Nordica has been an important boot brand, if not the outright market leader in unit sales, for most of the last fifty years. They lost their footing a couple of seasons ago by trying to be something they were not, forcing the brand to fall back on its time-tested strengths: no-nonsense race boots and their derivatives, alongside comfort cradles that coddle the entry-level and intermediate skier. This year they’re re-introducing classic overlap shells as the centerpiece of their all-mountain collection, signaling a seismic shift that should likewise slide the brand’s fortunes upward.
If you’ve been skiing for 30 years or longer, you may think you “have a Nordica foot.” Or you may think just the opposite. Either way, you’re wrong. There’s no such thing anymore as a “Nordica foot” or a “Tecnica foot,” or even a “Lange foot.” Every brand makes a multitude of last shapes, meaning they all make boots in narrow, medium and wide-body iterations. Nordica has a particularly diverse menu of boot volumes, from their pencil-thin, merciless Dobermann racing machines to their broad-in-the-beam, built-for-comfort Cruise slippers.
Anyone who races knows that Nordica doesn’t need to inflate its resume to establish its street cred. Great racers of a certain generation hoarded secret stashes of the venerable Grand Prix, and if Nordica ever stops making their Dobermann line of undiluted race boots, they’re also likely to be black market booty the instant they’re officially retired. The Patron and Patron Pro are cut from the same cloth, only with a little more headroom over the instep.
Nordica is at their best when they don’t stray from their roots in classic boot design. That’s why the new Hell & Back series of all-mountain boots is a welcome addition to the line. And maybe that’s why Nordica has, at least for the moment, dropped out of the “hike-mode” market; if you’re not making a boot with the potential to be the category leader, why bother? It’s refreshing to see a brand that’s not plugging in a lazy knock-off to fill a price point and own a miniscule slice of market share.
Nordica has always taken good care of entry-level skiers, a tradition that remains intact. The wide-body Cruise collection is a great place to shop for a first boot, particularly for skiers with ample pedal extremities.
The Patron Pro is an attempt at a slightly more docile Dobermann, and the big dog’s bloodlines are evident in its stripped down chassis. While purists will rightly point out that the Patron Pro won’t bite the instep with the Dobermann’s signature grip, just because it accommodates a high arch doesn’t mean it’s a pussycat. Its lateral reactions are flyweight fast and there’s enough give in the flex and shock absorption in the shell footbed to make it amenable to motoring through crud.
As a general rule, the stiffer the boot, the graver the consequences of over-sizing. So the 130-flex Patron Pro needs to fit as close to the shell as is comfortably possible. This should include a custom insole underfoot as standard equipment. If all it takes is a little shell expansion, aka, a punch, here and there to fit a smaller shell, the payback in steering precision will be well worth the effort.
Hell & Back H1
The Hell & Back H1 is the flagship of a new collection of recreational boots for advanced skiers who won’t tolerate too tight a fit yet still require some substance to support their stance. The H&B H1 is generous in all aspects: it’s 100mm last feels roomy, the liner sumptuously padded and the 120 flex must have won a few points for style. But for the skier who fits this profile, this boot has solid ankle support and the performance to satisfy a 20-day per season skier.
The flex adjustment on the rear spine is perceptible but doesn’t change the flex so much that you’ll be tempted to fiddle with it on a routine basis. If you have stance issues that are correctible within 1 degree inward or outward, cant-able soles are available as an after-market alternative that will make this correction at the optimal interface, the one attached to the skier at the most elemental level.
Nordica has always made a large boot for the bargain hunter, and the Cruise 110 is the top vessel in their current fleet. Big in all dimensions, the Cruise earns its name with a super-cushioned fit that’s all about kicking back. The Cruise 110 has enough resilience to support a big man with a foot to match, with a comfortable stance that will promote proper technique.
In any other year, the classic fit and clean functionality of La Nina would make it the belle of the ball. It’s an all-business boot with a little extra arch to the instep area, where women often have fit issues. But the competition in the women’s narrow-fit, performance boot market has never been hotter. There are more custom-moldable shells, more powerful race boots, a slew of hike-mode options and other new features elbowing La Nina out of the limelight. Which doesn’t make La Nina any less of a boot, just an under-appreciated one.
Hell & Back H1 W
Flex: 95 - 105
Like its male counterpart, the women’s Hell & Back H1 W tips the comfort-performance equation in favor of the former. In other words, the H & B H1 W is built more for comfort than speed, with a plush liner and an extra dose of roominess from the instep forward. Its accuracy comes from a tall, fairly upright steering column that brings the comfy contours of the inner boot close to the ankle for a secure fit where it counts.
With its built-in ability to cant the soles by one degree in either direction and a flex adjustment that gives you a choice of two stiffnesses, the H & B H1 W helps the skier dial in just the right stance and energy transmission. Nordica also touts its Hell & Back shoes as “weather resistant,” which is an unusual claim in that it could plausibly be applied to every ski boot ever made.
Cruise 85 W
Slipping into the Cruise 85 W is like diving into a deep lagoon. You hardly feel the moment of entry, and while you can detect contact in this new medium, you don’t feel pressure. The Cruise offers as unobjectionable a fit environment as a four-buckle boot can create, which translates into comfort incarnate for the lower skill skier.