Monday, January 27, 2014

VH Footwear: The last skates you’ll ever need to buy?

Rocket Skate recently became one of the first dealers for VH Footwear’s hockey skates.
I know what you’re thinking--what the heck is VH Footwear? It wasn’t long ago that I wasn’t sure either. I did some research and ordered a pair of the skates for myself. While the VH brand isn’t well known in hockey, carrying them was a no brainer decision once I spent about 5 minutes on the skates. There’s nothing on the market at any price that even comes close to these skates.

VH What?
VH Footwear founder Scott Van Horne has his master’s degree in biomechanics. His thesis was, “The Biomechanics of Skating.” He probably knows more about how your feet and legs work when skating than you might ever want to know. In case you don’t care about his education, he’s also got a great chunk of experience to go with it. VH is fairly well known for high end cycling shoes. More importantly they are the top brand for speed skate boots. In fact, more than half of current speed skating world records were attained in a pair of VH speed skate boots. That makes him a skate guru as far as I’m concerned.

You might be thinking speed skates aren’t hockey skates. You’re correct and I applaud your skills of deduction. However, in 2009 Scott Van Horne was the skate designer on the MLX project formed by David Cruikshank. As a skating coach for NHL players, Cruikshank was appalled at poor fit of even high end hockey skates which kept his NHLers from achieving their full potential. Thus MLX was created to improve the fit and performance of hockey skates. By 2010, MLX with Mario Lemieux as their spokesperson had a dozen NHLers the Van Horne designed MLX skates. By 2011 the MLX brand was purchased by Easton. After a significant decaffeination of the product’s finer points, what little was left of the MLX became their flagship Skate selling at $800.

After the MLX experiment, Van Horne launched his own hockey boot in 2013. Even introducing his skates late in a shortened the season, several NHLers were skating in them before the playoffs ended. The current 2013/14 season has at least half a dozen NHL goalies in VH skates and two or three times as many skaters.

What’s so special about ‘em?
There are a number of features VH skates boast that no other skate can match. They are the lightest boots on the market today. They are the only one-piece carbon fiber boot on the market. While other composite boots are not moldable, the VH boots are the most moldable boots ever made (and the best fitting as the result). VH features the industry’s best warranty and is the only brand offering post warranty manufacturer repairs. No other brand offers the level of customization or quick turnaround on custom boots available to the general public that VH does.

With weight being championed by every brand, VH’s hockey boots are the undisputed king. They aren’t just light; they are staggeringly light. I weighed my pair of size 9 VH skates at 726 grams in a size 9 with 10% taller than standard Step Steel. Compare this to Bauer’s second place APX2 skates at 766 grams with Fusion runners to put into perspective just how amazingly light these boots are. The VH boot, one size larger that the APX2 with the same lightweight Fusion runners would be a whopping 90 grams lighter than Bauer’s best effort! If that doesn’t astound you, let me put it this way. Some entry level composite hockey sticks approach the weight of a VH skate with the Fusion runners installed.

While weight is what everyone talks about in skates these days, the single most important factor in any skate is fit. If someone made a pair of skates that weighed 50 grams but fell feel tight as a vise or loose as sandals, weight is irrelevant. Nothing on the market can even come close to the fit of VH’s boots at the moment. While competitor’s composite boots fit a limited number of foot shapes, the VH skates are simply the most moldable skates ever. When heated up, they become so soft, the shape can be easily manipulated with bare hands. In fact the heat molding process is different than with any other skate. Once warmed up, the skates are laced loosely and wrapped in an ace bandage. The pressure from the ace bandage is enough to pull the entire boot into the shape the player’s feet including arch support.

After molding the skates fit perfectly. Zero break in time is great, but these go beyond that. The best description of how they fit is a sock. There is a comfortable pressure all over the foot. There are no hot spots or gaps in the fit. I bought a pair of VH goalie skates, played in them twice before getting back to my broken in, good as new Graf G35 player skates. The Grafs, which I previous thought were a nice pair of skates, suddenly felt like a pair of shoe boxes taped to my feet. They simply couldn’t compare to the fit of the VH skates. That’s why I now own two pair of VH skates (and no Grafs).

It wasn’t easy for me to decide to buy a second pair of VH skates. I’m to the point with the rigors of age and bad knees where I don’t know if my hockey career will last another few years or another few months. While the fit sold me on the fact that I needed a new pair, the promise of durability sealed the decision. VH Footwear’s 6 month warranty is double that of all the major skate makers. The big boys tend to beg off many issues by covering only materials and workmanship; VH’s warranty is “will fix with the damage without question.” If that isn’t enough, once the warranty has expired, if anything fails, you can send a picture to the company for a repair quote.

While VH doesn’t recommend custom skates for anyone without serious issues, they do make a full custom boot. The heat-molding is so good that it will perfectly encompass feet from the widest to narrowest, allow for most bunions, spurs and other freakish deformities you may have. One of the best things about the skates is the ability to heat fit them more than once. If you do have a deformity the size of a doorknob, we can always warm up a pair and let you try them on with no obligation.

In the event that they don’t fit, VH can make you a special pair to accommodate that hideous growth. Custom skates start at $899. As long as you’re at it, you can have the skates made in any color when you do customs. You know you always wanted a pair of red and yellow hockey skates, right? Turn around time is as little as two weeks on customer orders. The only other brand that offers custom orders takes two months if you’re really lucky and up to six months if you fall more in the normal range.

Another nice feature is that you can have any holder you’d like installed on the skates. Whether you’ve always been on Bauer, Graf, or CCM, your skates can be ordered with any brand of holder and runner that you’re used to skating on (even Easton). This makes the transition a little easier from your old skates to the new ones.

The Bottom Line
VH is simply producing the finest hockey skate ever made. Comparing them to the next best skate on the market is like comparing a Bugatti Veyron to a 1963 Corvette. One is the most technologically advanced ever made; the other is pretty but inferior and out of date. With other brands pushing their top of the line skate prices up between $750 and $899, VH Footwear is an amazing bargain with a starting cost of $799.

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© 2014 Scott Noble. 
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