The annual Masterfit Boot Test concluded after a 5-day ordeal in which some 35 volunteer testers donned 98 boot models and sallied outside to put them through their paces at Silver Mountain, Idaho.
A blank canvas in the Wasatch invites the skier to etch clean lines on its surface. (RealSkiers)
As the 2017/18 ski season shifts from bright anticipation to rapidly dimming memory, it’s time to look back and take stock of where we’ve been and what we’ve pondered in the past seven months. To this end, here are links to all the recent Revelations you may have missed, along with a skinny summary of its contents.
Try to be as specific as you can when describing yourself as a skier. (RealSkiers.com)
Thanks to the popularity of rating sites like Yelp and Trip Advisor, every retailer, restaurant and service provider in America is subject to appraisal by its customers. On the whole, this phenomenon is a positive development, even if human nature is such that many folks are more likely to rant about a negative experience than extol an exceptional one.
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.
This young lady wisely opted to have her boots fitted by the pros at Boot Doctors. (RealSkiers)
Buying alpine ski boots has never been a picnic. It isn't going to get any easier, at least not in the near term.
Harald Harb pouring himself downhill.(RealSkiers)
If there is a single quality that epitomizes how great skiers ski, it's fluidity. Fluidity is the application of technical skills to the opportunities the terrain and snow conditions provide. Fluidity is anticipation so precise every arc appears effortless. Fluidity arises from the awareness that when we ski, we step into a torrent of gravity.
Franz Klammer's Olympic gold in Innsbruck didn't just raise Fischer's profile among American skiers, it helped build the entire sport's popularity. (RealSkiers.com)
Last week on Realskiers.com I wrote about the best all-mountain skis made since that terminology became common usage. This week's reverie highlights some of the great race skis that served an earlier generation of skiers as their everyday ride.
Over time, incremental innovation results in significant change.(RealSkiers.com)
To appreciate the global trends evinced by the 2018 ski market, one must first comprehend the pressure on major suppliers to renew as much of their product line as resources permit. At a minimum, cosmetics need to change; any model that doesn’t change its stripes, so to speak, risks dealers filling in around carryover, thereby reducing initial orders by 20-30 percent off the bat.
There's a big difference between skiing and ski testing. (Copper Mountain)
Everybody loves to demo new skis. When most skiers try out a new model, they just go skiing and see if they like it. They may lack the vocabulary to describe precisely what they prefer and what they loathe, but they can easily distinguish between being happy and being miserable.
Gad Valley, Snowbird. (Realskiers)
In the White World of the mountains, every line is a curve. The innocents who proudly announce that they straight-lined such-and-such a slope fail to observe that every inch of their descent described an arc through space. (Through time as well, but let's not complicate matters any further for now.) Once atop a mountain, the instant you step into gravity's stream you go from standing on a dot to standing on a curve.
Skier Katie Van Riper is all smiles at Snowbird. (Matt Crawley/Snowbird/Facebook)
This week, Jackson Hogen shares some Realskiers.com subscriber perspectives he found instructive, on pedicures, gloves and proper ski size selection, with responses appended.
Perry Martin demonstrates that what was old is new again, ripping into Alta on a unisex Big Mountain ski. (Realskiers)
“Lighter is better” (LIB) has been the dominant theme in consumer products over the past several years, so it’s no surprise that ski makers have adopted this mantra as their own.
The once simple choice of boot sole has grown complicated. (Realskiers.com)
If you are a lifelong skier, no matter how long that life may currently be, either you or someone you know has taken a nasty spill while crossing a slick parking area in their ski boots. These types of falls tend to be sudden and unmerciful, the landing area of unrelenting density. The injuries range from wounded pride to broken femurs. The broken bits aren’t binding related and we tend not to think of these incidents as skiing-related. Yet they are intrinsic to our sport.
If you’re like most advanced skiers, you’d like your next pair of skis to do everything well. Even if you aren’t the master of all terrain conditions, your want your skis to be. Much as you’d like to own several pairs of skis, it isn’t going to happen. No need to heed the weather report; you’re grabbing the same pair of sticks no matter what.
How can anyone go wrong getting a Bonafide? All that’s left to screw up is the size… (Realskiers.com)
Prospective modern-day ski buyers do assiduous research, checking every online advice purveyor for clues in its reviews that will identify his or her personal best-of-all-possible worlds. They interview friends, instructors and a random coterie of lift-mates they interrogate while riding up on the gondola.
The first two weeks of January are Seniors Weeks at Purgatory in Colorado. (Purgatory)
Aging isn’t for the faint of heart.
It takes fortitude to slide out of bed when every sinew seems to have ossified overnight. The silver-haired who continue to ski into their dotage manage to do so not because they’ve found the Fountain of Youth, but because they’re able to suppress or ignore the body’s daily attempts to signal for a time out.
A thorough assessment provides the alchemy that turns curiosity into trust. (RealSkiers)
Last week’s Revelation, “Take the Leap of Faith” inspired some thoughtful critiques among the Realskiers faithful, both on our Facebook page and in one-on-one correspondence with yours truly. One perspicuous soul correctly observed that said essay was superficial, while another waxed eloquent on why the ski industry should adopt saner, customer-centric practices that mimicked regular shoe buying.
