ALFA POLAR A/P/S Expedition Boot Review

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ALFA POLAR A/P/S Expedition Boot Review

Postby Johnny » Wed Nov 21, 2018 2:10 pm

ALFA Polar APS Expedition Ski Boots-650.jpg
We all dream of owning a pair of Alfa Polar A/P/S boots. Ok, maybe it’s just me. Well no, I know for sure that most of you already dreamed about it at some point. I personally have been dreaming about the Polars for several years, but it always remained in the dream state for several reasons. Yes, they are quite expensive, as most top-of-the-line and very high quality products always are. But the main thing is, they are impossible to find here in North America. No retailers and no resellers of Alfa products, except for a very few pairs of XC shoes. Even the so-called Alfa “distributor” in Vermont doesn't even bother to reply inquiries from customers and retailers. But thank God, that era is over. Alfa in Norway is now accepting orders directly and they can ship anywhere!

I was there at the beginning of Internet, even long before the WWW: Usenet, Fidonet, remote FTP commands sent via email or BBS etc. Back when freaks with exotic interests could exchange with other real experts and share real, useful and genuine information generously. But I now have a feeling of utter disgust for what people did with the Internet and what it has become, a huge pile of click-bait crap for useless grey people in search of instant gratification. The complete opposite of what it was 30 years ago. The complete opposite of nature and holiness. But hey, right now on that same internet, you can order whatever boots you want straight from the Norwegian Alfa headquarters! My friends, life (and internet) is good!

Warmth. This review has to start with the word warmth. And comfort too. An extreme ski boot for extreme conditions and pioneering adventurers. That is what the Polar is all about. Some boots are made for kicking and gliding, some others were built for downhill free-heeling. The Alfa Polar A/P/S is a boot made for extreme cold weather. In fact, I once read about people who sold back their Polars because they were actually too warm for normal winter conditions! This is THE #1 expedition boot. Every time you see a polar expedition somewhere, you also see Alfa Polar boots. Every report, documentary or movie involving North or South pole expeditions always include skiers with Alfa Polar APS boots. Explorers, scientists, adventurers and soldiers, they all go for the Polar APS when extreme cold is present. In fact, by judging the non-negotiable quality of their products, I'm pretty sure even James Bond uses Alfa boots… Seriously, I have never felt so warm in any other leather boot. Honestly the hottest boot ever.

IMG_8664-650.jpg
The boot is very easy to put on. A simple lace ties up the inner boot. Then the integrated gaiter with a zip and velcro protects the rest from the snow. They are made for use with either Kartanks or Alfa's Intuition polar liners (sold separately). The flex is tuned and optimized for long tours. A smooth flex, but the sides of the boot is reinforced around the toes and heels for added power under difficult conditions or when carrying heavy loads. It is definitely not a downhill boot, still it offers just enough support for all your touring needs. According to Alfa, sole stiffness is 4/5 and ankle support is also 4/5. The sole is quite stiff, but with a soft body and bellow. There is nice ankle support at the bottom of the boot, but the upper cuff is quite soft. A perfect balance. I really, really appreciate them so far!

"An extremely comfortable BC-boot with an integrated gaiter that is reinforced with Kevlar on exposed areas. The boot has been developed specifically for expeditions and long journeys on skis in extremely cold conditions. Polar A/P/S also has a specially developed last that ensures you have room for liner. It also has extra insulation within the sole. The boot has been used on a wide range of expeditions, both to the North and South Poles, however, it is also suitable for simpler expeditions in cold conditions."

ALFA Polar APS Karhu.jpg
Sexier than Alaskas? Hummm... They are both extremely good looking. The closest thing to a telemark cowboy boot. I am a bit-more-than-semi-seriously considering installing spurs on my Polars. (Hey, who spoke of grayish dullness and craziness lately...? ;) )

I still haven’t tried them in very cold conditions yet, but my old cold feet can’t wait to fully test them! There is so much to say about these boots, I am very, very impressed. But I will keep it short and stop here, because Sir Benjamin, also known here as bgregoire, our North American Alfa Ambassador, is going to write something about the Alfa Polars too. He is a much better writer (and skier!) than me. Very special thanks to Melina the tall blue-eyed Norwegian, who was able to find us TWO pairs of brand new Polars here at a very decent price. These beauties were so lonely, so far from home, hidden in a dark warehouse in the middle of Mississippi, screaming for snow in a deep, meditative silence. At last, they found us!

