Scarpa Factory Tour – Part II – Plastic

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This post by WildSnow.com blogger  

(Montebelluna and Asolo Italy, January, 2011) Watching Scarpa leather boots being made was like being in the Ferrari factory and seeing them stitching seats by hand. But ski boots are really what I’m here to see and they’re injection molded. Checking out the plastic process is a bit more sterile than soul leather, though no less interesting.

Scarpa’s plastics work is done in an older building which was their original factory in Asolo, Italy. Not a bad arrangement, as the injection molding is a much more hands-off process than leather boot making (though a fair amount of hand work does ensue after the parts are made.)

Backcountry skiing boot molds.

Interior portion of an F1 boot mold. Word is these molds cost around $100,000 euros each. Considering each size of boot requires a different mold, wow. As that money has to be made back with profit over the lifespan of a boot model, one can see why ski boot prices stay high.

Backcountry skiing boots Pebax plastic.

Sacks of Pebax plastic. From this to a day of backcountry powder skiing. Technology. Cool.

Pebax pellets for ski boot making.

Pebax pellets. These are fed into the injection molding machine, a huge affair that's one of the mainstays of modern manufacturing.

Boot mold closed, being injected.

Boot mold closed, being injected.

F1 cuff.

F1 cuff comes out of the mold.

Melted plastic Pebax.

They have to test how the injection machine is heating the plastic, result is a few gloms that look like something from our boot experiments at Wildsnow HQ. Melted plastic Pebax.

F1 boot cuffs for ski mountaineering racing and touring.

F1 boot cuffs for ski mountaineering racing and touring. After injection, everything is cleaned up and quality inspected. Most parts come out fine, but once in a while the injection process burps and results in a throw-away.

F1 boots being cleaned up for assembly.

F1 boots being cleaned up for assembly.

Adding power strap on Maestrale.

Adding power strap on Maestrale.

Maestrale final assembly.

Maestrale final assembly line, Scarpa's most popular boot ever and for good reason.

Takeaways: Seeing a sack of plastic as opposed to a finished ski boot opened my eyes to how amazing modern manufacturing technology is. More, with factory China taking over so much of the word’s widget making, I continue to be impressed at how ski boot makers in Montebelluna and Asolo are keeping their factories alive. That cannot be easy, so kudos to them. Yep, from Pebax to your feet, Scarpa is a company I can honestly give major props.

Comments

18 Responses to “Scarpa Factory Tour – Part II – Plastic”

  1. TreeDodger February 16th, 2011 11:25 am

    “I continue to be impressed at how ski boot makers in Montebelluna and Asolo are keeping their factories alive. That can not be easy” Not to mention ski, snowboard, binding, etc. manufacturers in small Alpine villages worldwide.

    However in my humble opinion, it must be very easy. It is because of the passion of the management and employees for their culture’s, their tradition’s long and deep involvement in the Alpine and Nordic sport history. In a nutshell, unlike those who would rather manufacture in a location where the populous has never experienced snow, no less Alpine or Nordic skiing, these individuals care about what ‘it’ means to their way of life. Please, I do not in anyway intend to criticize the design, craftmanship, quality or cost savings of the products produced in non-snow-sport locations, for indeed from what I have seen it is truly great stuff; I just wish to say that for those who keep it local, it is about a whole lot more than just numbers on a ledger.

  2. Lou February 16th, 2011 11:45 am

    Tree, you have a good point, but Scarpa did tell me it is not easy keeping much of their manufacturing local.

  3. Zcott February 16th, 2011 12:13 pm

    Thanks for those photos Lou. I also very much enjoyed the Dynafit manufacturing photos. It’s very cool to see the inner side of things we normally never would. It gives me a deeper respect and understanding of these products I use and love so much. Now for a trip to DuPont!

  4. Nick February 16th, 2011 1:00 pm

    I find the access they are willing to provide the most interesting – including letting you take photos of the assembly line. I assume there are some off limit areas (e.g., R&D), but still…. Really cool they are open about this.

  5. Lou February 16th, 2011 1:19 pm

    Nick, there is actually always an element of privacy when doing these visits, which often results in humor. For example, while looking around the Scarpa assembly factory we stopped next to a car full of Alien boot lowers that were supposed to be hidden. My host tried to shield the cart from my view, but it was totally obvious and I ended up ribbing him about it. He asked me not to photograph or blog about at that time, and I of course honored his desires. Another thing that happens during industry visits is you’ll run across military contracts in process, and they’ll usually ask you not to photograph or write about that stuff for contract and security reasons.

