Alpinestars Started With Ski Boots But Grew Into Motorsports

This is how you go from making ski boots to becoming the most dominant motorsport gear producer ever.

byRobert Bacon|
Alpinestars hero
Jonathon Klein
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If you’re involved in motor racing to any degree, you know Alpinestars. But if you’re unfamiliar with the brand, to put it simply, the company produces the largest range of motorsport gear in the world. It’s represented by more than 500 employees, 400 athletes, and four headquarters spread across the globe. Whether you want to get behind the handlebars of a MotoGP bike, the wheel of a go-kart, or almost anything in between, there’s an Alpinestars product to protect you.

But it wasn’t until I spoke to Alpinestars’ Director of Communications, Heath Cofran, and asked him who the company’s rivals were that I gained an insight into the true scope of the brand. Cofran responded with, “I mean, honestly, it would take probably eight companies to do what we do as one… it really is so extensive and so vast that it's incomparable. There’s not one brand that does what we do, nor does anybody come close.”

If, like me, you thought Alpinestars grew from its roots in motocross, you’d be half-right. But before founder Sante Mazzarolo ever slapped a star-inspired logo on a motocross boot, he was making ski boots under the same brand. Here's everything you need to know about one of the most famous motorsport brands around.

Alpinestars' Genesis

There are more than 500 employees at Alpinestars today, but it all started with one man: Sante Mazzarolo, the godfather of the motocross boot. Mazzarolo was a third-generation cobbler, who learned his trade from his father and grandfather. He honed his skills, traveling from house to house with a wooden set of boots making shoes for large families before becoming a developer for a hiking and ski boot company.

Fausto Gresini sporting Alpinestars boots in 1987, photo credit: www.motogp.com

By 1963 it was time for him to go his own way. This led Mazzarolo to create Alpinestars and base it out of his hometown of Aloso, Italy, which has the perennial Alpine star flower as its namesake—the moniker we still see on Alpinestars products today. Although Mazzarolo started out making hiking and ski boots, unbeknownst to him, he was on the cusp of revolutionizing the world of motorsport.

Motocross, a relatively new sport in 1963, was spreading throughout Europe and, thankfully, a track was set up in Mazzarolo’s local town. The cobbler saw an influx of riders wearing boots that were insufficient for the job. He knew he could do something about it, and he did. By 1965,

Alpinestars launched the first purpose-built motocross boot, which featured a steel shin protector and buckle closure system. The rest of the decade was spent refining the boot from the feedback of local motocross riders. Then, Mazzarolo sought to take this new off-road boot to the limelight.

Mike Alessi, rider of the #800 Red Bull/Alpinestars/KTM 450, photo credit: www.gettyimages.com

By the early 1970s, Alpinestars was brought to the world stage by the hands (feet) of Roger de Coster, when he won the World Motocross Championship sporting the brand. This gave the company a foothold in the motorcycle industry, and one that would be strengthened when Kenny Roberts won the Grand Prix World Championship in 1978, again wearing Alpinestars boots. 

Before the end of the 1970s, Alpinestars was making boots for all forms of motorcycle racing, and the brand had plenty of high-profile ambassadors. 

Photo credit: GettyImages.com

Sante’s son, Gabriele Mazzarolo, established Alpinestars USA in 1986 and began developing mountain bikes. Success soon followed. Mike Kloser took second place in the 1990 World Downhill Championship atop an Alpinestars bike. Although the company didn’t continue making mountain bikes, its range of mountain bike gear is hugely successful.

Until 1999, Alpinestars was mainly known for boots and bikes, but before the millennium, the brand took a monumental leap forward when it started producing motorcycle leathers. Anyone who followed AMA Superbikes back then would’ve seen Nickey Hayden and Ben Bostrum wearing Alpinestars while Carlos Checa was the ambassador in MotoGP.

Photo credit: www.motogp.com

The naughties saw Alpinestars reap the rewards of its investment when Troy Corser won the Superbike World Championship in 2005, and Nicky Hayden became the MotoGP World Champion in 2006. Both riders were protected from shoulder to toe by Alpinestars gear, and Hayden’s win marked the first of many premier-class Alpinestars champions. Today, the 2022 MotoGP Champion, Pecco Bagnaia, zips up an Alpinestars suit before he throws a leg over, as does crowd favorite Marc Marquez. But this isn’t where moto gear development stopped.

Almost 15 years after it launched, this is still a concept that excites me: a motorcycle airbag system. Alpinestars began developing the Tech-Air system in 2001. Between 2004 and 2009, it used information from MotoGP falls to understand what lowsides, highsides, and every other motorcycle crash looked like in raw data. 

