‘Tis the season to be comfy…
Christmas is fast approaching and I know you’re dreaming of a bluebird powder day in the Alps. A gorgeous December day on the slopes enjoying your family ski holiday, followed by one too many mugs of vin chaud and several mince pies? Ideal.
Hang on a minute, though. There’s something not quite right with this daydream…
Are you feeling a little uncomfortable?
Is the perfect Christmassy skiing experience about to be ruined by aching feet and sore shins?
Absolutely not! As we all go shopping for ski gear in preparation for the holiday season, let’s take a moment to make sure we all find that perfect snug fit in a comfortable ski boot.
Before I get technical, in true Christmas style, let’s take a journey back in time with the Ghost of Ski Boots Past…
Where It All Began
Here I am, looking fashionable as ever clad in my mum’s rolled up ski pants with three thick pairs of socks to wedge my feet into my older sister’s leather ski boots that were at least three sizes too large:
Ice-nibbled feet with skis too long to manoeuvre was my baptism to skiing. And what an impression it made, clearly!
Somehow it wasn’t enough to put me off, and years later here I was again, still wearing incredibly uncomfortable and highly oversized skis with an unimpressed smile…
The only difference was at last I had (slightly) better clothing. I really had to crank the buckles to the absolute max to anchor my feet in the boots, resulting in cut-off circulation and painfully cold feet.
But The Years Flew By…
Fast forward and I’m still the best dressed on the mountain, naturally. And this time I wasn’t writhing in ski boot-induced pain, which was a bonus! I became a ski guide with Bladon Lines and Ski West, and the company got us a great deal with Salomon boots and Dynastar skis.
Despite having to wear an incredibly uncool uniform, all the young me cared about was wearing something that said ‘Competition’, ‘Course’ or – even better – ‘Equipe’ on it.
The unspoken rule amongst us was the longer the skis, the cooler you were. In the cable car we would stand, peering around at our competition, making judgements based on ski length.
Piste to Pub Boots
So suddenly here I was, all grown up and planted in a pair of, well, fairly decent ski boots. They sure made a pleasant change from those leather ones earlier on.
My adult ski boot experience started with the Salomon SX90s and progressed to SX92s. Working as a ski rep, there was a lot of hanging around involved. Hours of waiting for guests, shuffling around in the snow… our poor feet!
And my god – those foam buckets really were the best. To this day, they’re still the comfiest ski boots I’ve ever worn. Rear entry was the magic element – this meant that you could also unclip the back and stand straight – a perfect standing-at-the-bar position. Or to quote Gavin Paterson from Snow & Rock: ‘piste to pub boots’.
Well, that’s where my quest for the perfect boot began. And it seemed to be the perfect means of testing the quality of comfort.
I tried every boot I could get my hands on – I’d whack on the Lange, Dynafit, Rossignol, and Raichle boots and head to the closest bar, have a drink and decide which was the most comfortable for leaning against the bar.
Hanging out in bars was an activity I did a lot in those days, so what better way to see if the boot was for me?
Prince Charming and His Glass Slipper
After I stopped guiding with a bit of cash saved, I became less reliant on the local ski shop discount and what they wanted to offload on me.
Instead, I started the hunt for the perfect boots that were the perfect fit, like Cinderella’s Prince, wandering the streets placing foot after foot into that glass slipper…
My Ski Boot Timeline: ‘80s
During the ’80s everyone pointed me to Jamie Neil who worked for Snow Fun in Val d’Isere. His technique was flawless – he put me on a raised platform, handed me a drink and a few darts to keep myself amused with, and warned me it would take at least two hours. He started with setting me up with some custom-made insoles and then proceeded with a foam injection.
Suddenly it was as though my skis had been awakened – my whole experience was totally transformed, as my skis actually reacted quickly. I now seemed to be able to transfer 100% of my foot movement into my skis. Sure, the first day was a little wobbly and out of control, but by Day 2 I was taking control.
I found myself with stable feet in a neutral position, and as a result I even had some circulation. The result? Warm feet!
Jamie sadly died young in a paragliding accident, but soon the realisation occurred that people existed who could adjust boots for even the most complicated feet…
My Ski Boot Timeline: ‘90s
The next decade was all about the Strolz shop in Lech that used to actually custom-make ski boots. The idea was fab, but apart from the prohibitive cost I was happy in those days with my Nordica 22 Grand Prix boots. (Notice the name, ‘Grand Prix’ – no wonder I liked them).
The race foam injection, stiff competition shell, the extra shin pad, and the super cool name gave me plenty of much-needed street cred. I mean, you could ski with these boots unclipped – that is what I call a perfect fit.
If you can ski in your boots with no pressure points on your foot, you’ve found yourself some keepers.
I wore those for years until they fell apart, before moving back to some comfy Salomons again. You may remember the type – those almost see-through shells called Rush (no relation to the brilliant rock band).
But the time was approaching to invest in something that would better my performance, as well as being comfortable when hanging around with my children.
My Ski Boot Timeline: ‘00s
This time around I didn’t want to trek all the way to the Alps to find my shiny new pair of boots. Everyone was raving about this guy named Hamish Wolfenden at Profeet in Fulham.
