Every skier and snowboarder has a boot fitter story and every boot fitter thinks the other boot fitters have got it wrong. The boot fitter ego can be a fragile one.
I bought my first pair of ski boots from a high street shop six hours from the nearest snow. First mistake.
The uni student paying his education fees with a part time job measuring bunyons and corns asked me a few questions about my skiing ability. He didn’t listen to my answers and decided by looking at me in my urban street wear he could tell how I skied, like a laydee in the most precious way. A week later I was skiing far from laydee like on the slopes of New Zealand and the boot had packed out in a day.
That same week a stranger came up to me in a bar and told me that when I skiied my right knee collapsed inward, that my left leg was weaker and my right hip twisted. I asked him how on earth he would know that. He told me he had been watching me dance.
The stalker turned out to be a boot whisperer, that rare soul placed on the earth to ensure all skiers and boarders ski like a hero in boots that fit like a glove. I suspect he also had a foot fetish but you can’t knock the man for making money from his passion.
I saw him the next day and sure enough my ski boots were a whole size too big. He did a full boot fitting for me, prodding, pummelling and pounding my feet and my boots until they were made just for me.
I took the original boots back to the high street demanded to see the shop owner, showed him my foot in the shell and he agreed the fitting was a full size out. I got my money back.
Now, James Boot Whisperer Bell doesn’t live in New Zealand anymore. He’s returned to Canada. Mistake number two.
A few years of pain free skiing and I get new boots. I can’t go to Canada so I get them fitted this time from a shop on the snow (I’m learning, see).
I get the full biomechanical works including videos of my skiing, yadda yadda and voila after a full day of tootsie wrestling I am fitted with my new second skin. The new boots work, south of the equator.
I go north and within three days of Utah skiing by big toes are black and my shins in agony. I know what you’re going to say ‘You have toe bang from sitting in your back seat” but trust me I worked on that with every turn.
One major boot fitting franchise company in the USA looked at my boots as I sobbed in their shop and told me I need boot warmers because my toes are too cold. I buy them for US$300. My feet are now warm but still in pain, like my wallet.
I head to Canada and cry with every turn. A local boot fitter bashes the boot shell around a bit. I pay him $80 for using his hammer which I should have used on him.
Then I am told of another boot whisperer who can help, a man with magic hands. He takes one look at my shell and attacks it with industrial scissors, convinced it’s the plastic causing my shin pain all the while cursing the other boot fitters.
He then fits my feet with Intuition liners and charges me CA$450 to do so (I have found the same liners and fitting for US$250 elsewhere). I am not happy, or impressed.
I try to ski in them but the damage has already been done, I am simply in too much pain to turn.
Meanwhile, along the way each boot fitter laments the work of the one before. I return to Australia and a month later my big toe nails both fall off and take twelve months to completely grow back.
The following ski season my now bashed up boots are adjusted, again by the fitter who first worked on them. They are returned to perfection, well, almost, and the Intuition liners remain in my ski closet.
I ski Oz without much worry. Now comes the clanger. I am currently back in the USA, I ski for a day and they are fine. Day two and the intense shin pressure point returns, I can’t ski without wincing in pain and there’s no fun involved.
Solution? Find another boot fitter. I ask around and go to the one everyone talks about. He looks at my shells he calls ‘baby bathtubs’ and declares my boot to be one full size too big. He attempts to soften the liner, it doesn’t work, so we go through the whole boot fitting experience again.
What do I get? Intuition liners and a boot a size smaller. Now I am in boot agony trying to break them in and address any pressure points.
I take them to the other known boot fitter in town and he says ‘these guys have done a great job, these are perfect for your feet, now go home and wear them in around the house.”
My feet are now raised above my head with ice on them. I have to ski deep pow tomorrow (I know, I know, first world problem) and am terrified I am going to cry out with every turn.
I have faith in these guys that they’ve got it right and in a week of skiing and minor adjustments my boot will be perfect. But I had faith in every fitter that came before them and look where that got me? Keeping boot fitters and boot brands in the Fortune 500.
This is far from a cheap exercise and has cost me more than just money. It has ruined entire ski trips for me simply because it’s no fun skiing in serious pain and it has jeopardised my joy of snow.
Have you had a shocker boot experience? Got any similar stories of your own? Share your pain!