I received a pair of Salomon Snowcross shoes in late September 2012 but have only just had the opportunity to run in them. The past few days we have gotten our first real snow here in the Central Idaho mountains- about 4-6 inches in Sun Valley and more than 8 inches reported up higher near Galena Summit. This has made the trails I normally run to be snow covered and ideal for trying out the Snowcross in the conditions they are designed for.
The Snowcross is a winter-specific running shoe built around the Speedcross 3 and includes an integral gaiter and associated upper design elements. I have taken them out for a couple of runs totaling about 35 km (20 miles) and this is an initial impressions review.
Design and Build
Having used Salomon nordic skiing boots exclusively since the 1980’s, it clear where much of the technology for this shoe originated. The build is high quality and has certainly used much of what Salomon has learned from the Nordic boot market. An important part of the design is the use of seamless technology throughout the upper construction.
As noted earlier, the shoe-part of the Snowcross is a Speedcross 3 which has stack heights of 19 mm (heel) and 10 mm (forefoot) yielding a drop of 9 mm. This is a bit problematic for anyone who has transitioned to low drop shoes (e.g. the 4 mm drop of the S Lab Sense or the S Lab Fellcross) as it would be most ideal to continue any winter running with a low drop shoe. More on this later.
The Speedcross 3 has generally received good reviews with the only consistent detractor being the height of the shoe and a propensity by some to turn an ankle. I have run extensively in the Speedcross 2 and a much smaller amount in the Speedcross 3 and have never had any issue with lateral instability. However, everyone’s ankles are different and there certainly is a significant spectrum of ankle strengths out there. I moved away from the Speedcross due to the need for a low drop, forefoot striking design to facilitate my natural forefoot striking tendencies. I also moved away from the Speedcross due to weight as both the low drop Fellcross and Sense are much lighter. What I found is that weight matters- a lot! But in this case I just want to enable regular running in winter conditions as a secondary activity to Nordic skiing, so weight is not as important a consideration.
Winter running here in central Idaho will likely include either running on cleared bike pathways or on snow covered trails used mainly by hikers. The hiking tails are much more pleasant and since there is a strong contingent of local winter hikers, numerous trails are “tramped” in throughout the season. Given the large proportion of sunny winter days in Sun Valley, quite a layer of ice can build up on the trails due to freeze-thaw cycles and I found last year that a shoe like the Salomon Spikecross ( a shoe similar to the Snowcross but without the integral gaiter) is necessary for comfortable, non-slip running, particularly on the ups and the steeper downs. The other factor that plays in here is the performance of a shoe when there is newly fallen snow on an otherwise “tramped” trail. In this instance, having protection from snow getting into the shoe is critical to ensuring a pleasant running experience. Last year, using the Spikecross, I could not comfortably run in anything greater than about 2″ of fresh snow due to snow getting inside the shoe. This really limited my runs. All of this is taken care of by the Snowcross.
The upper and the water-resistant zipper-closed integral gaiter are designed very much like a Salomon Nordic ski boot with a major difference being the materials used. The Nordic boots are made with essentially unbreathable fabrics and some rigid structure, whereas the Snowcross utilizes breathable “Clima Shield” ( a Gore-Tex-like membrane material) fabrics and thin laminated overlays for structure. The padded tongue which lays under the speedlaces and the outer gaiter provides for a very comfortable fit. The fit is snug but no too much so.
The first picture above also shows the ankle protection areas- a very welcome feature given that any “punch-through” on snow covered trails will lead to some level of ankle impact. These scuff guards will help with this issue, but we will have to see how they perform as they are not particularly substantial.
The gaiter and the associated constructions do not add much weight as this US 7.5 size weighs in at 337 gms (11.9 oz). This is to be compared to an equivalent size Speedcross 3 weighing 310 gms (10.9 oz). So 27 gms for a complete gaiter and tongue construction is well worth it given the protection and comfort that is provided. And, of course, winter running, for me anyway, is about maintenance and comfort, not speed. However, the Snowcross is still in the “light” category for trail running shoes.
As mentioned above, the fit is snug but no too much so. When you first put them on they definitely feel like a boot but after a short run they truly feel like a running shoe and perform as such. The “sensifit” design does a good job of wrapping your entire foot and keeping it in place. This is important because the gaiter system is putting a bit more torque on the lower foot and movement could be an issue. I found no excess movement to be apparent and I did not find the gaiter to be the least bit confining.
The upper is surprisingly flexible and soft and there is no “bunching-up” of material that could potentially lead to hot spots. Overall a very comfortable fit.
A big part of the performance of this shoe is the outsole. It is made of a non-marking polymer with deep lugs and nine (9) carbide spikes (similar to the Spikecross). The lug pattern is very open and has, so far, shown good mud release.
I have had these shoes on snow-covered tramped and un-tramped trails (through about 4-6″ of fresh fallen snow) , relatively steep uphills and downs (about 18-20% grades), ice conditions, rolling terrain, and black ice conditions on a bike pathway. They performed outstandingly in all conditions, so much so you can get a bit over confident and begin to test the boundaries of their abilities.
I have never run in winter conditions with so much confidence in the past. I dealt with either not enough grip or not enough protection from snow getting into the shoe and this shoe solves both of these issues. Once you run in the Snowcross for a few miles it truly feels like a running shoe and you go into the snow covered trails with relative abandon. It is truly liberating and I am looking forward to a consistent winter of regular runs.
With respect to the higher, 9 mm drop of this shoe, I can definitely feel the heel striking (and getting in the way) much more than in the the Sense or the Fellcross. This is unfortunate as I think a low drop winter version of the Sense or the Fellcross would be quite desirable to the growing number of low drop runners out there. Perhaps such will emerge in the future, but in the meantime the Snowcross is a good substitute.
Another $200 shoe from Salomon…. is this a trend? Are we recalibrating to a “new normal” for running shoe pricing? Perhaps, but I must say that all of the integrated technology in this shoe and the very nice fit are reasons to think that the price is not too out of line. It is still expensive though…. but no where near as expensive as Nordic skiing!
Run with confidence on snow and ice covered trails…. let the winter begin!!
I will update this review as I accumulate more distance, but at this point I can highly recommend this shoe for winter running.
Update 7 November 2013
As supported in the comments on this post, I will note that the ‘CS’ part of the Snowcross CS shoe refers to the material used on the upper construction. It is supposed to be ‘water resistant’. My experience is that after just a few runs it is no longer water resistant and if conditions are wet your feet will be wet. A much better choice for the upper material is Gore-Tex, as is seen in numerous competitive winter running shoes. It is unfortunate that Salomon have not updated the 2013 model with a Gore-Tex upper and I can no longer recommend this shoe for winter running unless the conditions are dry.
I also think that Salomon have missed the opportunity to offer a low drop winter running shoe for the 13/14 season…. perhaps we might see this in 14/15? In any case if you run in low drop I suggest you seek out a low drop winter shoe alternative to the Snowcross CS.
Update 15 November 2014
I have “modified” my Snowcross after giving up on Salomon to offer a low drop winter running shoe with studs for 2014/2015. You can read the post about the modifications here.