I recently enjoyed visiting Atomic headquarters in Austria, lots to write about. For now, in my opinion one of the reasons Atomic usually has ski racers on World Cup podiums is they have a highly technical corporate culture. While doing things by “feel” can be valid, one area where I’d like to to see more documented measurement is in the area of boot flex. The industry throws numbers around (130!) like a coach throwing soccer balls at a grade school field practice. My understanding is quite a bit of that is simply done by employees buckling into the boots and essentially sticking a number on what they feel, most often related to other boots in the same brand rather than an industry-wide standard.
Result, ski boot flex numbering can be a joke. But not if it’s actually measured with standardized mechanicals hooked to a computerized load cell. Our hope is that this scientific measurement done by Atomic — and perhaps certain other boot makers (let us know, happy to publish more) — will eventually work towards an industry agreed standard of instrumentation and reporting. Or, perhaps a third-party will lash up this type of machine and begin publishing results? In the latter case, the ultimate BS detector!
From Atomic, lightly edited for clarity and brevity: This was custom made for us by a local robotics team, it flexes the boot fore/aft to specified degrees/angles and measures how much Nm force it takes to reach those angles. The range we set is very realistic and achieved during normal skiing. When we hook a boot up to it, it provides us with the data you see on the attached chart- maximum stiffness and flex curve. It allows us to see how all of our own boots and competitors stack up against each other. We use this data to find out how stiff our competitors actually are vs. what they claim, and also to align our own boots as consistently as possible. If we see that we are too stiff or too soft for a given flex rating, we can adjust the plastic mixture accordingly. As you know there is no DIN, ISO or any other industry standard for flexes, so this data is incredibly helpful for us to deliver what we think are the truest and more legitimate flexing boots on the market. We like to think that if a standard would be developed for flex, we would be at the top of the list. This is even more crucial in the touring world where lots of lofty flex numbers and promises of progressive flex are made, but appear to sometimes not delivered.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.