Hot (And Molded) News: Fischer Vacuum Boots
Written by Francesco (Some Pics From Max Sacchi)   
Tuesday, 29 November 2011
ImageAs already pointed out by us Coreshooters, at the 2011 ISPO there was a big buzz about the Fischer Vacuum boots.

That technology promised a boot molded around your feet, and it was a very high profile bet. Around that time, I had a brief chat with a chemistry guru who is working with polymers and ski boots.

Image

He pointed out that to fulfill such a promise one had to find a plastic which

1) Becomes soft at a manageable temperature (don’t try to slip your feet in a 200°C boot!!).

2) Has poor memory, where plastic memory is the tendency to return to pre-heat shape.

3) Can be molded around your feet in a shop (and not necessary in an high-tech lab) following an easy and reproducible procedure.

4) After 1, 2 and 3, will last long on the slopes.

Image

Fischer has a relatively short history in making ski boots, as their first models were designed by BMW engineers a few years ago. They had a boost with the introduction of the SOMA approach, which generates slightly duck-footed boots. SOMA is told to help to keep a more natural stance while skiing. Now the new Vacuum project proposes a true revolution: human feet have a huge variability in shapes; usually the skiers’ feet should deal with the shape of the boot to find an acceptable compromise, this new approach promises a boot which kindly adapt itself to the bumps and holes of your feet. Will it work?

Image

According to Fischer, at the heart of Vacuum Fit is a patented polymer called Vacu-Plast that forms the shell. It is 15% lighter than conventional boot plastic, vibration damping is better, temperature stability is twice as good and it can be re-formed (I was told) up to some 4-6 times. The customer dons the heated boot which is then compressed with an air bladder, forcing the plastic to conform to the natural foot shape. It will also expand where necessary, up to 5mm in foot width for example. Even forward lean and a small amount of canting will change according to the customer’s stance.

Image

I went to Fischer’s Italian headquarters to mold a pair of Vacuums, and kept an eye open to understand whether the (top class) treatment I got there was reproducible in the average ski shop. I use Flexons as my alpine boots and Maestrale for AT, so the 130 flex white Vacuums were a reasonable choice. For the way I ski, no need for supa-stff 150 yellow Vacuums.

Image

First, you find the right size. I normally use 26.5 Scarpa, 27 Garmonts, Flexons and Dynafits. The 26.5 Vacuums were too short, and I felt better (but still pretty tight before molding) in 27.5 Vacuums, the next step was to select on the vacuum device the forward lean and the canting/stance you like most.

Image

I have nasty feet with a disgusting high neck, which an experienced bootfitter can easily spot. This shape has prevented me from using a lot of overlap boots in the past, and made me more happy with a cabrio design such as Flexons or an hybrid such as the Maestrale. While padding my feet for the liners, the Vacuum shells were heated at 80°C. Yes there is something with a yellow label along with them, bet what? When the shells were out of the oven, protective gloves were mandatory to slip in. 4°C cold pads were added, and the boots entered in special bags connected with a pressure pump. There was a choice of different pressure fits, from relaxed form beginners to very tight for racers. Being old and lazy, I went close to the top, but not at the top.

Image

At the end of the procedure, one gets out of the device and is highly tempted to flex the boots to taste the feeling. That is a sure recipe for disaster, as the plastic is still soft and flexing the boots will likely ovalize and spoil the holes of the buckles. Please be patient and do not flex and use the boots for some 24 hours. That’s the key. In the meantime, you can check the nice bumps of the molded boots and compare them with the unmolded others…quite impressive.

Image

The procedure was simple and apparently easy to reproduce in a (decently experienced) ski shop. This notwithstanding, I believe a veteran/skilled bootfitter will probably mold a Vacuum around your feet a bit more efficiently than the average ski shop… long experience and talent are always relevant in this field.

Image

So let’s go skiing the Vacuums! Not very easy in the driest fall of the millennium. At my age, I don’t remember a snowless Creblet Pass on November 26. Televerbier was finally able to manage a decent artificial snow strip around the Lac Des Vaux, so I decided to test the Vacuums in the worst possible conditions: icy artificial snow and the stiffest ski I have, the old uranium Rossi Squads.

Image

I usually ski the Squads only by the end of the season, with tempered legs. Moreover, I have always felt my Flexons a bit underpowered to drive the Squads at best. As the vacuums are molded around your feet, I followed the Fischer staff’s suggestion and left the buckles in a relax position. By the way, with my nasty foot neck I always have trouble in slipping into overlap boots, with the molded vacuums it was as easy as slipping in a cabrio boot.

Image

On the ski, Vacuums were immediately responsive, and slope after slope they gave me more confidence to bring the Squads faster and faster. As a Flexon user I am not sold to the flex index, but I can say the proposed 130 flex scale makes sense. I would certainly not need a stiffer Vacuum.

Image

One of the great things of skiing with the Vacuum is you do not need to unbuckle them on the lift to relax blood flow and avoid migraines and co. Well, you just forgive the boots and ski. Vacuum rolled great, locked nicely on my heel (which was not so well locked in many other boots), and the lateral rigidity and control were always pretty effective even in the iciest sections. The SOMA ducky stance was great, as I had the feeling of being able to drive the Squads with much less effort than with Flexons. By the way, Vacuums are very light. Not as light as Maestrale and Flexons, but pretty near by.

Image

At the end of the day, surprise: I’ve lost a buckle. Amazingly, I did not even feel to have skied without that buckle, as to confirm that Vacuums don’t need to be that tight. I will ski the Vacuums extensively this winter and will tell about durability of the shell and of the liner. One thing is for sure: when you eat fondue at the hut, stay away from the stove: it can melt the Vacuums.

Image

Now, I know what you have in mind: nice boot, but without a walk mode and a Vibram sole… just be patient, looks like some Vacuums are in the oven for you scramblers…