Sunday, February 26, 2006

Montebelluna: Ski boot centre of the world

The skiers in the men's giant slalom at the Turin Winter Olympics came from 43 countries on five continents. Despite their geographical origins they all wore the same style boots. Montebelluna Every boot was Italian and designed in Montebelluna . The town is home to 100 companies that design ski boots, produce the equipment used to stamp out plastic shells, and make components such as buckles and fabric linings. The small town sits northwest of Venice and is the home to the world's largest ski-boot makers. Last year the Montebelluna companies produced 183 million euros ($218 million US) of ski boots. The town was a traditional shoe making centre since the 17th century and today there are still over a hundred companies who make shoes including soccer-shoe makers, Diadora-Invicta SpA and Lotto Sport Italia SpA . Fortunes changed and the town became the world ski boot capital in the 1970s when a local firm Nordica , (now a Tecnica brand), perfected a technique for making plastic boots. Although American Bob Lange had invented the first plastic boot the Italian company developed a faster and more efficient way to make the boots. Instead of pouring the plastic into mould they chose to inject it, eliminating air bubbles and speeding up the process. This process meant the end of heavy leather boots and the introduction of mass-market plastic boots. Once established as the capitol of ski boot making, competitors in Austria, France, Germany and the US closed their factories and moved to Montebelluna. In 1994 Winter Olympics approximately 75 per cent of the ski boots were made in Montebelluna, only about a quarter of the 4.2 million boots produced annually are now made in Italy. Escalating production costs have forced Montebelluna companies to move production to Czech Republic, Romania and China although ski boots are still designed in Italy. Like others Tecnica , Salomon , Skis Rossignol , and Head NV of Austria left their design, research and marketing units in Montebelluna to take advantage of local expertise. Such is the Mecca of expertise Fischer GmbH , a closely-held Austrian company, opened a design office in Montebelluna last year.

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