17 December, 2010

Pierre Gignoux XP444's

Pierre Gignoux XP 444's are light.  Insanely light.  In ski mountaineering racing, lighter is faster, but there is a point where too light can be the downfall of gear.  If the boots or skis get too light, they aren't as stiff, or robust.  Yet somehow, the XP444's defy this rule, and are one of the few pieces of gear on the market that any racer can benefit from.

The boot itself weighs in at only 444g (no liner) in a 27.0.  The incredibly light boot, is made up of high end, pressed carbon fiber which is the main reason it is so light.  The original model, the XP 500 weighing in at 520g without a liner, were the start of building such an light boot.  Pierre, found a new way of pressing the carbon, to use far less resin and to ensure less air pockets with the XP 444.  This new method of pressing carbon, allowed for a 30% stiffer boot, with less flaws in it.  The lighter the weight, the more efficiently the racer will be able to stride, and thus a faster cadence can be acheived (more information on this here).

The Gignoux XP 444, fits well, and doesn't require much adjustment.  The forefoot is slightly wider than a Dy.N.A, as well as the heel pocket.  It does come with a Palau liner, which is thermo moldable, and specifically designed for the 444's volume and shape.  Although the liner does tour uphill well, it does lack the neoprene cutout on the back of the calf, which many boots have these days to allow the liner to flex backwards as well.  That being said, the liner is a bit more supportive while skiing downhill, so the performance between uphill and downhill is well balanced.  The extra liner material on the tongue (pictured on the right), is actually very comfortable while skiing and skinning, as it provides a bit of support on top of the foot and keeps your heel locked down.

This version, which is slightly different than a few XP 444's has been fitted with a shock absorbing rear ski/walk lever, that is easily replacable.  Both the solid and shock absorbing levers are designed similar to the Scarpa F1 levers.  The design allows the user to lock his/her boot into ski mode while simutaneously tightening the upper cuff, a now regular design slightly differing between different brands of race boots.  I have found that these shock absorbing plastic levers do have some flex to them, which doesn't affect the way the boot skis, but can be slightly fiddly to swap back into walk mode if your in too much of a rush.  This sticky feel (only with shock absorbing lever) is because the XP444's ski/walk lever sits on a post, opposed to the F1 which sits on a bar.  Pierre is still working on perfecting the shock absorbing levers, and still recommends the solid stiffer lever, but both have seemed to be working for me.

The boot skis well, but you definitely feel like you are skiing a lighter boot, compared to skiing the Dynafit Dy.N.A which is till very robust feeling.  The weight savings makes the boot a bit more squirlley on the descents, however, still drives the little race sticks quite well.  It does take a bit of getting used to being so light while skiing through re-frozen snow, but feels quite comfortable and stable on groomers and powder.  The stiffness of the carbon can be felt in the cuff, but racers will notice the lack of a tongue, a minor change of skiing style and you are still able to charge.

My number one recommendation for anyone using this boot, as a racer and ski tech, is to purchase a binding such as the Plum Race 145's with adjustable toe pins.  This is important, as the tech fittings on the boots do require a much more custom fit, which ensures a solid 'lock' and feel on the toe piece.  Setting the system up and taking the time to do so properly, will be the difference between a light but still strong setup, compared to something which can be jittery on the descents.  Although some people may find this to be a big hassle, the boot is well worth the one time adjustment, and committing to a left and right ski.  (photo right:  Note that the tech inserts on the toes are metal, set in carbon fiber.)
As for how it skins, the best way to describe it would be to click your running shoes into your race skis, and start hammering up the mountain.  Because it is so light, but still very stiff, it transfers power to the skis efficiently and quickly.  The range of motion the cuff provides is huge and doesn't limit your stride length at all. With the large cutout over the top of the foot, and carbon tongue, the foot is able to move naturally and comfortably (pictured above).

Overall, I'm pretty impressed with the boot.  The weight on its own makes it worth while, as skinning becomes even more efficient, and a high cadence is noticeably easier to maintain.  The stiffness on the downhill is adequate, and forward lean position allows you the rest on the downhill.  I would recommend to anyone who wants such a high end boot to invest in the lightest skis possible, and the right bindings, because matching this boot to them is vital to squeeze every last drop of performance out of it and create an overall 'system' opposed to just throwing different pieces of gear together.  Expect to see a few of these exotic boots on the Canadian Circuit this year, as a lot National Team members have jumped on this bandwagon, looking to get every edge they can for going faster!


  1. Wow, very interesting review of a very interesting product! (Although not quite as exotic as the long La Sportiva video explaining how to put on the Stratos...)

  2. Funny you should mention the Stratos. While talking to coaches and athletes in Europe on the World Cup, we were told the Gignoux was the most robust carbon fiber boot out there. And yes it seems much more simple to put on.