Ski boots hold new equation for comfort
The Denver Post
LOVELAND – Steamboat resort icon Billy Kidd skied in the same pair of Salomon boots for two decades because they were comfortable. For this winter, however, he’s skiing in a revolutionary new boot designed and manufactured in Boulder by the man who made the boots Kidd used to win world championships titles in 1970.
The Apex boot essentially is a snowboarding boot inserted into a lightweight carbon fiber frame. The external carbon fiber structure provides the lateral stiffness and forward lean required to make skis perform, but can be removed easily for walking.
“My job as director of skiing is to go out and test the powder, make sure it’s safe for our guests,” Kidd said last week. “I have to go through the trees, and if a tree jumps in front of me, I need the performance to avoid it. It’s a combination of performance and comfort, and I love them.”
The boot has a seemingly minimalist external frame that invites skepticism, but former World Cup downhiller Chad Fleischer is also a convert. And Fleischer is a big guy – 6-feet-2 and 220 pounds.
Noticeably lighter than customary ski boots and way more comfortable, the Apex is the brainchild of longtime Boulder resident Denny Hanson, whose pedigree in boot design goes back four decades. The Apex boot debuted for sale in October (apexskiboots.com).
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It is a thoroughly Colorado product. It was designed in Boulder, the carbon fiber pieces are fabricated in Boulder and the boot is assembled in Boulder. The walking boot utilizes the Boa lacing system, the product of another Colorado company.
Hanson, 66, has seen every innovation in bootmaking since he was a promising junior racer in Michigan. Using technology invented by his father, Hanson helped develop the Lange Flow boot in the late 1960s. Later, while director of research and development for Lange, he custom-made the boots Kidd used to win his FIS and pro world titles. Those boots, which had an adjustment in the back to change the forward flex for downhill and slalom, are on display at the Colorado Ski Museum in Vail.
Hanson developed the first rear-entry boots under the Hanson label in the 1970s. He subsequently moved into other fields – he holds more than 30 patents – but got back into boot design four years ago after Rossignol and Kneissl created “soft” boots that didn’t catch on.
“I expected the Europeans to perfect those soft boot designs and make them better,” Hanson said. “Instead, they just went away. Then I had a lot of my friends, as they got older, saying ‘I’m not going to ski anymore. My feet hurt, I’m uncomfortable, I can’t get warm.’ As you get older, your peripheral circulation is nowhere near as good.
“I said, ‘I think if I work on some of those concepts but do it a little bit differently, I can make a boot that will do all of those things.’ “
The “walking boot” is comfortable, and because it uses the Boa lacing system, it doesn’t have to be cranked as tightly as a traditional boot. That means it doesn’t impair circulation, so your feet don’t get as cold. The Boa system applies uniform pressure across the instep, keeping feet from moving around in the boot and allowing for a wider toe box.
When the boot is inserted into its carbon fiber frame, it’s rigid enough to transfer foot movements to skis efficiently. It works because carbon fiber has a high strength-to-weight ratio.
“It’s very space-age stuff,” Hanson said. “If the aircraft guys want to make something very stiff and very light, they turn toward carbon composites.”
But carbon fiber also is expensive, and the Apex boot costs $1,295. Hanson points out that golf shafts and bicycle frames made of carbon fiber are considerably more expensive than their competitors too.
“If you take an aluminium frame bike and you compare it to a carbon fiber bike, it’s two or three times the cost,” Hanson said. “Relative to other high-priced boots, we’re a third more. They’re $800, we’re at $1,300. It’s the cost of material.”
But skiers who can afford them may well decide they’re worth it.
“You’re not going to see Bode Miller use them in the Olympics,” Kidd said, “but for somebody like you and me who wants enough performance to pretend we’re still Olympians, but you want to be comfortable, they’re for us.”
John Meyer: 303-954-1616 or firstname.lastname@example.org