Alpine touring boots either ski well or walk well. That’s just the way it’s always been. A boot that’s rock solid on the downhill, has a huge and easy range of motion on the uphill, and that switches between modes like a breeze would surely be the most highly anticipated piece of alpine touring gear of the year. That’s where the Dynafit Hoji Boot comes into play.
We got a chance to speak with pro skier, Eric “Hoji” Hjorleifson and inventor of the Low Tech binding system, Fritz Barthel, the mad scientists who designed the boot, to see just what makes the Hoji so special.
“An old dilemma in ski boots is ‘skis well or walks well’,” Fritz says. “and therefore the design was either uphill-oriented or downhill-oriented. Here, the design goal was to try and achieve the best of both worlds.”
This, of course, is easier said than done, and it took the pair years of trial and error to get it right.
“I believe the development process of the Hoji Boot separates it from other ski boots in the touring category,” Eric says “Fritz and I collaborated for the past four years building three generations of skiable prototypes based off of my initial primitive concept. This new walk/ski mechanism has been designed completely from a skier’s perspective to perform at the highest level possible.”
Eric skied each generation of prototype until something about it failed, usually while skiing aggressively at his highest level while out filming with Matchstick Productions.
“I would then fly back to Austria and live at Fritz’s house for a month-plus at a time,” he says. “We would work every day and night to improve our design and fabricate the improved prototypes. The pair repeated this process until they arrived at the current design, which Eric has been skiing for the last season and a half without any failures. He says that the proof of how aggressively he’s skied the latest edition of the Hoji boot can be seen in the Matchstick film “Drop Everything” and in the bonus edit “Ruin and Rose.”
They both feel that the boot benefited from a skier-centric design process rather than from a designer or developer’s perspective. It also benefited from Fritz and Eric’s willingness to be open to feedback and to think about ski boot design in new and different ways. A basic design concept of the Hoji Boot ended up being simplicity.
“For me, the focus was to find a solution with the best possible combination of skiing and walking performance and a lot of effort was put into improving the user interface,” Eric says. “I wanted the transition from walk to ski mode to be as simplified as possible.”
The result is the Hoji Lock system. “The Hoji Lock provides a very rigid connection between cuff and shell in ski mode,” Fritz says. “There is no play in the ‘neutral’ position thanks to a preloading through the lock which guarantees a harmonic transition from forward to backward flex. No more ‘range of indecision.’ The ease and range of motion in walk mode comes almost close to a rando race boot. Plus no more fiddling with pants, buckles and straps when changing modes. And you can change from walk to ski mode without using your hands by just stepping on the Hoji Lever. And you have the ‘pants down,’ always.”
Fritz goes on to describe some more of the design and engineering details of the boot, and the problems they were meant to address.
“Apart from the goal of super ski and walking performance in one boot, which the Hoji Lock makes possible, smaller details may be worth mentioning,” he says, listing some of the more important ones. “Co-axial cuff rivets and additional bushings for frictionless motion of the cuff. Adjustable linkage on the Hoji Lever to compensate in case a loss of pre-load should occur over time. Serviceable Hoji Lock mechanism with easy replacement of cables, spoiler and levers. Buckles secured with little Delrin springs for one-hand operation without extra flaps or brackets. No fiber- or carbon-reinforced material on the shell that would make boot fitting impossible. Extra space for the malleolus. Wide shell with lots of room for the toes for warmth. Easy getting in and out of the boot through an ‘open’ shell.”
“After four years of hard work, an incredible journey of discovery, and a new lifetime friendship between Fritz and myself, I am super excited for the launch of the Hoji boot,” Eric says. “I am optimistic that we have done our due diligence to ensure that this boot holds up to the demands of the skiers that purchase it.
“So far this season I have over 40 days ski touring in the preproduction Hoji boot, and I have been quite satisfied with their performance. They are incredibly easy to step in and out of. I set the upper buckle and power strap in the morning and never touch them again until I take the boots off at the end of the day. They have been comfortable and warm. They walk like a dream—I haven’t used my heel elevators once all season because of the boot’s excellent range of ankle mobility. I just finished my first film trip of the season with (Matchstick Productions) up at Golden Alpine Holidays Sentry Lodge, and the boots allowed me to ski pillows and huck cliffs and gap jumps to the best of my abilities.”
Both Eric and Fritz have enjoyed this four-year design process, and they’ve both learned things along the way. “Ski boots are not as simple as they look,” says Fritz. “Of course it’s not rocket science, but in a peculiar way it’s quite complex.”
“Before this project I was limited to only modifying equipment that already existed, Frankensteining things together,” Fritz says. “Fritz’s mentorship and friendship has taught me the skills to take an idea, draw it, think of the basic engineering, make it with machine tools like a mill and lathe, test it and examine the results good and bad, modify and improve, then re-test.”
In the design process they also developed a collaborative process in addition to a strong friendship. They each brought different skills to the table.
“Hoji is enormously focused,” Fritz says. “He has a big talent for mechanical stuff and absorbs any kind of technical information or expertise from whatever source like a sponge. Truly remarkable in our collaboration was the diet of alternately beer and coffee in the dungeon during long days and nights for weeks.”
“Fritz is truly a genius,” Eric says. “He has a wealth of knowledge and experience with, but not limited to, developing technical ski equipment. His generosity and mentorship towards me has been amazing. I was fortunate enough to ski with him on a Dynafit trip in Switzerland four years ago. After a few days of skiing together I mentioned I had an idea for a new concept for a walk/ski mechanism but was struggling on figuring out how to build it. Without hesitation he immediately invited me to join him at his home in Austria to work in his basement machine shop, the shop he had created and built the original Low Tech Bindings. What an incredible opportunity this was for me, a private machinist, engineering teacher with unlimited access to his fantastic workshop. Without Fritz’s involvement and tremendous amount of effort, the Hoji boot would not exist.”
With Hoji pushing the boundaries of what can be done in an AT boot, it’s appropriate that his namesake boot is the most capable boot out there. Over the next several years it will likely change the touring industry and change the way people ski in the backcountry.
“I believe this boot is a good step forward for the entire ski industry,” he says. “My dream is to have product that doesn’t limit me to one style of skiing, alpine or touring. I want the ability to ski wherever or however I desire on any given day on the same equipment to take advantage of the conditions of any particular day. I believe other skiers already share this desire, or will discover it, and will ultimately benefit from equipment developed with this design philosophy.”
Fritz echoes those sentiments: “There are a lot of very elaborate AT boots out there,” he says. “Maybe this boot is a little inspiration. In my imagination there will be a time coming where, no matter which kind of skiing, AT or Alpine, there will be no more Franken stride. The walk-mode is also the après-ski mode or even also the pre-ski mode. One switch and you are ready for the beer in the bar, for dancing. In a way, it will change how people don’t ski!”