By Jim Schaffner
Everyone knows that boots can make or break a ski racer, whether a U10 or a top-10 finisher on the World Cup. But every fall, we’re aiming to reinvent the, ahem, heel, going in circles as we chase the perfect boot set-up.
It’s a daunting task — but one that can be simplified by avoiding these five key mistakes. Sure, as a longtime bootfitter in Tahoe, I have my own two cents, but recently I upped the ante by asking five of my peers what juniors and parents are doing wrong, and how they can make it right. Here’s what they told me.
The Boot Boys
P.J. Dewey, former World Cup boot technician for Lange; owner and operator of Race Stock Sports in Waterbury, Vt.
Greg Hoffman, founder of Ski Boot Fitting of Vail; bootfitter since 1979
Bob Olsen, former World Cup boot technician for Rossignol; owner and operator of Mount Hood Alpine Racing Center
Matt Schiller, former Racing Serviceman for Nordica, Atomic, and Rossignol; owner of Park City Boot Room
Thor Verdonk, chief of racing for Lange/Rossignol
1. They’re Too Big
“Parents bring their kids in for race boots focused on room to grow and saving money,” says Olsen. “In doing so, they insure that their child will be moving around inside the boot, and that over-buckling is the net outcome as they over tighten the boot to get the foot contained.” That can distort the shell, he explains — and even the boot is actually too large, it causes pressure on the foot.
The Fix: Have a proper assessment of the foot and lower leg, starting with a Brannock device. Many pro bootfitters also measure the heel/instep perimeter (or HIP) to get a sense of the foot’s height and volume. They’ll eyeball the toes, the thickness of the calf and lower leg, and any odd bumps or oddities that may need some shell or liner modifications during the process. “Attention to detail,” says Dewey, “means hundies.”
2. You’re Skipping the Shell Check
No, not the spell check, the shell check — as in getting a good gauge on the outer shell to ensure a snug but comfortable foot environment.
The Fix: Shell cutaways help Dewey see how well the foot shape matches the shell shape. He and other bootfitters agree that racers under age 13 should have between one and two fingers spacing behind the heel when the toes are just touching the front of the shell; 14 and up should have about one finger.
3. You’re Forgetting Coke and Pepsi
The age-old match up serves as a worthy reminder to bring out the two best-matched models for fit and flex, explains Hoffman.
The Fix: Choose the boot that best captures the foot and holds the instep, ankle, and heel firmly into the back of the boot. And choose the one that feels good. “Once I’ve determined which boot contains the rear foot the best,” says Hoffman. “I can solve any hot spots or pressure points with specific shell or liner modifications.”
4. You’re Too Soft — or Too Stiff
Moving an athlete up in flex before the proper skill development is a no-no, says Schiller. ‘If you over-boot a developing athlete, you are doing them a disservice,” he says. “I can count the number of times on two hands that I have had to stiffen a boot versus soften a boot.”
The Fix: Ask your bootfitter to fix flex appropriately for the weight, size, development, and style of the individual athlete.
5. You’re a Wallflower
Haven’t met the right bootfitter? You’re missing out on a truism of ski towns: there’s a boot guru around the corner.
The Fix: Get out and ask around: coaches, program equipment experts, teammates and parents all probably have a recommendation. Chances are your local ski retailer also services as a testing center for some top brands, explains Verdonk. Don’t like what you’re feeling? Move on to the next choice until you find the right fit.