Heinz Mariacher: The Man Behind The Shoes

Who designed your climbing shoes?

Barefoot Climbing

If you ask your climbing buddies if they know who Heinz Mariacher is I’m willing to bet most of them won’t have a clue. Which is pretty ironic really because there’s a good chance are they will be standing, or rather climbing, in shoes that Heinz helped design.

While this Austrian-native helped push the boundaries of free climbing throughout the 70s and 80s, to those of us that have heard of him, it will most likely be because of his reputation for designing world-class climbing shoes.

Mariacher’s impact on the world of climbing shoes is so profound that his designs and shoe technology can be found everywhere; from the feet of beginner gym rats to rugged alpine big-wall adventurers.

So who is Heinz Mariacher? How did he become a master climbing shoemaker, and what climbing creations is he responsible for?

Here’s what you need to know.

The History of Heinz 

If you have heard of Heinz Mariacher it’s most likely because of his role in developing modern climbing shoes. Long before the days of teaming up with Italy’s climbing shoe kingpins, Heinz was a prominent face in the European free climbing movement.

Mariacher’s climbing career spans over six decades. Having such a long love affair with rock climbing, Mariacher witnessed the evolution of the sport, and played a part in the evolution of the free climbing movement, especially in the Dolomites.

Even from an early age, Mariacher was drawn to the mountains, often playing in the canyons near his hometown of Wörgl, Austria. He was captivated by rock climbing, seeking ‘pure’ climbing experiences rather than following the popular style of alpinism that required long hikes through winter conditions.

By age 11, Heinz had free soloed a 5+ mountain route with nothing more than a pair of old sneakers, an accomplishment that he topped the following year, by soloing the East face of Rofanspitze alone.

Throughout the 70s, Mariacher embodied the adventurous spirit of free climbing and the evolving discipline of trad. He earned a reputation as one of the most formidable trad climbers of his generation, often due to his mantra of ‘the less gear, the better’.

Living by his strict climbing ethics, Mariacher would become known through the growing community of European climbing for his daring big-wall onsight ascents armed with nothing more than a handful of nuts, Hexentrics and pitons. In 1977 the Austrian opened a new 800-meter line on Laliderer, which he later named Charlie Chaplin, armed with only a handful of pitons. The daring ascent marked a new milestone in the evolution of free climbing in the Alps. He would later go on to establish new routes on Marmolada in a similar, aid-free fashion including lines like; Don Quixote, Vogelwild, Abrakadabra and Tempi Moderni.

It wasn’t just on a rope where Marichaer was making a name for himself. Long before the days when Alex Honnold was making headlines, the Austrian was creating his own list of ropeless ascents, in a time when the term ‘free solo’ didn’t even exist.

Throughout the 70s Maricher laid claim to a myriad of solo ascents. Rebitsch and Schmuck on Fleischbank (300m), Cassin and Comici in Tre Cime di Lavaredo (450m) as well as an onsight solo of Conforto, Marmolada (800m), were just a handful of his daring solos ascents.

In the early 80s, sport climbing was beginning to become increasingly widespread. On a trip to Yosemite Valley in 1980, Heinz got his first taste of the American climbing community that was rapidly growing. Despite making ascents on both El Cap and Half Dome, Mariacher recognized he lacked the ability, and athleticism, to do the harder free climbs in the Valley.

After this, Mariachers strict anti-bolting ethos began to change, as he began to understand the benefits of sport climbing as an opportunity to push one’s athletic boundaries, as well as a way to access lines that would be impossible to trad climb due to the lack of protection placement.

Throughout the 1980s, Mariacher started bolting both single and multi-pitch lines around the Dolomites. Over the next several years, Marica Hair would prove himself a formidable sport climber, claiming ascents like Kendo, one Italy’s first 8b’s, as well as early repeats of Rude Boyz (5.13c) and Monkeyface (5.13d) in Smith Rocks, Oregon.

While Mariacher was beginning to warm around to the concept of bolted climbing, he still maintained a strict ethical code when it came to bolting routes, as he surmised “Sport climbing is a sport; mountain climbing is an adventure. Sport climbing is free of risk; mountain climbing is characterized by risk.”

Stepping into the world of climbing shoes

Despite the obvious push toward free climbing in the 70s and 80s, as well as the increasingly difficult grades, climbing shoes had remained remarkably unchanged.

