No other leather boot maker profited more from the transition to injected plastic shells than Nordica. During most of the 1970’s and 80’s, Nordica’s unit share of the world market was so dominant the only competition was for second place. It responded to the surge in sales generated by Salomon’s wildly popular rear-entries by concocting a blizzard of convenient-entry alternatives populating every price point. By the close of the 80’s, almost all of Nordica’s line was made up of RE’s of one ilk or another.
When Nordica was sold to cotton sweater maker Benetton, it marked the beginning of the brand’s slide off its pedestal. Benetton drove the brand downward before selling it back at an eyebrow-arching loss to the Vaccari family who had owned it before Benetton’s disastrous stewardship. The rise back to relevance hasn’t been unperturbed, but by rebuilding its core line segment by segment, Nordica has returned to the first rank of boot makers. Its resurgence matters not just to the Tecnica Group that currently owns the brand, but to the ski trade at large. The ski industry fares better as a whole when its marquee brands excel.
Nordica’s renaissance in the recreational boot market began five years ago with the introduction of a new boot with an old name, Speedmachine. The new Speedmachines were (and remain) classic, 4-buckle overlaps with a generous, medium volume (100mm) shell and salable features such as moldable shells and cork-covered liners. Most importantly, the out-of-the-box fit was luscious, rendering modifications mostly moot. Speedmachine spawned the wide-lasted (102mm) Sportmachine three years ago and in 2019 the final shoe in the series dropped with the debut of Promachine.
While it’s fair to say Sportmachine is a wider version of Speedmachine, Promachine is more than just a narrower one. Speedmachine is aimed squarely at the middle of the market; Promachine intends to attract a better class of skier. (It’s an elitist sport, what can I say?) All the comfort and customization features are retained in the Promachine, but the 98mm-lasted liner is more accurate and the shell delivers steering power on a par with 130-flex race boots. Race boots don’t have Grip Walk soles, however, which are standard on the Promachine 130 and available for Speedmachine and Sportmachine models. For all-terrain, recreational skiers, Grip Walk just makes more sense.
All three Machine lines include a full complement of women’s models with women-specific cuffs and liners. All women’s models (and most of the men’s) use Primaloft® insulation to keep tootsies warm and dry.
Three years ago, Nordica returned from a several season sabbatical from making a hike-mode (HM) boot when it unveiled the results of its research, Strider. Strider models deliver outstanding downhill performance in a four-buckle boot with all the requisite HM elements: skeletal buckles, a huge 46o ROM in hike mode and Grilamid® for the minimal mass hauling one’s butt uphill requires. The heavily treaded sole was developed in collaboration with Michelin, so you know it has some serious traction. For 2021, the Strider Pro 130 is joined by lighter weight clone, the Strider Elite 130, which tips the scales at 1790g (26.5) versus the Pro’s 1910g.
But it isn’t the Striders’ uphill features that grab your attention, but the accurate fit of its 100mm last and most of all, the ski-ability. The Strider models are top-notch shoes for their ascent properties, but you’re reading about them here because they are in the first rank for downhill performance.
Anyone who races knows that Nordica doesn’t need to inflate its resume to establish its credibility in this domain. Great racers of a bygone generation hoarded secret stashes of the venerable Grand Prix, and if Nordica ever stops making their Dobermann line of undiluted race boots, they’re also likely to be black market booty the instant they’re officially retired. With the arrival of Promachine, Dobermann spin-offs like GPX are now redundant, but Dobermann World Cup boots (93mm last) aren’t going anywhere and neither are the Dobermann GP’s, citizen versions in a more user-friendly 98mm last and DIN standard soles that don’t have to be ground.
Having rejuvenated its core collection over the last five years, Nordica didn’t mess with its success in 2021. It left most of its line intact, with one notable addition: the return of a rear-entry boot after abandoning the concept a quarter of a century ago. The new HF series consists of four models, two men’s and two women’s, two with built-in heaters and two without. The last is wide (102mm) and the flex is soft (85), so it’s clear high performance isn’t the prime objective; rather, it’s the ability to slip it on and off that’s the HF’s (for Hands Free) calling card. If your ankle range of motion is kaput, the HF design will let you keep skiing, a blessing for those who need all the help they can get putting their boots on.