How an unlikely alliance led to one of the most successful ski products that Dynafit has ever sold.
Professional skier Eric “Hoji” Hjorleifson tightly weaves between enormous Engelmann spruce that dwarf him by 100 feet, bounding through waist-deep powder as he porpoises along. He’s testing his Hoji Pro Tour Ski Touring Boot, which features a lever that locks the upper and shell into one coherent piece, making the boot feel malleable on climbs yet supportive on big descents like this one.
Hoji moves at bullet speed. His eyes dart ahead. He spots a waterfall drop, and launches the cliff. He drops the height of a three-story building and absorbs the landing with bent knees—and feels a snap underfoot. An unnerving vibration rattles his ankle back-and-forth as he continues to charge ahead at full-speed. He tries to ignore the broken ski boot, a task that requires a deep concentration that’s taken him 15 years as a big-mountain athlete to hone.
Hoji manages to reach his film crew at the bottom of the descent. He exhales a deep breath to bury his frustration. It’s March 2014 and he’s finally skiing in his home province of British Columbia after spending a month hand-building the dream prototype. The one that’s now broken on his foot. After less than 48 hours in the field, the debut iteration of the Hoji Pro Tour Ski Touring Boot has snapped in half. Defeated, he calls his engineering mentor Fritz Barthel, an Austrian product developer who invented Dynafit’s first-ever ski tour bindings, four decades ago—and radically shifted the entire ski industry.
“That’s perfect,” Barthel tells Hoji when he hears about the shattered boot. “Now we can do calculations and improve upon our initial attempt. You should return to the dungeon.” The dungeon is Barthel’s 12- by 24-foot home gear lab in Bad Häring, Austria, a former mining village that is more than 5,000 miles from Hoji’s condo in Whistler.
A month earlier, the duo had met at on a skin track at a Dynafit get-together in Switzerland. They bonded over their shared passion for tinkering and product creation. From 1986 to 1990, before Dynafit agreed to partner with Barthel, he hand-created and independently sold his aforementioned streamlined ski tour binding. He’d stock up on the brand’s boots to sell alongside his innovative bindings. At any given time, 1,200 pairs filled every room in his house, from the basement to the attic.
As Hoji talked about his quest to actualize the perfect ski boot, Barthel recognized tenacity and a spark of excitement similar to his own. On the spot, Barthel invited Hoji to stay with him in Austria to become his first-ever protégé so he could help guide the manufacturing process of the Hoji Pro Tour, including the milling, grinding, cutting and sketching.
“Hoji is a sponge. He absorbs information about mechanical properties, math and materials. He has no engineering background—he’s just really talented and focused,” says Barthel.
And, after many sacrificed ski days, countless all-nighters, four self-funded ski boot iterations and hundreds of hours of product testing (including that disastrous first 48 hours), Hoji finally struck gold. The perfect model survived Hoji’s merciless pounding on snow and also convinced Dynafit’s in-house designers to invest in a mold in 2017. When it hit the market in 2018, several of Dynafit’s retailers promptly sold-out of the Hoji boot by October, and requested reorders. According to Dynafit spokesperson Eric Henderson, the boot is trending to be the most successful piece of gear that Dynafit has introduced since the subsidiary launched in North America in 2007.
Don’t expect a design team driven by perfectionism to stop at a single product launch, however. “This is just the platform. We’ve built a good foundation and from here we can improve,” says Hoji: “There’s more work ahead. We’re not done yet.”
Indeed, in January Dynafit announced the Hoji Free for next season, which will better serve the needs of hard-charging freeskiers with a 130 flex, lower volume and smaller last than the original Tour. Better yet, the crampon-compatible Free will fit other touring bindings such as Salomon’s Shift.