As a SeniorsSkiing.com reader, you may remember how much plastic inserts increased the lateral stiffness of your boots. Back in those days, if you were really cool, your boots were further stiffened when wrapped with a six-foot long thong.

Photo: Dick Barrymore

Then the plastic boot shell arrived, along with innovative designs from Rosemount, Scott and Hanson.

Hanson
Rosemount
Scott

 

 

 

 

 

The plastic boot made long skis easier to control and turn but hasn’t evolved much over the past fifty years. Liners made from foam, air, cork and other materials, coupled with adjustments for cant and forward lean, made them more comfortable. Standardized soles improved binding function.

What has changed the sport are shaped skis. They are lighter, easier to turn, and just as, if not more stable, than the 200+ centimeter skis of yesteryear.

The molded plastic boot was designed to optimize the amount of leverage a skier could apply to a long ski. Initiating a turn required unweighting the ski, rolling the knees and pressing forward to pressure the ski tips. A job for a stiff boot.

To turn a shaped ski, the skier rolls his knees back and forth across the fall line. The technique requires less forward pressure because of the skis’ greater side cut.

 

Back to boot design.

Most, if not all the boots on the market today are based on designs so old they’d qualify for a subscribsciption to SeniorsSkiing.com. Each boot size requires a separate mold and most boots come in nine sizes making a set of molds a million dollar investment. With manufacturing runs in the thousands, the amount the maker can recoup per boot is limited. ROI is one holdback to new boot design.

The second is flex. In the mid-70s, when I was running the ski equipment test programs for SKI Magazine, we thought measuring boot flex patterns and creating an objective way to measure ski boot performance would be relatively simple. It wasn’t.

Boot flex is determined by the:

  1. Mold design;
  2. Material from which the boot is made;
  3. Air temperature;
  4. Tightness of buckles;
  5. Fit;
  6. Foot volume; and
  7. Co-efficient of friction between the skier’s socks and the liner!

In an attempt to fill the “metrics void,” boot makers created flex indexes and measurements. Each boot maker has its own formula, so comparing one index to another is an apples-oranges affair. The only real way to test/compare ski boots is to ski on them. Even then, “normalizing” the test is difficult because each skier:

  1. Has a different foot;
  2. Doesn’t weigh the same;
  3. Skis differently;
  4. Has different leg strengths;
  5. Buckles them differently; and
  6. On and on, ad infinitum.

So now you know why new boot designs are few and far between.

Next week: How Apex is Rethinking Ski Boot Design

14 Comments

  1. So are you saying that the difficulty standardizing flex is part of the reason that innovation is not happening? We can’t accurately measure it so it is hard to modify in the design process?

  2. I’ve owned/skied every boot shown and unfortunately still have not found “the” ski boot for me! At 76, I’ll keep trying to the end of my skiing days!

  3. Avatar Herb Gliick says:

    But why were rear entry boots, the most comfortable ever if not best for truly high performance, totally abandoned by the industry?

    • Jim,
      I retired after 40 years active National Ski Patrol. I’ve skied all the models of boots shown (and then some) starting with leather lace/buckle boots to Rosemount, Hanson, Scott and every other mfg. I now ski in retirement with the 1st Apex design. What a outstanding boot. Warm, comfortable, easy entry/exit.Removal of shell makes for easy wallking on decks and stairs. This is the best boot I’ve had ! Try it, you’ll buy it.

  4. Avatar Rus Davies, PSIA level II says:

    Having skied Rosemonts, my over riding recollection is PAIN. Oh yes, and COLD. But to be fair, my first buckle boots, Henke, were painful too. Lange Flow helped a lot until the flow material became “over fed”! I screwed hockey blades on those boots, took a picture, and sent it to Ski Magazine. They published it and sent me a small check. Nordica with the “floating cuff” was the best boot I ever skied. The cuff was attached in the rear at one point. The more you flexed forward the more your heel was locked into the heel pocket and the stiffer the flex.

  5. Started skiing on Dodge boots this. After 57 years of searching these are the ones. Best design and comfort. Made from carbon graphite so no temperature issues. Company is amazing to deal with and you can be fitted by an app. Worth a look.

  6. Avatar Jon Williams says:

    I spent a long winter molding boots at Lange in Broomfield. Nasty work-pre OSHA!
    Before that I work 40 hour weeks logging in boots with hard liners. Apparently the flow reacted with the Naugahyde, turning the latter stiff as a board. Once bagged in a poly bag, problem was solved.
    Lange really brought the plastic boot along over the years. I still ski in a pair of baby blue world Cup 130s But after 60= years on the slopes, a new knee and a spinal fusion, I can barely get them on and off my feet.

