Fischer had a long and illustrious history as a ski maker before they decided to jump into the boot pool, despite said pool already being awash with brands. The focus of their debut models was an abducted (toes-out) stance, a clever idea it slightly overcooked, leaving some test pilots feeling like they were traveling in a downhill herringbone.
Undeterred by the difficulties of getting traction in an over-served market, Fischer pressed on, tinkering with their stance and story until several years ago they went all-in on a fancy new system for custom molding the shell, Vacuum Fit. Vacuum technology had been part of Fischer’s manufacturing expertise for many years, so transferring this concept to ski boots may have been an easier step for Fischer to imagine than for other, tradition-bound brands.
Vacuum Fit was such a hit with specialty shops it enabled Fischer to steal the limelight from industry leader Salomon, even though Salomon was first to market with a shell-molding technology of their own called Custom Fit. The big deal about Vacuum Fit was that it didn’t just expand the shell (although it could); it could also bring it closer to the forefoot. Even the one-in-a-thousand shops with a history of boiling boots to modify them never had the means of reducing shell volume all around the forefoot like Vacuum Fit.
Like many first-of-their-kind innovations, Vacuum Fit didn’t get everything right immediately. The biggest limitation was it didn’t have much effect on the critical rear foot, but a second-generation Vacuum station corrected this oversight. Today, the Fischer Vacuum is a Full Fit process, and still the only heat molding technology that facilitates reducing shell volume. Last season Fischer augmented its point-of-sale technology with a podium that takes a 3D scan of the foot and lower leg, the better to match the skier to the optimal Fischer boot model. The same scanning tech is now available in a smartphone app so skiers can scan themselves.
After a season of relatively little model turnover, 2020 is a banner year for new boot models chez Fischer. RC4 Podium GT is a new series of race clones that slips into the Fischer line just below its trio of real-deal (92mm last) RC4 Podium monoblock race boots. The narrow-lasted (96mm +/- 3mm) Podium GT series includes Vacuum Full Fit shells and lace-up liners in a 3-model series at 140, 130 and 110 flex indices. Returning to the line are two The Curv models (97mm last) that are similarly outfitted with Vacuum Full Fit shells and lace-up liners.
Also back to serve the medium-size market are the RC Pro VFF models in 130 and 110 flexes. GripWalk soles are standard issue on both the RC Pro 130 and 110.
The big news at Fischer this year isn’t about customization as much as it’s about a brilliant new backcountry boot, Ranger Free, now in 3 men’s and two women’s flexes. When the first Ranger Free appeared at the Masterfit Boot Test last year, it was the belle of the ball, blowing testers away with its agility and snow feel. This ultralight (1540g), hike-mode model comes in a narrow (99mm) last and 3 different flexes, all equipped with Dynafit-approved tech inserts. Fischer is capitalizing on the warm reception given the Rangers by extending the clan with Ranger One, a medium-last (101mm) model likewise equipped for hiking. A little heavier (1790g) than the Ranger Free, the Ranger One lower shells can be Vacuum molded to alter shell volume by +/-3mm.
What makes Fischer’s strong move into the backcountry domain so significant is how well Ranger Free and Ranger One perform when you’re flying downhill. They’re precise, reactive and most all, more close fitting than the RC4 Vacuum boots that occupy the center of Fischer’s line. After skiing in the RC4 Curv 130, the Ranger Free 130 feels like it was made for another sport. Which it was – namely, Alpine Touring – only it skis so damn well it’s a pity to limit its life to endless slogging uphill.
The Ranger Free is far from the first AT-compatible boot with real-deal ski-ability, nor is it the only one of its ilk to debut last year, but it does represent a new twist in the helix that blends the Alpine and AT genomes. All the security of an Alpine shell is there, with snow feel that has to be skied to be appreciated.
Everyone close to the center of the ski gear universe knows that Grip Walk soles will be the de facto norm before you can blink twice. It’s looking like better traction won’t be the only technology to migrate from touring back into the resort. Lightweight shell designs like Ranger Free might soon be ubiquitous, too.