RealSkiers: Unbalanced By Design
Scenes from a short seminar in buckle pressure. (RealSkiers.com)
After each bootfitting exercise, I spend a few moments ensuring that my freshly fitted customer understands the basic operation of his or her new footwear. Part of this brief operations overview is a lesson on buckle tension. You might think experienced skiers would know all about this; after all, many have been wearing 4-buckle boots for twenty seasons or more.
Every day, I rediscover that this isn't the case.
So in the interests of reducing unnecessary pain and suffering, here's how such a discourse might go. First, I'll ask the customer to extend a boot in my direction so we can both see the full buckle system. Then I begin my soliloquy.
Scenes from a short seminar in buckle pressure.
"The first buckle has the easiest job in the ski industry. It's just there to assist the snow dam over the toe box in keeping the snow out, so I don't want you to use any pressure on it. If you do snap it tightly, you'll want to match the pressure on the second buckle, and that's when problems begin.
The top of the foot is covered with nerves and blood vessels that are very vulnerable; when you exert force on the second buckle, you immediately impinge these nerve and blood paths. The first time you ride the lift (with no foot rest, as seems to be the norm these days), the weight of your equipment will pull down on this area so by the time you reach the top, your feet will already be heading into a mini-coma, if they're not out cold already.
The solution is to keep the second buckle only finger-tight; the buckle should just have enough tension to latch. You don't need more, because we sized you correctly and put you in the correct volume shell; your foot isn't going anywhere, so there's no need to drop the roof on it; even if this buckle comes unlatched during skiing, so what?
This "loosest is best" rule applies only to the two buckles on the lower shell; the cuff buckles live by another code of conduct, particularly the lower cuff buckle.
This is the Master Buckle, the Big Kahuna, the Boss. It does the heavy lifting of keeping your heel down and your ankle supported, so give it all the gas you have. (Key nerve and blood paths are well protected from this added force.) Even people with big forefeet and calves may be tiny just above the ankle and it's critical this area feel contact with the boot.
The top buckle should match the tension established by the Boss, so that the two straps on the cuff lay against the shell with no gapping and pressure feels even. Treat the Velcro strap as a fifth buckle, snugging the top of the cuff against the leg. This will usually cause the top buckle to lose tension, so you may need to tighten it a tad to complete the process."
For skiers with skinny legs or with their calf muscle above the top of the boot, even full tension on the top buckle may not secure the leg. A leg that rattles around the cuff isn't sufficiently stable, causing the skier to do a lot of extra work to stay forward into the cuff. Your bootfitter can determine whether to shim in front or behind the leg; either way, the skier should be left in a comfortable stance that favors pressure on the shin.
If you've followed these guidelines and your foot and/or leg are still mobile, something major is wrong. If your foot has fore/aft movement, the boot is at least one size too large; if there's movement side to side, the boot is the wrong volume for your foot. There are no good remedies for these issues other than starting over with a properly sized boot of appropriate volume. If this isn't an option, the very least to be done is add an insole that closely matches the skier's arch so the foot is at least partially stabilized.
Whatever problems you may be experiencing with your boots, remember that there is no reason to ski in pain or discomfort. The myth that ski boots have to hurt is utter nonsense. I guarantee every customer - regardless of age, gender or infirmity - perfect comfort and dynamic balance. The shop where I provide this service backs this guarantee to the hilt.
Any specialty shop worthy of the name ought to do the same. And before they send you out the door, they should show you how to use the product you've just spent an hour adapting to your needs. If they don't provide this minimal service, what else might they have overlooked in the bootfitting process?