There is only one person in the world that I let work on my ski and mountaineering boots. This is because I’m extremely picky about boots and a) I think most gear store are full of shit when it comes to boot fit and b) I have specific preferences that my favorite boot fitter fully respects and c) I have learned to trust the opinions of the fitter I use and vice versa. I have no interest in spending time at a shop, arguing with some bro I’ve never met before about whether or not my preferences are valid in the face of his eternal wisdom. I’ve spent so long building a relationship (and friendship) with my boot fitter than I don’t know what I’ll do if he ever leaves the industry.
Example: I stopped out our local climbing shop and found that they carry zero – nada, zip, none – women’s technical footwear. I pointed this out to them and they offered no explanation and no response. Just a blank stare. But yeah, according to the industry, “women just don’t buy tech gear.”
“No,” I very clearly said.
“Well, it’s because blah blah blah my opinion blah blah something I read on an Internet forum they work fine out of the box yadda yadda blah blah,” he went on. Not wanting to hear more of that, I put the boots back in the box and left.
I really don’t want someone working on my very expensive boots – which are, to me, my most vital piece of gear – who can’t even listen to my very clearly stated preference regarding what I want to talk about. I’ve had too many experiences with boot fitters saying things like “oh, you won’t even notice that,” when clearly I WILL notice it because I just did, and pointed it out. Note to sales reps and shops: LISTEN TO PEOPLE. They are there for themselves, not to hear you pontificate on how awesome you are.
So I go back time and time again to my regular tech. We’ve been working on one of my pairs of alpine boots for a season and a half. We could never get the mold on the liner quite to my preferences, which can be dicey because shops don’t want to heat mold liners more than once or twice. Personally, I don’t care about molding them more than that, even if they fall apart sooner. Who gives an F? They are by nature a consumable product with a limited useful life. If they fail in a few seasons, there are new ones to be had. I’m all for molding as many times as it takes to get it right. I spend so much work and play time in ski boots that I want them perfect.
So I brought them back to the shop for more punching and another go at molding. I wanted more room in the toe; I do not like to feel the front of my boot with my toes at all. In my opinion that’s yet another thing the industry could just stop saying to people: “Your toes should feel the front of the boot.” No they should not. That ends up hurting and making your feet cold, and it doesn’t make one bit of difference for ski boot performance. It just jacks up your feet. If you don’t believe me, look at the feet of anyone who works in ski boots. It’s just a lie perpetuated by people not trying any alternatives. Anyway. The boot fitter punched the shells and then we created a molding plan. To do this – and this is key – we discussed back and forth how we wanted to do it and AGREED ON A METHOD. All of our respective input was considered valid. After all, he has 20 years of boot fitting experience and I have twice that much with my own feet. All of that data combined, and that’s the key word, combined – was applied to our plan, which deviated from the standard molding procedure.
Usually heat molding goes like this: the tech puts the liners in the oven until they are puffy, soft, hot, and floppy. Then s/he jams the liner on your foot and you jam your foot and liner into your boot, then you stomp your foot hard three or four times then tap the toe hard a few times then the heel hard a few times. Then you stand there and wait for the heat to subside. I have always hated this method. It doesn’t work well, is very painful, and frequently results in twisted liners with jacked-up soles. The hot, floppy boot liner stretches in weird ways that you can’t see or fix, and ends up unsatisfying in the end. You can’t check it until it’s too late, fully molded, and you’ve got some shop guy wringing his hands about what a bad idea it is to mold them again. You pull your foot out and find that the sole is halfway up your ankle? Too bad! “You won’t even notice!” they will say.
So we devised a new plan. I think it is genius and needs to be the new normal for boot liner fittings. It worked perfectly for me, and it goes like this:
Pre-mold: Have boot fitter punch out all known pressure points on boots. Don’t even do the “ski it first” stuff unless you have never been in ski boots before, and even then, meh. Wear the boots for ten minutes and you can feel where it hurts. My feet have not changed, I know where the problem spots are. Punch ’em.
1. Liner goes into the oven if brand new, onto the pipes if not.
2. I tape all sorts of things to my feet designed to relieve pressure points. Tip: I use foam metatarsal pads from the podiatrist’s office. They can be stuck anywhere on your foot and give you a nice little space once the liner is molded. I also use two neoprene toe caps; one is not enough.
2. Sock goes on over all the foot pads and toe caps.
3. Meanwhile boot fitter has been monitoring liner to make sure it doesn’t get too hot. When it’s just barely heated up enough to be slightly malleable and stretchy, he puts the footbed into the liner and the liner into my boot and makes sure it’s seated properly.
4. Then I put my foot into the boot, we buckle it up, and I do one flat foot stomp and two medium-firm heel taps.
5. Then I stand with the boot toe on a piece of wood until it cools. Because we have not heated the liner up to liquid hot magma state, this doesn’t take very long at all and it doesn’t hurt my foot as much.
Boom! Perfect boot liners in half the time. Highly recommended method, along with finding a good and trustworthy boot fitter who listens to you.
Never again will I let a boot fitter do the standard/original liner molding procedure. It doesn’t work. I’m so thankful my fitter took the time to ponder the problem and was willing to step away from the industry standard to try something new and more effective.