Dahu leads the soft shell & frame ski boot revolution

snow action team 13.02.2019

Dahu ski boots are the leaders of a new ski boot revolution, finally offering skiers what snowboarders have enjoyed forever – comfortable boots they can walk around in. Anyone who skis for very long will almost inevitably experience pain from their boots, and despite all the adjustments and fitting available these days, many of us will continue to feel pain skiing. So why couldn’t ski boot manufacturers take the hint? Surely there has to be a better way.

Dahu Hades
Dahu Sports latest top end Hades model features 140 flex

And now there is. At last several companies are thinking outside the square, or rather outside the hard plastic overlap shell, and producing boot systems that offer skiers the comfort and flexibility of usage (e.g. driving home without changing boots in a freezing car park) snowboarders have enjoyed for 30 years.
After first trying Dahu ski boots out at the North American Ski Industry tests at Copper Mountain back in 2016, we got a brand new pair of Dahu’s Monsieur Ed model delivered to road test in July 2018, and had huge fun smashing Perisher with them last southern winter.

Then in January 2019 we hit the road in Japan for two weeks, chasing and finding Japow in some more remote locations still little known to western skiers. I basically lived in the Dahus, and pretty much fell in love with them.

NB: for the latest on the 2021 Dahu Range, and their new developments after being taken over by Progression Brands in America, check our ‘Evolution of the Soft Boot Revolution’ feature.

The information following remains all true and sums up our ongoing test experiences.

Wearing Dahu ski boots in deep snow in Japan
Dahu Monsieur Eds turned out to be the perfect all round ski boot in Japan where we got a lot of deep powder days like this at Okatune in Gunma Prefecture © Scott Bensley

Dahu ski boots when you’re not skiing in them 

OK, we should start a ski boot test / review with how they perform on snow, but a big part of the Dahu difference is their versatility when not skiing.

Your really notice that in Japan, where it’s always shoes off/shoes on going inside/outside.

Wearing the Dahu inners with the laces loose makes this super easy.

Dahu ski boot inners can be worn inside your hotel
It’s handy to be able to walk around inside the hotels with your Dahu ski boot inners on © Owain Price

For hotels and other places that don’t require you to take shoes off, but do stop you wearing ski boots inside, again the Dahus are ideal – just clip off the exo-skeleton outside and walk around in the inner boots.

One long travel day I wore them all day – on long bus rides from Kusatsu down to Karuizawa, on the shinkansen to Nagano, then on another 2 hour bus ride up to Shiga Kogen. The soles are comfortable for walking, including gripping well on snow.  Obviously if you wore them a lot on concrete or ashphalt surfaces you would wear them down like any other sole so you wouldn’t want to overdo this.

But for me and my big feet it meant no need to take separate snow boots for Japan – just slip on shoes for the plane (it was 42° the day we left Sydney!) and your Dahus for the ski resorts.

The smart dual lacing system works great to lock everything down when you’re skiing and loosen things up when you’re not. Wearing the inners around to aprés ski, meals, meetings and some sightseeing I got really used to and comfortable in them. Even wore them to meet the Mayor of Katashina, a still totally undiscovered corner of Gunma Prefecture you will be hearing a lot more about.

Back in Australia I did the 3 hour drive home from the snow in them too no problem, but virtually living in them for a couple of weeks in Japan was a real eye opener. The more I wore them, the more I liked them.

Wearing Dahu boots inside Katashina Municpal offices for a meeting
Left my Dahu inner boots on when we went to meet the Mayor of Katashina in Gunma © Alister Buckingham www.skijapan.com

Dahu ski boots skiing powder and on piste performance in Japan

Of course Japan is the perfect place to test powder performance. Out cat skiing one day in the beautiful, wild, still little known Hachimantai area, I shared the cat with a couple from Vancouver who have been coming to Japan 5 years in the past 6 because they want powder every day.

In Gunma I had one magnificent day at Tenjindeira, which is one bit of Japan that looks more like the Alps or Rockies, with waist deep snow.

The next day at nearby Okutone I got to chase one of Japan’s best snowboarders around for pictures and clips through some amazing forest. Check what he did on one of the tree features here.

He was insanely quick out on the open runs, with 20-30cm plus on top of the overnight grooming on those. But in the Dahus and on a pair of Kastle BMX 105 HP skis I managed to hang in behind to film him.

Almost every other day we found at least knee deep powder. I love Japan!

My Dahu Monsieur Ed’s performed perfectly every day. Even when it was -20° and colder my feet stayed warm. When I got cooked hiking they didn’t overheat. Basically they are great powder boots – in trees or open bowls.

