RealSkiers: A Sommelier For Your Feet
At this time last week, I was sitting in a classroom listening to a passionately yet soberly delivered series of seminars on advanced boot fitting techniques. Even though most of the information covered familiar terrain, the value of the bits that were new coupled with the merits of revisiting fundamentals made for the most interesting two days of the new season.
The occasion was the annual Reno tour stop of the traveling road show known as MasterFit University. It may seem digressive at best to share notes from a technical training session, but there’s a reason members of the general skiing public should care: the shops that participate in this program – whether as instructors or students – are your next best hope for a great boot fit.
Let’s settle one point from the outset: if you’re skiing in pain because you don’t believe a comfortable boot fit is possible, at least not for you, stop. Don’t stop skiing; stop skiing in pain.
Your cure most likely isn’t any particular boot, but a bootfitter.
Wizened Ski Bums
That’s why the MasterFit program matters and why you should keep reading. The faculty isn’t a collection of wizened ski bums – I take that back, they are a collection of wizened ski bums - but they are also degreed Pedorthists, who own or operate of some of the best specialty ski shops in the world.
I won’t subject you to a faculty resume roundup, but I can attest that these are no head-in-the-clouds academics, but hands-on-your-feet daily practitioners of the art of boot fitting.
Just to reference two I particularly admire, Bob Gleason has been teaching our arcane art since the 1980s and fitting boots at his Bootdoctors’ shops in Taos or Telluride every winter over that same span; Jim Schaffner and I worked together at Salomon before I went on to ski journalism and Jim founded one of the west’s premier shops, Start Haus in Truckee, California.
Even more impressive than the faculty, if possible, are some of the attendees. In most of my sessions I sat next to Corty Lawrence, co-owner of Footloose Sports in Mammoth Lakes, California. One seat over was Greg Whitehouse of California Ski Company in Berkeley. These men have fit thousands of skiers, yet still they come to be sure they – and their shops – are on the cutting edge of skier service.
To give you a little more flavor, Corty’s mother was the double gold medalist Andrea Mead Lawrence and the shoes he fills at Footloose belonged to Sven Coomer, who founded the store as a means of developing his legendary insole brand, Superfeet. Corty is still one of the most fluid skiers at Mammoth and personally custom molds more insoles in a day than some shops do in a month.
If Corty Lawrence is sitting next to you at a boot session, you know you’re in the right room.
Fly In Ointment?
If there’s a fly in this ointment, it’s the absence of any certainty that attendees without Corty’s level of experience – there are several levels of instruction – have mastered any of the skills they’ve been taught. While certificates are awarded, no tests are administered. It’s possible some seeds fell on fallow ground.
Possible, but not likely. Retailers who care enough to send their staff to MFU often possess the will to follow up on their investment once it returns home. All of the instruction is very hands-on, with boots being destroyed, repaired, abused and optimized over and over so that much of the instruction sticks.
If you’re still wondering why I bothered to reference boot gurus who may practice their trade thousands of miles from you, it’s because names like Lawrence, Whitehouse, Gleason or Schaffner (all realskiers’ test shops, I’m proud to amend) should mean more to you than Lange, Dalbello, Salomon or Nordica.
There are great boot fitters all across American ski country. Put your trust in them. The chances of your knowing exactly which boot is right for you is about the same as your ability to match the perfect French wines to exotic dining selections.
The sommelier knows, from among the hundreds of wines and vintages at his disposal, the exact match for your palate and wallet. No other analogy so accurately reflects the gift and the task of the veteran boot fitter.
If your boots aren’t working for you, they’re probably working against you. Get thee to a boot fitter who has the experience and the training to help you raise both your comfort and your game. At realskiers, we can often point the way.
Photo: How do you become a great boot fitter? Start by fitting a few thousand feet. Jim Schaffner applying his craft at Start Haus. (RealSkiers)