There is something mythical about the Alfa Polars. They are sort of the Holy Grail of Nordic boots. The boots you were always dreaming of, but knew deep inside that you would never hold a pair in your hands. But thanks to the e-commerce guys at Alfa, they are now just one click away from you. At your door in only 2 days. Ok, maybe three. And right now, for a limited time, the 2016 model* is on sale at Alfa’s website!

Time to be thankful. Thank you dear Ben, thank you Melina, thank you Alfa, thank you dear God. And thank you The Internet for your good old-fashioned anti-social networks (also called forums and email clients...)

ALFA POLAR A/P/S Expedition Boots
Cross-Country: 80/100
Downhill: 30/100
Retail (boots only): 640$ USD
Polar liners: 170$ USD
https://alfaoutdoor.com/shop/ski-boots/expedition/polar-a-p-s-1



*The 2016 model is exactly the same as the new 2019 one. The only difference is that the old 2016 model has a Gore-Tex layer, which is not present on the current model. According to Alfa, that extra insulation layer was not necessary for people using the boot with a liner: "With the Polar Liner we discovered that there's not really need for Gore-Tex in the boots – with the liner inside, the Gore-Tex will not work the way it should."
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Re: ALFA POLAR A/P/S Expedition Boot Review

Postby bgregoire » Sun Nov 25, 2018 6:44 pm

The Alfa Polar is a highly thought-out niche Nordic backcountry ski boot developed specifically for very cold and long ski trips where a NNN-BC binding makes sense.
Alfa POLAR APS.jpg

Living and traveling outdoors in winter requires a very unique skillset and highly specialized equipment. It’s vital to keep our extremities warm and functional, particularly in those moments when it’s really really cold. When ski camping in polar or subarctic environments where firewood is not available, humidity is actually to be feared more than the cold itself because when your insulating layers are soaked or worst, frozen, there is little hope of staying warm. Great care must therefore be taken to keep our clothing, our sleeping bags and our boots dry. It can go so far as having to sleep in a vapor barrier liner (VBL) bag (imagine sleeping in a garbage bag) with our wet clothing (sock and glove liners, etc.) spread over our chests and left to dry overnight by our own body heat!

Three key strategies must be combined to create a winning solution for our feet in these extreme conditions:
    - the insulation must be sufficient for the coldest conditions we will encounter,
    - an outer barrier must prevent the wind from robbing your precious body heat and stop moisture from penetrating into the insulation layers. Furthermore, this same barrier must allow any moisture trapped within the insulation from exiting the boot system,
    - an inner barrier (VBL) is used to prevent any moisture generated by our feet from penetrating the insulation layers.
Granted, the moisture from our feet might not be sufficient to corrupt the insulation in our boots after a day out, but give it more than three days of ski camping, and you will get into serious trouble without a VBL.
P3291127.jpg


The basic idea behind the Alfa Polar is actually quite simple and surely has a lot of history to it (unfortunately I am not old enough to know that much of it). To better understand what it is, lets imagine how it might have actually been conceptualized: you start with an oversized boot of your liking allowing for extra insulation layers (liners and/socks), you wear a vapor barrier liner sock between a thin liner sock and your insulation layers and you cover the entire boot with a super gaiter. A super gaiter is a combined gaiter and rubber rand that covers your entire boot and lower leg. The epic Berghaus Yeti Extrem is the most popular example of a super gaiter.
P3100321.jpg

Actually, the more mature leathers amateurs amongst us surely know about these super gaiters as they were quite common at some point in time in North America. They were used to keep warm in norwegian welt 3-pin leather boots. The infamous Dave “Pinnah” swore by them for touring:
dave-on-trail.jpg

http://web.archive.org/web/20151002150932/http://home.comcast.net/~pinnah/DirtbagPinner/bc-boots.html

You can see a ton more of these gaiters in action in the awesome tutorial “The Telemark Movie” from the mid 80’s:
)

On with the boot
So, coming back to the Alfa Polar, it’s basically the only “mass” produced NNN-BC boot to combine the three winning strategies for polar comfort. To boot, it so happens that Alfa has done an AMAZING job at it. Let’s look at some of the details.

