This article originally appeared on Powder.com and was republished with permission.
We get a lot of questions about gear. We can tell you how a 26-meter sidecut will feel on 6″ of fresh versus how it will feel on a groomer—at the beginning of the day or when it’s roughed up at last chair. But the question we get the most often is one we really cannot answer. At all. Won’t do it. That question is, “Which boot should I get?”
We can tell you what boots rip, which work well for a certain volume, which will kick your friend’s ass on the skin track and which will get their ass kicked on the descent, but we can’t tell you which boot YOU should get.
This is paradoxically both very simple and very complicated—there are a million reasons that your foot will or won’t do well in a specific shell and liner pair, but the short of it is this: We don’t know the exact contours of your foot, and we’re not particularly interested in learning them.
But we can give you advice: Go. To. A. Boot fitter.
We cannot stress this enough.
“But it’s expensive,” you clamor. Yes, but so are those sweet pair of mid-fats that you mounted with Shifts this year. So is your multi-destination season pass. So is the $15 Bud Light you got at the mid-mountain bar. When we say date your skis but marry your boots, what we mean is simple. It doesn’t matter how ripping your triple-titanal-full-sandwich-big-mountain-chunder eater skis if you have a sloppy boot fit.
“But it’s time-consuming,” you cry. Sure, ski vacations are a huge investment in both time and money, and many custom boot fitting shops are found in mountain towns. But many large metropolitan areas have them too—Boston has the Ski Monster. LA has Surefoot. Chicago has Viking ski shop.
Maybe don’t take our word for it. Take the word of Sam Tischendorf, a clinical podiatrist and custom boot fitter living and working in Telluride, Colorado. She’s worked seven-day weeks for the past seven years fitting boots at Bootdoctors and working in clinics as a sports-based podiatrist and spent time before that in the public health system working with high-risk feet.
We asked Tischendorf what happens when you ski in a boot that almost fits.
“Like any piece of equipment that almost works, you can almost have a good time but get very frustrated. It’s like a car that will start but won’t accelerate to the speed limit,” she says. This kind of fit can leave you anywhere from fiddling with buckles all day, to being forced into the lodge with numb toes, to causing permanent damage. When you spend copious funds for your ski vacation, the last thing you want is to be miserable the whole time.
“You also won’t have the same kind of proprioceptive qualities [the awareness of your body position in space] that you should with a well-fit boot so you won’t be able to feel your skis as well, which can lead to serious injury.”
Well, what if you’ve been buying boots for 20 years? Surely you know your foot well enough to buy online.
Tischendorf argues that even expert skiers will benefit greatly from the human factor boot fitters provide. “Often the specs you find online are inadequate to describe how a boot will actually feel. You’re not necessarily going to get the specs to your foot, or your skiing function. I joke with them ‘We’re going to talk about feelings in our boot fit area,’ how does it feel on your foot, when you ski. Boot fitters are the connection between that feeling and function.”
The potential to be able to adjust your boot to your foot and your needs is something that only comes with working with a boot fitter. Your foot will change not only through swelling over a day, but change shape over the years. Boot fitters understand these changes and will work with you to adapt your fit over time.
At the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, Tischendorf shut her bootfitting operation down altogether. But now that the risk has lowered in Telluride, she has been operating one-on-one by appointment. She had initially toyed with the idea of 3D foot scans and long surveys, but felt these methods still miss the essential human factor of a boot fitter. So now her bootfittings look more clinical—limited access, frequent re-sterilization, and lots of personal protective equipment.
“At the moment I’m still selling last year’s inventory, so I’m dealing with more beginner and intermediate skiers who want deals. That means it’s up to me to communicate well how a boot should feel. It’s made my bootfittings better,” Tischendorf says. She goes on to explain that by eliminating the process of refits and further work from the equation, she has to nail it on the first go. This means a much greater quantity and quality of communication to dial in the fit the first time.
Tischendorf expects that bootfitters will rise to the challenges presented by the pandemic, and potentially provide even greater levels of service.
While Tischendorf has a clinical background, your local boot fitter is educated as well. Most boot fitters attend Masterfit University classes (which Tischendorf teaches for) to learn the art. They then practice for years on the job.
But wait. You’ve gone ahead and bought a boot online anyway. What now?
We know some of you are in this situation, and it’s hard to blame you. Internet sales are going crazy right now and they cost way less than a custom boot.
We asked POWDER’s resident boot expert Erme Catino how to get the best aftermarket fit if you’ve bought blind.
1. Get a custom footbed. Even if you don’t splurge for all of a boot fitter’s services, this one can be the difference between precision and a nightmare of sloppy-foot blisters.
2. Play around with different liners and get them heated. Stock liner got you down? Try an Intuition or a Zipfit liner, this could make a world of difference.
3. The most important pain points are the 6th toe area and the ankle brake, so measure well if you’re buying blind.
But really. Go to a damn boot fitter.
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