed to hold a solid edge while riding fast and carving low to the ground.
This lack of agility makes them impractical for freestyle riding, doing kickers and airs and riding switch.
Their stiffness also makes it hard for a rider to steer, flex and drive the back foot through soft snow, making them ill-suited for riding in powder and fresh snow.
Not great for learning or walking around
A hard boot setup is also not ideal for beginners and is too technical to learn how to snowboard on.
Hard boots are also significantly less comfortable to walk around in when you aren’t riding, and are generally not as warm as soft shell boots.
Hard to find and pricey
Finally, Alpine boots are difficult to source. They are rarely (if ever) up for rental in ski resorts, and can often only be found online.
Because they aren’t as common as soft snowboard boots, they also tend to come in at a higher price than most average snowboarding boots.
Riders generally want to try on their boots before purchasing such an expensive piece of equipment, so many potential adopters get discouraged from buying.
Need the right bindings
Riding fast, hard and continuously on one’s edges puts a lot of strain on your bindings, and the hard plastic shell of alpine boots adds to this.
It’s generally best to pair hard boots with Bomber or Catek plate bindings for extra strength and durability.
Pros of soft snowboard boots
Soft snowboard boots are widely available to purchase online and in stores and can be found in a variety of flex ratings.
These boots are very versatile and work for a broader range of different terrains and rider styles.
Stiffer rated boots will be easier on your ankles on big landings and low carves while softer rated boots will be better for cruisy powder days.
Soft boots are ideal for freestyle riders who need lateral mobility in the ankles and feet. This agility makes it easier to press, rail, grab and flex in the park, and these boots are often paired with soft rated freestyle boards.
Soft boots are also better for deep powder and fresh snow. Flexibility is key when riding in powder. Softer boots combined with a medium flexed board are the best combination for these conditions.
Softer boots are undeniably more comfortable to wear when walking around the mountain or resort. They are also a lot more convenient to get your foot into. They’re also a good option for riding slower and enjoying the scenery.
It is still possible to carve low in soft boots by choosing a harder rated boot and setting up your bindings to a higher angle.
Soft snowboard boots cons
For those who crave speed and fast carving, softer boots won’t allow for the same powerful weight transfer when leaning into low carves.
They don’t fit as tight as hard boots and can cause heel-lift when carving on your toe edge, decreasing your control over the board.
Softer boots won’t protect your ankles and feet as much when landing jumps or riding in choppy terrain, allowing more of the impact to be transferred into your feet and legs.
Soft vs hard boot setups
A hard boot board setup is fundamentally different from a soft boot setup. In a soft boot setup, your feet face away from each other in a positive and negative angle.
With most hard boot setups, on the other hand, you get much higher binding angles on both feet.
This dramatically changes your riding posture and riding style to look more like a slalom skier than a freestyle snowboarder.
When riding with a hard boot setup, use higher binding plate angles than normal.
A 45-degree front foot and 50-degree back foot setting can help with your riding posture by orienting the axis of your knees so you can flex and extend to absorb chatter as you transition between high-speed turns.
A higher binding angle can improve your edge control by making sure you have no toe or heel overhang when doing horizontal carves.
As mentioned, make sure you choose strong plate bindings which are durable enough to support the power and pull of the hard shell boots.
Depending on whether you prefer step-ins of standard bindings, Bomber’s TD3 Sidewinder step-in or Standard plate bindings are a great option.
Alternatively, check out Catek’s Olympic Series 2 bindings which have a new tilt and lift system that makes for convenient adjustment.
A soft boot setup is a lot more versatile and can be used with a variety of highback, flow-in or step-in bindings. Soft boots will fit into most traditional binding setups. Here are 3 of the most popular soft bindings:
Hard boot snowboarding
You can think of hard boot snowboarding as a completely different style of riding. As mentioned, it’s not ideal for beginners and takes a while for even advanced riders to get the hang of it.
Hard snowboarding boots were created for those who enjoy riding extremely fast and carving low towards the snow. They provide a rider with absolute precision and aggression in hard terrain.
While the hard boots, different stance and positive angles make it possible to do frighteningly fast low gravity carves, they make it substantially harder to steer and control your board with your back foot.
However, once you get into it, you’ll be carving into weightless transitions which are hard to match with a soft boot setup.