ALL ABOUT A BOOT

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Ski Factory

Boot and ski development have one crucial difference: Because of DIN regulations for bindings, the contour of a boot's toe and heel lugs must be standard. As a result, the outward shapes of boots don't vary as significantly among brands and models as their insides do. An astounding 75 percent of all ski boots are developed in Montebelluna, Italy, where families have been making shoes and boots for hundreds of years. Unless creating something entirely new-like the soft boots of a few years ago-designers begin with an existing boot that's been successful. A resin mold is cast, and prototypes are built for testing. Final designs are placed in a machine that uses a laser to translate the physical model into digital form so engineers can manipulate them further with CAD.

Cutting machines then create two aluminum molds, one for the last-or inner shape-and one for the shell. Every size must have its own shell and last molds. The most significant advancement in boot design was the first all-plastic boot-conceived by Bob Lange in 1965. At that time, the original casting process was supplanted by the injection of polyurethane.

Today, dual-injection techniques allow different types and amounts of plastic to be used in the same boot. Some parts of the boot, such as the cuff, may rely on softer plastic for ease of entry, while other parts, such as the lower portion-where energy transfer occurs-have rigid plastic for more support. After the injection process, the boot skeletons travel through an assembly line, where details such as buckles, power straps, rear spoilers, canting mechanisms and toe and heel lugs are riveted on. Liners are inserted and pairs are matched.

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The average boot takes nearly three years to complete, from concept to ski shop. Each boot passes through dozens of people and machines before you step into it.