How did NASA make snow skiing safer?

By: Michael Franco

Smart Boots

Perhaps the most important items in any skier's gear are the boots. Of course, the skis themselves matter, but the boots connect the greased lightning of the skis to the body, creating the point at which maximum performance or maximum failure can occur.

To help make ski boots smarter, an inventor named Eric Giese employed the corrugated design found in the joints of space suits. These joints were developed by NASA to help astronauts have a greater range of motion, while keeping the internal wiring of their suits -- such as those that control heating and cooling -- from kinking (think vacuum cleaner hoses and flexible straws).


When applied to the ski boot, the corrugated design allows the foot joint to have a greater range of front-to-back motion while still providing strong ankle stability on the sides. Other ski boots at the time had no hinge at the ankle joint, and this led to distortion in the boot's lower shell when skiers tried to move their ankles. This distortion caused innumerable crashes, and Giese's boots fixed the problem.

Giese's boots were originally developed in a partnership between the company he founded in 1973 -- Comfort Products -- and the Swiss shoe company Raichle (now Mammut). The boots were marketed under the name Flexon and were brought to market in the winter of 1980 and '81. They were quickly adapted by Olympic athletes, which boosted the brand to near legendary status.

After a series of corporate takeovers, the original Flexon design was altered to detrimental effect that saw lovers of the original design take to Web sites like eBay to try to secure replacement parts for their beloved original boots. Most recently, a company known as Full Tilt obtained the original Flexon molds and is now producing the boots the same way they were made 25 years ago.