On a scale of comfort, the modern ski boot falls somewhere between the whalebone corset and the thumb screw. The boot’s rigid ankle makes every stairway descent a death-defying stunt, and its buckles seem intended to cut off circulation to the toes.
Dodge Ski Boots hopes to change that. Founded by two industry veterans, the Vermont startup uses a digital foot-mapping app to custom build lightweight boots from carbon fiber composites. The resulting boots are more comfortable, lighter, stronger, and even warmer than almost any other ski boots on the market.
We met up with founders Dave Dodge and Bill Doble to ask them what makes their boots so different than the rest of the industry.
SoG: The thesis behind Dodge Skis is that boot technology hasn’t kept pace with modern ski and binding technology. Could you expand on that idea?
Bill: The major boot companies are still using not only the same basic design, but also the same injection molding machines that they started with back in the late ’60s. If you take a look at a current Nordica Dobermann or Grand Prix, it’s almost identical to the Grand Prix of 1976.
SoG: So how have you brought boot tech up to speed?
Dave: Well, we pretty much started from scratch. We didn’t start with the premise that we had to injection mold a boot. We started with the idea of using composite materials. Having been in the ski industry and having had quite a lot of experience with composites, we decided to make ski boots out of those materials because they’re much lighter and orders of magnitude stronger and stiffer. And the stiffness doesn’t change with temperature.
Those are all qualities for perfect ski boot material, except that most composites are epoxy based, like in racecars, skis, or fishing rods. For those you want maximum strength and stiffness, but you’re not really interested in damage resistance. So we had to research appropriate materials for ski boots that were also much more damage tolerant and settled on thermal plastic composites. Those are relatively new, so we had to invent a production process to produce the parts we needed. We patented the way we divided the boot into easily manufacturable parts, then developed production equipment to make those parts.
Bill: We even had to develop our own fasteners, like the nuts that hold on the buckles, because our material is so thin compared to what the rest of the industry is using. It required a lot of innovation and invention.
SoG: Okay… so what makes that composite construction better?
Dave: Our custom-designed laminate includes carbon fiber, fiberglass, and Kevlar. So it has the same flexibility as a cross section of a typical ski boot, but it’s only a millimeter and a half thick instead of six to seven millimeters. In terms of tension and compression, though, our laminate is exponentially stiffer.
As a skier, you want your boots to conform and wrap around your foot and ankle a little bit. But when you edge, all the load in is tension and compression on either side of the boot. So our custom designed laminates have that flexibility around the foot, but provide stiffness under tension and compression forces.
On top of that, our materials aren’t affected by temperature. Between room temperature and 20 degrees below zero, they stiffen up only 2%. Whereas the thermoplastic polyester material that other manufacturers use stiffens 500% in that range.
Bill: So that’s the technical stuff, but here’s what that means for consumers:
- Our boots are 35% lighter than a traditional ski boot.
- The flex doesn’t change with temperature, so you have the same predictable performance and response no matter what the conditions.
- Because the material itself is stiffer, you don’t have to crush the boot against your foot to get it to conform and perform. You can ski it more loosely buckled, meaning a more comfortable boot and a warmer boot, as you have better blood flow to your feet. But you still have more efficient energy transmission into the ski.
SoG: Can you tell me about the personalization process of Dodge Ski Boots and the Remote Fit App?
Dave: It’s sort of the missing key we need to sell directly to the consumers. We developed a 2D app a couple of years ago that worked pretty well, but what we really wanted was a 3D app so people could actually send us a 3D mapped version of their feet. We knew the technology was out there, and that people were trying to package it in a user-friendly way. So we just kept our eyes open, found someone, and adapted the technology to our needs. It actually works much better than I ever imagined. It’s almost magical it’s so good.
SoG: So the first step to getting a pair of Dodge Ski Boots would be to use that app to make a 3D mapped version of your feet and send it in?
Bill: Correct. After you finish that, there is a link that takes you to what we call the “remote fitting questionnaire.” We gather information about you as a skier, not only name and address, but also age, skiing ability, what you’re currently using for boots, special fitting needs, etc.
Once we have all that, Dave takes the 3D image of your foot and compares that to the 3D image of the boot, so we can select exactly the right shell length, the proper shell width, the proper liner length and volume, and where things may need to be punched or padded. He then sends that to me, and we verify everything. I’ll go in and take a look at what’s going on with the flex and other special considerations. We send a reply back to you as a potential customer to say, “Hey, we’ve looked at everything. This is what our recommendations are, and when you’re ready to go, hit the order button, and we’ll custom fit the boots and have them on their way to you.”
SoG: It sounds like you have great customer service and take pride in your product. But I haven’t seen any ads for you guys. Why the low profile?
Bill: Dave and I both spent time with large companies and corporations, and we wanted to have something where we could manage the business and not be managed by it. We deliberately set our company up so we could keep it small, nimble, and keep it fun, where we can enjoy our passion. I guess the best way of describing it came earlier this year. Dave and I were just up to our elbows in boots, working on things. I looked over to him and jokingly said, “Hey Dave, you having fun yet?” and he replied, “It’s a hell of a lot better than doing performance reviews.”
Dodge Ski Boots sell for $1,295 a pair. To order a pair or to learn more, check out dodgeskiboots.com.