Changing the way we talk about ski boots

INTRODUCTION

Read any article with tips for first-time skiers, and you will find that good ski boots will make or break your experience.  As a result, the articles usually provide detailed advice about how to choose boots. They discuss proper fit, proper flexibility, proper performance, and the value of custom insoles—all of which they say are essential to a successful outing on the mountain.

The problem, however, is that beginning skiers—and many casual skiers—typically rent their skis, a process that usually involves no more than stating one’s foot size, guessing at one’s performance needs, and being handed boots that have been fitted to one’s skis. Ski resorts and rental shops are busy operations, and many first-time and casual skiers hit the slopes with uncomfortable boots that can cast a dark shadow on what would otherwise be a bluebird day.

Ski boot technology has evolved very slowly, and, in the meantime, skiers are suffering the consequences. To address this suffering, Mad Jack Snow Sports wants to change the conversation about skiing and ski boots, especially for beginning and casual skiers.

Four Problems with the Way We Talk about Ski Boots

1. Pain

The industry says, “You just need the right fit.”

Mad Jack says, “Maybe we need a different kind of boot.”

The hard shell of the ski boot is notorious for “shin bang,” toe troubles, and the general difficulties that come with walking around ski resorts and parking lots. In addition, the combination of ski boots’ hard outer shell, tight fit, and thin lining create a triple threat for skiers who are trying to keep their feet warm on a cold day. The pain of ski boots is enough to send beginners home early and keep them from coming back.

Most advice for first-time skiers suggests that, with the proper investigation and effort, one can get comfortable ski boots.  However, this process is likely to involve extensive time and customization—options not always available to beginning or casual skiers who are renting boots or trying to find something affordable. This means that those skiers who are looking to learn (or hoping to just have fun in the powder) are stuck with the kind of pain that makes them wonder if it’s worth it.

In contrast, snowboard boots are easier to fit, and they provide more comfort for a day on the mountain. The easier fit and the extra lining reduce pain from pressure and from cold. Mad Jack sees the greater comfort of snowboard boots as a solution to the pain problem faced by skiers, especially those skiers who are in off-the-shelf boots.

Fewer people are skiing these days. Between 1990-2006, for example, the number of skiers dropped by 44%, from 11.4 million to 6.4 million. Drops during this period (and since) have been attributed to bad snow years and economic downturns. However, during the same period, the number of snowboarders increased by 288%, from 1.5 million to 5.2 million.*  While the causes of the increase in snowboarding are surely multiple, it is time to talk about the possibility that snowboarding has increased in popularity in part because it is a more comfortable sport.

2. Performance

The industry says, “Choose a boot that will give you the best performance.”

Mad Jack says, “Maybe we need to talk about how to be happy on the hill.”

All skiers want to be able to learn, progress, and have the best day possible on the mountain, but the reality is that many skiers do not need high-performance equipment because they are beginners or casual skiers who are just looking to have fun as they soak in the beauty of the alpine scenery.

In 2012-2013, only 54% of casual skiers bought boots designated for high performance.** This means that while boot performance is important, the snow-sport market for adult skiers might be paying insufficient attention to the needs of beginning and casual skiers. It is time to consider that softer more comfortable boots can provide a more enjoyable experience while still allowing for sufficient performance. The dramatic innovations in ski technology allows us to broaden the possibilities in boot technology while still preserving performance.

3. Cost

The industry says, “Expensive boots are worth the price.”

Mad Jack says, “Maybe there is another option.”

It might be possible to get a comfortable ski boot, but the consensus is that custom boots are the best route to that end, and these boots can cost between $500-$1300. The current market focuses on those who have the wealth to buy such boots, along with the time to put them to use.

Between 1998-2007, the average age of skiers rose from 33.2 to 36.5, and the average proportion of skiers 55-64 and of skiers 65 and older doubled.** It is not surprising, then, that the market targets the wealthy Baby Boomers of this demographic.

However, this targeting neglects other populations that, if attended to, might increase the number of snow-sport enthusiasts in the future. Despite the fact that economic downturns have been blamed for reductions in skiers, skiing has only gotten more expensive and the market still targets those who can accommodate these increasing prices. In 2012-2013, casual skiers spent an average of only 7.6 days on the mountain.** Skiers who visit the mountain fewer than 10 days per year need affordable and comfortable alternatives to high-priced, high-end gear.

4. Crossover

The industry says, “Skiers and snowboarders need different boots.”

Mad Jack says, “Maybe they don’t.”

17% of skiers are also snowboarders.** The current technology, however, requires that crossover snow-sport enthusiasts buy two pairs of boots—one for skiing and one for snowboarding. Mad Jack provides a solution that allows for an investment in one pair of boots that can perform on skis or snowboards. This makes gear-handling easier as it also reduces cost.

In addition, many kids learning to ski are also interested in trying to snowboard. The ability to use a snowboard boot for skis allows these kids to experiment with both downhill sports while affording them greater comfort in the process.

CONCLUSION

Often, innovation happens when we change the way we talk about problems. Mad Jack is challenging the status quo of the snowsport industry, changing the conversations and questions about skiing in order to make skiing a more satisfying experience for beginning skiers, casual skiers, and families.

Snowboard boots are more comfortable than ski boots, and with new ski technology, it’s possible to reconsider what kinds of boots can be used for skis. Mad Jack affords skiers the comfort of a snowboard boot, married with the performance of a ski boot at a price point that is on average 1/3rd  less than ski boots, through a simple, patent pending adaptation system. The innovative binding from Mad Jack Snow Sports is the result of asking new questions and finding new solutions to the pain and price of ski boots.

 

*Data from the National Ski and Snowboard Retailers Association, 2010 Snow Sport Participation Report.

**Data from Snowsports Industries America, 2014 Market Intelligence Report.