Traditional plastics used in ski boots will be four times stiffer at zero degrees Fahrenheit than they will at room temperature. It took Fischer several years to develop a new plastic which wasn't so temperature sensitive. What they discovered in the process was a plastic that also was heat moldable, and this revolutionary new material has made a revolutionary new boot from Fischer possible. The Vacuum boot, available next season, is named for the process in which the boot is conformed to the skier's individual foot so that every little or big irregularity is accommodated by the molding process, and the result is a perfectly comfortable boot that fits perfectly.
The process begins with putting the skier's footbeds, if desired, in the liner, as this will change how the skier's foot sits in the boot. Then the skier puts the liners back and puts the boots on with his or her usual socks. Then he or she steps into a set of bindings mounted to a custom machine specially built by Fischer. The technician sets the stance width for the bindings to the skier's hip width so later, when the skier is back on skis, he or she will be standing on a perfectly flat ski when straight running. Then the skier gets off the machine, gets out of the boots, the liner is removed, and the shells are heated for 10 minutes at 175 degrees Fahrenheit in a custom oven designed by Fischer for this purpose. While the boots are in the oven, the binding plates are taken off the machine and a horizontal bar that is vertically adjustable is installed which sets forward lean between 14 and 17 degrees, based on skier preference and skiing ability.
Once the boots come out of the oven, the liners go back in the boots and the skier puts them on, buckled to the first notch on the buckle (the least tight). Then a refrigerated pack that looks like a Boot Glove is wrapped over the boot, followed by a "moon boot" looking compression pack that fully encloses the boot. The skier then steps back on the machine and leans against the bar that sets the forward lean of the boot while they are soft. Then an air hose is attached to each boot which pumps up the compression packs to a range between 100 millibars (very soft) and 300 millibars (race fit). The volume of the skier's foot is also a determinant of the amount of pressure that is applied, with less pressure to accommodate a greater volume. If the boot feels too tight, pressure is let off. Once at the ideal level, the pressure is maintained for 8 minutes, then the air is let out slowly (decompressing the packs) so the packs don't fly off like a couple of deflating balloons. This process can be done up to five times to refit the boot, either for the original owner for various reasons, such as weight gain, pregnancy, and physical wear and tear, or when the boots are passed on to another owner.
"To me, this is the most exciting thing at the show," said Bud Heishman after the demo. I also overheard a Fischer rep say, "This is going to change the game." He's absolutely right: the machine produces a fully conformable boot that offers comfort and performance to all skiers, male and female, including people with hard-to-fit feet. That new plastic is money.
The boot will be available in 15 ski shops next year at major resorts like Jackson Hole, Vail, and Park City. Check the company website for more information on those outlets. The boots come in men's and women's versions. The Men's VC Pro comes in 150 and 130 flex; the Men's Vacuum in 130 and 110, and the Women's Trinity Vacuum in 110 flex.
Look for more reports to come about the 2011 Ski Industries of America Trade Show, Jan. 27-Feb. 1. Our EpicSki Press Team is tirelessly canvassing the cavernous convention center looking for the stories that EpicSki members will want to know.