And this man – well, he truly was a legend.
Another lengthy assessment of my feet (these were becoming too common in my life) took place, similar to Jamie’s.
Lesson Finally Learnt: Don’t Go By Brand
Mr Wolfenden established the right size and shape boots for me and before I knew it, I was introduced to my first pair of Atomics. Never in my life had I pictured myself wearing Atomic.
It goes to prove that within each brand there are the right and wrong shell sizes for every person. So seriously, do NOT go by brand until you have firstly had your feet checked and secondly had some custom insoles made before you try the boots.
Sadly Hamish also passed away in 2012, but Hamish’s legacy continues with the brilliant Janine Winter at Profeet. This talented woman did 11 seasons in Telluride for some top fitters, and worked as an instructor for Masterfit – the University of Ski Boots. You always wonder whether one’s surname draws you towards a certain profession…
Right, that’s my ski boot life story done with. Now I want to help you find your ski boot soulmates using the lessons I have learned, so pay attention…
Start By Finding a Hero For Your Ski Boot Story
First, I reckon it’s necessary to provide you with my top unsung heros, just in case you ever come across them in your travels. Here is the A Team:
Gavin Paterson – Snow & Rock, Port Solent
Janine Winter – Profeet, London
Alain Baxter – Alain Baxter Sports, Stirling
Jules Mills – The Bootroom, Chamonix
Hans Martin Heierling – Heierling Sportorthopadie, Davos
Colin Martin – Solutions 4 Feet, Bicester
Fabian Stiepel – Intersport, Kaprun
Nick Hammond – Mountain Air, Verbier
James Choularton – Outdoor Traders, Abingdon
I also hear good reports on:
Vital Ski Boot Facts to Know Before Purchasing
I had a chat with legends Gavin from Snow & Rock and Janine from Profeet for some advice, and managed to gather some important facts on ski boots that you must take into account before deciding to buy.
Ski Boots Fall into Three Categories
A ski boot’s a ski boot, right? Wrong – have you not been listening to a word I’ve had to say so far?
There are three main categories: Alpine, touring and hike & ride.
I’ll come back to the latter two in a moment.
Find a shop with a great selection of brands and options for your feet. By options I’m talking variations of flex, liners, width and volume for your foot and a good boot doctor to make you the perfect footbed.
Nothing Can Be Done Without Custom Insoles
Things have progressed since my loose leather boot days, and the current way ski boots are made by the manufacturers expects each person to have custom insoles.
Everyone’s foot arch is different and manufacturers rely on boot doctors to sort this out. This is the reason why the cost of footbeds is not included in the cost of purchasing ski boots – custom footbed is the key.
You’ll Need To Spare a Couple of Hours
A custom fit takes about two hours. It can take up to two days for World Cup racers. So if you plan to buy ski boots, it’s best to make an appointment and set aside a couple of hours.
This is the service you pay for rather than buying something off the shelf.
They Will Loosen Up (So Loosen Up…)
Bear in mind, after your purchase, the boots will feel tight and small, particularly if you are used to renting. Shops tend to upsize, whereas boot doctors make you downsize.
They may be tight for roughly three days but you will settle in, so don’t fret.
They’ll Cost Anything From £350
And how big will the dent in your wallet be? Be prepared to spend from £350 onwards to include fitting and custom insoles.
The more you spend the more sophisticated your liner. Obviously.
Some Niche Brands Offer Customised Boots
Choose from the likes of Dale, Dahu, Apex, and of course Strolz in Lech who have been making the same shells for years and years with unlimited width options.
Look at this one below. The idea is that you take the shell out after skiing and you can drive your car!
Don’t Be Fooled
I would say these guys cater to the older clients, and since the birth of these brands who had the right concept in mind, well, life has moved on and there are lot more options out there for you.
Be Honest About Your Ability
When you see the boot doctor, don’t overstate your ability or they will simply recommend the wrong boots for you. I’ve been there, and boy was it unpleasant.
Picture aching feet in heavy hike boots resulting in a lot of hard uphill work for a powder-less outcome. If you say you are an expert but you lean back when you ski off-piste, your ski boots just won’t work for you.
So ask yourself: are you really an expert?
You scoff, but think about this one out carefully. Most people think they are experts. An expert is not someone who is just capable of bombing down the mountain.
To claim this title you need to also be confident enough to ski well on ice, bumps, fresh snow or generally when conditions are not favourable. Believe it or not, women tend to be technically better than men as they make more turns!
So, to my skiing friends and clients out there, as Christmas approaches, make the best future investment for your partner and treat them (or yourself!) to a gorgeous pair of ski boots.
You’ll guarantee a smile at those mountain lunches instead of the face of agony followed by relief as they unclip their boots.
Oh, and if you’re interested in heading out to any of the ski resorts I’ve mentioned here, perhaps for a ski weekend that combines time on the mountain with a trip to one of the famous boot doctors, we can make it happen for you. Get in touch today and we can start planning your tailor-made trip to one of the world-class destinations we offer.
I’d love to hear your feedback, too. How many pairs of ski boots have you owned? How did you finally get it right?
Happy Christmas and best wishes for a snowy, comfy 2016!