For starters, the boot last they use is massive giving you so much more width and volume than any other nordic ski boot of its kind. It has so much volume that I highly doubt it could even be used comfortably when size accordingly for use without extra insulation. This actually great news because we absolutely need this volume for insulation purposes when in very cold environments. It must be said here that Alfa recommends sizing up two sizes (EU sizes I believe) for use with liners. Depending on your needs, sizing up a size might be sufficient in my opinion. For comparison, an Alfa Polar EU44 actually has more inner length, volume and a ton more space at the toe box than an Alpina Alaska EU45. We will get back to the actual liners to be used alongside the Polar later on.

If, at this point, you still happen to be thinking about sizing the Polar to your foot size and using it without liners, I’d warn against it. You should be looking at the Alfa Outback instead.

IMG_8809-650.jpg

The Polar’s inner boot is soft and super easy to secure with an efficient yet simple lacing system. To tie the boot up, you simply pull the laces to lock the forefoot in place and then lock the ankle in place using two pairs of hooks. The inner boot is well constructed and the collar in particular is well insulated with medium density foam. The insulation around the foot itself is actually not that thick, similar to what you would find in a normal backcountry boot such as the Alfa Skarvet or Alpina Alaska.

IMG_8806-650.jpg

The Alfa Polar 2016 comes with an inner Gore-Tex membrane. It looks and feels just like any Gore-Tex or similar shoe/boot inner membrane. However, Gore-Tex is not that useful in extremely cold environments, particularly in boot systems that includes a VBL. In fact, a “breathable membrane” might actually slow down the evacuation of humidity trapped inside the added boot liners. I’m assuming this is why Gore-Tex membranes are no longer built into the new Alfa Polar, yet are found in all the higher end Alfa backcountry boot models where they provide an obvious benefit.

The bottom of the inside of the boots I am reviewing is covered by the same Gore-Tex membrane as the rest of the inner shoe. It appears as if there might be a little synthetic fiber insulation between the Gore-Tex membrane and the hard L-board below, I just do not know for sure. Regardless, you definitely need more insulation from below than that (hence the additional liners!).

The sole flex is actually quite modest. My well-worn Alpina Alaskas (EU45) (polarized with a Berghaus Yeti Extrem gaiter) are actually just a little stiffer in the sole than these. As the Polars are essentially a Nordic backcountry ski boot, their flex seems fine to me. The outer sole of the Polar is standard NNN-BC, nothing out of the ordinary.

The Polar 2016 came with the standard removable foam (open cell) “anatomic insole” currently included with the higher end Alfa Backcountry models, which is simply nothing to write home about when compared to an appropriate aftermarket insole. I have noted on their website that the new Polars now come with an “insulator insole” made from insulating felt. This sounds like a better fit, but you might not even use the removable insoles with you extra linin anyhow, more on that later.

All of Alfa’s backcountry and expedition boots (except perhaps the Alfa Advance 75mm expedition boot) have an “internal heel counter”, which, it appears, is actually glued to the outside of the boot (look for the big “A” logo). From those other Alfa boots I own, this does indeed form a nice deep heel pocket that keeps your foot locked in place, effectively reducing rubbing and blistering.

The Alfa Polar also comes with a sizable rubber protector that covers a significant portion of the forefoot. This is combined with a full-grain leather rand across both sides on the boot. Together, these features greatly enhance the longevity of a boot meant to covers kilometers of wind sharpened ice sastrugi and exposed to the occasional lashings of metal edged skis. As a matter of fact, the use of full-grain leather on the sides instead of rubber seems like a smart compromise between protection and flexibility.

The gaiter
The gaiter is built in a similar fashion to the previous generation red & black Berghaus Yeti Extrem gaiters. The closure for both is a combination of a single-sided YKK zip, a full length Velcro flap and a metal snap button up top. The top of the gaiter can be cinched around the leg using a small shock cord and toggle strategically placed out of harms way.

The two gaiters differ significantly in the materials used. The Berghaus Yeti Extrem, essentially built for mountaineers, features a lower section of very durable coated (probably with polyurethane?) Cordura and a traditional 3-ply Gore-Tex membrane above. The Alfa Polar gaiter is basically a highly breathable lined Cordura, giving it a more robust feel overall. The inner sides of both legs of the Alfa gaiter are also reinforced with a thick and robust Kevlar fabric that can surely withstand lots of abuse.

