The boot should feel like a firm handshake!

Jakob Annerdal

Jakob Annerdal works as a boot fitter in a largely snow-free country, England. His workplace is the Ellis Brigham store in Bristol with clients from all over the southwest of England and South Wales. The main advantage of not having the mountains around the corner is that, as a boot fitter, most of your clients are local – should they not be satisfied, they’ll return in short order to let you know. That way, you’ll soon learn from your mistakes and improve your skills in the profession.

 

The route to the perfect boot

Boot fitting is the process where you step-by-step improve a boot’s comfort without sacrificing the chosen boot model’s properties. This process can be long or short, depending on a whole host of different factors. The time a customer chooses to spend on boot comfort depends on how meticulous the skier is in terms of achieving the goal of an encapsulating, even and stable pressure around the foot. My aim as a fitter is to help ensure a comfort level which still allows the boot to perform as per its specification.

Step one: Find the right boot model

When you first start in this profession the process appears to be linear. “Anyone can do this!”, you think to yourself when you learn how to measure a customer’s feet and then select a boot which matches what you’ve jotted down in the boot fitting form. You soon learn which boot models the store keeps in stock and which come up “big” or “small”, and can then present the customer with a selection based on “theoretical” figures. The astonishing thing is that this linear process in broad strokes works. The other day I was observing a fairly new employee work through this process. He asked – word for word – the questions written in the form. He took measurements and arrived at the same conclusion as I would have done. This raises the question of what an experienced boot fitter does differently and how experience can contribute to an even better boot.

Step two: Boot modifications

Truth be told, no boot offers a particularly comfortable fit straight off the shelf. As an experienced boot fitter, the value you bring is the ability to see the possibilities in each boot model. The model resulting from the linear process is the starting point of the boot-fitting process. A proficient boot fitter is therefore observant of the details of the skier’s foot shape. Such a fitter is knowledgeable in terms of the anatomy and the skeletal layout of the foot and can draw conclusions about which modifications can achieve the desired result and if it’s even possible. The boot fitter also possesses a deep knowledge of a boot’s construction. Which new and old technologies are used by different brands? What materials have been used to make the boot? In what ways has a model in a particular collection changed since the last season, or even since ten seasons ago? The boot fitter will also be familiar with the modifications possible across different boot models and brands. How much additional width can you push out before the height is affected? Can you achieve sufficient room in the toe box through modifications of the inner boot only, or do you need a different shell? How much material can be ground out from the inside of the shell to accommodate the bone in the big toe? How easy is it to bend or reshape a particular type of plastic? And so on.

Things to note as a customer

An important detail to pay attention to as a skier is if the boot fitter tries to quantify how the boot fits. This can be achieved by frequent measurements, trying to ascertain how much space is available for your feet inside the shells (without the inners), or simply by looking inside the shells. It’s also vital that the fitter asks questions that require specific answers. “Is your toe touching the front of the boot when you extend?” or “Can you lift your heel more than a few millimetres?”. The opposite is questions that allow for subjective answers, like “Does the width feel comfortable?”.

Before a boot fitting

Before you do a boot fit, consider what you intend to use the boots for. Let your kind of skiing and goals guide the kind of boot you select. It can be tempting to let oneself be affected by the marketing and ask for the lightest SkiMo boots, or the beefiest freeride model. The most important thing is to always let the boot fitter do their job. The result is that you, as a customer, get a boot which is genuinely thought through and chosen specifically for you and your skiing. Perhaps also modified for your particular feet and which will let you develop your skiing whilst at the same time letting you forget that you’ve shod your feet in a hard plastic shell.

Remember: A boot should not just be comfortable

With the help of a good boot fitter, you will find a boot which works for you in the long term. This means the boot which best works with your feet and lets you develop as a skier. Such a boot will probably differ from one that is simply “comfortable”. When you’re standing in your boots at the top of some mountain ready to drop in, remember that boot fitting is a process. Chances are that you will need to get back to the store and request further modifications. Make sure you do! Modern boots are remarkably modifiable, and most fit issues can be resolved.

 

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