Chris Hanson - Ski boot design pioneer
Chris A. Hanson, 82, designer of the Hanson ski boot line popular in the 1970s and ‘80s, died May 20, 2023, from complications due to Parkinson’s disease.
In 1958, Hanson was a junior in high school and an Alpine ski racer when he first built a fiberglass hood over a leather ski boot. Cushioned by a layer of thixotropic “flow” material invented by his father, Alden W. Hanson, this first laceless easy-entry boot was comfortable, convenient and skiable.
Hanson went on to study Architecture and Design at the University of Michigan while his younger brother Alden B. (Denny) became a sales rep for Head Skis. The brothers shopped their father’s thixotropic Flofit material to ski boot factories, and Bob Lange bought in. In 1968 he hired Denny as Lange’s director of research; Chris came aboard as chief boot designer in January 1969.
In December of 1969, Denny left Lange to join a computer business founded by a college friend. In June of 1970, as they were negotiating a sale to the Garcia Corporation, Lange laid off the entire research department. The Hansons hired several of those people laid off, and began to design the rear entry Hanson boot in July of 1970.
The new brand had boots on snow the following winter and with K2 as a distributor sold 2,500 pairs at the SIA show in March, 1971. A year later they shipped 50,000 pairs. At their peak, from 1978 to 1982, the Boulder factory shipped more than 120,000 pairs per year and took the lion’s share of the premium market in the United States.
The success of the Hanson boot opened the door to dozens of other rear-entry boot designs, from Scott USA, Olin, K2, Nordica, Raichle and most notably Salomon. With sales strong, Hanson bought the Hexcel Ski operation, which proved too expensive to produce profitably.
In 1981, 22-percent interest rates and a thin snow year meant many retailers couldn’t pay their bills. Hanson was one of several U.S. ski-distribution companies that failed. The company was sold out of bankruptcy to the Japanese Daiwa sporting goods conglomerate.
In 1986, the brothers founded Alden Laboratories Inc., to manufacture non-boot products using Flo-fit materials, including boot-fitting aids, bike saddles, wheel-chair cushions, knee pads and veterinary items.
Chris Hanson retired in 1996 to ski and play golf from his home in Cordillera, above Avon, Colorado. –Seth Masia