The Soft Sell: Boots 2001-02

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What is it going to take to get boot sales headed in the right direction? Here's a thought: convince consumers that skiing doesn't have to hurt.

Boot manufacturers have long worked from the premise that a certain amount of discomfort was a necessary evil in the pursuit of performance. But shaped skis have changed the game. As long as the lateral support is there, the thinking goes, forward flex no longer needs to be quite so rigid.

If there's a recurring theme in boots this year, it's "soft." Nordica is introducing a new line of entry-level boots, the Free series, that utilize softer plastics above the forefoot and instep, and Salomon is putting its Sensifit soft-plastic concept to work over the instep and forefoot of its new Verse boot. The emphasis is on comfort and ease of use.

Rossignol's approach is similar in concept, though aimed at a broader spectrum of skier abilities. Its new Soft boot really is soft, blending the power of its Cockpit support frame with the comfort of leather and synthetic textiles.

Other developments? Tecnica replaces its venerable Innotec line, long a workhorse in the all-mountain performance arena, with the all new Rival. And Head, having reported huge success with its entry-level EZ-On boots, has replaced the entire top half of its boot line with its lightweight R-Evolution collection. In both cases, again, allowances have been made for comfort.

Lange has acknowledged that great performance isn't enough if it comes with a painful fit, and offers a new Banshee that it says fits better than any high-end Lange ever has. But the real action is in recreational product. Lange has expanded its Rear Release System, and says knee-protection has proven to be an easy sell to many customers. Meanwhile, Dalbello continues to stress its Stance Geometry story, which brings canting down to the level of skiers who need it most.

All together it's a whole lotta love for the recreational skier. All the pleasure without the pain.