Shell Games

By: Jackson Hogen

Published: April 2, 2019

The September 6, 2016 Revelation is titled, “Two Numbers to Know.” In it I explain that boot suppliers have helpfully put two numbers on every model they make, one to designate the total volume, as indicated by its width in the forefoot, and one to indicate it’s flex, or resistance to forward pressure applied to the cuff.

In said essay, I warned skiers that neither number was based on an objective standard and so were subject to the whims of marketing. Since then, the situation has devolved to the point that both numbers should be taken with a grain of salt the size of Gibraltar.

“On what basis do you make such an outlandish claim?” I hear my perspicacious readers cry. Because I just finished putting my tootsies into 25 different models that will appear on your favorite shop’s shelves next fall. Then I took them for a couple of runs at Silver Mountain, Idaho alongside some fifty other boot nerds.

Jackson takes his first test boot out for spate of short-swing turns last week. 

After this four-day ordeal (a delightful ordeal, but ordeal nonetheless), I can make a few more bold assertions:

  • No two boot companies interpret the word “medium” the same way. Medium’s numeric equivalent, 100mm as measured at the boot’s widest point, is similarly fluid.
  • Ditto narrow (usually 98mm) and wide (102mm and up) models.
  • One’s initial impression of fit (as would occur in-store) and the dynamic fit properties of the same boot, may well be significantly different.
  • The only thing unifying any jumble of boots bearing the same flex index number – e.g., 130 – is the number itself.
  • You won’t really know what you need to know about any given ski boot until you ski it.

So, if the flex index is an untethered fantasy and the volume indication is at best a ballpark figure, how is the hapless consumer able to do meaningful research on his/her possible next boot?

In my opinion, there are only two possible answers to this question:

  1. Read every review on the America’s Best Bootfitters site, and, for good measure, their digests in the America’s Best Powered by Masterfit Buyer’s Guide so you are familiar with the market.
  2. Don’t bother with research and instead devote your energies to finding the best bootfitter you can and turn yourself over to his or her care.

Selecting option 1 will at the very least make you a better customer. But it will not necessarily tell you what will feel like magic on your feet. For that, you need to embrace option 2.

I realize that finding a great bootfitter is easier said than done. But the cause is far from hopeless. The shops that serve as Realskiers Test Centers, whose logos you find at the bottom of this newsletter from time to time, as well as those who participate in America’s Best Bootfitters, are members of these associations because they’re excellent at their craft. (There are other fine shops with veteran fitters who don’t choose to belong to either ABB or Realskiers, but they’re harder to search.)

Here’s where you won’t find great fitters: at Internet warehouses offering the world over the phone. Let’s pause for a moment to reflect on this situation: the cheery operator only knows the boots he/she is vending by their catalog copy. All they can reference is the marketing syrup in front of them. To tweak the title of an immortal Firesign Theater LP, Everything They Know is Wrong.

One place you’ll find dependable boot reviews is the Masterfit/Realskiers Buyer’s Guide. 

If you’re serious about your skiing, and you really want to track down a retailer who has skied and analyzed virtually every Alpine boot on the market and more than few BC boots, look to the shops whose principals were with me at Silver Mountain. (You can see who was there last year if you inspect the 2019 Buyer’s Guide.) These aren’t the only shops who actually ski every boot they offer to the public, but they are the only ones who endure the discipline of a formal test environment encompassing all brands, not just the ones they sell.

Lest the gist of this Revelation be lost, here are three things to remember:

  1. Finding the best boot for you on the Internet is all but impossible.
  2. Take the time to find the best bootfitter you can access.
  3. The flex and last volume numbers printed on each boot are there for your amusement only. Treat them as you would your horoscope: interesting, but not actionable.

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