On piste performance was great too. We visited 12 resorts in 10 days, including many smaller ones with just a few groomers and great trees. You don’t really get long groomed pistes, especially steeper ones, much in Japan like Europe or North America. But some resorts do have excellent 30° – 40° pitch runs where you can open the throttle. Doing so in the Dahu’s was easy, and never noticing any lack of response or performance there either. The toe box on the exo-skeleton really locks you in and you get used to cranking the gears on the buckles as you warm up/speed up through the day.

Locked in you charge, no compromise. Real ski boots. Real performance. But unreality – no pain!

Testing Drífa snow protection clothing at Tenjindeira in Gunma Prefecture
Loving Japan and loving my Dahus! © Alister Buckingham www.niseko.com

I hate being passed anywhere, so normally will chase anyone who does that and and try and pass them back if I can when out skiing for fun.

When working on features and photo shoots I often end up hanging in following seriously fast boarders or skiers. You have to stay on the pace, and for sure you will in a pair of Dahu Monsieur Eds.

Well, if you dont it wont be the boots’ fault!

The BMX HP Kastles are stiff enough torsionally to hold an edge at speed on hard pack, and the Monsieur Eds more than stiff enough to drive them.

In fact you really don’t even notice you are not in regular ski boots from a performance point of view in Dahus.

If you normally get boot pain grief from regular ski boots you will likely notice some differences. Like being pain free! 

Bone spurs on one instep and an ugly ankle crater made by the cuff hinge on the other foot have caused me problems for years, one big reason I was receptive to the whole soft ski boot concept. 

No dramas with either foot from 2 weeks of hard skiing is a prety good result. I am right on the sizing edge of 28.5 Dahu inners, and one foot was feeling a bit squashed around the big toe one day, but experience taught me to pay attention with the lower lacing to make sure the inner sits perfectly snug, and then the problem went away. 

Dahu Miss Suzie model
Dahu Miss Suzie model looks hot ladies

Dahu ski boots meeting with founder Nicolas Frey at Copper Mountain SIA ski tests

Back in 2016 at the American SIA trade show in Denver we had first checked out two other options, from Apex out of Boulder Colorado, and Envy Snow Sports.

Then at the following SIA ski tests in Copper Mountain we met up with Nicolas Frey, the Swiss founder of Dahu, which in our opinion is by far the best option available and a true revolution in ski boot design.

With a girlfriend who couldn’t get comfortable ski boots as his initial incentive, Frey got to thinking seriously about how to make a ski boot anyone could wear and be comfortable in back in 2008.

The key idea was to take the existing cabrio style boot shell and make that into the exoskeleton outer to enclose a lace up functional inner boot/liner. After working through prototypes in his garage and developing the concept intensively Dahu was ready for retail launch in 2013.
I took a set for some bomber laps at Copper, first on a pair of Icelantic Pioneer 109 playful free ride boards. Despite being on the skis and the Dahu boot system for the first time I immediately found the sweet spot for both skis and boots. I ripped through tight trees, chopped powder and groomed snow without a second thought as to being on something radically different.

“You know what, these feel exactly like real ski boots” I said to Nicolas on the lift ride back up.
“Exactly” he smiled in reply, “that was what I set out to achieve. I’m Swiss, I ski, it has to perform. That was the whole idea, but also to be comfortable at the same time.”

Dahu ski boots founder Nicolas Frey
Dahu CEO Nicolas Frey demonstrates how simple to operate the cabrio exoskeleton system is © Owain Price

Then I swapped the Icelantics for some super snappy Stockli Laser AX carve machines, at a slimline 78mm underfoot. These just love to truck. Even at warp speeds the Dahu boots, which were only their bottom-of-the-range rental model, held an edge effortlessly, and coped easily with the Laser’s super snappy responsiveness.

The retail Dahu versions like the Monsieur Ed road tested in Japan above have a dual lace system inner-boot for further control, and an injectable liner in the top model.

I was amazed at the comfort level in the rental ones I tried in 2016, and loved it in the Monsieur Eds.

Dahu Monsieur Ed model
Xmas came early when our road test pair of Dahu’s Monsieur Ed arrived

Despite selling out production for most models over 5 seasons in Europe since launch, Frey is not rushing Dahu’s development or expansion. With typically Swiss method and attention to detail, he wants to get distribution properly established in each new market they enter, with full retailer back up/customer support in place, rather than simply boost sales numbers. He is confident of Dahu’s edge over both old-school ski boots and other new style options, and the growth that edge will bring. Already they are in over 200 stores across Europe. With hot new models like the Miss Suzie, Hades and our Monsieur Ed they are cutting edge in the looks as well as the performance department.

