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Your Fancy New Ski Boots? They Still Rely On Tech From the ’60s

The entire earthly world of plastic skis boots spawned from these two original sinners.

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A lot happened in 1987. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s “Cats” debuted at London’s West End theater, the DeLorean of “Back to the Future” fame first rolled onto the streets, and a 78-year-old Swiss footwear company came out with a kooky plastic ski boot called the Raichle Flexon that looked like a corrugated straw.

That boot was born the same year as me, and by the time I had my first job at a ski shop in my mid-teens, it had been drilled into me that—despite distractions from a few other brands—there were actually only two ski boots in the world: Raichle and Lange. These were the Adam and Eve of modern ski boots. I wore a pair of Eves (Raichles), as did probably half the skiers I knew. The other half wore Adams—the boot that provided the proverbial rib (in this case the thermoplastic technology Bob Lange first developed), from which all current ski boots were shaped.

That was 40 years ago, and to this day, these two designs—cabrio (or three-piece) for Raichle, and overlap (or two-piece) for Lange—are still the only two kinds of ski boots on the market. One could argue that they’ve barely changed. Put a 1983 XLR next to a 2021 Lange RS, and they look basically the same. Put a 1981 Flexon next to a 2021 Full Tilt Drop Kick, and they are the same.

Andy Chambers of the United States skiing airborne during the mens downhill at the FIS Alpine World Ski Championships on 31 January 1987 in Crans Montana, Switzerland. (Photo by Steve Powell/Getty Images)

“We made it identical. We didn’t change anything, that was the whole strategy,” says Jason Levinthal, now of J skis, but formerly of Line Skis, K2, and Full Tilt—makers of the Flexon. Levinthal was the haywire brain behind the first twin tip-only ski brand, Line Skis, in 1995. He eventually sold Line to K2 and kept working under its banner. One day in 2006, some K2 bigwigs took him aside to whisper that they had just bought these 20-plus-year-old ski boot molds from Europe for dirt cheap. They were the original Raichle Flexon molds. The boots hadn’t been made in years, and K2 wanted Levinthal to help bring them back.

Diehard Flexon fans had been scouring the internet, thrift stores, and garbage dumps for years to find any remaining pairs of this cult-favorite boot. At that time, there was still nothing else like it.

“What made it good was one thing, and that was the flex—it could infinitely flex,” Levinthal says. He recalls big mountain legend Seth Morrison bringing him into his basement to show him a personal backstock of 20 pairs he’d hoarded since they’d gone out of production.

Thank God for evolution. The Raichle three-buckle boot shown here in its 1983 iteration. Photo: SKI Magazine Archives

“Over time, we did eventually build new molds,” Levinthal explains, noting that other brands have now taken up the cabrio mantle. The Full Tilt Flexon is now father to the Dalbello Krypton range, all of Roxa’s cabrio offerings, and many backcountry-specific ski touring boots.

“It’s evolved, but fundamentally it’s the same functionality. It’s a three-piece design,” Levinthal says.

Likewise, the original Lange XLR from 1983 is still recognizable in every overlap boot sold today, whether that’s Tecnica, Nordica, or otherwise. Although Bob Lange introduced the first plastic boot in 1962—a monumental leap from leather—Thor Verdonk, Lange’s alpine technical product developer, agrees that the XLR is the oldest relative of all overlap boots today in terms of design. “You can see roots into all our development from that XLR. Geometry, hinge-rivet placement, things like that. A lot has changed in plastics and buckles, but more or less I agree, it’s basically the same,” he says.

The biggest advancement, aside from liners, has been the ability to tune the plastic to control the flex and avoid “Lange bang.” That was the term for the shin bang that came from stiff overlap boots back in the day, and what first spurred the inception of the Flexon by a NASA scientist and weekend skier named Eric Giese, who simply hated that feeling. But shin bang is mostly absent from overlap boots these days.

“I’m all about progressive boots, it’s what we do at Lange,” Verdonk says. “With plastics and geometry, you can make a lot of adjustments to that design. We can use additives for more energy and vibration absorption.”

He says modern overlap boots still deliver more “pop,” and drive skis better, but cabrio designs are more forgiving, and potentially more comfortable for some styles of skiing, like freestyle. Even Levinthal admits the execution of overlap flex has soared over the years, despite the boots not looking too different. He skis in a Lange himself and loves the flex.

Forty years later, from that proverbial, overlapping rib, both designs are still with us today, driving and flexing through decades of innovation.

To follow the boot bloodline into present day, read reviews in our 2022 Gear Guide.

What’s the Deal with Cabrio Ski Boots?

Review: Full Tilt First Chair 130

Review: Lange XT3 Pro Tour