Ski minds met over a beer.
“Why can’t we make a ski boot that’s comfortable and warm and walkable like a snowboard boot?” Roger Neiley says, recalling the conversation with Denny Hanson, a longtime boot seller now retired in Boulder.
Today, Neiley oversees the company claiming the answer to the question that feet-cramped skiers have forever asked.
The Apex is marketed as the boot that “will change your skiing life,” the holy grail for seekers of long days on the slopes without cold toes and hot pain up to their shins.
Neiley says more than 1,000 curious drivers stopped on their way to the mountains last year, pulling off Interstate 70 to Apex’s Golden headquarters. They left with a pair of demos to see if the hype was real.
“One day with the boots,” Neiley says, “and people would come back and say, ‘I’m buying. I’m in.’”
Since the first generation of boots hit shelves in 2012, the lime-green brand has expanded to 150 retailers.
But now Apex has a neighbor boasting the same solution.
Envy Snow Sports came to Golden and burst onto the scene last winter, equipping customers with a special frame ($249) that straps around cozy snowboard boots and clicks into ski bindings. It’s a one-part product, the frame, compared with Apex’s “two-part system” ($700-$949) pairing a custom boot with a chassis.
Neiley says there is no comparison.
“I don’t want to badmouth anybody,” he says, but he’s suspicious of any snowboard boot being compatible with Envy’s frames.
The company lists recommendations on its website. And Chris Schroeder, Envy’s 27-year-old founder, says only “a few” returns came from that first batch of 300. He aims to double sales this year.
Apex is “definitely more on the high-end,” Schroeder admits. “And their price point reflects that.”
As they envied the normal gait of snowboarders, he and his dad tried Apex. “It was like, ‘OK, we could do better.’”
They started tinkering in the garage, disassembling and reassembling something they deemed “frankenboots.” Alongside a plastic engineer and 3D printer, they devised a frame and sneaked into the Snowsports Industries America show, wanting feedback from the best and brightest in the biz.
An aluminum base was the finishing touch, and a successful Kickstarter campaign launched Envy to market.
Schroeder was nervous at first.
“But I’ve been really impressed,” he says. “Whenever I’m selling or skiing, so many people come up to me and say, ‘I had this idea like five years ago, like why can’t I ski in snowboard boots? I’m so glad somebody was able to take it on and do it.’”
Neiley took it on 10 years earlier, after that beer talk. Hanson had the initial funding, and Neiley had the experience in design and development. After graduating from Colorado College in 1974, he made stops with Raichle, Quicksilver and Flow Sports, racking up a dozen patents bearing his name.
“I sort of have this thing for doing disruptive design and development work and finding a new solution for old problems,” Neiley says.
The disruption is close by in Golden. And innovation won’t stop there, Schroeder knows.
“We would welcome the competition,” he says. “The more the word gets out that you can ski in snowboard boots, that’s better for us.”