In my meandering reply to this critic, I noted that if the customer takes charge of the sale, then the person who has the least idea what he or she is doing is now running the show. This is rarely a formula for success. But if the customer is to surrender to the bootfitter’s care, there has to be a solid foundation of trust. That trust must be earned in the first five minutes. To address the concern of my other aforementioned gadfly, I want to explore the first five minutes of a boot sale in scrupulous detail. Some of the methods I’ll refer to below ought to be standard practice at any true specialty shop; other parts of my routine are techniques I’ve adopted over the years to better assess the skier sitting in front of me.
After greetings and introductions – let’s imagine our boot customer is named Andrea - I’ll pose a few basic questions that allow Andrea to describe herself as a skier. I’ll learn where she normally skis or intends to ski (Mt. Rose), what trail conditions she prefers (groomed) and her experience level (an infrequent skier until this season, when she’ll be skiing more (new relationship)).
While I continue down my litany of questions – what boots did she use before?, does she already have her season pass?, is that guy standing over there the one who’s going to be guiding your development? – I observe how Andrea sits, her posture, where her feet are pointing (slightly outwards) and generally how she moves. I ask what other sports or exercise are regular parts of her lifestyle. Turns out she does a bit of everything, including heavy doses of cycling. Now that we’re all relaxed and getting an understanding of the skier Andrea wishes to be, I’ll ask to see her bare feet, both of them, and if possible her bare legs up to and including her knees. This is a non-negotiable request.
Once I have Andrea’s bare feet before me, I ask to take control and do so, re-positioning her feet in a roughly 6-inch wide stance with her toes pointing at me. I’ll be looking for any red spots, calluses, signs of prior injury/surgery and, of course, examining her overall foot structure, ankle position and leg shaft angle, both straight-on and from the side. I’ll ask about any history of injury.
Now it’s time to get serious. First I swipe my bare hands over Andrea’s feet, starting at the heel and working forward. I’m feeling her bones, particularly the calcaneus, navicular, first cuneiform, styloid process and metatarsals. I’ll perform brief diagnostic tests of Andrea’s ankle range of motion, arch flexibility and forefoot plane. I’ll take an impression of the plantar surface to look in particular at her arches, anticipating what sort of underfoot support she’ll need.
I’ll measure both her feet with a metric measurement tool. Ski boots do not reason in American sizing and if metric (or mondopoint) sizing had equivalents in American sizes the two systems would be the same. So I don’t bother with American measurements and don’t usually measure the arch length, as I already know a lot about it, including its length relative to the total foot length. Where warranted, I’ll also measure the heel-instep perimeter (HIP). At this point, I’m pretty sure what boot, in what size and with what modifications I’m going to suggest for Andrea, but I’m not positive what flex is going to be optimal.
Bear in mind all the inspections I’ve done have taken practically no time. I swiped her feet in 30 seconds, did a R.O.M. test on her ankles and Windlass test on her arches in less than that. Measuring two feet doesn’t take long, nor does taking an impression on a plastic film. I’m in maybe four minutes and I know a lot about Andrea and what I don’t know I’m about to find out with her first boot, which is coming right up. But before I disappear into the boot stacks, I tell Andrea what I’ve just learned. This is the moment where curiosity turns into trust. What I’ll say goes something like this:
“My dear Andrea (for I feel I know her so well now), I can already tell you’re going to be a very good skier in very short order. You’re an active athlete – the calluses on your first met-heads and overall tension from your toes to your knees confirm your passion for cycling. Your arches aren’t particularly high, but they are tight and probably give you problems. You probably have a ¾ orthotic in your cycling shoes, don’t you? And your first cuneiform bone causes discomfort in some, but not all, of your footwear, both athletic and casual.
“Your skiing is about to take a giant leap forward for three main reasons: you are getting out of rental and second-hand boots that never fit you in the first place and into a boot that will help you maintain dynamic balance. To do this, we need to support that sometimes angry arch of yours with a custom insole to which I will make some modifications to relieve pressure from your first ray. And we need to shim behind your narrow calf so you stay forward into the front of the boot so you can learn proper steering, something you’ve yet to experience. “Most importantly, your ankles are so tight they have a somewhat limited range of motion. Nothing to get too excited about, but we do want to keep you pressed into the tongue so you get the benefit of what movement you do have. This is why I’m going to bring you two boots, one stiffer than the other, to see which will be better for you.” (I already know the answer to this, too, but I want Andrea to feel the difference and understand why I’m recommending the stiffer boot despite her current ability.)
Well, my five minutes are up and the boot sale isn’t over by any means, but I hope I’ve demonstrated both to Andrea and to you, Dear Reader, that’s it’s probably okay to trust me. I know exactly which boot will allow me to address all of Andrea’s needs, optimize her dynamic balance and produce an environment so comfortable she’ll never have to fuss with her buckles again. Oh, and the third reason Andrea is going to get good in a hurry is that guy over in the corner nodding his head and smiling. He’s planning on skiing a lot this year, and now he knows he’ll have someone beside him to share his passion.
When considering which ski is right for you, don’t just compare thumbnail model descriptions, helpful though they might be. Don’t put all your faith in numbers either, even though statistics exude the aroma of science. Take stock in the advice of family and friends, if you must, but I wouldn’t invest too heavily in the opinion of those whose experience has been largely limited to one ski.
You'll find gear to put a smile on your face at the Vail Ski Swap. (Vail Ski and Snowboard Club)
As we’re preparing for ski and board season, it’s time to think about upgrading our gear or selling some of your old stuff, and fall ski swaps are a great way to make that happen.