After having thoroughly tested the Berghaus Yeti Extrem during a 50-day ski crossing in Laponia (http://living-laponia.tumblr.com/), I am actually quite impressed by it. However, I see Alfa’s version as a definitive improvement. For starters, obviously, the gaiter is integrated so there is no need shop for the appropriate sized gaiter and glue the thing on. Secondly, Gore-Tex does not actually work that well in very cold environments. I would regularly find my frosted leg sweat on the inside of the Gore-Tex fabric. This was not a huge deal because I could simply brush it off in the evening before retiring to my down booties. Nevertheless, I doubt this would happen with the Alfa Polars as the fabric is that much more breathable (and surely just as windproof). The extra protection on the Polars is also that much more reassuring.

Also, most of the stitching on the boot and the gaiter is doubled, which obviously enhances durability! By the way, each size 44EU Polars weigh 1080gr. while my “polarized” 45EU Alaskas each weigh 1275gr (about 250g for the single gaiter), both without liners. You’d actually be hard pressed to build a lighter alternative to the Polar given that its inner boot foregoes leather altogether.

Is there anything wrong with this boot?
With the liner in place and the boots on, I have noticed that the gaiter is a little tight near the top of the inner boot, and that’s even without my winter pants on. I’m wondering if this gaiter’s relatively narrow cut could generate undue strain on its zipper?

Have you noticed that strange narrow strip of leather that runs all the way up the back of the gaiter? As the gaiter itself it built out of two pieces of Cordura, I’m thinking the unique function of the leather strip is to reinforce that seam. It's a small detail but if the gaiter could be built out of a single piece of Cordura, it would look much better and weight less in my opinion.

Also, the top collar of the gaiter is built out of a Cordura material as thick as the main gaiter material. Alternatively, the red & black Berghaus Yeti Extrem’s top collar was constructed out of a finer material and I believe this is a better match because it reduces bunching as the shock cord is drawn tight around the leg. It could also be useful to have the shock cord installed in a way that would simplify its replacement in the field.

A few words on liners
Of all the things Alfa did right with the Polar, the most important is its massive last that allows for an amazing amount of lining required to keep our feet warm well below -20C. There is just nothing like it amongst all the NNN-BC compatible boots available.

harjo_kartanker.jpg

http://harjosokken.blogspot.com/

Traditionally, the bulk of the Polar liner was composed of a thick felted wool sock crafted by artisans and known is Norway as an “Ull Kartank”. They are very warm, expensive and nearly impossible to find outside of Norway. Furthermore, as they are not knitted, they are relatively fragile when exposed to constant friction. I have read that it takes as little as 30 days of skiing to open a hole at its heel. That is why it is usually combined with a Helly Hansen polar pile sock (aka a Burgdof). The appropriate size pile sock is placed over the felted wool sock, effectively protecting it from friction. In time, the soft inner pile of the sock meshes with the felted wool which forms nicely to your foot.

This traditional liner is highly breathable and must be protected from your body’s sweat. As such, with this system, skiers should wear a thin wool or polypropylene liner sock followed by a VBL sock, effectively protected the lining from moisture. Currently, I know of only a few VBL sock offerings: those by Rab (previously Integral Designs), Exped and Rbhdesigns. Unfortunately, the Rbhdesigns socks are relatively fragile and their seams are not taped. I have found that the Exped socks are more comfortable to wear (compared to the Rabs and due to their more precise cut) but more difficult to locate in North America. If there is still room between the traditional liner system and the VBL, it is possible to fill the gap with thick wool socks. The removable insole can also be swapped for something thicker or simply removed, depending on fit and comfort.

59661ec2b76c70574b8b49db.jpeg

More recently, polar adventurers have replaced traditional liners with heat moldable foam liners such as those produced by Intuition. Given these liners are made from closed cell foam, they effectively combine the insulating power of the traditional liner with the impermeable nature of a vapor liner sock. As a complete system, it’s actually quite a bit cheaper than the traditional option. The chosen liner shape must however be designed for walking. Good options include the Mukluk liner sold directly by Intuition and the relatively new Alfa Polar Liner (made by Intuition) custom built expressely for this boot. Heat molding these liners provides the added benefit of an instant perfect fit.

