November 5, 2015
Give Pain the Boot!
By Dutch Franz
Photo at right: Kyle Fisher helps Melissa Younkins find the perfect fitting boot. Photos by Drew McKenzie, www.drewmckenzie.com
With ski season right around the corner we wanted to find out the secrets to great fitting and performing ski boots. SNOW Guide interviewed five of the region’s top boot fitters and their answers might surprise you.
From the state-of-the-art scientific fitting to an almost Zen-like approach, these boot fitters will tell you what you need to know to feel and perform your best on the slopes this season.
Mike Gamble, Skiies & Biikes
Skiis & Biikes at Whistler Village is home to boot fitter Mike Gamble. Originally from Long Newton, England—approximately five hours north of London—Gamble visited Whistler in 2006 and fell in love with the place.
An experienced boot fitter with a big friendly personality, Gamble says the best reason to go to a custom boot fitter is to learn how properly fitted boots feel.
Gamble’s best tip about getting the best boot fit is for the customer to not oversell their skiing ability to the fitter. According to Gamble, the key to a great fitting boot is to get the ankle and heel fit first, and then work on the toe box.
Kyle Fisher, Alpine Hut
Master boot fitter Kyle Fisher is the second-generation owner of Alpine Hut, a 40-year-old shop located in the Magnolia area of Seattle. Fisher’s philosophy is that boots are the most important piece of equipment a skier can buy.
“The boot connects you to the slope and a properly fitted boot is essential for control and comfort,” he says.
“Each person perceives the boot fitting process differently based on experience and lifestyle,” adds Fisher. He feels it is his job to translate this
perception into a common language that results in great-fitting boots.
“We walk our customers down a path to help them become aware of what they are feeling in a boot,” says Fisher. “We don’t sell boots; we fit them.”
Fisher can adjust the angle of the boot, known as canting, and modify the rim of the boot opening to fit the calf, shin and ankle as needed (also referred to as cuff alignment).
Fisher says that boot fitting is often a process, and his staff works with customers throughout the season to get the best fit: “My job is to make sure you have the best day on the mountain possible.”
Mark Elling, Kat Vandermoss, Emily Poore
Gravity Sports, Mt. Bachelor, Ore.
Mark Elling at Gravity Sports, a lift-level shop on the slopes of Mt. Bachelor, is considered by the boot-fitting community as one of the top fitters in the country. Elling is also a lead instructor at Masterfit University, the industry leader in boot-fitting instruction.
Elling says the biggest reason to get a custom fit is to improve comfort and balance which will result in better performance. He urges customers to pay attention to the fit along the shin to the instep in the throat of the boot because this area gets a lot of movement.
In addition, Elling says that a custom foot bed can enhance comfort and performance as the foot transfers energy from the boot to the ski.
Kathleen “Kat” Vandermoss has been doing custom boot fitting at Gravity Sports for five years.
She talks with customers to find out what they need and to see if there are any pre-existing issues. Her biggest tip: don’t buy a pair of boots just because they are on sale.
“You may pay twice the price for the boots that fit well, but that’s better than skiing in pain for years,” she says. She also points out that the top-rated boot is not always the best and to take the time to try on a variety of boots to get the right fit.
Masterfit certified Emily Poore, also at Gravity Sports, said before she became a boot fitter six years ago, she always had problems with her own boots and knows how the wrong fit can ruin a ski season. She uses this experience as motivation to give her customers the best fit possible.
Poore points out that getting a correct fit is critical.
“You could be skiing on 2-by-4s and still have a great day if your boots fit right,” Poore explained. “The most important aspect of any custom fitting is good communication between the customer and the fitter.
“If the fitter is telling you what you need, but not communicating with you, get a new fitter.”
Poore also notes that support is important and starts with a well-made custom foot bed.
The fitter must check the flexibility of the ankle and toes and add lifters or posters to tilt the foot as needed to get the right fit for how the foot moves.
Brent Hansen, Ski Tek
Sun Valley, Idaho
Master boot fitter Brent Hansen of Ski Tek in Sun Valley, Idaho, has been in the ski business a long time. Originally a world-cup ski tuner, Hansen is now a certified pedorthist, and can modify footwear and address conditions that affect the feet. He often collaborates with orthopedic surgeons and works with clients few others can help, including amputees.
Hansen says that most people get boots that are too big and he recommends to always shell-fit a boot first. Shell-fitting is pulling out the liner then putting the bare foot in the shell and checking the fit with a flashlight.
“With the toes barely touching the front of the boot, there should be about a thumb’s width at the heel,” says Hansen. “New liners almost always feel too small at first, but will soon mold to the foot and feel great.”
Another tip from Hansen is to ensure the fitter checks the alignment of leg and foot.
“There is no assembly line here,” says Hansen. “We work with the client as long as it takes to make the fit perfect.”
Dutch Franz is a Seattle-based freelance outdoor adventure journalist and writer. His work has appeared in numerous regional magazines and his short stories have been published in two anthologies. Dutch is completing a Ph.D. in psychology.