I’m going on 40 years of ill-fitting ski boots. Admittedly, I have a foot that resembles Fred Flintstone (Flat, Wide, and shaped like a two-by-six). After a half dozen tries and equal number of brands, every one has queezed, pinched, contorted, and irritated my feet uniquely but very unpleasantly. I accepted that my feet were going to hurt, fall asleep, freeze, cramp, and lose toenails for most of my life. This is a common sentiment, but technology today makes this thinking a thing of the past.
Twenty years ago, ski boot fitting was alchemistic practice held by a secret order of artisans, hiding in the back of specialty ski shops across the nation's mountain towns. If you could find them, they would take your boots to a darkened workshop, come out 20 minutes later to varying degrees of success. Though the fitting is undoubtedly a craft earned by years of practice, good boot fitters are part of the modern boot selection process.
This year is a boot year for me, which occurs only about every five to six years. Around here (Bend, OR), you go to the Powder House for boots. This year, Kyle was my man; he is an experienced fitter with over 15 years of experience and several thousands of boots matched and shaped to feet under his resume. However, there are seven other boot fitters at the Powder House. Kyle said he would trust every one of them with his closest relatives.
The Boot Selection:
Proper fitting won’t happen in your first session. Your boot fitter will start by picking out the right boot for your comfort and performance needs. They will inventory your ski style, experience, preference, along with a half dozen foot measurements and notes to get you close to a boot that becomes the foundation for the molding. The selected boot will often feel awkward and could still hurt and poke in some uncomfortable ways, but trust the process. The fitter will then likely schedule a modification session.
During your molding session, you bring your new boots back. All manufacturers vary slightly. However, all modern boots allow for modification and tweaking to varying degrees. In this process, your fitter will take that stock boot you picked out, heat it, punch it, grind it, form it, and blow it out. Then they will pad it, shim it, and tune it, so your foot is entirely supported yet not overly stressed. Kyle pointed out that the boot shape and form support the foot; too many people use the buckles to augment lousy fitting boots. The result is a boot that doesn’t have any pressure points yet also isn’t too loose. It supports but does not squeeze. You and the boot fitter are aiming to get a snug fit that will couple your foot to the ski. Too tight, and your foot hurts, gets cold, falls asleep, causing you to lose feedback from your skis. Too loose, and the ski responds independently of your foot, causing a sloppy connection between you and the snow.
Custom Foot Beds
Footbeds are an add-on to your new boots that can be customized to your specific foot geometry. The fitters will shape and tune footbeds to your specific foot type, including arch support, pronation adjustment, supine adjustments, and any abnormalities unique to you. The boot shape pushes on the outside and top of your foot. A custom footbed supports and shapes the boot's insole to your specific foot geometry completing the circle of customization. My overly flat wide foot has a hard time with the stiff boot sole, so I chose to spend the extra $40 for the custom footbed.
Lastly, if you want to “go-for-broke,” a few companies make custom boot liners that people swear by. A standard boot has a good but not superior boot liner. Manufacturer’s liners are improving, but there is a level above that you can consider. Custom liners like these made by [intuition](https://intuitionliners.com) are costly, likely running you an extra $200 to $300, but they add that next level of customization, comfort, and warmth. It makes sense that a company that specializes in liners would do a superior job. I would recommend these if your budget allows. They can also be an excellent option to revitalize old boots with packed-out liners.
We, finally, live in an era where ski boots don’t have to hurt. When you decide to invest in your next boot, be sure to go to a shop that offers boot fitting and molding as a service. Often, as with the Powder House, if you buy your boots at their shop, the molding is free. If you purchase elsewhere, a molding/modification session typically runs $40 per hour, with add ons for specialty work. A complete first session will likely cost an extra $100 to $200, including custom footbeds. Here is the Powderhouse’s price sheet.