    • Avatar Rick Glesner says:

      Jon when were you there? I was working in customer service for about 6 months in the summer of 1971. I was 19 and found being in the windowless confines of that building too depressing so I got a job at Andel’s Ski shop. I later got to know RB a lot better working for him at the RBL ski factory(s).

  7. Avatar Wayne Ferguson says:

    Best of the “old school” leather boots had to be Ernie McCulloch’ boots from 1957-ish. I used them until I couldn’t get them repaired any more. Tried Lange Standard and still have the gouge in front of one ankle – ski boot equivalent of the Edsel. Finally discovered Salomon rear-entry boots. They were comfortable and warm even in the Great White North. Eventually I succumbed to the industry’s tactics and got a pair of overlap boots – the X-Wave. When the liners gave up the ghost, I got a pair of ZipFit liners. Comfortable and warm, still working well, but a bitch to get on and off. Too much work for an advanced septuagenarian.

  8. Avatar Richard Jeltsch says:

    The best boots I ever had were Hanson rear entry, so I echo Herb Gillick: Why was this design abandoned by the industry?

  9. Avatar prdoucette says:

    Sadly the real reason there is really no development of alpine ski boots is because the growth in skiing is coming primarily in snowboarding rather than alpine. There is no economic incentive for boot manufacturers to develop new or better alpine ski boots when there are higher profits to be earned from catering to snowboarders who tend to be younger and more willing (both financially and temperamentally) to upgrade their boots more frequently.

    As much as better designed boots and skis have allowed many senior skiers to keep skiing, for the vast majority of senior skiers boot stiffness is unlikely to be the primary concern of whether one enjoys their trip down the hill. Boot makers know this which is also why they are not rushing to bring back a reasonably priced and easy to put on rear entry boot. Sadly if you want ski boots that are reasonably easy to put on and keep your feet reasonably warm you have to take up snowboarding.

    The above notwithstanding I must admit that every once in a while I enjoy putting on my 20 year old rear entry Salamon SX91 Equippes and stepping in to my equally ancient 210 Dynamic Slalom skis and letting them fly by taking a few runs on a smoothly groomed black diamond run at my local ski hillock before switching over to my new Lange boots and Head iGSR skis. Enjoying skiing on both these set ups which perhaps proves the point made in this article, that ski boot design really has not changed all that much since plastic boots first came in.

  10. Only ski boots I found that were comfortable for me were Raichle. They didn’t survive. Luckily Full Tilt bought their molds and makes an acceptable clone that works for me. Otherwise I don’t think I could stay on the slope at 68.

  11. Avatar robert cohen says:

    I started skiing with leather lace up boots so I’ve seen all the changes in boot design. I even used to wear a boot (don’t remember the brand) that came all the way up to just below your knee. Every year each boot manufacturers comes out with so many different models that it’s impossible to demo all the top new models so I disagree about the lack of innovation in ski boots.
    With all the new models coming out each year I doubt that the cost of making new molds or return on investment is limiting new boot design. Also the lack of a uniform measurement of boot flex would not be a reason for a lack of innovation in new boot designs – that just doesn’t make sense.
    The difference between the design of the old long straight skis and the short parabolic ski and the way you ski them is huge. The Real Question is if there is an innovative new boot design that would work better with the short shaped skis? The boot manufacturers have talented design
    teams and the potential for profit is so large that if there was an innovative new boot design that was as big as the change in ski designs they would produce it or at least be working hard at it.

  12. yes… the rear entry boots present the foot w/ the same cuff every day regardless of the inter play of tongue wrap/ placement , temperature and seating arrangement at put on…. I learned this from Hanson’s and Solomans… I was lucky enough to fin d the last pair of new SX92’s in Salt lake in the late 90’s w/ unused foam liners … the shop owner Earl of Sport Loft was able to adapt newer foam to give me a perfect fit and as I’d inquired about his stock of spare parts he discovered another pair of boots in a box w/ ample spare soles and parts so that I have a lifetime supply of boots ,liners and parts in a comfortable adjustable boot… one feature not mentioned is the Soloman’s forward flex adjustment which allows independent flex without change to the fit ( buckles) ..In deep dense. Snow I soften the flex it allows more time/ movement to smooth balance in these tougher snows and on groomers and harder snows I stiffen… I agree it was a superior design but I suspect the young bucks of design start by discarding the old so that the new is all they’re… much as we did in our time at bat

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