This is not just something that applies to racers and high performance skiers; everyone deserves to have well fitted boots. The process is not difficult, but despite this many shops simply don’t follow the basic protocols.
So what do you need to know…
1 Shell size is everything. The numbers on the box are nothing more than a starting point, boot manufacturers know that the vast majority of boots are bough by the “can I try that in a size 9” method, therefore they want the boot to feel great in the measured size….to do this they add a bit more length to the shell, the liner is made a little shorter so it feels snug at first, but with time this extra shell space will allow slop around the foot. Placing the naked foot in the empty shell and moving the foot forward until the toes just tickle the front allows a fitter to see behind the foot and how much space there is in the shell, moving the foot back to the centre of the boot allows assessment of heel volume, forefoot width and instep clearance. The liner will stretch out and fill the gaps in the shell, and being as most liners are less than 3mm thick front and back a 10-20mm shell check is loads of length assuming that the shape of the boot is correct…see below.
2 Round pegs go in round holes! If you think about the kids game where the shaped pegs have to be fitted through the correct holes then ski boot fitting is exactly the same, there are a selection of boots on the market and each brand thinks that theirs are the best shapes, this is why it is critical for a shop to stock at least 4 or 5 brands and different models within those ranges, good boot fitting shops will “cherry pick” boots from manufacturers getting the models they need to fill foot profiles rather than just price points. A skilled fitter will know the stock and be able to select a boot shape to match your general foot shape…do remember that there are only 40-50 different lasts (boot shapes) on the market so whichever one you end up in it may need to be modified for YOUR feet. If the shape does not match your foot then the toes may be crowded too tightly at the front or the heel may not get right into the back of the liner.
3 Strong structures need foundations. Inside the liner of your chosen boots is a stock insole, best advice is to get rid and replace this with either an off the shelf or better still a custom made footbed, if you only ski a week or 2 a season and have no issues with the biomechanics of your feet and legs then an off the shelf product from one of the key manufacturers will be absolutely fine, if you ski more or have any foot issues then a custom made footbed is definitely the way to go, they can be made in many ways form different materials, but as they are all different and feet are all different it is worth looking for a store which carries products from at least two manufacturers, that way there will be a selection of different products for different feet (just like boot models). Good boot fitters will make 100s of footbeds a year and will be very proficient at doing it, if you are unsure about the fitter then the best thing is probably to start with an off the shelf product as any off the shelf product will be better than a badly made custom one. For custom made options there are 3 basic ways that footbeds can be made, non weight bearing, semi-weight bearing and fully weight bearing, personally I prefer to make product either non-weight bearing or semi weight bearing as I can control the foot better and give a more accurate result. The key though is experience of the fitter taking the mould and grinding the product.
4 Adjustments for comfort. The plastics that are used in ski boot manufacturer, for the most part are fairly easy to modify, some of the lower level boots do not take to being stretched well (in cosmetic terms but can still be manipulated) boots can be made longer, wider, or taller all by stretching the plastic using heat and specialist tools, material can be ground out form the thickness of the shell to relieve pressure points and liners can have material added or removed to adjust the fit. Your feet did not come out a box, so purely that fact alone should make it logical that if you want a boot to fit you accurately that it will need to be adjusted to accommodate any lumps and bumps which you may have form the ankles down. Someone with a large bunion on one foot does not need a boot which fits the overall width of the foot including the bunion, if they did that then the foot without the bunion would be swimming around and even the foot wit the bunion would probably have very loose around the heel and ankle, instead, what is required is a boot which fits the main shape of the foot (excluding the bunion) and then the shell and possibly liner of the boot can be modified to accommodate the enlargement, this way the heel and ankle are contained well and there is a good level of control.
5 Set up for success! To get the best out of a pair of ski boots you need them to be “set up” for YOU your body shape and biomechanics play a big role in how the boot should be adjusted… ramp angle, forward lean and lateral cuff adjustment are all terms which might frighten you to read but they are all very simple and if right for you your boots will perform better…. Tight calf muscles don’t like to be flexed forward and for this an upright boot is by far the more comfortable and better performing than one which pitches the skier too far forward and uses all the range of motion that the ankle has got. Calf muscle size also plays a big part in your position of the leg in the boot, a large calf muscle will push the skiers leg forward and put you out of balance, this can be adjusted on most boots with the correct tools. The upper cuff of most boots can be adjusted (this is often wrongly called canting) this adjustment moves the upper cuff of the boot either in or out to ACCOMMODATE the shape of the leg, this simple adjustment can be the difference between catching edges during every turn and standing completely flat on the ski. If the cuff adjustment is not enough then there are other options (depending on the boots) either sole planning or canted shims fitted to boot sole or under bindings. These final adjustments are not for everyone, just for those who have alignment issues that cannot be solved with basic adjustments.
6 Aftermarket liners. For those who ski a lot or what better performance from their boots then the addition of an aftermarket liner may be worth while, there are numerous options from heat fit liners to Zipfit or PU foam injection, all have their merits and each works a little bit differently, thermo fit liners are the warmest but do not offer additional performance, Zipfit gives warmth and comfort along with performance, it can be topped up and lasts longest of all the aftermarket liners, PU foam injection liners give a fantastic level of performance and can accommodate more awkward foot shapes, they are not be as warm as the other liners and not suitable for every foot type, but this is something to discuss with your fitter. There are lots of additional options when it comes to fitting a pair of ski boots but all in all the basic principles remain the same, it is not like buying a pair of casual shoes, the ski boot is a tool and is designed to do a job, correctly fitted it can do that job and give comfort AND performance.