Photo: Peter Anderson
Since 500 B.C., people have been strapping wooden sticks to their feet and sliding around on snow. The ancient Chinese did it, the Scandinavians did it, the Utah miners did it and now there is a multi-billion dollar industry that bases its livelihood on it. However, while the sticks have changed dramatically, the footwear that secures the rider to the ski has undergone little innovation. Although the materials have progressed from leather to magnesium to plastic, most skiers dread the idea of placing their feet into these quasi-medieval torture devices. Fortunately, the pioneers at DaleBoot (pronounced De-lah-Boot) have charged themselves with the task of making comfortable ski boots that revolutionize the way people think about their feet.
Founded in 1969 by Mel Dalebout, the company began its run as a small-time manufacturer looking to find a better way to build boots. Mel was simply a skier, and after a few years at the University of Utah, he tossed the bookwork aside and headed to the slopes of Alta. Realizing that boot technology was relatively stagnant, Mel decided to start making his own brand of ski footwear. Thus, DaleBoot came to be. Long before plastic shells were the norm, magnesium was the material of choice and Mel designed one of the first three-buckle models on the market. He also patented the first foam-injection liner, which became the industry standard for the next several decades. In 1972, the company started producing its first plastic shell, which was custom fit to the individual, and its performance was guaranteed for life.
By the end of the 1970s, DaleBoot had garnered international attention, and many pro skiers sought Mel’s fitting expertise before they ever went to a competition. The company enjoyed its success for a few more years, and it averaged 20,000 units sold per year. However, the growth soon diminished and the sales dropped to just 500 pairs per year. The larger manufacturers in Europe were able to gain a stronger market share, and eventually, DaleBoot became less and less popular. Holding tight to its foam-injection patents, the company was able to keep making liners, mostly for Burton snowboard boots. Determining that he had done his part for the ski world, Mel sold the company to Rob Gramham. Under Gramham’s direction, DaleBoot has regained a foothold in the industry and fostered the innovation that made the company unique in the first place. Adhering to Mel’s theory that ski boots should be comfortable and still perform, DaleBoot has expanded its line to encompass newer models that enable the skier to progress at the same pace as the sport.
Nowadays, DaleBoot is still based in Salt Lake City, and people from around the Mountain West come to have their boots designed to fit their specifications. Mike Sheets, DaleBoot’s sales manager, has been with the company for more than ten seasons and loves the culture that makes the company great. “We want to bring joy to more skiers. Our staff is laid back, and we are committed to proper fit,” says Sheets. Upon touring the facility, there is strong evidence of the hard work that goes into creating each boot. “We know everything that goes into our product. From the virgin plastics to the regimented heating and cooling processes, we can tell you where every piece came from,” says Sheets. Showing me around the shop, Sheets took the time to explain every station and how their assembly process is unique in the industry. Most manufacturers have molds that pump out cookie-cutter shells combined with a simple liner and leave the fitting process up to the individual. This is a great way for them to cut costs, but as anyone who has ever bought a pair of new boots knows, they rarely fit right out of the box. Often, the customization process involves the buyer finding a boot fitter who actually knows what he is doing and understands the materials the shell is made from. Then, assuming he is legit, it means trusting him to make the right modifications to your $700 investment. The process often takes multiple visits and can sometimes run the consumer an additional $500.
As the tour continued, Sheets explained how his products are customized with special attention to detail in order to make sure the consistency and integrity of the shells are maintained. “Heating and stretching a boot can affect the longevity of the shell, and we make sure that certain tolerances are adhered to,” says Sheets. Moving on, Sheets described the plastic injection machine that creates each mold. Looking at the formidable piece of equipment, I began to appreciate the time and effort that goes into producing just one shell. Millions of tiny plastic beads are super-heated to nearly 500 degrees and then forced into the molds. Sheets informed me that every mold is machined right here in Salt Lake and that a majority of their capital investment comes from creating solid molds. Once the molding process is complete, the individual components are left to cool and sent to the assembly station. “We are on our third production run of 2011, and at 1,000-1,500 boots per run, this machine has been working virtually non-stop,” says Sheets.
The real genius of the DaleBoot system comes from the in-depth process of taking customer specifications and translating them into a boot that fits. An overall analysis of the skier is coupled with a biomechanic assessment, length and width measurements, foot and leg volume measurements, and an individualized consultation of what the customer wants. The fit technician then computes the data, and initial customization occurs. Try getting that from any boot fitter in the world, and they will likely laugh you out of the store or ask for your first born. After the preliminary fit process is complete, the skier undergoes further evaluation and a custom fit Intuition liner is added to the package. “By offering three different volume levels of liners, it is possible to achieve a perfect and lasting fit for the customer,” says Sheets. Finally, a few more modifications are made to the shell to ensure there are no hot spots or pinch points. Then, the customer can take them for a test run on the slopes. At this point, each customer can determine any additional adjustments that need to be made and bring the boot back for modifications. For the rest of your life, DaleBoots are guaranteed to fit perfectly and perform better. With their lifetime guarantee, DaleBoots are the only boots you will ever need. For something this great, most customers would expect to pay more than $1,000, but a custom-fit DaleBoot starts at just about $750, which includes an unconditional satisfaction guarantee.
It is no wonder that DaleBoot is again gaining steam in the industry, and its dedicated staff is confident that once you try their product, you’ll never go back to a traditional boot. To see the magic for yourself, visit the DaleBoot shop at 2660 S. 300 W.