I met Loyd Tinsley serendipitously while waiting to clear security at the Haley, Idaho airport. My facemask bore a small Völkl logo, which prompted Loyd to spontaneously reminisce about a pair of RTM’s he adored. This led to a brief exchange during which Loyd expressed his curiosity about a certain boot brand, wondering aloud what I might think of them. After my curt, unfavorable review, Loyd asked if I might be able to do better, sticking out his cowboy-boot-shod foot so I could get a better view. I didn’t notice anything weird about Loyd’s gait or stance, and there was no obvious evidence of a major deformity, so I said, sure, I’m positive I can do better.
I’d barely settled in my seat in the small departure lounge when Loyd approached and posed the crucial question: if he were to fly to Reno (from Norman, Oklahoma), would I be amenable to fitting him in new boots? Challenge accepted. Ten days later, a barefoot Loyd was sitting in front of me and for the first time I understood the scope of the challenge that lay ahead.
Loyd’s arches actually looked just like the arches in cathedrals or Roman aqueducts, high and as immutable as stone. He was skiing in a size 29.5 Apex – hold that thought – because conventional boots induced unbearable pain. I conducted a standard assessment of arch flexibility and ankle range of motion, and cast a critical eye at his pedal extremities’ formidable width and height. It was likewise impossible to overlook his unusually even-length toes, the very incarnation of a “toe box.”
That’s when I slipped a primitive measuring device under his feet and discovered that, despite their otherwise out-sized dimensions, they both measured 26.5 in length. I remind you, Dear Reader, that Loyd is skiing in a 29.5. Three centimeters equates to roughly a mile inside a ski boot. It was strangely admirable that Loyd could be in a boot more than 3cm off in sole length and he still loved to ski.
I won’t drag you through my model-selection process and the shell modifications required to reconfigure the lower shell, nor the routine creation of a custom insole for a decidedly non-routine arch that had never in its life, either in or out of ski boots, felt anything underneath it. But I will share a concluding note in a detailed testimonial Loyd was kind enough to send a couple of weeks later.
“I have just returned from a ski trip to Aspen and I skied better than I have in many years. No pain from the boots and control that I didn’t realize was possible. I couldn’t be happier with my new ski boots and how a chance meeting with Mr. Hogen has changed my skiing.”
Naturally, I was delighted by Loyd’s feedback, but the fuel that fired the lingering afterglow of this success was the fact that Loyd had placed enormous trust in my abilities. If I could make him a better, happier and more complete skier, he was willing to take the leap of faith.
While Loyd’s case is out of the ordinary, every time any skier sits down on a boot bench, he or she must also make a leap of faith. Just like the boots themselves, which are unlike any other kind of footwear, buying a ski boot is unlike a conventional shopping experience. The age-old adage, “The customer is always right,” does not apply.
The customer must instead trust that the bootfitter before him or her is up to snuff. (How to tell if your bootfitter has the necessary chops is revealed in The First Five Minutes, Chapter 4 of The Returning Skier’s Handbook on Realskiers.com.) An experienced bootfitter knows the internal dimensions and tolerances of every boot on the wall. This knowledge is correlated to the findings of a brief, but vital sequence of inspections of the feet in question to come up with a short candidate list for the skier in question.
Customers can’t do enough research on their own to match what the bootfitter brings to the bench. They can’t be expected to, owing to the fact that they have lives. If the customer nonetheless is determined to take over the model selection process, then the one person who knows the least about what’s going on is now in control. The end result is doomed to be sub-optimal.
Loyd’s story also exposes the grave shortcomings of bootfitting at a distance. I had expected Loyd’s foot to be a tough fit, probably with a high instep and wide forefoot, but otherwise mostly normal. Loyd’s tootsies were definitely what Igor referred to as “Abby Normal.” Had Loyd also shared with me the size of his current boots, my vision of his feet would have been even more distorted and woefully inaccurate. Were I his long-distance customer service rep, instead of an in-person bootfitter, I would have set Loyd up with another boot hopelessly ill-suited to the task of skiing.
Point being, Dear Readers, anyone who pretends to be able to provide specific boot advice without an in-person assessment is automatically disqualified from giving further advice.
Roughly two weeks after attending to Loyd, I was contacted by a Realskiers.com member in Washington, D.C. whose 25-year-old Tecnica TNT’s had finally bit the dust. He sent me pictures of his old soldiers so I could see the work done on the liner and see its sole length, 330mm.
If you’re a practicing bootfitter, you know that very few Alpine boots have sole lengths ending in a “0,” so there was no direct correlation to a current boot. I suspected he could be a 28.5 or 29.5, sizes I had an ample selection of, so I told my east coast subscriber to come on out.
When I saw the feet that had flown 3,000 miles to be seen by me, the folly of long-distance assumptions was again laid bare. My latest avatar of trust was skinny as could be in the lower leg and rear-foot, but his instep was high, wide and handsome. His length measurement didn’t quite reach 28.5, but a 27.5 would have put his feet in a perpetual coma, so he ended up in a 28.5 after all.
As is often the case with problematic feet, my first round of ministrations fell short of the mark, necessitating further shell expansion over the instep. It will require another few laps on snow to assure that all is well, a process that is not yet complete as I write this. While I’m optimistic that any lingering issues can be dealt with, it can take time for a foot and boot to achieve perfect harmony. Nobody bats 1.000 in the bootfitting game. There are simply too many variables to ensure that every skier is as comfortable as the next, despite the best efforts of all parties involved.
That said, the goal should always be perfection, however unattainable. And skiers must continue to put their faith in the best bootfitter they can find, be they just across town or across the country.