At this time of year I start to think about replacing worn out equipment. Luckily the pre-season ski sales are in full swing. Shops are trying to offload last seasons models at knock down prices in order to make room for new stock. My friend Darcy is a highly respected instructor, coach and guide. He was kind enough to share his wisdom. This is a great article for anyone trying to bag a new pair of boots at a bargain price in the sales 🙂
A few ski days spoilt by cold and sore feet have likely taught you the importance of a good boot fit but with all the fancy looking models on the store shelves, deciphering all the latest features and after market add-ons can be difficult. There are 3 main characteristics I find important. Fit, Flex and Stance.
Fit should be the first thing you look for. This takes time so I recommend you plan on spending a few hours in the shop. Ask for a “shell fit”. This is where the salesperson pulls the liner out of the shell and helps you get your foot and footbed in to see how much room there really is.
(Shell fit and custom footbeds)
All too often new boots feel nice and snug because the liner is still puffy then after a few ski days the boots feel too roomy. Another rule of toe I use is, with the liners in, your heels should feel locked down, not able to lift much when you press down on your toes. Meanwhile, you should be able to wiggle your toes around. Keep in mind it’s very difficult to find the perfect fit but a skilled and well equipped bootfitter can punch the shells to make room or pad the liners to take up room, customizing your fit. Most shops include some fitting in the price or offer a guaranteed fit package including custom footbeds for an additional charge. Discuss this before you lay down your credit card. For the ultimate fit, many go for a foam injected liner that takes up all the extra space in the shells.
(foam injected liner)
Flex is fairly simple now since most boot manufacturers mark the “flex index” right on the shell. This is a measurement of flexibility that gives you an idea of how stiff the boot is. The higher the #, the stiffer the boot. Most companies start at around 80 and max out at 150 or 160. Since most boot makers offer the same shell in a spectrum of flexes, once you’ve decided on the right fit, you can select an appropriate flex. Flex preference is quite personal but at room temperature you should be able to flex your ankles several degrees without excessive force.
Stance can be greatly affected by your boots and stance is what ski instructors are trained to assess first in your skiing. To ski well, you must be centered and mobile and your skis should ride flat on the snow until you decide to roll them on edge. To compensate for the varying degrees of knock-kneed or bow-legged folks out there, most boot makers install clever devices in the cuffs that allow adjustments to the cuff to conform to the lateral alignment of your lower legs. This is a very simple adjustment for a trained bootfitter but is very difficult to do yourself. You’ll be asked to stand in the boots with your feet hip width apart with ankles bent. The bootfitter will look for your lower legs to sit in the center of the boot cuffs and make simple adjustments accordingly. In some cases people need adjustments to their footbeds or boot soles to get properly aligned, but this takes a highly skilled bootfitter with very specialized equipment. I recommend a visit to Top Shelf Snowsports (www.top-shelf.ca) in Whistler or Fernie for this level of boot alignment.
For fore-aft balance, most boots these days come with removable plastic shims known as spoilers that fit behind your calf to adjust forward lean . Your instructor or coach may suggest you alter or remove this to find the right ankle flexion. The optimal degree of ankle flexion will ultimately depend on factors like your flexibility, height, boot stiffness, snow conditions and skiing ability.
I hope this helps you find the right fit and get the most out of winter.
By Darcy Trevelyan, Instructor, Coach, Guide:
Whistler Blackcomb Snow School
Vernon Ski Club- Silver Star Mountain, BC
CSIA 4, CSCF 2, CSGA 1