To date there are no Southern Hemisphere distributors, but if you get your sizing details right for them they should work for you straight out of the box. We did precisely that in time for southern winter 2018 downunder, getting a sleek new pair of the all round intermediate-advanced Dahu Monsieur Ed 120 flex model delivered by courier within a week of order. They fitted me perfectly.

After two and a half years of waiting to have another go on Dahu boots it was great to get them on and get out at Australia’s largest ski resort, Perisher, the first week in July.

Naysaying old-schoolers main gripe with the exo-skeleton concept is that they simply won’t carve like “normal” ski boots – although no one who has told me this has actually skied on them! But I opted for some demo Kastle MX84s from Harro’s Snowsports at Lake Crackenback to really go the carvemeister charge in them to put that theory to the test.

Dahu Monsieur Ed ski boots
Dahu Monsieur Ed model rocked on Kastle MX84s, a ski that likes to truck © Owain Price

Dahu ski boots Perisher snow test

The skis worked a treat on mainly light natural snow cover topped up by snowmaking on runs including Aussie classics like Zali’s.

So did the Dahu Monsieur Ed boots. Simply, these Dahu boots rock. For our international audience, Perisher boasts Australia’s only alpine rack railway, Skitube, which delivers skiers via a tunnel from 1200m or so below the snowline up to nearly 1900m at the Blue Cow terminus. Just like riding the rack railways in Switzerland, you get off at the top and ski down.

The ride up gave me plenty of time to fit the exo-skeleton section of the boots – I had put the inners on in the carpark already. Which was dumb – I should have just put the inners on at home prior to driving the 21/2 hours from our office to the Skitube terminus. I drove home in them – one of the side benefits of the Dahu system.

Drive to the snow in Dahu boots
At last, ski boots you can drive to the snow in!

The attention to detail in the design includes a male/female matching system of plastic ridges in the skeleton matching the inner boot soles from heel to to toe, so you just slide the soles into place with a tap of the toe or levering the heel section of the frame to slot them into place. It’s a very snug fit, snugger than I remembered the rental model being a couple of years back.

Locking down the buckles provides a close fit that skis basically like any regular ski boot without the pressure points. The only dramas I had in the fit process was a bit of bubbling of the liner behind the toe box and when walking around – which was easily remedied by lacing up the inner correctly so the cross over flaps hold the inner down. The 2 stage lacing system is really effective, with over the foot and over the shin lacing components, and really smart.

From what we have seen and tried – now in both Australia and Japan – Dahu Snow Boots are by far the best of the new styles available. They boast a whole raft of small features, such as the sole interface between the inner and the exoskeleton, that just work to provide a great skiing experience, plus all the self-evident benefits for when you are not actually moving downhill in your boots – which is of course the vast majority of the time at the snow even for ski till the buzzer diehard carver types.

Dahu boot system fitting
Matching male/female ridges on the Dahu outer boot and indents on the inner boot provide a perfect snug fitting system

The Dahu boots exo-skeleton sole length was only a tiny bit longer than my 4 buckle Rossi boots, so needed only a quick minor adjustment of my binding’s heel setting to fit my own skis (unlike some of the Apex models which are a fair bit longer).

If you don’t want to wait till you ski Europe next to find some in store check out more and order at www.dahusports.com

For international readers checking this Dahu review you might like to know more about where we got to test them – I have personally skied well over 100 resorts and back country areas in Japan and we have lots of features in our Snow Japan category to give you a few ideas and info – a few places to try the boots out!

For the latest on the 2021 Dahu range and changes check here

Other soft ski boot options from Apex and Envy

Back in 2016 we also tried on and checked out a couple of other exo-skeleton style models at Denver – Apex, which has had some success in America already, with a BOA system snowboard style inner boot and overlap buckle system that wears very comfortably indoors – so much so I almost walked away wearing them after talking to their VP of Sales TJ Larson. The latest Apex model overcomes an issue that the base was a couple of sizes longer than your boot sole size, which meant adapting your balance and bindings to that. We didn’t get to try them on snow, but you can’t fault their walk around comfort and they felt like they would ski well enough. They are available in some Australian ski shops.
The enthusiastic guys from Envy Snow Sports have a bulkier outer shell prototype “Ski Frame” that boasts compatibility with most soft snowboard boots as a key selling point. But that is never going to be the major consideration for skiers, who are after all the target market, and it looks like it needs more thought and work to slim it down to be a viable option – unless you happen to be a boarder looking to go skiing occasionally.