Alpinestars introduced the Tech-Air system to MotoGP in 2009, and it’s worn by the majority of professional riders today. The Tech-Air system was launched to the public in 2011 and was recognized as the first airbag providing full upper body protection with a completely independent electronic management system on the road. The Tech-Air 5 is unquestionably the most popular motorcycle airbag system.

But, to fully assert its dominance over the entirety of the motorcycle industry, Alpinestars needed to add one more product to its inventory, and that just happened.

Jack Miller wearing an Alpinestars Supertech R10, photo credit: www.motogp.com

The company launched a road racing helmet, the Supertech R10, which Joge Martin and Jack Miller are wearing for the 2023 MotoGP season. Although the brand is no stranger to motorcycle helmets, it's never produced a helmet specifically for road racing. And if Alpinestars’ history is anything to go by, it won’t be long before we see this helmet on a championship-winning rider.

If the technology used to create the MotoGP helmet trickles down to the public, you should be able to sport an Alpinestars helmet on the road in the near future. And with that, it will fully encompass the world of motorcycle gear.

Sam Bendall

As Cofran told me when speaking about the breadth of Alpinestars’ moto range, “We have riders that have ridden almost every country in this world. They’ve ridden our products at some point, in some space, somewhere… I mean, ultimately what we feel is the most important thing in the world is what we can do to keep riders as safe as possible, enjoying what they love to do on two wheels.”

Photo by Gongora/NurPhoto via Getty Images

Two Wheels Become Four

The 1990s and naughties were hugely successful times for Alpinestars in the motorcycling niche. But Alpinestars wouldn’t be the mammoth it is today if it never delved into the world of four-wheeled racing.

In the early 90s, Alpinestars began producing footwear for Indycar and Formula One drivers. And this was successful, but if the brand stayed a footwear-only company, you wouldn’t be reading this article right now. Alpinestars set up an Auto Suit department in 2000, and like every endeavor into a new industry before, it would only be a few years until there was podium success.

Photo by Peter Fox/Getty Images

You can’t look down an automotive pit lane without seeing an Alpinestars race suit today, but these were the first drivers to bring success to the brand’s auto suit department:

  • Petter Solberg: 2003 World Rally Champion
  • Kurt Busch: 2004 NASCAR Cup Champion
  • Fernando Alonso: 2005 Formula One Champion

The racing suit department is so successful and all-encompassing that, according to Cofran, “The drag racing suit is the only suit we don’t make.” 

By 2020, Alpinestars supplied five out of the ten Formula 1 teams with their race suits. And if Aston Martin can get a good result in 2023, we might see an Alpinestars athlete in contention for the championship this year. But RedBull Racing could be too much of an, ahem, powerhouse

Photo credit: GettyImages.com

Today, Alpinestars supplies more Formula 1 teams with their race suits than any other manufacturer, and nearly a quarter of the 2020 NASCAR drivers will be representing the brand too. Between shoes, race suits, and driving gloves, I’d say Alpinestars net is cast over automotive racing. All we need now is a helmet.

The First Choice in a Modern Era

Whether you’re a man, woman, or child who wants to get involved with practically any type of motorsport, an Alpinestars product will quickly be on your shortlist.

A Tech-Air 5 system is a must for almost anyone competing on two wheels. If you like to take the road less traveled and tear it up along the way, then you should be more than familiar with the Tech 10 Boots.

Anyone that spends time behind the wheel instead of handlebars, should have the GP Tech V3 Suit, Tech-1 T Shoes, and Tech-1 ZX V2 Gloves on their radar. And if you want to stay comfy and stylish while you’re tinkering in the pits or on the sidelines of some weekend racing, the Alpinestars Casuals range has you covered.

Looking to the Horizon

What started as a ski-boot company exactly 60 years ago, now stands as the most dominant motorsport gear company in the world. Its progression is a testament to the adage, “no risk, no reward” because every new venture presented a risk of failure. But Alpinestars has a resounding history of success, not failures.

Cofran sums it all up with, “Whatever motorsports has to bring, Alpinestars protects. That's just what we do. It's why we wake up every day. That's what drives us more than anything in this world, is how to keep motorsports activities as safe as possible for the people that choose to do that.”

What’s clear is that Alpinestars never stops looking toward the horizon to see what’s next for gearheads. If it’s potentially dangerous, involves a motor, and we like it, you can be sure the company is already looking for a way to help us enjoy it more safely.

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