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FREE | 04.10.2018 | Dennis Forte

Interview: Freerider Eric Hjorleifson about the new Hoji Pro Tour

Hi Hoji, how are you? Looking forward to winter?


Yes I certainly am. It has been a pretty exciting summer so far but things are getting quite busy preparing and organizing a film tour to support the Hoji film project. This fall is going to be a crazy whirlwind world tour with many stops, when it wraps up at the end of November I am going to be completely exhausted and definitely ready for some time in the snow.


For the Hoji Boot project you partnered up with Low-Tech-Bindings inventor Fritz Barthel from Austria. I can imagine this collaboration was sometimes really funny. Do you have a short (funny) story for us?


Working with Fritz has been an excellent collaboration and I feel incredibly lucky that he has mentored me through the development process of the Hoji Boot project. When we began the project in the middle of winter of 2014 it was an incredible winter in the Dolomites, Cortina had received meters of snow throughout a couple of massive storms. As we worked tirelessly for weeks on end through February into March we kept telling ourselves that we were going to drive to Cortina and test the first pair of skiable prototypes. Well as it turned out we were so focused on the project and it ended up requiring an incredible amount of work to complete the first pair of boots that we did not end up making it to Cortina until I returned in the late spring for my second trip to work on the prototypes.

#PantsDownAlways

I believe Fritz to be a true genius and not only when it comes to engineering he also exhibits a keen aptitude towards humour. Never too serious and always quick to make fun of anything, especially himself. At some point in the project as we worked intensely on linking the tensioning of the upper buckle and power strap to the walk mechanism we were trying on the new prototype that featured this function. I excitedly said something along the lines of “This is great, you can leave your pant cuffs down completely while switching from walk to ski” No more lifting your pant cuff to access buckles and strap to make adjustments.” Fritz’s instant response “Of course, Pants Down Always!” and this became one of the many running jokes for the duration of the project as well as probably my favourite hashtag.

 

You and Fritz are both very gifted tinkerers and inventors and spend much time in Fritz´s cellar workshop together. Fritz calls it lovingly “the dungeon”. How does a session in “the dungeon” look like?

 

Well throughout this project I have visited Fritz 2 to 3 times per year for dungeon sessions to complete the 4 generations of skiable prototypes. These dungeon work sessions are quite intense and we usually work everyday for a couple weeks straight. The typical day looks like this:

Two possessed at work: the Hoji Pro Tour is brought to life

Morning there are a couple coffees to get going with a simple classic Tirol breakfast consisting of Semmel (editor's note: bread roll), jam, fruit and cheese. Then we head down to the dungeon and pretty much work all day, usually we get completely focused on the task at hand whatever it may be and totally loose track of time, some might say we have a problem and are completely consumed by work. At some point we will get hungry and scrape together a simple dinner, generally Brotzeit (editor's note: hearty snack), and then head back down. Fritz usually lasts until around midnight and heads to bed. Depending on my focus I typically will work until the early hours of the morning and often pull complete all nighters for some very long work days that transition directly from working beers straight back into morning coffees, I guess I do have a problem. I would estimate that most of my work days were 15+ hours but the project was just so interesting and I was learning so much about actually making something new with full access to a machine shop that it did not even really seem like work. Looking back at what we accomplished now I would have to say it was an incredible amount of effort.

Hoji & Fritz Barthel

Of course we want to talk with you about the HOJI Pro Tour boot. What was your intention developing a boot like this?

Well initially I had a concept to create a new way to lock the main structural components of the ski boot together in a way that was different to all the ski touring boots available on the market. I was frustrated with the limitations of ski touring boots because the walk mode mechanisms always produced a sloppy connection between the ski boot cuff and lower shell. This play between these main structural components significantly & negatively affects the skiing performance.

A boot for skiers by skiers

Additionally ski boots were designed with one of the two performance functions as the design philosophy: Either uphill or downhill performance but never designed with both as a focus. From the beginning of our project we mandated that both uphill and downhill performance were premium focuses and to have as little compromise between them as possible. Furthermore we really focused on improving the user interface, many ski boots required numerous steps to complete the awkward transition between uphill and downhill modes, our goal was to achieve a simple transition with as few steps required as possible.

 

Indeed, what makes this ski touring boot so revolutionary?

