Tradition is the thing at Strolz, in the Austrian village of Lech, which made its first pair of ski boots in 1921. True, the boots are no longer made of leather, nor hobnailed; and the fitting process doesn't now involve making wooden models of customers' feet, called "lasts". But this family business still makes the closest thing to a bespoke ski boot that is compatible with series production.
For a dozen years I have been using the same, plain-black pair – I chose black because it was the only colour available in my boot type. They are outmoded now, since Strolz updates its designs about once a decade; but so discreet is the boots' style that I hadn't noticed the changes (new buckles; easier entry).
In contrast, mass-produced boots are shouty, and always changing. Each season I hear the spiel about new models, but – as a Strolz owner – remain unimpressed. Yet I did listen when Eric Davies of Salomon made the bold claim that his company's "Custom Shell" product would match my boots for comfort. A snow-sport equipment expert who has been at Salomon for 36 years (but is soon retiring to spend more time with his surfboard), Davies was persuasive. Strolz moulds customers' plastic boot shells – malleable when heated – around an off-the-shelf last, customised with cork strips. But Salomon doesn't bother with a facsimile; it moulds the shell around the customer's foot, in the shop. Logical? Obviously. I accepted the challenge.
A Custom Shell boot-fitting takes an hour or more. Once the optimum shape and size of boot has been chosen, the first step is to create footbeds, which support and position the feet; to create them you stand on a squidgy platform into which your feet sink. Next, the boot shells are popped in the oven and, once cooked, buckled tight on to the foot to take its shape. Finally the boot liners get the heat treatment, and when they are malleable, the finished product is assembled. The customer puts on the boots, and waits 20 minutes for the liner to harden.
The end result? As I stood at the top of the slope at the indoor Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead, with different boots on either foot, I was confident the worn-in Strolz (left foot) would be more comfortable. Wrongly so: my new Salomon X Pro (right foot) was just as good, bar the slight toe-pinching of a brand-new boot.
The Strolz boots are a more positive, bespoke item: their pressurised-foam lining exactly follows the foot's contours. But they cost £650 per pair, plus £50 for footbeds. The X Pro costs £290, plus £70-80. This wasn't a true comparison, of like with like; but the boots were equally comfortable. Eric Davies won his challenge.Reuse content