- What makes a good boot fitter?
In my opinion, a good boot fitter will spend the time to ask the right questions about what the customer is seeking, such as how well they ski (Novice to expert), and what type of skiing they usually prefer to do (moguls, park, groomers only), even find out what type of ski the customer uses, there is no point selling a race oriented boot to someone who uses a park ski.
The fitter will do a preliminary assessment of the foot including any stance related issues.
A good fitter will have done all the boot fitting courses on offer within the industry, and should continually be updating their knowledge by attending new courses as they come up, to keep up with new technology (I have done the Masterfit course 3 times now as each time it was a different instructor with different ways of fitting boots, I recommend doing more than one for this reason)
Any fitter will require the tools to modify boot shells and liners as well as make custom footbeds and measure alignment and stance.
- What questions should you ask a boot fitter when shopping around to find the right one for you?
To determine if the fitter is any good you could ask if they offer a boot fit guarantee and for how long, I offer a lifetime fit guarantee at my shop, they should have already done some research hopefully and found out that the fitter has a reputation for doing a good job.
If they want to see the fitter at the shop, they should book an appointment; otherwise they may end up with a staff member who is not the boot fitter.
A customer should make sure of one exceptionally important step is done when buying new boots, and that is the fitter should remove the liner of the boot and size the foot in the boot shell, if the fitter doesn’t do this, I would leave the shop and find another shop to buy boots.
A boot fit requires very good communication between the fitter and the customer, a customer must not be shy and quiet during the fit, if they feel there is something not quite right they must speak up and tell the fitter, otherwise the fitter may not know they need to fix this issue.
I am not sure the customer needs to ask the fitter questions as much as the fitter needs to ask the customer a lot of questions.
Questions such as the type of boot, like are they racing or are they wanting a boot for park use, or just a good all round recreation boot, have they had any issues with boots in the past, do they have any injuries or issues that may affect the fit and comfort of the boot, such as Plantar fasciitis, or Mortons neuroma etc, although I do test for this anyway.
I tend to not get into price or colour, as I believe in trying to get the best boot for the customers’ needs regardless of price or colour, but if they do mention they have a budget or want a certain colour, I will try to work within that restriction.
- What are the most common boot fitting mistakes (that you have to correct)?
By far the most common problem I see is boots that are causing a problem because they are at least one size too big, almost all ski boots should have a shell gap between 10mm and 20mm, by this I mean the fitter should remove the liner from the boot shell, the customer places their foot in the shell with their toe just brushing the front of the boot shell, the gap inside the shell behind the heel is called shell size gap, for a good high end skier a fitter should aim for around 10mm gap, for a skier wanting comfort over performance the fitter will offer a gap closer to the 20mm, I try very hard to never go over 20mm as it usually causes trouble once the liner has packed out, while checking this shell gap, the fitter would also check the room at the forefoot to see if the boot is wide enough.
A simple test to tell if you are in the right size boot is to take out the footbed or insole and place your foot over it, with your heel lined up with the back of the footbed, your toes should hang slightly over the front end of the footbed, if you can see more than a few mm of footbed past your toes, there is a very good chance your boots are too big for you.
If you are in boots that are too big you will have a lot more movement within the boot, this will lead to poor transmission of movement to place the ski on an edge, in rougher terrain this will see the skis move around a lot and be harder to control, a common sign that your boots are too big is, sore shins due to shin bang, and black or bruised toes called toe bang, toe bang is due to the leg not being held back in the boot which allows your toes to bang into the front of the liner, one way of reducing shin bang and toe bang, if your boots are a bit too big is to do up the power strap first before doing up the top boot buckles, and do this strap up under the plastic cuff on the boots not over the plastic, this gets pressure directly onto the tongue and holds the leg back within the boot helping prevent shin bang and toe bang.
A problem that is less common now but a hard one to pick up for some fitters is a liner that is too narrow, often a customer will come in with symptoms that the boot is too narrow, the fitter will assume the shell needs to be made wider, quite often the shell is already wide enough, but the liner isn’t, heat molding the liners can fix this and should always be done before wearing the boot the first time, I have had boots where heat molding wasn’t enough and I have had to stretch the liner with heat and a press.
- What is the best way to look after your ski boots?
Try to always walk on snow rather than bitumen or concrete if you have the choice, when walking try not to drag the boot as the soles are plastic and will wear quickly, make sure the bindings are set correctly to the boot, too much forward pressure will damage the boots in no time at all, too little forward pressure can damage the heel sole plates, wear socks that are not abrasive in the weave as this breaks down the liner and is not usually comfortable either.
Keep them away from very hot places; I see a lot of boots that have been melted by heaters or open fires.
- How should one store their ski boots?
