Winter’s are grey and the landscape dreary, but the industrial areas of northern Italy still have spirit and a craft business history reaching back to the 14th century. The food is pretty good too. I covered my Montebelluna and Asolo boot manufacturing tourism in a few WildSnow posts last winter, but I never got around to giving you the goods from the famous Museo Dello Scarpone (Museum of the Boot). So here goes the story in pictures.
First production Tecnica Moon Boot, 1970. Got a pair? Approved by Michael Jackson. Click image to enlarge.
Walking over to the museum from Salewa/Dynafit was easy, good signs led the way.
During the First World War, Montebelluna craft shops supplied shoes to the troops, which led to the making of quality leather climbing boots beginning in the 1920s. Ski boot manufacturing increased in the 1950s, with Montebelluna ski shoes in use by Olympic champions such as Toni Sailer. Ski boot production exploded in the 1960s, from 180,000 pairs in 1963 to 700,000 pairs in 1969. During that period, Nordica took notice of American innovator Bob Lang’s plastic boots (some or all of which were, I believe, eventually made in the Montebelluna region), and subsequently figured out methods of mass producing composite ski boots. Since then, nearly all the ski boots sold worldwide have been made in this region of Italy, including nearly all backcountry skiing boots (with more and more being made in China over recent years).
But first, lunch. Federico took me to a pizza joint. Scrumptious. I asked Fede if pizza was invented in Italy or the United States. That got a frown.
Boots used on first ascent of K2 in 1954, by summit team Achille Campagnoni and Lino Lacadelli. Click to enlarge.
Can you ID any buckles? That's a wad of PU plastic in the back. When they fire up the injection molders, they have to run plastic test until it reaches the correct temperature and consistency to begin the molding process. When you visit the factories they have big bins of this stuff sitting around, ostensibly for recycling.
Apparently it used to be a tradition for Montebelluna boot craftsman to build gigantic yet authentic boot models to display at Winter Olympics. The museum has a few. Have your feet ever looked this big?
Nordica Air ski boot had a hand operated pump that tightened fit by filling an air bladder. Circa 1983. Seems kinda finicky to me, and was probably cold as the dickens, especially when you pumped them up on sub-zero days. Click to enlarge.
Nordica Air with the patent filing papers.
Garmont Gara, 1977. This was my go-to boot during my brief career as a bump skier in Crested Butte. The steel bands worked well to prevent lower shell deformation, but the forward flex was a bit soft for those days. The same guy who designed these boots now is head of boot product development at Dynafit, a few blocks from here.
Lange is said to have made the first ski boot specific to women, introduced in 1970.
This prototype offering was not known for light weight or warmth, but worked well for jousting sessions at a nearby castle. Bertele, 1973.
The plastic boot making process developed here in the Montebelluna region involves creating resin and wood mosaic parts such as these which are then used to build the aluminum injection molds.
These speed holes double as the boot buckle micro length adjustment. Why didn't we think of that? Time for some mods? Circa 1960.
This one is fairly out there. What's fantastic about this museum is it makes you realize how much innovation and experimentation went into the ski boots we all use.
Vendramini backcountry skiing boot from 1968 had an interesting buckle configuration over a leather shell. Sadly, this was the only ski mountaineering boot I could find in the museum.
Climber in Munari boots, the sig translates to something like 'the flying Munari boots?'
Cobbler tools perhaps used for ski boots in ancient times.
After the museum, historical research continued by speaking with Dynafit boot products manager Federico over a fine Italian meal. My Montebelluna trip was sponsored by Dynafit and Scarpa. Thanks guys for the help and for all the fantastic backcountry skiing gear you produce!