Even though we have only just finished up the ski season (the last grooming was this past Sunday (7 May), I have been able to get out running a fair bit. The epic snow year means the trails are opening up slowly so I have not spent much time up high on the more technical rocky terrain as these areas are still under 3-6 feet (1-2 m) of snow. But I have been able to find some dirt, some rock, and, mixed with some snow fields, pieced together some reasonable length runs of 15-25 km. In total I have about 300 km on the 2017 Sense Ultra at this point with about a 50/50 mix of dirt/rock and snow.
The performance of these shoes has been outstanding! Salomon have truly hit a “sweet spot” of cushioning, grip, trail feel, and weight. The grip has been superior in all of the conditions that I have been able to test- dry and wet dirt , mud, clay mud, snow, ice, and wet and dry rock. All of these on rolling and steep (up to about 40% grade) trails. The trail feel is very good but not as transparent as in the S Lab X-Series (Sonic) and S Lab Sense. The weight (about 260 gms for these 7.5 US 40 2/3 EU) is not as noticeable as I thought it might be. But the most prominent feature of these shoes is the mid-foot support and the added cushioning.
The design of the shoe does an excellent job of securing and supporting the mid-foot and placing a generous amount of cushioning in this region and this makes for a huge improvement in comfort both in shorter (<15km) and longer (>25km) runs. As a forefoot striker, as I tire my midfoot begins to increasingly make contact coincident with the forefoot and support and cushioning in this area becomes critical for comfort and efficiency. I find the S Lab Sense Ultra to maintain a high level of comfort throughout runs, independent of the state of muscle fatigue and it is apparent that the onset of foot fatigue is pushed further out in time and distance compared to other shoes that I have worn (e.g. Sense, X-Series, Sonic, S Lab Wings, etc.). There is also substantial cushioning in the forefoot and this may be playing a role as well. Of course, the heel is even more cushioned and this is very welcome on long (> 3km) steep downhills that are typical here in the Northern Rockies (as well as in the Alps, where the steeps are truly steep!). Combined with the excellent proprioception, bombing downhills in these shoes is a real pleasure and even at this early stage in transitioning from skiing I am finding some significant improvements in downhill speed.
The Sense Ultra also have very good glissading capabilities. It is not clear why but these shoes will glissade down a steep snowfield with significantly more control than I have experienced in other S Lab products. I suspect that the lug design is playing a role since the diamond shapes are oriented in way such that they may be providing a certain amount of directional stability. As a cross country skier I am intimately familiar with and comfortable on a narrow platform and the control on snow with the Sense Ultra is something like what a ski feels like, albeit minimally. I have much more control in these shoes on long glissades and this has been a welcome feature of the design given the amount of snowfield running I have been doing.
After about 300 kms, there is hardly any noticeable wear on the outsole, no excessive wear on the uppers (even though I have postholed through a fair share of crusted snow fields where abrasion is very high), and no noticeable reduction in cushioning. If there is a potential issue it might be the fact that the upper on the medial top of the right foot has a “wrinkle” that could develop into a high stress site and eventually a hole.
The “wrinkle” is not present on the left shoe so this is probably some sort of manufacturing issue. Whether it is common or not, only reports from other users will confirm. If my experience holds in observations of other such high stress spots in upper materials there will likely be a hole here at some point- the question is when.
The Salomon S Lab Sense Ultra is an excellent shoe for just about any terrain or condition one might experience. The midfoot support and overall cushioning along with excellent proprioception, grip, and acceptable weight lead to a “sweet spot” product for the trails. This will clearly be my go-to shoe for the 2017 trail running season for both training and competition. Stay tuned for another update- probably at around 700 km when I will have a lot more time/distance on the shoe in technical terrain.