Skiing is a difficult enough sport without your feet feeling like they've been coal-walking all day. But many skiers go through multiple seasons spent in various states of denial about how their ski boots may be severely limiting their skiing.
"If you go to the hill on a busy weekend, I'd say that probably 50 to 60 percent of the people on the hill are in boots that are too big, and you can tell that from their bad habits," says Larry Houchen, of Larry's Bootfitting in Boulder. "They lean back in their boot, or over-buckle the boots, because it's the only way they can hold their foot down."
Houchen has been helping skiers get a performance fit from their boots for 29 years, and has worked at places like Boulder Ski Deals before going out on his own. Houchen offers a variety of services in his shop, including custom footbeds, custom liners, and shell work.
"In some cases, custom liners do obviate the need for shell work, depending on how many days you ski and what type of terrain you like to ski," says Houchen. "There are so many variables involved, especially and most importantly the shape of your foot. We do still do a fair bit of shell grinding and shell work."
Lee Kinney, of The Custom Foot in Denver, also helps skiers with boot issues. He has worked with alpine ski boots since 1987, and with mountaineering, telemark, and backpacking boots since 1974. Kinney does custom footbeds, custom liners, and shell work. Kinney also finds that many people end up getting footbeds for other activities, like tennis and golf.
Both Kinney and Houchen say having a custom footbed that keeps your foot and knee in a neutral alignment is critical to skiing, and is something every skier should consider.
"The footbed is literally the foundation of what we are going to do," explains Kinney. "With any of the liners that are thermo-moldable, the foot has to be held in the correct position, and the only way to do that is with a custom footbed."
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In addition to doing work on existing shells, Kinney is also a dealer for DaleBoot, a Salt Lake City company that creates custom shells for skiers with unusually shaped feet.
If you're shopping for new gear this year, the biggest performance difference will not come from sexy new skis, but from getting a pair of well-fitted boots. A fitting session with Kinney or Houchen can take several hours, as they look at the biomechanics of your foot and figure out how to correct issues that may be shortcoming your skiing.
"A good rule of thumb if you are new to the sport or are looking at your first performance gear is to figure out how much you are going to spend on gear total, for skis, boots, bindings," says Houchen. "Then cut that total in half and spend half on the boots and half on everything else."