During the late 60s and early 70s, NASA was in the early stages of developing the modern space suit. These suits, which would be used during the agency’s first lunar missions to the Moon, had a large problem. The heating, cooling and electrical lines that ran throughout the suits, which powered the suit and kept the astronaut alive, would kink, crease and crimp when the astronauts would walk and flex their arms.
Enter Al Gross.
Gross with Dixie Rinehart and the NASA design team came up with the solution to include articulating hinges with ribs that allowed a natural flex in the astronaut’s ankles, knees, and elbows; preserving the shape and functionality around the joint.
Today, this technological feature is seen in everything from water pipes to flexible drinking straws.
Gross and Rinehart would eventually leave NASA and find their way to employment with a small research and development firm, Comfort Products, headed up by former racer Eric Giese. Gross applied his knowledge of space-age technology to skiing while living in Aspen. The goal was simple: to enable the boot to flex without a bulge or distortion in the lower shell, which was one of the largest problems of the day with boot design - boots during the time period had no ankle hinge. No hinge meant any distortion caused a significant loss of control.
He developed many unique boot designs during this period that featured a floating ribbed tongue instead of an overlap. These designs would become the precursor to the original Raichle Flexon tongue. Tongue in hand, Giese approached the US distributor of Raichle and presented his concept with a rough prototype. Seeing the potential, Giese was flown to Switzerland to meet the president of Raichle Switzerland, Heinz Herzog.
Learn more HERE.
Meeting after meeting, the Comfort Products team found themselves facing steep opposition to his new concept. The Swiss felt it too radical of a design, too different of a look for the conservative company. In one last effort, Gross leapt onto the conference table wearing one of his own prototypes and one of the company’s own products, flexing them both in the process and showing the Swiss how their boot bulged and distorted under pressure which Gross’ product kept its shape and aesthetics in tack. The decision to move ahead was obvious.
In 1979, ten years after the first moon walk, the first 3-Piece boot prototype was built by Raichle and finally brought to market in the Winter of 1981, becoming known as the Flexon Concept and ultimately named the Flexon 5, and later the Flexon Comp.
In 1983, the president and soul owner of Raichle parted with the company in a sudden sale to a relatively unknown figure in the industry: Peter Werhan. Werhan, a grandson of German chancellor Konrad Adenauer, had married a Swiss woman and moved to the country. Loving skiing, Werhan’s new acquisition meant the perfect blend of work and play. Raichle enjoyed tremendous success during this time as Werhan’s enthusiasm and charisma helped shaped the company into an industry leader. Sales grew at an exponential rate and outpaced production and the boot found itself on podium after podium.
Some of the first professional skiers to compete in the boots were Billy Shaw, on a prototype in the early 80’s, as well as hot dog freestyle skier Peter Ouellette. Legendary Bill Johnson would win a gold medal in the 1984 Olympic downhill in the boot. Nelson Carmichael would also dominate the late 1980 mogul scene in a pair of Raichle’s.
From the Olympics to the World Cup circuit to Freestyle competitions, no other boot could match its performance in part to the athletes that wore it and to its patented flex technology.
In the late 80s, only a few years into running the business, Werhan died in an unfortunate auto accident with his secretary in the car. Werhan’s wife immediately inherited the company and took over its operations. Sadly, the company was never the same after that. By 1996 the business was on the verge of bankruptcy. It was then that Raichle was purchased by Swiss banker Dr. Grosnick who was in the business of buying companies in distress. He purchased the Kneissl Ski Company shortly thereafter.
Despite its success and due to its unchanged design, the original Flexon boot was archived. Knowing the 3-Piece concept worked, the new owners offered volume and lower priced versions of the original design, but none ever delivered on the predecessor’s performance. The new owners failed to understand that no matter how many iterations of the original design were created, skiers would always come back asking for the original.
In 1999, insisting that the Kneissl brand offer a boot, Dr. Grosnick made the decision to rename all of the Raichle boots to Kneissl branded boots. The rebranding wasn’t received well by consumers and only a year and half later, Kneissl was sold to the parent company of Roces.
From this point, the molds were bought and sold and passed around, all the while maintaining a strong core following of skiers addicted to its performance. These pro athletes had built their careers on this boot as well as thousands of skiers like you whom also couldn’t give them up. With a lack of production, everyone was suddenly forced to search for parts and boots on Ebay and scrounge ski swaps to keep them on their feet.
We’re skiers. We’re boot fitters and we know better than anyone that something had to be done. We took it upon ourselves to go back and search out the original molds and bring it back to life! Not in some new and distorted form, but in the original construction and design that had been proven over the past 25 years to be the most popular 3-Piece design in the world.
We purchased the original molds, tested every feature, kept what worked and then added some of today’s most advanced technology to make them work even better, never stopping until we were skiing them again. We hope you enjoy these boots as much as we enjoy bringing them back to life. The revolution in 3-piece boot design started here, and will now continue from here.
For the good of skiing.