Tip Your Bootfitter

By: Jackson Hogen

Published: December 3, 2019

For some of my faithful following, the suggestion made by this Revelation’s 3-word title (ecclesiastics are fond things that come in threes) will be sufficient to inspire the desired behavior. As I notice the rest of you are continuing to read, allow me to lay the argument for this case before you.

Done properly, bootfitting is not a slam-dunk affair. It needn’t drag on for hours, either, but to be effective, selecting and fitting a boot requires a certain protocol or it’s a waste of everyone’s time to even begin. At a minimum, your bootfitter needs to know what your ski world looks like. He or she needs to climb into the movie in your head and spend enough time to see it through your eyes. (Please don’t try to inflate your resume, as most attempts to mask one’s true ability aren’t going to help and are often comically transparent. The truth will set you free.)

Also on the minimum list are an inspection of your bare tootsies and an examination of your arch and ankle range of motion. The more experienced the bootfitter, the more he or she can divine from the customer’s gait, sitting posture, kinetic chain and overall structure of the foot, ankle and lower leg.

For example, a veteran can not only tell if you have an active lifestyle, but whether you climb, hike, bike or run and a bit about your gait when doing so. A vet can spot limb-length differences, visualize your prior history with boots, and most importantly for you, accurately predict your skiing future (providing you do as instructed). And he or she can do all this without asking you a single question.

A good bootfitter knows the basics of foot assessment, understands how every boot in the shop will fit a given foot and is able to analyze what each customer needs for how he or she skis. The task requires time and attention to detail. 

Lest you think I exaggerate, I recently did exactly this with a young lady who came into the shop with boots she’d just bought at a swap that were merely two sizes too big. It would overtax my Dear Readers’ patience to take you through the maze we traveled together, but when we were done, this highly athletic yet novice skier was teed up to progress so rapidly that to treat her as anything other than an advanced skier would have been at best short-sighted. We customized her shells for several bony bits, built a special accommodation for a swelling on her first ray into an off-the-rack insole, and we happened to save a young person studying to be a nurse several hundred dollars in the process.

We do this sort of thing all the time.

By the way, during the fitting I just sketched the outlines of, there was no time wasted on model or size selection. I picked the boot, with one option in hand as a check on her tolerance for foot tension. I explained several reasons why I had picked that particular model so she shared my vision of what I was doing and where I was going. We had a ball and she ended up with a boot that will serve her well for years.

Double BTW, she didn’t tip me and I doubt I would have accepted if she had; she wasn’t shopping a ski swap for boots if money were no object. My point isn’t that every bootfit should be consummated with an honorarium; my point is that bootfitting requires skill and knowledge that are in some ways unique. If your fitter spends over an hour with you, this is time spent not working with someone else.

As a lifelong proponent of best practices, I would rather not see indifferent or plainly inept service rewarded, so you shouldn’t feel obliged to tip the incompetent. But even inexperienced skiers are usually well-conditioned shoppers who can tell when service has exceeded every expectation. Exceptional service should be recognized just as it would be in other instances where tipping is appropriate.

Some specialty shops charge either a fixed amount or an hourly rate for fitting on top of the boot’s list price. If you still feel a tip is merited, you might ask if it’s permitted, as it may not be kosher in this context. Many specialty shops pay a small commission to their salespeople to augment their hourly wage, but neither figure is likely to contribute to generational wealth.

As for what amount is appropriate, I leave this decision to your tender mercies. Suffice it to say that any token of appreciation will raise your social status in the eyes of your devoted bootfitter.

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