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You don’t have to have grown up on the slopes to be a good skier, and you didn’t need to grow up in ski boots to sell, size, and fit them.
“When I was hired, I had skied maybe two or three days in my life,” says Chad Culler, a lead bootfitter and buyer for Powder7, a mom-and-pop ski shop in Golden that’s evolved to include an über-successful online business. “Now, I ski and sell skis for both work and pleasure.” Culler, 28, has long been a part of the outdoor scene, having guided whitewater kayaking in the Southeast and outdoor expeditions in Alaska, but fell head-over-hard-plastic-boots for Colorado snow when he moved to Golden for what he assumed would be a seasonal job in 2018. Today, he spearheads the bootfitting department for Powder7 year-round (because making sure Denverites are stoked and equipped for the season is a year-round operation, after all).
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“I was a little nervous to get into the ski industry having come from small-town Carolina where the most snow we saw would hardly count as a dusting,” Culler admits, “but my coworkers at Powder7 took me at my ability level, showed me how fun skiing really is, and I grew into a better skier with every day we hit the lifts.” (Which can be over 100 days a year.) Now Culler shreds as hard as the rest of them, and puts his passion for skiing into every interaction he has at the ski shop. “It’s just really fun,” he says about meeting new customers and squaring them away with the right-fitting gear so they can also enjoy skiing. “And that’s how it should be.”
With the first big dumping—around half a foot, depending where you call home—yesterday and many lifts spinning, 5280 chatted with Culler about how to get the most out of your Colorado ski season.
Editor’s note: The following conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
5280: What’s your role at Powder7, and what do you day to day?
Chad Culler: I’m a buyer and the lead bootfitter, having just made a lateral move from managing customer service to handling our ski boot inventory and training our new employees on the magic of bootfitting with our assistant lead bootfitter, Annabelle. It’s more computer work now than before, but I still get hands-on for the more complicated bootfittings, which I love. There’s nothing more satisfying than piecing together the puzzle of what boot will work the best for someone’s foot, so they can get out on the slopes more. I can work with the gnarliest of feet, and if I can’t help, I know a great podiatrist who can.
What’s the best thing about your job as a bootfitter and ski tech?
Solving unsolvable problems and getting people, no matter their skill level, into the right boot. My favorite customers are the ones who come in saying, “I’ve been to 10 bootfitters and can’t figure it out.” I’m not a doctor and can’t diagnose you, but I can get most feet into good boots. Having come back to outdoor sports from various injuries myself, I love making it so that people who have complicated foot problems can still ski and enjoy it.
What’s it like to work with skis, boots, and all the other ski gear every day?
It’s both fun and overwhelming. We get down to the nitty-gritty details that no human should ever know about gear. Everyone in the shop gets caught up in the tiny details because we’re nerds and we love that, but it makes us overanalyze a lot of things—like the jacket you bought last year was great, but they changed the waterproofing on this year’s model just enough that it may be worth it to buy the latest edition. It’s lots of fun getting to see all the new items on the market, but it makes you question your great gear purchases in excruciating detail. You’re selling these skis, these boots, these goggles, these bibs everyday to customers, but you’re also selling it to yourself. Makes you want to spend your whole paycheck when you know just how cool this new piece of gear is.
How important are waxing and tuning your skis, really?
Incredibly. I’m a huge proponent of starting with a good tune, leaving a thick coat of storage wax on for the summer, and if you put a hole in your skis, fixing it ASAP. Personally, I put DPS Phantom (a one-and-done, waxless treatment for the base of your skis) on my skis because I’m lazy. It gets me by every day, but it’s not as good as a hand wax. There’s nothing like skiing on good edges and a freshly scraped wax.
What do you think is more important to spend money on: skis or boots?
Boots. I love the saying, “You date your skis, but you marry your boots.” It’s true: One pair of boots should last you four or five years of hard use, and skis are meant for different conditions. We could get into the minutia of backcountry boots versus racing boots versus every other kind of boot, but for most Colorado skiers, you’re going to have one pair of boots for everything from powder to hardpack, and you’ll rotate through a handful of different skis. I would also argue that you marry your insoles, but we’ll save that for another conversation.
