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It’s a truth many Coloradans know all too well: Ski boots are uncomfortable. Even the most well-fitting boots can do a number on your feet and ankles. They are designed for high-performance sliding and, in spite of the oft-used “light, sporty, and comfortable” advertising moniker, when you’re smashing and squishing your feet into those plastic vices, they can feel heavy, unwieldy, and painful.
Luckily, there are steps you can take to ensure that your feet and ankles will remain in good health throughout the rest of the season. Better yet, utilize these tips to take advantage of those upcoming spring sales, and find a better fitting pair that’s easier on the wallet.
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Invest in Boots That Fit Your Ski Style
There are lots of variations and nuance in contemporary boot design, so the first step in finding boots that work for you is to decide what kind of skiing you most enjoy. Why buy a boot that is made for off-piste excursions when what you really love is fresh corduroy groomers? Backcountry powder hounds should look for an alpine touring boot with a rubber sole for traction in variable climbing conditions, while resort lovers will want a boot with a hard bottom and stiffer flexion to handle speed and hard carving.
Beyond recreation type, Bob Gleason, owner of Bootdoctors of Telluride and Taos, New Mexico, and senior ski boot tester for SKI and Skiing Magazines, emphasizes the importance of a personalized fit. “All ski boots should fit snugly,” says Bob. “An optimal fit will allow your toes a little wiggle room but should immobilize the heel, instep, and ball of your foot. A ski boot should never fit like a roomy sneaker, irrespective of ski level.” Novice boots have traditionally been designed as boxy, super wide, and very flexible. But, as Bob says, “That’s totally ridiculous. Beginners are the ones who need the most control—their boots should promote responsiveness to movement, not inhibit movement.”
Consider Custom Foot Beds
After taking into account your personal ski style, an experienced bootfitter will then assess your stance: Are you knock-kneed or bow-legged? Do your ankles pronate (collapse inward) or supinate (collapse outward)? The best way to correct your stance or skeletal alignment and control movement inside of your boot is with a custom orthotic. A well-made foot bed will stabilize your stance by supporting joints. If you have flexible ligaments, you need a rigid and structural foot bed for support. But if your feet and ankles already lean towards taut, you’re going to need a foot bed to promote shock absorption.
The key is to find a true bootfitter, not just a sales associate at retail stores. While some associates may be knowledgeable about the product specifications of a certain model, they are not necessarily trained to fit a boot to your foot. The best professional bootfitters are most often certified through MasterFit University, a global training program for footwear specialists. The connection between bootfitters and professional skiers is strong: MasterFit regularly works in conjunction with the Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) and the American Association of Snowboard Instructors (AASI) to incorporate knowledge of stance and physical anatomy into ski lessons, and help instructors more effectively communicate technique and focus on a personalized, student-centered lesson. Larry’s Bootfitting of Boulder has been fitting boots for snow sliding sports for close to 30 years—that’s the kind of experience you’re looking for.
Adjust Boots in Spring Conditions
With spring comes warmer temperatures and more variable snow conditions, which can affect the way your boots move. The plastic shell becomes less rigid as it warms, the foam of the boot liner compresses, and softer snow applies more torque to the boot so we tend to crank down on the buckles, explains Bob. The American Podiatric Medical Association adds that the extra room in ski boots can lead to unwanted contact points, causing rubbing (and blisters, corns, and lesions). Do yourself a favor and head back to your bootfitter so that they can reset your boots for the warmer temps. They can add padding to the liner, additional laminate underneath the foot bed, and grind out the toe area to re-stabilize your foot. Before the 2016–17 season, readjust for cold winter temperatures.
When you find yourself tightening your boots to spring settings even on the coldest days of the year, it might be time to think about replacing the liner. The liner of the boot wears out a lot faster than the plastic shell. Save yourself another full fitting by getting ZipFit Liners, a liner that can be heat molded to your foot. Though they can set you back about $400, it’s still about half the price of a totally new set of boots and can help make them last for another couple of seasons.
Learn to Love Epsom Salts
Feet trapped in ski boots can become sweaty and damp with exercise, which can lead to the dreaded “ski boot funk”. This moist environment is perfect for bacteria and can lead to infections, according to the American Podiatric Medical Association. Daily foot care can help eliminate unwanted bacteria, so incorporate Epsom salt footbaths into your après-ski regimen. Though the ameliorative effects of Epsom salt soaks haven’t been scientifically proven, the salts are regularly used in homeopathic care to reduce inflammation and relieve joint pain as well as promote overall skin health. Most avid skiers swear by these nightly salt soaks. Also, ditch your dad’s thick wool socks and wear thin wicking socks made of merino wool or another antibacterial, quick dry material.
—Photo courtesy of Shutterstock