Ski Boot Fitting GuideWritten by Brian Babcock, Wednesday, 12 January 2005
No one is immune to the excitement of a new pair of “boards” but are you getting all the benefits you hoped for? The problem may lie with your boots.
After watching (studying) a cross section of varied techniques and skill levels, we have made some alarming observations that we would like to share with you.
A great number of skiers are sold the wrong boot. While it’s easy to blame the boot-fitter, (which in most cases is part of the problem) we as skiers need to assume some responsibility for buying the wrong boot.
Suggestion: Allow the boot-fitter to choose which boot will wrap your foot properly with the least amount of modification. Skilled boot technicians will have tried on ALL the boots they sell and will match the correct shell and liner to your foot. BUT, Boot-fitters also need to know where and how you ski, and how often. Occasional skiers may take more than 1 season to break in their boots and can be fit for comfort with less attention to performance. Strong skiers, who ski more than 30 days per season need a closer fit as their boots will start to pack out much sooner leading to inefficient energy transfer and dangerous movement in the boot. Shells can be ground to eliminate “Hot spots.” Tight boots or can be stretched or “punched” to be comfortable and making a boot roomier for comfort is always easier than trying to fill up voids in a boot that’s too big or simply the wrong shape. To summarize …. If you leave the ski shop with boots that are so comfortable that it feels like you could leave them on while you mow the lawn, they are going to be too BIG for you after about 10 days of skiing.
AND NOW, the reason I sat down to compose this.
While not intending to insult anyone’s ability or skiing style, far too many skiers buy boots that are just TOO STIFF. Even if you only ski expert runs, you may not need that $700.00 Race boot. Putting all your weight on one foot and flexing the boot indoors, usually around 70 degrees is NOT an accurate test of how the boots will flex in the cold with your weight evenly distributed on both feet, flexing BOTH boots at the same time, as you actually do (HOPEFULLY) when you are skiing. (Sound familiar? We see this 1 footed flex test all the time)
There are 3 plastics that are commonly used to make boots. Polyether is the most resilient and thermally stable so Lange & some others use it in their high end boots to achieve a more consistent flex in a wider range of temperatures. Most current boots are polyurethane, some lighter entry level models are polyolefin (usually reserved for orange traffic cones) and will stiffen as much as 40% on a cold day.
Without making up statistics, lets just say that most racers have access to more extensive boot modifications than most skiers could barely imagine. Most commonly “cutting” to achieve the desired flex and range of knee AND ankle motion. This cutting practice is more common than most would think and can be done to most boots in less than an hour without affecting the integrity of the shell or ruining the look of your prize possessions.
If you can’t flex your boots in the cold, get them cut or soften the flex. Try loosening your Power Strap or even the top buckle to try this increased mobility prior to submitting them to a Boot-fitter’s blade.
There are lots of guidelines for choosing boots in magazines and on tons of web sites and after reading this far you’ve probably had enough for now….so in a last ditch endeavor at brevity.
1/ Ski socks, real ones, not cotton or pure wool, but a BLEND of wool (which will insulate even when wet) and silk, nylon, Thermax, polypro or any hydrophobic material that will wick moisture away from the skin.
2/ Put your socks on at the ski area, fresh socks that you didn’t drive or walk in prior to your day on snow. If your feet perspire a lot, take a break and change your socks at lunch. Your feet will be happier (and warmer) as the day progresses.
3/ No fabric softener! Those perfumed sheets may be great for B O problems, but the chemical residue in the sock causes your skin to perspire more, causing numerous problems in your boots. Some skiers spray their feet with an Anti-perspirant (NOT deodorant) especially if the boots will be on all day.
4/ Foot-beds, custom is best, but even a good “trim to fit” is better than the fuzzy cardboard insole that came in your boots. Orthotics that are made for shoes and allow all 4 stages of gait are not for ski boots. Skiing is a mid-stance sport, the movements and forces generated are not like walking or running, so unless your Doctor suggests you should put your shoe orthotics in your boots, it’s just not a good idea. If your doctor skis, he or she will understand this better than a doctor who may equate skiing with golf.
5/ If your boot-fitter does not ask a lot of questions about your skiing, and measure BOTH your feet BAREFOOT (no socks just yet) AND evaluate BOTH feet weighted and unweighted, you have not found a true boot tech. If they ask you what your shoe size is, or what color you want, then rush off to grab a pair of boots for you, RUN AWAY. You have found the dreaded shoe salesman or even worse, the abominable "boot getter" and NOT a Master Bootfitter. He /she probably doesn’t even know how many bones there are in the Human foot. Try not to buy your boots from AL BUNDY. This is also the time to learn “REAL SKIERS DON”T MATCH”
6/ Have your stance and balance evaluated. That techy looking little Allen screw on your boots is NOT canting, in spite of what the graphics guys printed on your boot cuff. Canting can only be achieved by grinding or shimming the boot sole (actually tipping the foot laterally to allow the skier to keep a flat ski, and deliver efficient pressure to the inside or outside edge) At one time we actually shimmed under the binding to achieve the required canting effect creating the need to dedicate one ski to each foot. Yes, it worked but only as long as you put your skis on the same foot every time and never tried any other skis. (Bummer)
That little allen screw by one or sometimes both ankle bones is UPPER CUFF ALIGNMENT and will not help put your foot in the right position to effectively transfer your hard learned abilities to the skis. It is an important adjustment but the foot should be supported by the foot-bed and sole planing or canting must be done before any adjustments to the boot’s upper cuff. Start with the bottom of the foot and work up.
7/ Please, stop kicking your heel on the floor to get your toes some room or to secure your heel. Instead . . . secure your upper cuff buckles and power strap FIRST, do this a couple of times to ensure that both buckles are SNUG and will fasten with about 2 fingers applying the pressure. Hook the bottom buckles over your instep and toes but DO NOT snap them down unless you are flexed forward as far as you can with your shin pressing hard against the boot tongue. This will allow your foot and the liner to move back in the shell, securing your heel and giving your toes more room. With your knees still pushed forward, fasten the bottom buckles, so they are just snug. When you stand up your boots should feel comfortable with your toes just brushing the front of the liner and your heel should not lift.
8/ Don’t fall prey to the "more forward lean is better" theory. The more your knees are forced forward by the boot cuff, the more likely you are to injure your knees, as you will limit the range of knee motion if your boots have too much lean. Thankfully, most boots have done away with this "forward lean" adjustment, and encourage a more neutral stance with the knees and ankles flexed just enough to help maintain weight on the mid-foot. A lot of "tail-sitters" or "Toilet Turners" adjust their upper cuff too far forward, only to end up skiing with their calves against the upper cuff & spoiler, in an attempt to get forward. It simply doesn’t work and may actually increase the risk of injury. Observe skiers while riding up for your next run, but please refrain from yelling "Toilet Turner" at the ones who may demonstrate the posture we should be trying to avoid.
Your free time is precious and all too scarce, and I just took up more of it. Get the right boots and get them "dialed in" to your feet. If you have read this far, you obviously share our passion for the sport. This was a longer read than I intended and we’ve only touched on some basics.
I sincerely hope it helps you enjoy the spectacular new skis available to us at all skill levels.