Buckle Boots

Henke Buckle Leather Ski Boot
Henke Buckle Leather Ski Boot

 “Are you still lacing while others are racing?”  Bob Burley was the first to identify this as the great advertising slogan used for the Henke Speed-Fit boot.  He also included the disparaging nickname racers of the day assigned the boots (check out his comment on my blog).

Related to last week’s column, Bob commented that he had been the fortunate owner of a pair of Molitor #128’s – the moli with the lace-up back as well as front.  He went on to say:

“I found ‘tension laces’ to be quite effective. They were basically a form of early ‘bungee cord’ that simply tightened throughout the day. The heck with comfort!”

Henke, a Swiss/German company, introduced the first buckle ski boot in 1955.  By the early 1960’s Henke ski boots were the best selling ski boot in the United States.  Henke is another example of a once successful, skiing-related company that is no longer with us.

Buckle leather ski boots were faster to get on-and-off plus you could loosen the buckles on the lift-ride and delay the cold feet syndrome for a couple more runs.  Buckles also provided a mechanical advantage so during the Adjustment phase of a leather boot’s life you could tighten them more easily than with laces.  Choose your own pain level so-to-speak!  This could actually shorten a boot’s life since tightening the buckles could stretch the leather and hasten the breakdown of the boot.

Molitor boots adapted to the buckle development by using a cable buckle system that (theoretically) combined the best of lacing and buckles: a cable “lace” was tightened by a series of buckles.  This more evenly distributed the pressure over the whole boot and was probably a little easier on the leather.  The company stuck with this approach even in the plastic era!

However before I move on to the plastic ski boot era there is one other aspect of leather boots I need to mention.  Leather ski boot soles while stiffer than hiking boot soles were still susceptible to curling with age.  In the heel-free early days of skiing this probably was a feature, but with the advent of release heel-and-toe bindings it became a problem.  The solution was the “boot tree”!  This simple device clamped the heel and toe of each boot to keep the soles flat and provided an easy way to carry your boots.

In the morning everyone carried their ski boots in their boot tree into the base lodge.  By mid-day the floor of the base lodge would be littered with these boot trees!  Now there were only 2 or 3 common manufacturers of boot trees so a lot of them looked alike.  If you were a die-hard skier who skied till the lifts closed, sometimes you’d return to the base lodge and your boot tree wouldn’t be where you left it.  So you grabbed the nearest one that was of the same manufacturer and off you went! 

The boot tree I had was green with silver and red clamps.  I do not recall the manufacturer and I haven’t been able to locate a picture of one.  But they were popular and more than once I left with a different one than I brought.  I even lost one that had my name on it!  I always was able to find another and I never took one that had an owner’s name.  I did wonder what it would be like to be the last person to return to the base lodge.  Was there always a boot tree left?

 Of course in 1965 Bob Lange introduced a ski boot that would mean the end of boot trees, laces, and leather ski boots!  As Mr. McGuire said to Ben: “I just want to say one word to you – Plastics!”   Synthetic plastic had all the ski boot properties that leather lacked – rigidity, support and durability.  By the 1970’s all ski boots had made the transition to plastics.

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11 Responses to Buckle Boots

  1. Adell Bettenhausen says:

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  2. michael burns says:

    i have a pair of those old henke buckle ski boots from fifties.they are literally brand
    new and are in flawless condition.based on my own research they are the last pair in
    existence in such perfect condition.i am making up posters and t-shirts featuring my
    boots.the original poster from 1955 still continues to sell 56 years later.

    michael burns akron ohio

    • Greg Morrill says:

      Thanks for your post. I don’t monitor my blog as closely during the summer months as during the ski season.

      Let me know when you have posters/t-shirts available.


  3. Gail Trout says:

    I have a pair of cream color Henke buckle boots. If my ole memory doesn’t fail me (and it does more and more) these were the first non-black boots. I purchased them in the early 60’s and felt quite chic at the time.

    • Greg Morrill says:

      Wow! I don’t remember the cream color, but I do remember that Henke was one of the first to experiment with different colors. Thanks for contributing!

  4. Bryn. Freberg says:

    Back in the 1960’s, as a young, aspireing alpin skier – most of us only knew cross country skiing at the time – one of my buddies got black five-buckle Henke boots for X-mas. The rest of us were stunned, being bothered with laces that slackened all the time… Couple of years later I got dark blue five-buckle boots from Austrian Koflach; I was King! Then followed many years with the combination Lange Competition/Dynamic VR 17, until I retired from racing… Today, my Dynastar/Lang combination is more or less parked in my garage, and I am back on cross country skis – from Fischer (only one Norwegian manufacturer [Madshus] has survived – owned by American K2)!! However, those Henke boots was “space tech” to us back then – and superb craftmanship……!

  5. PIM says:

    hello , Henke bought the buckle from an bike racer Mr MARTIN, who actually invented the buckle…

    • ampersand says:

      “… Mr MARTIN, who actually invented the buckle…”

      That´s what everyone writes and copies but in fact his patent (US 2861310 A) was a “ski-boot lacing system” with “lace loops and tensioning means”, also called “member” or “buckle”. (Shouldn´t it more correctly be a “clamp”?)

      A buckle has been known for a long time (e.g. hose clamp). Skiers knew such a device perfectly from theit bindings: Huitfeldt/Hoyer-Ellefsen 1904, Bildstein-Feder-Strammer 1925, Kandahar 1932) and and Martin cites some older patents using “buckles” in boots including even “improved buckles” already in 1940.

      Just to suggest a clamp or buckle couldn´t have made a successful patent because long known and used. Martin´s invention was a more ingenious system which had fully been adopted when the lacing disappeared (and when Henke – don´t know the details – made the principle more accessible to other bootmakers, hence 1963 = “the year of the buckle” even in Montebelluna, Italy.

      Hans Martin patent is online and free. No need to distort such recent history.

  6. PIM says:

    they are called … les Crochets Martin…

  7. julie jensen says:

    I have the most attractive Gold, Plastic, Buckle Henke size 6 ski boots with boot tree. Got them in the mid 1960’s while living and skiing in Montana. They’re still in excellent condition. Is there a market for them?


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