Noel Plutchak’s footwear gives up the ghost … after 30 years
There are those skiers who insist on having the latest gear, and then there are those who stick with what works. Noel Plutchak is the latter, and in the case of his boots, a pair of Lange 56 Mid System, they worked just fine for him … for 30 years … until Monday.
Plutchak, 80, who lives in Downtown Los Angeles, was skiing Mammoth with his friend, Gil Epstein, also in his 80s, and the two had just finished their second run, and were gliding down to Chair 17. “I was behind Noel, and saw pieces of boots spread all around,” Epstein recalled.
“I ended up on my butt, but then I saw that both boots just exploded and at exactly the same time,” Plutchak observed. As it happens, the event isn’t unheard of with older boots, though it is rare indeed to find someone using the same set of boots that long. That, according to his girlfriend, Bonnie Flamer, aunt of Mammoth local Dawn Lazar, is par for the course for Noel. His GMC Yukon truck, for example, has more than 225,000 miles on it.
“He’s from Green Bay, Wisc., and there you learn to live with everything until it falls apart or gets the best of you,” she quipped. “The one thing he’s kept for 20 years that’s good is me. I haven’t broken yet.”
Plutchak, however, downplays that assessment somewhat, saying that he was simply attracted to the locking technology in the Langes, featuring a switch mechanism that lets the rear part of the boot fold back about 25 degrees. “I figured they just don’t make ‘em like this, and I’d wait until something came along that got my attention, and nothing did,” he said.
“You can see the mentality,” Flamer responded. “I sense a trend building,” Dawn’s husband, Darryl, lobbed in. The room erupted with laughter, even from Plutchak.
In case you’re wondering, boots aren’t the only pieces of vintage equipment he uses. Oh, he’s managed to move past straight skis, but not by much. Plutchak said he skis a very early series of parabolic Heads.
The boots, though, have a long history. Noel and Darryl recounted several trips the boots have made to ski adventures in Oregon, Colorado and Canada, as well as numerous trips to Mammoth. “I’ve never had them repacked, nothing,” he acknowledged. After they blew apart, he and Epstein took the remains to the boot repair at Canyon Lodge.
The technician noted he’s seen a few pairs in similar condition, all older and mostly Nordica brand. The tech, Plutchak said, attributes many such failures to the temperatures and atmospheric conditions in Southern California. Epstein and Plutchak, however, don’t discount the thousands of times he’s probably been in and out of the boots.
“He reluctantly said he couldn’t repair them,” Plutchak related. Bonnie and Gil suggested trying a roll of duct tape. More laughter. “I called him and asked him if he was done, and replied, ‘Well, yeah, in a way,’” Flamer said. Still more laughter.
Flamer said, all kidding aside, she’s thankful the boots died where they did, and not while Plutchak was skiing off the top or down some steep run. “I hope there’s a message that gets out to some folks who are using older gear: plastic boots do have a life expectancy.”
Meanwhile, he’s pondering his next pair of boots. “I haven’t looked in 30 years … I’m thinking about renting,” Plutchak said. “You should try thrift shops (DSES and the Cast Off),” Darryl pitched. “If they have your size, you could upgrade … maybe you’ll find something in the 15-20 year range.”
“He likes ‘em worn in,” Flamer fired off. Laughter again.