REINVENTING THE WHEEL

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As we approach Christmas and the snow starts to fall my mind swings into thoughts of skiing and our first visit to Telluride a mere 55 miles up the road.

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This year, not unlike many before it, I would really like to get a pair of comfortable ski boots that I can get on and off without throwing a temper tantrum in the parking lot! The evolution of boots is one of life’s mysteries and is not confined to ski boots and also cross relates to trials boots where a similar pattern of slow progress has been the order of the day for the past 30 years.

Take trials boots from my earliest beginnings in 1963 and it was firemen’s thick leather boots and some sort of studs or cleats hammered into the sole. Tons of “dubbin” every time they were used but for the most part your feet stayed dry. Not elegant but functional with a fair bit of foot and lower leg protection.

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Classic leather Fireman’s boot with the 69 Mk1 Montesa

Next up was the use of the Dunlop Industrial Wellington which was everyday use for coal miners sloshing about in wet coal mines. They seemed to come in two variations, the difference being while they both had steel toecaps some had a steel shank in the sole and some didn’t! They had good tread and plenty of cushion fillets all the way up the front and over the ankles. Cheap as chips, wide enough for all and of course your feet were DRY for all those Scottish sections.

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El Cheapo Dunlop Trials Wellie 76 SSDT

Being wellingtons they were wide at the top and would flap around but then our standard UK dress was thick socks and jeans under the Barbour suit. Although I did see one Sammy Miller wearing them with some sort of early Duc tape around the tops to stop the annoying flap.

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Farmers and the landed gentry were now wearing the new “posh green wellie” for shooting which was leather lined, form fitting to the calf and zip sided. Had we developed this and added all those other fillets and steel toe caps and shanks I believe we would have had a winner back then ……… and I still believe we could have one today if someone redesigned that old black wellington.

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Have to say that for my 8 Scottish rides, which were about a 1000 miles per event, I never had wet feet other than walking into a hole when the water came in over the TOP !! Move on and go back for the Pre 65 event and it was a soaking EACH day and 2 pairs of boots …….. I did consider taking my “posh green wellies” but they got left at home which I regretted at the time as 2009 was a VERY WET year!

Modern Trials boots are good, don’t get me wrong, great soles, flexible, plenty of ankle and shin protection, but they are all leather and leather and water don’t mix! Yes the are colorful and look good but an expensive item at $250-350 and still you end up with wet feet.

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My Sidis, great for dry trials! Not so much fun in the wet

Looking at my current dilemma I have a “sasquash foot”…… wide, high instep and shortish at 26.5 mondo or 8.5 US or 42/43 trials boot EU. The ski boot fitters nightmare.

My first outing on skis was back in 1953 and boots were thick leather with 2 sets of laces. Don’t remember wet feet but I do remember the laces could freeze. Next time I’m on the slopes the Instructors have these black leather boots with 6 buckles made by Raichle? ….. and now buckle mania has been with us for the last 50+ years going from 6 to 4 with a power strap and now down to 3 and even 2. Boots became taller when they were worn over ski pants and became hard plastic with all sorts of liners over the years using heat molded foam,  flo foam that changed as your foot did and expensive custom footbeds for the perfect stance if you could ever get your foot into one of these contraptions. Perhaps the worst boots I ever bought were Koflach which were Austrian and a very good looking boot with flo-foam which was supposed to warm up and mold to the shape of your foot. Today its called the “Intuition Liner”…… progress here then! This stuff set like concrete and was bloody murder for a couple of hours the next day!!

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Race day in Koflachs which hurt like hell

Then along comes the “step in, rear entry” design which was bliss. Well thought out, comfortable and easy to get on and off. Based on the Roman Army sandal a simple wire over the forefoot and another to pull the ankle down securely in the heel……. just add one clamping strap to close the back and the jobs done.

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Nordica 955’s one of the best boots I ever used

The wheel turns again and by the late 80’s rear entry boots are being pooh poohed as its buckle time and bullet hard plastic again and a whole new range of custom insoles. Boot manufacturers keep making 97mm last boots for ski racers and those of us with snow shoe feet can’t get in or if you can its 2 runs and those buckles are all undone and steaming feet are everywhere at the mid mountain bar as circulation is sought before gangrene sets in.

Nordica and others make a soft boot and this is pretty good with a lawn mower starter device up the back to tighten it all up. No longer made but mark my words I think it will be back.

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Very clever boots from Nordica, they will be back!

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The lawnmower starter tightens everything up

Some manufacturers start making wider last boots for normal people and even call some of them HVL or high  volume for the wide foot and high instep. Fantastic idea and great when, and if, you can shove the giant appendage around the 90 degree bend in the bullet hard shell. Yes, I had a pair of these and it took close on 20 mins to get the things on but once “it” was in they were comfortable all day.

So where are we today in 2014/15 ? ….. in truth not much further along except that last sizes have upped from the racing 97/98mm to boots hitting 106 and some even adjustable. Attempts have been made to make boots “easier to get into” by notching the lower shell cuffs so that you can bend them outward a bit during what was always a painful experience.

Head have just introduced a rear entry style with a wide last and a walk mode that locks when you step into the binding. Amazingly these were on sale at a very low price so I shall be trying them. They are easy to get on, very comfortable, but until I adjust my bindings and step into them with lock mode activated I’m reserving final judgment  …… they also look a bit bland in all black.

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The new semi rear entry from Head

Two other offerings appeal to me during my research the first being outrageously priced at $995 but worth a look in the quest for comfy feet. This one would appear to be a snow board soft style boot which is then clamped into a frame so you can either step out of your bindings or step out of the frames leaving them on the skis. You now have a soft boot to go walkabout and bar hopping!

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The $995 boots with a snowboard walkabout inner boot attached to a ski boot frame………. clever

The final one I like the look of is what I can only describe as a combo boot featuring all the things I’ve been looking for. A wider last is first, ease of entry a very close second, looks and functionality is third and I believe these boots have it all…… but a test fitting has to be done to see if its right for me! The two boots I’m looking at are by Full Tilt and Roxa. Both feature this Intuition Liner and both have the “cabrio” design where the tongue section hinges forward enabling club foot to slip in . With the tongue back in position its that Roman Sandal wire tensioning and the jobs done.

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The Roxa Freesoul front opening ?

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Just my colors from Full Tilt, front opening and more of those Roman Sandals wires

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I think this is ME if it fits

 

TONY DOWN

 

 

 

 

 

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