MIDDLESEX — John Crowley believes his latest invention will be a game changer in the ski equipment industry, but the idea came about because of a messy — and smelly — problem.
“I train cattle horses, and the idea came to me while I was trying to take off my boots, which had cow (expletive) on them,” Crowley said with a smile. “A conventional boot jack did not work. I was roping that night, was tired and could not get it to work. The boot kept slipping out.”
So Crowley, a Middlesex resident who already has several patents, created a new type of jack for cowboy boots. He took it to his patent attorneys.
“They giggled when they inspected it. They said, ‘John, this thing isn’t gonna make you a nickel,’ “ he said. “They said, ‘We challenge you to make a ski boot jack.’ “
So he did.
Crowley had several prototypes made and gave them to Bristol Mountain and Swain Resort, where they were used the last two ski seasons. He said the response was overwhelming.
The device is called K-K’s ski boot jack, named after Crowley’s daughters, Kim and Kerri.
“After we took them out (of the resorts), people were calling me and telling me they depend on this thing,” Crowley said. “I had a lady from Swain call at 11:30 one night saying she couldn’t get her boots off and was tired. She wanted the boot jack.”
Due to that response, Crowley plans to mass-produce the jack and sell it to ski resorts across the U.S. and around the world.
“It’s ready to sell. The demos at Swain and Bristol were used more than 500 times,” he said. “New York state has the most ski mountains of any state in the country. As of now, we plan on contacting them all.”
Crowley is well known in Yates County for organizing charity rodeos that raised funds for the American Cancer Society while he lived in the town of Italy. He was an English teacher in Fairport and Brockport before moving to Yates County in the early 1970s, and taught for a year in Penn Yan before getting into the excavation business.
“I love it down here,” he said of Yates County. “It’s a nice place for my horses and cattle.”
Crowley, who will turn 80 soon, just stopped excavation work about a year ago and has invented several products over the years. Among them is a wood splitter sold all over the country and produced by Little Mountain Manufacturing in Potter, a business owned by Elvin Hurst. Crowley said Little Mountain also will manufacture the boot jack.
Crowley is also working with Jay Sawyer, a resident of Fair Haven, Cayuga County, who is helping Crowley with website design. Sawyer also is a skier who has used the jack boot.
The device is fairly simple. A ski boot is placed on the jack and locked into place with a bar, and the skier puts his or her foot inside while holding onto stabilizer bars to stay balanced.
The jack’s biggest benefit, however, is helping skiers get those boots off after time on the slopes.
“People who have custom boots have an easier time getting them on and off,” Sawyer said. “With rental boots, it can sometimes take 15-20 minutes to get them off with your hands, especially if your feet are sweaty. I rent my equipment, and the boot jack works great. This thing is incredible.”
“On a scale of 1 to 10, this is a 15 to a 20. I don’t want to brag, but people are going to use this,” Crowley added. “This is a known product already, and we have had inquiries from abroad. We are ready to head out into the world.”