EB, the French shoe manufacturer that created the first climbing-specific shoe in the 1930s, was still the leading climbing shoe manufacturer in Europe at the time. The EB Super Gratton, released in 1968, was still the favorite of many climbers.

Like many climbing shoes at the time, downsizing these poorly fitting models was the norm. Heinz would wear his EB shoes four sizes too small, often using a plastic bag in order to shoehorn them onto his feet.

After several years of climbing in the EBs, and hundreds of hours spent in toe-curling pain, Mariacher was determined to find a better shoe solution. It was after a chance encounter with a fellow climber, Alessandro Grillo, that offered Mariacher an introduction into the world of shoe designing.

Grillo was working with San Marco, an Italian shoe manufacturer, on a new model of climbing shoes. This shoe, although might not have been a widely received commercial success, was one of the first models to introduce bold colors into climbing shoes. Learning from Grillo and his project with San Marco offered a valuable experience for Mariacher to gain an understanding of climbing shoes.

It wasn’t long after that La Sportiva, a little-known shoe manufacturer at the time, reached out to Mariacher with a proposition. The Italian company had been attempting to break into the climbing shoe market for years, although had very little commercial success. The company has already produced a number of shoes, like the Ghedina, which featured a wooden midsole and the Slick in 1979, using rubber tires from Alfa Romeo rally cars.

Looking to capitalize on Mariacher’s reputation as a free-climbing pioneer, the company offered him a job as a consultant for their new range of climbing shoes. Despite being offered very little financial compensation, Mariacher was captivated at the opportunity to create something better than the exciting selection of climbing shoes.

His first collaboration with La Sportiva was released in 1982, and the ‘La Sportiva Mariacher’ was born. Like every shoe at this time, the Mariacher still followed the traditional high-top design, with some clever additions. These additions included a new rubber compound designed to rival the Borel Fire, the benchmark of performance climbing shoes at the time.

The Mariacher also had some clever design features that meant climbers no longer needed to wear shoes four sizes too small. It was one of the first lined climbing shoes, using a durable suede for the upper, and a lined cotton interior. This enabled the shoe to mold to the climber’s foot shape, yet minimize excessive stretching.

La Sportiva Mariacher climbing shoe

Following the success of the Mariacher, it didn’t take long for more models to roll off the production line. In 1984, Heinz and La Sportiva announced the release of the La Sportiva Ballerina, a model that paved the way for the future of slipper shoes. This is quickly followed up by other groundbreaking models such as the Mega S.G, Kendo and the now-iconic Mythos in 1991.

For over 25 years, Heinz worked with La Sportiva, revolutionizing shoe designs and playing a big role in developing the Italian company’s iconic range of world-class climbing shoes.

In 2005, however, the partnership came to an abrupt end. Although little information is publicly available as to why the relationship deteriorated, Heinz seemed unhappy with the lack of credit he received for his input in developing many of La Sportiva’s popular climbing shoes.

Soon after cutting ties with La Sportiva Scarpa, Italy’s other prominent climbing shoe manufacturer approached Mariacher with the offer to join their team as the product manager in 2006.

Mariacher accepted the offer and went to work on the Scarpa 2007 line. It didn’t take long for Heinz to begin creating world-class shoes with his new partner.

Some of his early creations with Scarpa included the Rockette, arguably one of the first real climbing shoes designed to fit a women’s foot as well as the Scarpa Instinct Lace, the shoe that help solidify Scarpa’s position as a supplier of high-performance shoes.

To this day, Heinz still works with Scarpa, overseeing the research and development of the popular climbing shoe line.

Heinz Maircher Climbing Shoes

With a career spanning four decades as a shoe designer for two of the biggest names in the climbing shoe game, it’s safe to say Heinz has helped develop some of the most iconic climbing shoes of our generation.

Here’s a list of some of the climbing shoes Heinz has worked on.

 La Sportiva

  • Mariacher
  • Ballerina
  • Kendo
  • Mega S.G.
  • Mantra
  • Mythos
  • Miura
  • Cobra
  • Testarossa
  • Katana
  • Solution

 Scarpa 

  • Techno
  • Rockette
  • Sphinx
  • Mago
  • Vapor V
  • Drago
  • Chimera
  • Furia
  • Furia Air
  • Booster
  • Boostic
  • Instinct
  • Veloce
  • Quantic

I am sure there are countless shoes that I have missed from this list too. If you notice any missing, please let me know!

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