By Byron Dawson
Master boot-fitter with Hirafu’s Boot Solutions
MANY people assume that cold, sore feet are just fact of life when it comes to spending time on the mountain. Although that may have been true 30 years ago, modern boots and boot-fitting techniques ensure that nearly everyone can have warm and comfortable feet all day long. Whether you are due to purchase a new pair of boots, or your existing boots are giving you grief, working with an educated and experienced boot-fitting professional is the only way to guarantee comfort on the mountain.
As a boot fitter, I am often asked by friends and customers which boot they should buy; my answer is always the same: “The one that fits your foot.” This may sound very simplistic, but far too often people get hung up on the aesthetics of the boot, and forget they have to wear it all day in the freezing cold. The simplest analogy is to compare a boot to a vice, a vice that must apply even pressure around your entire foot, ankle, and lower leg. It is, therefore, imperative that said vice must anatomically match your feet.
Before even considering which boots, a good fitter will have a frank chat to understand what sort of a skier or snowboarder you are, and what you are expecting from the boots. A brief but concise biomechanical assessment of your feet and ankles should follow. A ski boot is generally designed for an ‘ideal’ foot, so even anatomical abnormalities can be problematic when skiing. The good news is that many issues can be accommodated, for so long as they are made know to the fitter. It is therefore important to speak up if you have any medical conditions or chronic pain in your feet.
A shell check, looking at how much larger the shell is than your foot, should be performed for every boot you try on, as the length of the shell will not change, but the thickness of the foam in the liner will compress substantially.
When you first put your foot in the boot it will likely feel very snug, but is important to take the advice of your boot-fitter, as he has already checked the length of the shell and knows that this is the correct size. This is as tight as the boot will ever feel, as steps that are made down the road will provide more space throughout the boot. It should feel like your foot is encapsulated by the foam of the boot with little or no movement inside.
Once you agree on the ideal boot, adaptations will be made to accept any oddities in your feet which were established during the earlier assessment. For most people, the addition of a custom-made supportive footbed greatly improves the comfort and performance of any ski or snowboard boot. A properly made footbed positions the subtalar joint close to its neutral position, which is its most balanced and powerful position for the foot to be for snowsports. A footbed supports the entire base of the foot, which can shorten the foot up to one whole size, which in conjunction with a deep heel cup greatly increases the comfort of any boot.
The final step of the fit process is to custom mold the boots’ liner, which, when heated, expands and becomes very pliable. When the foot is placed in the warmed liner, the foam compresses in areas of tightness and to a lesser degree fills in voids. After the molding process is complete, you will be encouraged to ski for a few days which will further settle in the liner, if soreness occurs after this go back to the shop for further adaptations to be made.
Special adaptations often need to be made to women’s boots, as their feet present a variety of challenges. Wearing high heels is not good for your skiing, as they tend to reduce the length of the Achilles tendon. A shortened Achilles reduces the range of flexion of the foot upwards, which is detrimental to skiing and boarding. Changing the ramp angle of the boot reduces the affect of this limited flexion. Women’s calf muscles tend to sit lower than men’s, which can cause soreness in the back of the leg when a boot is clamped around it. Many manufacturers offer boots with lower cuffs to allow for this, otherwise material can be removed to allow for larger calves. Women’s extremities are inherently colder than men and appreciate electronic heaters added to the foot beds which maintain a steady temperature throughout the foot.
Even if your boots were never customised for you, adaptations can be made to your boots to make them work better for you. The first step is to add a custom foot bed, as the advantages described above will apply to any boot. If you were fitted into a boot which is too big, extra panels of foam can be glued onto the liner to snug up the fit. When specific points of pressure occur in ski boots, the shells can be heated and stretched to provide more room to relieve the pressure. In snowboard boots, and in some places on ski boots, pieces of foam and plastic can be cut out of the liners to give more space in a problematic area.