Bob Lange revolutionized the ski industry in 1959 with his plastic ski boot. Since then, every other piece of equipment has made great leaps in technology, materials, safety and performance. The modern ski boot, however, is still made the same way it was 50 years ago, by injecting melted plastic into a mold, cooling it, and sticking a liner inside. “It hasn’t changed at all, really,” says David Dodge, a mechanical engineer who has worked for Rossignol, Burton, and Lange in his 30-plus-year career.
Dodge got tired of waiting for the ski boot to evolve, so he decided to force the issue. In December of 2008, he and his business partner Bill Doble founded Dodge Ski Boots in Doble’s three-bay garage in Essex Junction, Vermont. Their mission was to create a light, stiff, comfortable, carbon-fiber boot that’s easy to get into.
Making such a boot is harder than it sounds. A handful of companies have tried and failed. Dodge worked for a short time with Rossignol on the idea. They put together a prototype that Hermann Maier endorsed, but the boot wasn’t practical: It lasted a just a few days before falling apart, and it was nearly impossible to put on. Eventually, Rossignol stopped funding the project.
Dodge took what he learned from the experience and started experimenting. A year later, in December of 2009, the boot became available to the public, and it’s attracted the attention of three World Cup racers, who have been skiing on them in practice for a few months.
So far, the feedback’s been surprisingly good. “Every test we’ve done where we’ve had a good comparison between a skier’s regular boots and our boots on a timed run on decent snow, they’ve been faster on our boots,” Dodge says.
What’s the difference? Two things: weight and stiffness. When you decrease the weight of a boot (Dodge’s is half the weight of a plastic boot) and increase its stiffness, it vibrates at such a high frequency that the skier can’t even notice it. That means more control and greater precision, Dodge says. And his boot-testers are bearing that out. One said that the boot allows him to set an edge angle at the beginning of the turn and not mess with it until the transition. “I think you’re really onto something here,” the World Cup skier told Dodge. “I feel like I don’t have to use as much knee in the turn. That should be a real advantage once I get used to it.”
The advantages should be the same for freeskiers, or anyone looking for a system that transfers their energy and position directly into the ski, with as little slop and deflection as possible. In addition, the substantial weight savings means that Dodge’s technology would be perfect for alpine-touring enthusiasts. High-level randonnée racers use carbon-fiber boots today, but they lack the stiffness that most skiers want for the descent. Dodge is looking to partner with companies that have experience in those niches.
Whether plastic boots have met their demise is still an open question. Dodge is a little wary of being the instigator of the transformation, because others can come in and improve upon what you’ve done. “Sometimes it’s better to be the second one on the scene,” he says.