Most of my winter ski camping experiences have been with the traditional liner system (albeit with thick oversize wool socks instead of the hard to find wool felt liner) but I have also trekked and toured with Intuition liners. The fit of Intuition liners is indeed superior, whereas in a traditional set up, I often felt I had too much loose material under the arch of my foot and this can sometimes be painful. On the other hand, while winter camping, its super easy to dry out the VBL socks by turning then inside out, letting then freeze and brushing the frost away. With the closed cell foam liners, drying the thin fabric liner insides requires that you place them in your sleeping bag at night. However, on those occasions I have tried, they never managed to dry up completely and took an awful lot of space. In the end though, wet or dry inside at the beginning of the ski day, should not matter much as the insulating foam itself cannot absorb water.

Concluding Remarks
All in all, the Polar Advance is the King of its category. If you are heading into seriously cold environments and winter camping with NNN-BC bindings, there is currently no other ready-made alternative that I know of. However, if you prefer 75mm bindings there are a few options currently available: the Crispi Top Expedition (theoretically!), Crispi Svalbard 75mm, the Baffin Guide Pro or perhaps something like the Alfa Quest Advance 75mm or Alpina Alaska with custom-built gaiter. Alternatively, if you are simply looking for a NNN-BC compatible nordic backcountry boot with integrated gaiter and do not require extra insulation, I recommend the Alfa Outback or the Crispi Svalbard (or older Tiur) instead.

The attention Alfa has given to details and the robustness of this boot is simply out of this world. It’s expensive, but if you’re committing to a polar adventure, I’m convinced you will never regret the purchase. Of course, the boot will only keep you warm and safe if you manage your sweat, so choose your lining system accordingly and stay on top of your game. You are going to have a blast!

Obviously, this review of the Alfa Polar, while based on my experience ski camping with “polarized” leather ski boots, was produced in the comfort of my living room. Stay tuned to this thread for more test results as the temperature drops and I actually get to play around with them outside. Alternatively, if you have experience with them, feel free to share!

P4101538.jpg

DISCLAIMER: I have not received any compensation or payment from Alfa or any other party for this review.
Last edited by bgregoire on Sun Nov 25, 2018 9:25 pm, edited 3 times in total.
I live for the Telemark arc....The feeeeeeel.....I ski miles to get to a place where there is guaranteed snow to do the deal....TM

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Re: ALFA POLAR A/P/S Expedition Boot Review

Postby fisheater » Sun Nov 25, 2018 7:23 pm

DISCLAIMER: I have not received any compensation or payment from Alfa or any other party for this review.

It's too bad you're not on the "Alfa Pro Team", your review was well written, and well thought out. Personally, I hope some of your testing is at Gaspie National Parc. I really enjoyed reading about your hut to hut a couple of years ago.
It is probably better Alfa doesn't compensate you. I fish with some sponsored Kayak fisherman. I could work side jobs, and easily match the compensation without being required to speak the company line.

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Re: ALFA POLAR A/P/S Expedition Boot Review

Postby bgregoire » Tue Nov 27, 2018 9:00 pm

Bonus: A little bit of Alfa Polar history

The boot was first introduced in 2011 as the "Extreme North Pole GTX"
nordpolen2011.jpg

https://alfasko.wordpress.com/2011/11/08/nordpolen/

The traditional Ull Kartank was the recommended insulation of choice at that time
kartank.jpeg


At some point, probably as early as 2012, the "Extreme North Pole GTX" was slightly modified (note the added zipper flap.
polar_after 2011.jpg

http://crossingdreamland.blogspot.com/2 ... chive.html

Next, perhaps in 2016, is came to be known as the "Polar A/P/S GTX"
polar2016.jpg

A/P/S stands for Alfa Pro Series

In 2017, they dropped the Gore-Tex liner, so its now simply called "Polar A/P/S". Looks identical to the preceding version (even the creases are the same, lol).
POLAR APS.jpeg


If you are wondering about the naming scheme, Alfa has played around with the name of many of its boots across their whole line of nordic backcountry boots in the last few years. It can get confusing!
I live for the Telemark arc....The feeeeeeel.....I ski miles to get to a place where there is guaranteed snow to do the deal....TM

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Re: ALFA POLAR A/P/S Expedition Boot Review

Postby Johnny » Wed Nov 28, 2018 6:25 pm

bgregoire wrote:(even the creases are the same, lol).

