We bootfitters are naturally obsessed with feet, but the best bootfitters don’t just fit feet; they fit the whole skier. The “whole skier” includes more than just a quick survey of the lower leg and how it’s connected to the foot. It’s even more than all of the skier’s physical attributes, which include not only height and weight, but seated posture, stance, kinesthetic wiring, arch health and stiffness throughout the kinetic chain; the whole skier also includes his or her history with the sport and, most importantly, what sort of skier he or she wants to be.
One of the most obvious traits about almost all boot customers is his or her gender. (Please forgive me if I don’t overcomplicate what should be a simple point about body type.) The first step in a sales process that consists of winnowing all possible boots down to one is picking from the pile of unisex boots or the alternative world of women’s boots.
No-brainer, right? Not so fast. What if a particular woman were tall, with a long tibia and a tapered calf? Let’s add to her profile that she’s a good athlete with a background in dance. Up to now, she’s only been an occasional skier who rented her gear, but a new beau has persuaded her to take a deeper dive. She already has her season pass.
So, at the first fork in the road to a boot purchase, I’m going to pick a unisex model. What makes a women’s boot a women’s boot is the cuff height, which is lower, and degree of flare, which is wider. The last thing our customer needs is more room around her relatively skinny calf, and her long tibia can easily bend a taller cuff, so a unisex boot it shall be.
The dimensions of her feet and lower legs will determine the shell volume – in her case, narrow is indicated – and her stated low skill level suggests a soft flex. Hold on, cowboy. Yes to the narrow boot, for her feet aren’t only slight, they are super flexible. (Ever see a gymnast or ballerina flex her feet? Scary.) But putting her in a soft flex just because of her limited experience is folly.
For starters, she has leverage and she knows how to use it. She will flatten any boot below a 95- flex index, ability be damned. Remember, the poor thing has had her tiny feet in rental boots that fit like a Costco; once she’s moved into position in a decent boot, she’ll have total control over it.
Properly selected and fit boots are a game changer. Her ability, now novice, will advance rapidly now that the key components are in place, including skiing frequency (ensured by the season pass and eager beau) and support (ditto). If she gets a boot too soft (as a sop to her current skills), it will soon limit her development. This wouldn’t be such a big problem if she were to get a stiffer boot soon, but this is not the normal outcome. It’s far more likely that she’ll own the same mushy pair of boots for the next 15 years.
So, I’m selecting a narrow-lasted, 100-flex “men’s” boot, and have a 110 and 120 in reserve in case she squashes the 100 like a grape. As I watch her flex the boots on the fitting bench, I move to the side so I can see how her hips travel as she bends her ankles. I like what I see: her hips are staying in line with her heels as she accordians her lower body; the deadly rearward butt-drift isn’t there. I put the over/under at how long she remains a novice at two hours.
At some point during the fit session, I’m going to insinuate insoles under her feet that match her high, pliable arch. This will dramatically improve the proprioceptive feedback from the arch, which will help our dancer stay in balance and help limit the degree to which her flexible feet can squirm around.
So, Dear Readers, what did we learn from this hypothetical scenario?
- You’re probably going to own your boots for many years. The $50-100 you save by opting for the softer flex is nothing in the grand scheme of things. Get the better boot.
- Just because someone identifies as female doesn’t mean she necessarily belongs in a women’s boot.
- When selecting a boot, anticipated skiing frequency, heavily dosed with conscientious support and instruction, is more important than current ability.
- Arch supports in ski boots work wonders. Custom insoles are so good, they’re addicting.
- Rental boots are problematic for a litany of reasons I won’t subject you to now. If you’re new (or returning) to the sport but plan on skiing for any length of time in the foreseeable future, buy your own boots.
As long as I’m dispensing bootfitting wisdom, permit me to reiterate Jackson’s Two Commandments of Ski Boot Buying:
- You’re not looking for a boot, you’re looking for a bootfitter. It’s fine and dandy to study the boot market and figure out what you’re looking for. But unless it’s your job, you’re not going to know all the nuances needed to optimize fit. The first step is to find a fitter.
- Once you’ve found your fitter, follow his/her advice. If the customer commandeers the bootfit process, the one person with the least idea of what to do is now in charge. If skier/bootfitter communications break down, happy outcomes rarely ensue.
Concluding Cautionary Reminder
Pandemic-related bootfitting protocols have been adopted nationwide (as near as we can tell), with both sides of the skier/shop relationship behaving themselves. While Realskiers understands the temptation to shop online, ski boots are on the short list of consumer goods that are unlikely to be properly selected and have no chance of being properly fit by long distance. At some point, you’re going to need hands-on assistance. It’s best to get it from the get-go.