The most import thing to do with storage of boots is to keep the buckles done up and to make sure the liner is not being deformed in any way, especially the tongue.
Keep them away from higher temperatures and in a dry place, also keep them away from any place that may have rodents, I see a lot of boots that have been damaged by wasps, mice, rats and possums in the off season
- Boot warmer or not boot warmers?
Boot warmers are becoming more popular in recent years, those with a custom footbed or an orthotic can get an after-market heater fitted to their boot insoles, these heaters are very thin and can be used in the next set of boots if you transfer the insoles.
What I have seen in recent years is heated socks, I think in many cases these are a better option as you can wear them with other footwear after skiing if you have more than one pair, you normally would have a few sets of socks with the heating element, and one set of batteries and controls. There are a couple of boot companies putting boot warmers into the boot liner rather than have it part of the footbed, this does add quite a lot to the price and can’t be transferred to the next boot like a heated footbed can.
- Orthotics or not orthotics?
Only a podiatrist can legally make an Orthotic as Orthotics medically correct issues with feet as well as generally make the boot more comfortable and the boot perform better, a boot fitter who is not a podiatrist (such as Ned Buckley) can make a custom footbed, a custom footbed hopefully will make the boot more comfortable and perform better, but will not generally fix any issues with the foot and to claim to do so is practicing medicine, something Masterfit point out to be very careful about,
I do see some customers with extreme problems with their feet and most often these people already are seeing a podiatrist, we are lucky in this area to have a very good podiatrist who is also a skier, for skiers with serious issues I will often suggest they see this podiatrist and get an orthotic made for ski boots, rather than a custom footbed.
A custom footbed is something every skier should have in their ski boots.
A custom footbed will support the rear of the foot and arch, some will correct alignment of the forefoot, and greatly reduce the movement within the boot especially when edging, a well-made custom footbed that is formed while your foot is placed in a subtalar neutral position, will see your foot properly aligned within the boot, this often fixes the problem with people getting ankle pain due to pronation or supination.
- Heel lift or not heel lift
Heel lift is something you need to have in a ski boot, but only a little.
On the top of your foot there are bones called Cuneiform bones, there is also a main nerve that passes over these bones and goes to your toes, it is called the Peroneal nerve, if the lower boot buckles are done up too tight over the instep area to reduce heel lift, the tongue of the ski boot will place enough pressure to compress that Peroneal nerve and in no time at all you toes will go numb, if your buckles are so tight you have no heel lift at all, you will get numb toes, so you do need a little bit of heel lift to prevent this.
There have been some significant changes to ski boots in recent years; many of these have come around since your last boot fitting article a few years back.
Only a few years back companies like Salomon, Fischer and more recently Atomic introduced a new type of plastic that when heated in an oven to around 100 to 120 degrees and the customer then puts their feet into the boot and does up the buckles, this shell will conform to the shape of the foot, this has been a real game changer in boot fitting, Head ski boots have now joined in with this technology for the 2017 season, the others need to get on board or lose sales in years to come.
Prior to this new plastic a boot fitter had to determine where a boot needed to be made wider, and by just how much, this required a lot of skill to get it just right, too much stretching made the boot loose, not enough or if stretched in the wrong spot saw the customer have to come back for more work, I have found that customers who buy these new boots with this feature, get comfortable boots first up and rarely need to come back for more work, it also means the boot is not stretched even a mm too big giving much better performance, these new technology boots can be way too tight until heated, this reduces the chance of any gaps around the ankles, and the heel area of the boot.
Another big change that is coming in this year but more so next year is something called Grip walk soles, Grip walk as the name suggests is a boot sole that gives better grip on ice and slippery surfaces such as tiled floors, they also will be slightly rockered to make walking easier, all boots in 2 – 3 years will have grip walk soles, with the exception of race boots and some touring boots, this leads to another problem, these new boot soles will not be compatible with most of the bindings currently fitted to skis, so this year we are seeing many of the new skis coming out with Grip walk binding toes, google covers this quite well if you want more information.
Head have this year also introduced a new boot that is going to be something quite different, at present with almost all ski boots, you have a lower part of the boot made of plastic, then above the ankle you have a plastic cuff that comes up to the top of the liner, all boots have a boot liner.
To put pressure on to your edges of your skis you need to move your leg, the leg movement is transferred to the boot liner, then the boot cuff which is transferred to the bottom part of the plastic ski boot which is clipped into the ski binding this making the ski edge well hopefully.
Head have made some boots where the plastic bottom part of the boot comes right up to the top of the liner, Head claim that this allows the leg to put pressure on the liner that transmits directly to the base part of the boot rather than via the boot cuff where a lot of movement is lost between cuff and boot base, Head claims they are 30% more responsive than other ski boots, I have sold one set already and the customer took them to Japan and he says they are a much better performing boot.