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Boots with hike-ski modes are the hot ticket for ’14-’15 at the Show, you’ll also see a proliferation of boots with customization options and expanded offerings for skiers with wide feet, as manufacturers offer high-performance models with wider lasts and stiffer flexes.
According to SIA’s market research, sales of boots with hike modes (albeit models with replaceable soles) rose from fewer than 30,000 to more than 70,000 units in 2012-13, up 58 percent in dollars. Meanwhile, sales of low-end boots are trending downward, almost off the charts, as consumers appear willing to spend more on ski boots. That’s good news for retailers, but there’s a troubling catch: Consumers may be spending more on boots because they don’t plan to buy skis but instead to rent high-end demoes to avoid airline baggage fees.
Hike Mode, Bar Mode
Hybrid models reflect the AT trend in spirit and a cool factor that resonates with consumers. But even as manufacturers introduce ever more models with hike features, many are wary of pigeonholing them as “AT.” Rather, they see them as all-mountain boots that offer walk-mode convenience coupled with frontside performance (today’s hike mechanisms are much better than earlier iterations). They’re good for schlepping through parking lots, hanging in the bar—or hiking to the Chin of Mt. Mansfield for out-of-bounds freshies.
“For the resort skier, it’s a boot for everyday frontside use with a benefit: flip the switch for the walk to the car,” says Thor Verdonk, director of alpine product at Rossignol, which features a walk mechanism in its returning Alltrack series. Salomon debuts a beefed-up cuff- release mechanism in its Quest models, giving the boots a burlier feel with more rearward support. Lange introduces the new hike-equipped wide-lasted XC (see “Big Foots” below).
Not every new boot has a hike mode, as some skiers won’t abide even the slightest loss of rearward support. Nordica, for one, unveils a new NRGy line of classically constructed, fixed-cuff, 100-mm four-buckle overlaps. And Tecnica debuts its new Mach 1, a 100-mm frontside ripper that replaces the Demon.
Salomon sparked the moldable-shell trend with Custom Shell technology. Fischer has its Vacuum boots. Now Atomic joins the fray with Memory Fit technology, which will be incorporated into the top-selling Hawx line. “Customization is the hottest topic in boots, no question,” says Atomic’s alpine commercial manager Jake Strassburger. Memory Fit molds cuff, shell, and liner to the foot in a 12-minute process. The Hawx 2.0 also features customizable flex, from 110 to 130.
Other manufacturers offer customization with liner technologies. K2, which created a buzz with its boot launch last year, expands its offerings of heat-moldable Intuition liners into lower price points in both the Spyne and Spyre lines. Full Tilt’s Tom Wallisch Pro Model, which features a heat moldable Intuition liner, three-piece design, and shock- absorbing boot board, returns for ’14-’15 with a new basketball-shoe inspired styling and a more durable rubber compound in the sole. The brand-new MC-X Big Mountain Performance boot from Apex will feature a heat moldable liner, Boa Focus lacing system, and the company’s signature Open Chassis design.
So, are boot fitters out of work? Hardly. Not all brands are chasing the custom-shell trend, arguing that any compromise in plastic formulas to lower melting points are, in fact, a compromise. For ultimate responsiveness, they say, only proven plastics work (see: World Cup race boots), and out-of-box fit coupled with boot fitting are still critical. Tecnica, for instance, revamps its hike-enabled Cochise for a more anatomically correct fit.
From the department of What Took So Long? High-performance boots for rippers with wide feet continue to proliferate, as manufacturers offer models that combine stiff flexes with wide lasts, ideal for the heavier wide-footed customer.
K2 adds new High Volume versions of its stoutest-flexing high-end models, the Spyne 130 and 110, and Pinnacle 110. “Foot shape shouldn’t limit performance,” says Mike Gutt, global marketing director at K2. Lange expanded into wide-lasted performance with the 102-mm SX last year; now it’s in the new hike-equipped XC, which features a monoinjected shell and 102-mm last. “Skiers with wider foot shapes no longer have to sacrifice comfort for real-deal performance,” says Lange’s communications and PR manager Nick Castagnoli.
(From the SIA Snow Show Preview)