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What Matters
and What Doesn't - Boots

As realskiers begins a new season, it’s appropriate to revisit some fundamental issues that bedevil the ski equipment selection process. If there’s one point upon which all equipment gurus agree, it’s that the most critical pieces of the equipment puzzle are one’s boots, so let’s start there.

Part 1: The Primordial Importance of Boots

skiersYou’ll never ski well if your boots aren’t a perfect match for your anatomy and skills.

Many skiers with 20 ski seasons or more of experience base their associations with each boot brand on their personal history, despite the fact that this history is most likely limited to three models, the last of which was purchased a decade ago. Because boots leave indelible marks on feet, they also create cast-in-concrete impressions on the mind, inspiring remarks such as, “I don’t have a Nordica foot,” or “I can’t fit a Lange,” or “Don’t show me any Tecnicas.”

Note all the negativity. People rarely know what they really need but have a clear understanding of what they don’t want. The problem is, whether one’s history with a brand has been bliss or an ongoing battle, it’s all utterly irrelevant. Whatever you thought you knew about a brand based on a time capsule of knowledge that hasn’t been refreshed in 10 years is as helpful to the new boot selection process as remembering all the Vice-Presidents of America.

There are two elephant-size reasons why one’s hard-won empirical experience has so little retained value. First and foremost, every notable manufacturer makes every significant shell architecture in its line in at least two, if not three different volumes. No matter if your basic foot shape is narrow, medium or wide, every boot maker has a shell to match. Not to mention the fit versatility made possible by the advent of moldable shells that can be re-configured to conform to just about any abnormality known to man.

The other reason your past may be a poor guide to future success is that the boots you’ve been wearing, and basing your judgments on, may not be right for you in the first place. If your current boots are mis-sized, a 50/50 proposition by our estimates, it’s not overstating the case to claim, in the immortal words of The Firesign Theatre, “everything you know is wrong.”

If boots are so critical and one’s self-assessments so unreliable, how is the hapless skier to figure out which magic slippers are best for him or her? If you believe there’s no good answer to this question, fret not; it’s the wrong question. It's not your job to know precisely which boot is best for you.

put yourself in professional handsWhen it comes to choosing a ski boot, it pays to have professional helping hands.

Whether you base your research on personal experience and/or a compendium of (self-anointed) experts’ opinions, the chances of you landing on the best possible choice by yourself are only slightly better than your chances of winning a World Cup event.

Lest this sound like the hyperbolic ravings of a curmudgeon who’s off his meds, permit me to remind you that I examine hundreds of feet every season. I see mankind’s follies firsthand. The recreational skier who can correctly predict the perfect combination of components to optimize his or her ski experience is an oddity in every sense of the term. Not even all the pros have get it right.

Despite our line of argument, we aren’t proponents of apathy or inaction. By all means invest some time in understanding your foot and what it requires to be supported at this stage in its decline. And allocate as much time to finding t<p he best bootfitter as you would to selecting a cardiac surgeon.

Before moving on to other matters that matter, let’s pause to highlight just why it is that boots are so essential. Distilled to its biomechanical essence, skiing is a sport of ankle range of motion (ROM). Somewhere between 12 and 22 degrees of ankle dorsiflexion is considered optimal for skiing. The proper boot helps define the most effective ROM – aka, a balanced stance - as it transfers the skier’s energy to the ski and snow.

The inexperienced bootfitter is so concerned with achieving instant comfort and averting instant rejection that he often ignores the business of correctly containing and retaining the rear-foot. If the foot and ankle aren’t being held securely, all hope of high performance skiing is lost before the first snowflake falls.

You Need a Friend

Since, as we just elucidated, you don’t know what boots you’re getting, it’s hypercritical you patronize a shop with the personnel capable of matching you—not just your foot, but all of you—to your most suitable boot. Finding a talented bootfitter not only matters, it matters more than anything else we’ll discuss in this 2-part series.

Regardless of what boots you end up with, someone has to assist you with the initial fit process. The skills a veteran bootfitter brings to the fitting bench will have more bearing on your future comfort, confidence and control than any other factor you can name. Our advice is to make this a conscious, non-accidental, choice.

Next time: Part 2—What Matters about Skis, and What Doesn't

Every boot commentary on realskiers is linked to two other resources. One is the on-snow evaluation of the boot test team assembled by America’s Best Bootfitters.*  The other is a directory of specialty shops that carry models in that particular brand family. The person you’re looking for lies at the end of one of those links.

jackson hogen

*to be published in October