Gear Feature

These Boots Were Made For Stomping

We caught up with artist and designer, Maurizio Molin, on Nidecker's completely overhauled snowboard boot collection

There are two universal truths in snowboarding. One: boots are the most important bit of kit you’ll ever own. And two: they’ll never get the credit they deserve.

At every turn, the humble boot faces an uphill battle for recognition; boards get all the attention, for obvious reasons, but even bindings and goggles are flashier – and neither of those start to smell after a bit. Then there’s the fact that boots often only get noticed when they perform badly, and mostly appear all in black – an unwelcome parallel if ever there were one.

While they could do with better PR, boots are truly the unsung heroes of the snowboard world – and without wanting to get too Inception-y, that would make Maurizio Molin one of the unsung heroes behind the unsung heroes. As an artist and designer, he’s been involved in crafting snowboard goods for over 25 years. During that time he’s turned his hand to everything from boards and eyewear to early step-in systems, and at one point led a hand-picked team at one of the biggest names in the game. Away from snowboarding his fingerprints appear on sneakers, perfume bottles, ski boots and much more, and in warmer months he can be found cleaning up on the gondola-racing circuit in and around his native Venice.

“There are two universal truths in snowboarding. One: boots are the most important bit of kit you’ll ever own. And two: they’ll never get the credit they deserve”

Maurizio at the early stages of the design process. (Photo courtesy of Nidecker)

Plenty to keep him in Cornettos, then – but despite all these strings to his bow, designing snowboard boots is something he keeps coming back to. Now working for Nidecker, he’s recently overseen a seismic shake-up of the Swiss brand’s range. It’s a huge achievement by anyone’s standards, but for a designer it must be odd knowing that the vast majority of his work is destined to be buried under pant cuffs and binding straps. We can’t help but wonder what the appeal is – and as it turns out, we’re not alone: “I’m asking that too sometimes!”

Perhaps it’s the fact that the world of laces and lasts was his entry point into the snowboard industry, back in 1995. Then, as now, one of the biggest brands in snowboarding was Italy-based Northwave. While working for a design firm (“I was on the fashion internship, it was a little bit boring…”), and as a recent ski-to-snowboard convert, he jumped ship to work on their boot line – and eventually, their iconic fat-soled shoes.

Booting up… in the boot. (Image courtesy of Nidecker)

It was a baptism of fire, he remembers. “My first day of work, I had to take a flight to the US. I went to a camp at Mount Hood, I talked to dealers… For me, starting from a fancy design firm and going through this, it was pretty amazing. I was about 25 years old, so for me it was a great opportunity to meet a lot of people and travel.”

After five years with Northwave, he was poached by Burton to take up a role as Boot Designer, which then became Design Director for all hardgoods, and eventually involved a permanent move to the States and the establishment of a central creative office for the brand. As well as Burton boards, boots and bindings, Anon goggles and (now defunct) RED helmets were also part of his remit. “That was a giant project; just the boards, I don’t even remember how many board graphics we had!” An eventual move back to Italy meant vacating the big chair, but through his own design firm he was able to continue working on the boot line. By the time he finally parted ways with the brand, he’d been involved for 20 years. It was time for a new challenge, and an offer from the Nidecker brothers fit the bill.

“I said, ‘honestly, either we can improve those boots, or we can make something totally different. We can do an evolution, or a revolution.’”

For Maurizio, the decision was a no-brainer. “They’re all young, you know, and they believe in product. So they always want to come up with something cool and something new.”

This was a fresh start in more ways than one, as he took it upon himself to be the new broom. While it didn’t involve any transcontinental trips this time, the first day on the job nonetheless proved to be eventful: “I went to their office and we went through their boots. I said, ‘honestly, either we can improve those boots, or we can make something totally different. We can do an evolution, or a revolution.’ And then I said that time is really short, but we should do a revolution. I thought that Nidecker needed to show a little more of what it’s able to do.”

Just like that, it was all change at Nidecker Towers’ boot division, as Maurizio started again from scratch. A daunting prospect at the best of times, but more so when the clock is ticking. There’s no substitute for experience, though, and by this point he was swimming in it. Knowledge of Asian production facilities left him knowing exactly which factory he could trust to deliver a brand new foundation for his designs – and fast. “When you change the last you have to make it all new,” he explains, “because the old outsole or upper doesn’t fit anymore. So you have to come up with new boot designs, outsole designs, liner designs… We did all of this work in a year.”

The centerpiece of Nidecker’s boot line – the Altai (image courtesy of Nidecker)

Then there was the small question of exactly how the boot line would take shape: how many models would it feature, and what kind of riders would be catered for? Finding the starting point, he says, was an easy decision. “I look at what the rider wants, but also what the market needs. My first project for the new line was the Altai boots. I wanted to design the best mid-range boot – that’s a very key price point for all the companies, so I put a lot of thought into it.”