  6. Dave Hojo February 16th, 2011 2:39 pm

    It’s better than a how it’s made episode!

  7. neonorchid February 16th, 2011 6:56 pm

    …yeah and it’s certainly more interesting to me then the only how its made episode i saw on ice hockey skates.
    Many thanks Lou for more great blogging!

  8. Tim February 16th, 2011 8:18 pm

    Lou, that’s a really informative article, I really admire Scarpa’s dedication to craftsmanship. I will try not to complain quite as much next time I have to shell out for boots! So do you know if there are any aspects of the process that Scarpa does outsource (i.e. pieces/parts or the injection molds, etc.)? I am wondering how much of an edge outsourcing really gives these days for skiing type products. I notice the prices of some of the “made in China” gear are generally not any lower than those from gear made in higher wage countries like the US, Italy, Austria, etc. Are we paying exorbitant margins to these companies or are the non-outsourcing companies just barely scraping by? I realize that’s probably a difficult question to answer, but I wondered what your thoughts might be.

  9. Greg Louie February 16th, 2011 8:21 pm

    Cool post, Lou. Can’t wait to see those military issue Scarpa Aliens.

  10. Verbier61 February 17th, 2011 2:57 am

    I believe one of the reasons why ski boots manufacturing is still gravitating in the montebelluna area is the “magnet effect” of that niche.
    Scarpa, Tecnica, Dalbello, Garmont, Dynafit, etc etc are in a 30 km range, and they compete to attract the best young talents, local or even from abroad. Like in the silicon valley for IT, the density of local investment makes a significant difference in attractivity, as well as in the related web-like connections leading to a proficient crfitical mass. China can compete for the cost of labor, but fells short for anything else.
    Said that, this magic niche is always at risk, and should be cared as a gem from local politicians.

  11. Greg February 17th, 2011 8:17 am

    $100,000 euros for each mold, Lou? I would have expected $100,000 or 100,000 euros, but not $100,000 euros! :wink:

  12. Lou February 17th, 2011 8:20 am

    It’s the new Euro, one dollar – one euro???!!!

  13. Lou February 17th, 2011 8:38 am

    Verb, I think I mentioned somewhere a while back that the Italian government provides subsidies to various sector businesses for located in a given concentration area. My understanding with help from Fede for translation is that subsidies are given to sporting goods footwear makers for locating in Montebelluna area. Due to language barrier I’m unclear on how all that works, but something like that is going on. Also, Montebelluna is traditionally a footwear makers area. According to a local history I have here on my desks, “traces of a shoemaker’s association can be found as early as the 14th century” in the Montebelluna region, with the purpose of making those elegant shoes for the Venetian nobility, some of which had those funny looking turned up toes… more later, man, my Europe trips sure develop a lot of blog fodder…

  14. Verbier61 February 17th, 2011 9:25 am

    thanks Lou, as an italian I deeply appreciate the survival and (relative) prosperity of the montebelluna shoe niche while being so scared for the latest news from FIAT which is considering to close car manufacturing in italy and to move their HQ in Detroit… but this of course is a different story

  15. Lou February 17th, 2011 9:35 am

    Well, you guys are leasing the marble quarry near here, why not do something in Detroit as well (grin)?

  16. onemorelap February 18th, 2011 2:34 pm

    I don’t buy the argument that boot companies are struggling to meet the ends. If that was the case big players such as lasportiva and BD wouldn’t be entering this market. It has been mentioned that the AT market is exploding. And prices have been creeping up with comparable rates.

    If you compare materials and labor required to make a boot such as lasportiva nepal evo ($475), and something like F1 ($700) or F1 carbon ($1700, huh!?) it becomes clear why lasportiva is making ski boots.

  17. anthony February 24th, 2011 3:03 pm

    Lou

    Did scarpa make any comment on why they persist in making boots with a raised arch footbed. You have commented on this before to the efect that it makes boot fitting a “challenge”.

    I have bought a pair of Maestrale this year and really believe that Scarpa have a winner with this boot – but I have been suffering from “tingling toes” which I beleive is due to too much pressure under the arch. The solution that seems to work for me is to lift the heel by about three mm (with two layers of plastic cut from plastic containers – in the UK commonly used for milk!) placed above the heel block, with the liner on top. I have also had to ditch my custom footbeds and revert to the Scarpa stock footbed as these have less arch support.

    Any tips from Louie from his experience with these boots?

  18. Anthony March 1st, 2011 4:01 pm

    Correction to the above post – on a more accurate measurement of the heel lift – 2 layers of plastic = 1.6 mm not three mm.

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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