RealSkiers: The Great Insole Debate
A fierce debate has been raging within the narrow corridors of the ski trade for longer than the Thirty Years War. If you haven’t caught wind of it, it’s because each shop resolves the debate for its own customers, presenting the case that works for them.
The issue that inspires an ideological divide among ski shops is, does every skier need a custom insole in his or her ski boots? If you want to read up on the latest and greatest alpine boots, including a look at all the “hike mode” models in evermore abundant supply, check out the boot profiles at realskiers.com.
To find out if you need a custom insole or footbed with whatever new boot you buy, read on.
First, let’s define what we mean by a “custom insole.” For the purposes of this discussion, they come in two forms: off-the-rack insoles that are preformed to provide a measure of generic support and custom-molded versions that can be extensively modified or that self-mold to suit individual requirements.
Either kind represents a significant improvement over the stock insoles that boot manufacturers deploy, which serve as little more than means of concocting faux half-sizes by altering insole thicknesses.
Meet The Combatants
Second, let’s meet the combatants in this enduring feud. At one end of the spectrum is the laissez-faire approach that ignores the whole issue of upgrading the insole. Shops like this consider it a triumph if they find the customer the right size. The next level offers the preformed off-the-rack option, but doesn’t insist on it.
The debate over insoles becomes relevant when we move up to the class of specialty dealers who regularly make some sort of moldable custom insole. While there are some skirmishes over which sort of molding technique is preferable – weighted, unweighted or seated – the larger issue is whether everyone needs a personalized custom insole or if this aftermarket embellishment should be reserved for special cases.
If cost were not an issue, there would be no debate. Any custom insole is an improvement over any stock iteration, and a properly molded and posted custom job creates the ideal interface between foot and boot. But neither upgrade is free (even if it’s included in the price of the boot), which raises the question, who really needs a custom insole?
Purists Say Get Them
To the purist, aka, zealot, everyone needs fully customized underfoot support to achieve his or her skiing goals, however modest they may be. A molded insole is considered standard equipment. There’s no harm in this ideology save for its elitism.
In fairness to the everyone-gets-an-insole adherents, the vast majority of Americans do have fairly wretched feet that would benefit from some sort of support, but that doesn’t mean they all need the deluxe edition. An off-the-rack custom insole is a cost-effective option that resolves a lot of fit, comfort and stance issues for a wide swath of the skiing public.
There are instances in which a molded insole is all but mandatory. Some feet have no hope of being comfortably contained in a ski boot without one. Anyone getting a custom-molded shell or injected inner boot is well advised to begin with a foundation as precisely contoured as the rest of the structure.
If skiing becomes an important part of your life or you just want to feel the cleanest connection to the ski, you’ll want a pair of molded custom insoles even if your feet feel comfortable without them. An expertly molded custom insole holds the foot in a position that allows it to function at its best inside a ski boot.
So it’s not that you can’t ski without a custom insole under your foot. But most likely you can’t ski your best without one.
Photo: Boot insoles (real skier.com)