As for higher-end models, charting the right course meant leaning on Nidecker’s stacked pro team, including Matheiu Crepel, Tiphanie Perrotin, Liam Rivera, Lewis Sonvico and Sebastien Konijnenberg. “When I spoke with the riders, they were all talking about heel lock. That’s the first thing they wanted. So we’ve been working on a new heel lock system, and now we have two different ones; what we call the External Heel Lock, which is an amazing system that we have on the Kita. And we have an Internal Heel Lock connected to the tongue and the liners – that’s on the Index. I think those two boots have the best heel fit. We put a lot of work into that, especially on the internal heel lock. I worked for over a year on that system!”

The external heel lock system on the Kita boots (Image courtesy of Nidecker)

There’s no doubt that quizzing the team riders can really reap rewards – but it’s only the first step of Maurizio’s process, and one that’s not without its challenges. “I want to hear their comments, their feedback, their ideas, for sure – but when we discuss with the riders they always have, you know, crazy directions. But they make you think.” After those conversations, it’s back to business: talking to distributors, reps and dealers. “I hear the problems with the market, or the problems with our product. And I put all this information together.”

“When starting out on a design, he pictures himself as a customer in a store, and focuses on the three qualities of a boot that are the most likely to pique his interest.”

As an artist first and foremost, the final piece of Maurizio’s equation won’t come as much of a surprise. When starting out on a design, he pictures himself as a customer in a store, and focuses on the three qualities of a boot that are the most likely to pique his interest. Two of them are weight (it’s got to be noticeably light) and out-the-box comfort – but before they can even get to the stage where they’re picking it up, let alone trying it on, it’s got to look the part. You want to have the attention of the clients, of the riders. So with the aesthetic, you want to make a boot with cool colours or designs or features, so people get close to your boots and get interested.”

Indeed, when you take a deeper dive into the Nidecker line, there are grace notes of artistic detail everywhere. His fondness for repeating patterns (as used elsewhere in his art, including on past snowboard gear projects) appears every so often, such as in the raised interlocking hexagons on the toe of the Altai boot, as well as the chevrons on its upper cuff. The former, it turns out, is part of a wider design theme applied across the range. “If you look at all the new Nidecker boots, every one has a different toe construction, but there’s no stitching. It’s seamless because we want to have a perfect fit with the binding toe straps.

It’s the little things – seamless stitching and rubber printing in the toebox of the Altai boot (image courtesy of Nidecker)

“On the Altai, we came up with this idea of rubber print; basically, they spray-paint rubber on the toe. I wanted to show that technology in the design language, and a repeating pattern was a good way to do that because you make the toe look totally different, and people get interested and ask questions. That’s the main goal for me.” As for the cuff, it’s a bit more straightforward. “We just picked a cool material! We do a lot of research on materials, but I also believe in the look, the aesthetic. It’s a very important part of the product.”

Speaking of visuals, for someone who often employs a full colour palette in other areas of his work, how does he feel working in a market that is perhaps second only to priest socks in its lack of variety? He seems philosophical about it, and recognises that the riders have spoken (“the black colorway is 80% of the market. So you can’t really give up to the black ones!”). That percentage is even higher where high-end freeride boots are concerned, which explains why there’s only one Smell The Glove-esque design for the Index. While he does have an outlet for experimentation with the more jib-friendly Rift, he’s also found a different way to scratch that particular creative itch.

Surfy flex, premium tech. The new Rift boot. (Image courtesy of Nidecker)

“If you ask me what is cool right now, what I like is the materials. For me, the material now is like colours. So I can still make a black boot, but if I have cool materials – a very cool fabric or a new technology on the fabric, or a new way to layer the different fabrics – that for me makes the big difference.

“Without Maurizio and those like him, it wouldn’t matter how swish our boards and bindings are – we’d all be up shit creek without a paddle”

“I do a lot of research on materials. I have a few suppliers and I get boxes of different materials every season. I always try to mix different fabrics together to see if we can come up with new things. If I can’t work on colours, I have to come up with something – and materials provide the opportunities. If you look at the new collection, you can see all the materials that we use and the different ways that we use them. It’s very unique in the snowboard market.” If that all sounds complicated – well, it is. “Snowboard boots are very challenging. Between boards, boots and bindings, they are the most difficult project to work on – but I kind of like it…”

It certainly makes sense that boot design is Maurizio’s natural home. Let’s not forget that this is a man whose idea of fun is harvesting lactic acid on the canals of Venice for hours every morning before work (“it’s like a drug, I’m addicted! If I don’t go out, I’m fucked”). That he has found this particular outlet is good news for him, and for Nidecker, and for the rest of us. Without Maurizio and those like him, it wouldn’t matter how swish our boards and bindings are – we’d all be up shit creek without a paddle.

Find out more about Nidecker’s new boot line for winter 2023 here.

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