^^^ SO funny...! It is so much easier and cheaper to just add remove a Gore-Tex tag with Photoshop than to call back the photographer... Even more funny: I couldn't find a high-resolution picture of the new Polar for this review. I just used the old version pic... And removed the Gore-Tex tag with Photoshop...! Seriously! :lol:
/...\ Peace, Love, Telemark and Tofu /...\
"And if you like to risk your neck, we'll boom down Sutton in old Quebec..."

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Re: ALFA POLAR A/P/S Expedition Boot Review

Postby Cannatonic » Thu Nov 29, 2018 7:51 pm

these are beautiful! maybe the "ultimate" NNN-BC boot? I must confess after checking out the Alfa website I am lusting after those 75mm Polar Advance boots - they're designed to work with the Intuition liners as well. They go up to size 51 so I could actually order a pair 2 sizes larger to use liners.

I doubt they're able to get NNNBC soles larger than size 48, they're not made larger. it's great to see the craftsmanship coming out of Lundhags & Alfa these days.

http://www.lundhags.se/en/products/kaen ... ting-boots

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Re: ALFA POLAR A/P/S Expedition Boot Review

Postby bgregoire » Thu Nov 29, 2018 8:40 pm

Cannatonic wrote:I must confess after checking out the Alfa website I am lusting after those 75mm Polar Advance boots - they're designed to work with the Intuition liners as well. They go up to size 51 so I could actually order a pair 2 sizes larger to use liners.


Lusting after those 75mm Polar Advance boots? heheheh. Where are you planning on skiing? Again, this is not a downhill-capable boot nor one to impress your friends with on a night out in town! These are the original (surely from the 1990s?) re-badged Alfa (A-Sport before it was bought up by Alfa in 2007) Mørdre Extreme boots (They pre-date the Polars). They are basically a 75mm sole platform with an open Cordura "bag" that is strapped up to your foot insulation using leather straps and laces. They do not insulate (or offer support) one bit in and of themselves. You need to add the insulation and they were actually built for the traditional insulation (kartank) I wrote of above (but sure you could use modern Intuition liners with them). If you get these for polar travel, you will need some custom insulated gaiters to go with them. Unfortunately Alfa does not sell them (A-Sport used to I believe). A more fashionable version of the gaiters were most recently produced by Northwinds Expeditions up on Baffin Island. Some photos below:
mordre.jpg
mordre2.jpg
EXPEDITIONS-11-919x612.jpg

IMO, it takes the gaiters but especially the Baffin Babes to make 'em look good:

If I remember correctly, they had cold feet on that trip, insulated gaiters (like the Northwinds or the Yeti Insulated) rather then the uninsulated Berghaus Yeti Extrem might have been beneficial?
I live for the Telemark arc....The feeeeeeel.....I ski miles to get to a place where there is guaranteed snow to do the deal....TM

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Re: ALFA POLAR A/P/S Expedition Boot Review

Postby fisheater » Thu Nov 29, 2018 10:41 pm

Cheers for Baffin Babes!

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Re: ALFA POLAR A/P/S Expedition Boot Review

Postby Johnny » Sat Dec 01, 2018 10:15 am

Hey, it seems like me and the Baffin Babes have a lot in common!
Alfa boots, Asnes skis, big muscles, a built-in ability for singing and a love for cheezy music...!

These Swedish made my old SKI III compilation with that song some years ago...

Quit the job, the grey believers...

SKI-III-320.jpg
/...\ Peace, Love, Telemark and Tofu /...\
"And if you like to risk your neck, we'll boom down Sutton in old Quebec..."

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Re: ALFA POLAR A/P/S Expedition Boot Review

Postby bgregoire » Mon Dec 03, 2018 7:05 pm

Imagine that, Johnny is right again, soldiers are actually using the Polars.
Hopefully for purely peaceful and wholesome purposes!
polar army.jpg

I appreciate the lack of branding on these, but I'd be worried about loosing my feet in a whiteout!
I live for the Telemark arc....The feeeeeeel.....I ski miles to get to a place where there is guaranteed snow to do the deal....TM


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