 

I feel like Fritz and I accomplished our design goals (mentioned in the last question) and this puts the Hoji boot ahead of the competitions in my opinion. Revolutionary, I’m not sure but I guess time will tell. An unique factor of the Hoji boot was how it was conceived, designed and tested by Fritz and myself from a skier’s perspective so one could call it a boot for skiers by skiers.

 

In particular, you mentioned the Hoji Lock System. Can you tell us how this simple but effective mechanism works and why it is unique in the ski touring boot industry?

 

The Hoji Lock mechanism works with a linear motion or translation, something completely new in the ski touring boot world. The simple explanation is that it is like driving a wedge between the cuff and the shell, this created a positive, play free & preload connection between the main structural components of the boot for downhill ski mode. Through this linear motion the wedge with the interfering surfaces that lock the boot together is completely moved up and out of the way to achieve a free unrestricted range of motion of the cuff. Additionally the cables that tension the upper buckle and power strap are also linked to this wedge element so they simultaneously loosen off in walk mode to providing an excellent natural walking motion for touring.

 

So, you were looking for a boot that makes no compromise between skinning up and tough downhill performance. How does the Hoji Boot improve your way of exploring the mountains?

 

Fritz has a saying: “I cannot change my ski boots on top of the mountain” and this is true so our goal was to create a boot with no compromise.

My personal motivation is the need for equipment that does not limit me in where I can go and what I can to on any given day, this is what lead me towards alpine skiing with touring equipment several years ago. After 30 years of alpine skiing I resented being limited to downhill travel only. After several years of downhill skiing with touring equipment I had experienced the downhill performance limitations. This was the clear goal with the development of the Hoji, why should we suffer or compromise in one aspect of the sport to have performance in the other. So this is the point, the Hoji boot allows you to tour efficiently and comfortably to access great skiing and once you´re at the top with a simple flip of the lever you have a boot that allows you to enjoy the decent with confidence and control.

For downhill-oriented ski tourers the boot´s flex is an important index but in the past almost no brand mentioned this figure. Now the HOJI Pro Tour comes with a progressive forward flex of 120. Can you please tell us more about it?

This is a bit of a difficult question, the alpine industry’s flex rating index ex. 120 are completely made up numbers with no real system of measurement to support the flex number rating . So this 120 is simply based on feelings when comparing the Hoji to other boots that claim 120, there is no empirical evidence to back up these numbers. As we all know feelings are confusing and difficult to measure, example question: Do you love me? Yes. Ok, how much? A lot so I guess 120. This is comparable to the question: How stiff are your ski boots? Pretty stiff, so I guess 120? If you don’t have a system of measurement it is actually impossible to support these ratings. The real root of this confusion and ultimately the problem is that measuring a ski boots flex stiffness profile is actually a very difficult task that requires a lot of thinking skills, testing and complicated equipment. There are many variables to consider: Shell only? Shell plus liner? The artificial leg’s complicated ankle joint that has to roll and turn? How tight are the buckles? How does the friction from the relative motion between the leg, the liner and the shell factor into the resistance? What temperature do you measure the boots at? And so on… .On top of these difficulties you need someone to run the test equipment properly and actually understand and decipher the results.

Back to you! You are in your thirties, other professional freeskiers intend to retire at that age. But you are like fine wine, getting better every year. What´s your secret?

Well shucks, thank you! I consider myself a lifetime skier and my interests have evolved with the sport throughout my life thus far. I hope to continue this path, skiing has always provided me with focus and passion and I do not see this changing any time soon.

Last question…is there something that you have to tell the world?

I am excited for the release of the Hoji Pro Tour, we worked hard to ensure the boot was launched to market with the goal of no surprises and I hope this is the result we achieve. I am also super excited for the development of future boots that feature the Hoji Lock Mechanism as we believe this is a platform that more boots can be based off of. There is also the upcoming release of the Hoji film by Matchstick Productions which will be on tour this fall so find a venue close to you and come check it out! And finally remember, Pants Down Always!

Thank you!

Freeride professional and Free Tourer Eric “Hoji” Hjorleifson is not only gifted when it comes to skiing. He is also a very ambitious tinkerer and inventor. His passion is skiing but also the way he is exploring the mountains. When it comes to equipment Hoji is always trying hard getting out everything he needs for riding the perfect line and the way he gets there. Together with Low-tech binding inventor Fritz Barthel from Tyrol in Austria, Hoji worked very hard to find a new solution approaching the mountains by ski. The result is the brand new Hoji Pro Tour ski touring boot.


We talked to Hoji about the whole project: