Jackson in action on the front lines at Bobo’s in Reno, NV.

For seven of the last ten days I’ve been perched on a stool, staring at a cross-section of American skier’s feet. During what is often a 90-minute counseling session, the owners of said feet pour their little hearts out, explaining the details of their skiing lives, and quite often, many of the other details of their time on earth.

Listening to their accumulated trials and tribulations provides me with a torrent of unfiltered testimony of what skiers endure and what beliefs they’ve acquired. There’s no substitute for working with live ammunition – in other words, my customers – as all marketing bull-twaddle ends at the boot bench. Either the boot can be made to fit or it can’t.  All charades about one’s purported ability are exposed. It is also, God willing, the place bad advice goes to die.

In this week’s Revelation, I’ll share with my Dear Readers a few of the major themes that played out over the last week or so, as a seemingly endless stream of skiers of every stripe plunked themselves in front of me. As many of you are already aware, I’m fond of Big Ideas, so let’s begin with a biggie, the differences between men and women.

Women are Better at This Than Men

Men and women are different. (Please note, there’s no extra charge for this mind-bending insight.) I realize we live in a time where blurring these distinctions is something of a cause célèbre, but on the boot bench, men and women are clearly differentiated. Let us count the ways.

Women are better listeners and learners. Men seem to always be impatiently waiting to tell me how terrific they are, while women attentively soak up what I’m saying.  When I have to give specific instructions, such as how to put on a sock, women usually perform as instructed, while most men go off the rails before they’ve gotten past their toes. This may be more of a sociological marker than a genetic one, but whatever its genesis, women seem more open and able to process new information whatever it may be.

Women don’t misrepresent their abilities, while men are hopeless liars, and not very good ones, either. Before perforating male pretensions, let’s pause to consider how well women behave in this instance. For starters, they don’t inflate their resumes; if anything, they undersell their talents. They’re more clear-eyed about how often they’ll ski off-piste and never show me how fast they skied today according to the app on their phone.

Men start lying the moment they sit down.  Maybe “lying” is a bit harsh, as they certainly seem to believe what they’re saying. What they don’t get is that saying that you’re an expert – or used to be, the last time you skied, ten years ago – is a misrepresentation that won’t survive inspection, and several inspections are baked into the bootfitting process.

At some point early on in the boot selection protocol, the customer will be asked to flex into the boot he or she has just been squeezed into. If the customer exhibits the slightest hesitation or takes an oddly tentative stab at performing this exercise, the jig is up.  Experts may not know everything they think they know, but they surely know how to flex a boot.  Those who don’t know how sometimes improvise totally insane variations on the idea that include arm gestures and leg movements that one supposes are meant to simulate skiing. All I can say is, Jesus wept.

My advice to my fellow men is to drop the reins.  Realize that this is not a process you’re trying to wrest control of. Spend your time learning who the best bootfitters are where you live or ski – consulting Jackson’s List on Realskiers.com is a good start – make an appointment to see one of them and surrender to their care. This will require trust, and trust is not easily given, I get it.  But be reassured, if you find the right guy (or gal), you’ll know it within the first five minutes.

If you’re not really an expert, but want to be, the best “pill” you can take to get better is a perfect boot, fit perfectly. Not to cast shade at instruction, because Lord knows, most American skiers need it, but the properly selected and fit boot will do more for your skiing than a week of private lessons.

Skiers will Endure Terrible Pain Rather Than Buy New Boots

If you’re currently suffering in boots that seem angrier every time you struggle your way into them, stop. I don’t care that they’ve been your babies since the Clinton administration, they more than likely died years ago. Most skiers don’t realize that the property that’s most precious about their new ski boots is their youth and resilience.  It’s their ability to rebound quickly as soon as pressure is released that is their primary attribute and one of their first traits to show the effects of wear.

Here’s the problem:  despite everyone’s best efforts during the last boot purchase, many skiers end up in the wrong boot, a poor fit, or both. I re-encountered this situation only yesterday. I was fortunate that the gentleman in question – and his curious and clever wife – were able to observe as I plied my methods to a young woman at the next fit station. Let’s just say he was ready to trust me as soon as I could scuttle over and tend to him.

Cutting to the chase, he was in a model that was a complete mismatch for his forefoot, in a shell design with no relief in this area. Yet he had soldiered on, in ever-increasing misery, until he could take it no more. I have to admire his courage under extreme duress. But it took years for him to surrender to what was obvious to his poor foot from the get-go.

The lesson to extract from this encounter is, if you’re in old boots, they are probably holding you back on every front.  If your heel is moving, if your shins hurt every day, if it feels like you can move your foot without moving your boot, stop kidding yourself.  The boots you may have once loved – or thought you did, love is complicated – are probably kaput.  The least you can do for yourself is take your boots to your favorite specialty shop and ask for a bootfitter to evaluate their suitability.  Maybe you can freshen the fit with a new insole, but you won’t know what’s possible unless you ask for help. Trust me, they’ll be happy to help.

The Returning Skier is a Major Phenomenon

The specific reasons why so many skiers who left the sport 10, 15 or 25 years ago are now returning to the slopes are all over the map, but in the end, they all boil down to one: opportunity. By whatever concatenation of events, the door to skiing has suddenly been flung wide open and they’re ready and raring to get out and ski.

The way they describe their skiing, you’d think they’d skied yesterday.  The reality pill that it was many, many yesterdays ago doesn’t seem to douse their enthusiasm, or diminish their capacity for self-delusion.  Their identity as skiers is secure, but much of what they “know” is either past its due date or never was true in the first place.

Because I am a font of empathy for my fellow man, I’ve created The Returning Skiers Handbook, which you can find under “Gear Guide” on the main menu at Realskiers.com. I invite all of my members, my non-members and their friends and affiliates to freely plunder its contents. Share it, post it, send to whomever you like. It’s a great way to catch up on a decade or so of missing knowledge.

Ski Buyers are Terrible Researchers and Ski Media is the Reason Why

If people weren’t researching their buying decisions online, I’d be out of business, but my dependence on Internet searchers to find me makes me all the more distressed with the other sources available to the online information shopper.  When major print publications abandon all pretense of journalism by packaging advertorial copy as researched wisdom, how is the unsuspecting public supposed to know it’s bogus?

Important print publications have no problem passing off what is transparently pay-to-play “journalism” as the real thing. There are plenty of guilty parties, including some fancy titles like Travel & Leisure and Financial Times, that publish tainted storytelling without blushing. Not to name any names, but a well-respected pub recently posted a top-10 ski review that was wall-to-wall twaddle.  Many of the models selected would under-perform almost any random selection in the category to which they belong, and the copy was pure brochure babble.

Of course, each skinny “review” included a link to the supplier from whom you can buy it directly and which the editors encouraged you to use promptly, while supplies last. I can’t conceive of a definition of “journalism” that would embrace this practice.

The lesson, Dear Readers, is be careful what you read, even from sources that sound legit. Before you buy any ski, consult with a specialty dealer you know and trust.  You will get far better information and advice than you’ll get from most self-anointed online “experts.”

I’m constantly learning from the customers I serve, so naturally I have more lessons from the front lines that I could share, but I don’t want to blunt my rhetorical sword by wielding it for too long.

Before I bid you adieu for another week, permit me to forewarn you that I won’t be posting a fresh podcast of Realskiers with Jackson Hogen this Thursday, as I’ll be on the road gathering info on next year’s gear.  I hope you can learn to bear the grief of absence, as I shall be back before you know it.