Boost Your Performance With New Boots, PLUS Current Conditions
| By Snowsports Journalist Daniel Gibson |
Learn why having the right boot for you is essential, then read on for conditions snow current as of Dec. 30, 2020. |
Most experienced skiers and snowboarders know the answer to this question but its response bears repeating: What is your single most important piece of equipment in terms of performance?
If you said high-quality skies or snowboard, or bindings, you’d be wrong. Great execution of turns on all types of snow begins with good boots.
I’ve been on my pair for probably a decade or more, and they’d long outlived their intended lifespan, but I’ve resisted getting a new pair because they are so comfortable, they seem to work quite well still, and new boots are not cheap.
But when I went to have my bindings checked a few weeks ago, as documented in a previous article on ski tuning, I was told that my heel and toe pieces were so worn that the shop could not run the calibration tests, and that finding replacement toe and heel pieces could be difficult and expensive. With a broken buckle and inner liners that have been compressed to salami-thickness, requiring me to use the very last notch on the buckles to secure them, the handwriting was on the wall: time for a new pair.
My story is not unique, says Jeremy Cole, owner of Santa Fe’s Alpine Sports. Most people who show up there to get new boots should have made the visit years before, and their skiing or boarding has suffered, he explains. Here’s why. When one initiates a turn on a snowboard or skis, you want it to immediately respond. If there is “play” in the boot — i.e., movement of the heel or across the instep, or if one’s toes slide in the boot from side to side or loosely up and down, or the shin is not engaged with the boot tongue — there is a lag time to transmit the foot’s force to the ski or board. With split-second timing so crucial, this response delay means your board or ski is not beginning or ending its turn as intended. Edge pressure is also affected, and tip and tail control.
So, resigned to the fact I needed new boots, I scheduled an appointment at Alpine last week, which is required, and went in. I came out two hours later with a big smile and I can’t wait to try my new Fischer boots on the slopes. Why, I asked myself, did I wait so long!
Matching Foot Type to Shell
The session began with a brief interview about my ability level, how many times I ski a year, weight, height, and other basic background information. My foot size was measured with a standard Brannock device, plus tape measurements made of my instep, ankle, and calf. Then I stood on a podoscope, which measures the foot’s arch profile (high, medium, or low), where you bear weight on the foot, and one’s dorsal deflection (range of motion of the ankle).
“Every foot is different,” noted Cole, “both between people but also in one’s left and right foot. That’s why custom fitting is so important.”
In my case, I have an average foot width but with a calf size thicker than normal. “We are really fitting the boot to the calf,” he explained, more so than to the foot, as custom boot fitters can manipulate the interior volume of the foot area but not so much for the calf. “That’s the harder thing to fix.” Another key factor they look at is the curvature of the heel and how deep the boot’s heel “pocket” needs to be. The boot technician in selecting the basic model most suited for your foot considers all these elements.
Every boot brand and model is designed for a certain type of foot, like long and thin, long and fat, short and fat, short and narrow, etc. In Cole’s boot-buying process, he physically breaks boots down and takes numerous measurements of interior volume and dimensions, and then buys a range of models to accommodate every calf and foot type. They will match this basic foot type to the brand and model best suited for your foot. It’s wise to take their advice, rather than coming in with the intention of buying a specific boot because you like its look, its bells and whistles, or its reputation. What works for your buddy might be entirely the wrong boot for you.
“I’m shocked if I have more than two specific boots that are best suited for a customer,” he noted.
Every brand tends to make boots in three basic configurations: low, medium, and high volume. They might be known for tending to focus on one of these basic forms but generally produce boots in all three. “The industry trend is to have one boot with the exact same set of features and materials but in three volume sizes. It used to be that large volume boots had less quality plastic, cheaper liner, and so forth, but not today. It’s a huge improvement.”
Importance of Insoles
Once the basic brand and model has been selected, one must consider the boot’s insole or foot bed. “Whatever the brand or model, the foot bed that comes with the boot is typically a piece of junk. They are generally a thin piece of foam and are there to take up volume, not to support the foot. They are meant to be thrown away and replaced with a better insole.”
Alpine offer trim-to-fit insoles ($38 a pair) made by The Boot Doctors, in low, medium, and high arch types that are cut to fit one’s arch length. These are “semi-molded” by warming them in their on-site “industrial toaster.” The other option is a custom insole ($150 a pair). They also sell a super high-end insole with fluid “bladders” from Zipfit that appeal to racers or people with extremely complicated foot issues.
In the custom insole process, “We make a mold of your foot standing in a neutral position and cast the foot bed using that mold. They are one hundred percent guaranteed to fit; we will adjust them until you are perfectly satisfied. You walk out of here with a pair of boots that feel great, but the ultimate test is always on the mountain. Only about forty percent of our customers return for some adjustments, a re-fit, and most of these issues are easily fixed.” Very rarely do they need to start from scratch again, normally due to selecting a wrong sized or shaped outer shell.
Molding Shell to Foot
In the case of the Fischer models, whether one is using the trim-to-fit or deluxe foot bed, the next step involves using their proprietary vacuum technology to mold the shell to the foot. Many other brands still use an older process of heating the shell and using one’s own foot heat to mold the boot to the foot. The Fischer boot is wrapped in a boot-shaped bag and the air is withdrawn, slowly contracting the boot so it fits snuggly around the foot and calf. Then the boot is set aside to “cure” for a day or more, locking the shape into the shell. Viola — a boot that will fit like a glove, while still allowing me to wiggle my toes, that will be warm because there are no hidden air pockets inside it, and that will transmit my every twitch to the ski.
Alpine sells about 500 pairs of boots a season, and does some custom fitting of boots bought elsewhere. Boot sales are the most significant part of their revenue, followed by sales of skis/snowboards, then bindings and lastly soft goods (clothing). They carry boots from Solomon, Technica, Lange, Fischer, Dabello, Head, Roxa, Dynafit, Black Diamond, and a few other alpine touring brands.
“Boots are never going to be as comfy as a pair of bedroom slippers,” he said. “They aren’t supposed to be! But they should not hurt and your foot should not be cold.”
Daniel Gibson is the author of New Mexico’s only comprehensive ski guidebook, Skiing New Mexico: Snow Sports in the Land of Enchantment (UNM Press, 2017). He is a member of the North American Snowsports Journalist Association and has written on the topic for newspapers coast to coast, web sites, and magazines including Powder, Ski and Wintersport Business. His first day on wooden skis with wooden edges came at age 6 in 1960 on a snowy day at the former Santa Fe Ski Basin. He can be reached at [email protected] or via www.DanielBGibson.com.This article was posted by Cheryl Fallstead