Any serious attempt at bootfitting begins with an assessment of the customer’s feet and lower legs. This appraisal can be as superficial as measuring each foot for length or as detailed as a complete skier profile accompanied by a few basic biomechanical evaluations.
Better bootfitters gather further information from a litany of details that lie outside the scope of the usual foot-measuring device, such as a Brannock. The veteran bootfitter watches how the customer walks, sits and assumes a skiing position, for starters. The savvy fitter can even spot limb-length differences and redistribute pressure around the foot in places no measuring stick can quantify.
If this sounds like a pretty sophisticated skill set, well, it is. Yet many, if not most, prospective boot buyers approach the bootfitting exercise with the same enthusiasm they usually reserve for a root canal. Suspicions are often confirmed when the first boot proffered seems crazily short. Even the most knowledgeable fitter is obliged to re-establish his/her credibility just to move the bootfit process pass square one.
Closing the Credibility Gap
A bootfit that begins with a credibility gap can lead to unfortunate decisions further down the trail, which helps explain why some skiers end up in the wrong boot, the wrong size or both.
Help is on the way. If you are reading this Revelation on a mobile device, the solution to this perpetual impasse is right before your eyes. Fischer’s Scan-Fit app doesn’t require a dealer visit or expensive equipment; skiers can use it at home. While the data it collects isn’t as detailed as what would be collected by a multi-camera scanner, it’s more than accurate enough to select an appropriate Fischer boot model and size.
Hand-held 3D image capture is about to move into the retail domain with an app from Pulse Labs that’s in beta testing now. By removing the onus of a hefty hardware purchase for a multi-camera podium, the Pulse software makes the merits of 3D imagery attainable for any ski shop.
The Pulse Fit System cleverly integrates essential skier information – that can be supplied by the customer prior to a shop visit – with the 3D image taken at the onset of his/her bootfitting appointment. This aspect of the Pulse system is already up and running, using a richer 3D image supplied by Pulse’s own multi-camera podium.
Just as Fischer was ahead of the curve in consumer capture of 3D images, the Austrian brand is likewise ahead in placing its full-Monty, 3D-scan integrated Vacuum Fit Station in American ski shops. As the only Alpine boot brand with skin in this game, Fischer can capitalize on what it learns from tens of thousands of scans, and in fact has already done so. One of the great advantages of such computerized systems lies in the simple accumulation of data; the more feet you see, the better-fitting boots you can make.
The other major player in this field is BootDoc, a Wintersteiger company also notable for its custom insoles and injected inner boots. The brand has experienced its greatest success streamlining rental operations in Europe, and is making inroads in the U.S. in both rental and retail operations.
Returning to the matter at hand, just how does a 3D rendering of your foot and ankle close the credibility gap? It serves as a communication vehicle that illuminates the path forward. Its results are definitive: if it says your right foot measures 27.55cm, then that’s your size, period. Ditto all your other dimensions. If it shows your arch is crying for support, this isn’t a debatable issue but a condition that requires attention.
3D imaging has been around for several years, but the breath-taking costs have limited its use to the medical field. Any system that uses its own podium, cameras and software remains a pricey package, but its advantages look more appealing during a pandemic that puts a premium on technologies that minimize person-to-person contact. Now that the essential dimensions can be captured with a few smartphone pictures, the ability to begin each boot sale with clear, shared understanding of the skier’s fit issues should considerably increase the chances of success.
A Roadmap to Success
By showing the foot and ankle in all their naked glory, 3D imagery obviously helps in size selection, but it takes additional skier data for the bootfitter to zero in on the right flex. The Pulse system incorporates this narrative info – such as the skier’s self-assessed ability and terrain preferences – into their data capture, but this rudimentary profiling can be associated with any brand’s 3D imagery to create a composite picture of the skier’s boot needs.
The software supplier has all the dimensional data on every boot made, and can correlate this knowledge with any skier’s foot shape to come up with a list of target models, along with any modifications that might be indicated. But this information comes at a cost, and any bootfitter who’s worth a nickel instantly knows the top three most-likely-to-succeed models in inventory without any prompting from an algorithm.
In addition to guiding model selection, 3D imagery reveals the need for ancillary upgrades to improve comfort and control, most notably an insole that matches the contours of your foot when it’s positioned for success in a ski boot. Intimate contact between the skier’s arch and the boot (achieved via an insole) is a prerequisite for elite skiing. A 3D scan helps determine the best insole solution for a given foot shape.
When the bootfit is happily concluded, the 3D record and associated skier info remains in its file format, ready to be consulted at any time. Now that the occasion is fully documented, skiers might even remember their boots’ model name. [This is an example of bootfitter humor, a fairly barren field.]
A Concluding Caveat
No matter how much data can be captured in a 3D image, it’s not a substitute for the skills of a veteran bootfitter. Someone who knows both the capabilities and the limitations of a scanning device (and its software) still needs to convert its input into a course of action. At the end of the day, 3D imagery is just another tool – albeit a nifty one – in the bootfitter’s toolkit.
To put the relative merits of a well-trained bootfitter’s methods versus the data from a 3D image into perspective, consider this: the bootfitter without a 3D image can still perform his/her duties immaculately, but the machine without the fitter is a far more iffy proposition.
Where is the Future Today?
Fischer’s Scan Fit app has been in use for a couple of seasons, so they’ve been the clear trailblazer in self-service scanning. Fischer also has a head start in placing its Vacuum Fit Station mounted scanner – which yields a more detailed 3D image in about ten minutes – in the U.S. dealer network.
Pulse Labs has a soup-to-nuts system for capturing 3D imagery and associating it with all else that goes into model and size selection. Their podium image capture is state-of-the-art and its app could become a game changer. Trial versions of the app are currently being placed around the country.
BootDoc’s Vandra Scanner takes a detailed image in seconds. Already in use at a handful of U.S. locations, it intends to enlarge its American footprint this season.