Oh, let’s go for it. How important are insoles?
Arguably more important than the boots. Put it this way: You can build the biggest mansion out there, but if the foundation falters, the house will crumble. The foundation of skiing is a supportive insole, or footbed. Ski boots are essentially just a plastic tube around your feet; most people need extra support. Without the right support, you’re just standing in a plastic tube with tall socks on. With the right support, you can use your boots as a guide for your skis, channeling the strength of your legs through your feet. That’s how skiing gets fun.
What else should skiers know about buying and fitting boots?
Bootfitting takes time, and it takes getting to know you as a person and as a skier. If your bootfitter doesn’t talk to you one-on-one about your skiing abilities, where and how you like to ski, how often you ski, etc., that’s a big red flag. If they try to sell you boots based only on your street shoe size, walk out. Your feet are unique, and a good bootfitter will take the time to measure your feet properly. Even if you come in and say, “I’m a 28.5,” I’m still going to measure your feet, because different companies have their own interpretations on how a 28.5 fits, in length, volume, and everything in between. Be prepared to have your feet touched, and be ready to spend some time in the shop. I schedule two hours for every bootfitting job, just to make sure we have the time we need to get you right so you don’t have to come back and see me again until you buy new boots in five years.
What about skis?
Like I said, you date your skis. Skis depend on where you’re at, geographically and physically. The best skis are the ones that work best in the terrain that you ski the most. There’s a reason manufacturers make so many different shapes—it’s all dependent on conditions. If you like groomers, there are skis for that. If you only want to ski backcountry powder, there are skis for that. If you want to hit big jumps, there are skis for that. You don’t necessarily need fat powder skis if you’re just hoping for the one big Colorado storm of the year. But are they fun? Absolutely.
In Colorado, most people can get by with one pair of “all-mountain” skis between 90mm and 100mm underfoot, but I can’t know for sure without chatting with you.
What’s the most unique experience you’ve had as a bootfitter?
We’re both an online dealer and a brick-and-mortar ski shop, so we get all kinds of folks literally and electronically walking through our doors. Like I said, bootfitting takes time to get right—it could take up to two hours. More than once, those two hours have turned into intense therapy sessions. I’ve fit people who used to huck giant cliffs but now need comfortable boots to chase their tykes across the bunny slopes. I fit one elderly woman who grew up ski racing and was dead set on continuing to buy gear like she was still competing, and over the course of her appointment, we talked about her expectations versus the realities of her body—she could still rip, but not as hard or as long as she used to. We really try to set people up for success, and that includes talking to people about their expectations. Sometimes, what’s best for someone’s skill level, physical abilities, or budget isn’t what they had on their radar.
When is the best time to buy ski gear?
For the best deals? Right now—before the snow really starts flying and the lifts just start running. You’ll find the best deals as all of the shops and outfitters try to make room for the newest inventory. But you may have slimmer choices when it comes to what’s in stock. If you want the best selection, wait until late November or early December when the new inventory starts landing on shelves.
Any tips on how to keep your gear in the best condition possible?
Yes! Buckle your boots! At the end of every ski day, before you put them up for the summer, whenever they’re not actively being put on or taken off, buckle them. Ski boots are plastic tubes that want to lie flat—the best thing you can do to keep their shape is keep ’em buckled. For skis, I fully recommend a summer wax to keep your bases from drying out, especially in our dry Colorado climate. Otherwise, keep checking the safety features—test your bindings, check for split edges or delaminated skis. Good skiing only happens on safe equipment.
What do you wish more people knew about skiing?
Rental boots are terrible, and you should never give up on skiing because of your rental boots. Here at the shop, we don’t want to make you spend $1,000—we just want to get you into good boots that make you want to hit the lift for one more run. I believe in the gospel truth that boots will make or break your skiing experience.