The Great Divide

By: Jackson Hogen

Published: December 31, 2018

For nine of the last ten days I’ve been fitting boots and selling skis in the frantic scrum known as holiday shopping. My hands are speckled with not-quite-sealed wounds and my mind is numb from countless counseling sessions with frazzled customers.

What I retain from this ordeal, aside from the eternal reminder that people are weird and wonderful, is that there are so many skiers coming back to the sport after long absences that they constitute a skier type. They might as well be time travelers, as whatever they once knew about ski gear most likely ceased to be true several seasons ago.

The tide of humanity that washed over Bobo’s bootfitting bench over the holidays included another significant sub-set: the first-time boot buyer. The transition from a rental boot or prehistoric hand-me-down to a custom-fitted boot is the most significant moment in any skier’s journey. This is as true for the skier whose only interests are comfort and safety as it is for the aspiring expert.

To grasp the depth of the chasm that separates the boot renter from the boot owner, consider that a proper custom fit session can easily consume an hour and may take longer, while the average time spent on a rental boot fit is, well, as little as possible.

Custom bootfitting as practiced by Paul Archer at Jan’s, a Realskiers Test Shop.  

From the perspective of the service provider, the objective of the bootfitter is to provide not only perfect comfort, but proper stance and alignment that optimize the dynamics of skiing. The goal of the rental boot station operator is to yell, “Next in line, please!”

Then there’s the matter of the boot itself. The custom-fit boot will be selected from a wide variety of possible shapes and sizes; the rental boot is likely to be from a fleet of simplistic, low-end designs with a fit designed not to offend a Yeti. Unless the boot is new, it’s probably already lived a hard life by the time the next renter slips into it. Retail boots, on the other hand, will be new, which is just the beginning of their advantages.

Compared to custom bootfitting, what transpires in many a rental department might as well be from a non-parallel universe.

As I’ve raised the issue of aging, allow me underscore a point I made in an earlier Revelation (Your Equipment Isn’t Getting Any Younger): plastics age whether they’re used or not. A 20-year-old boot may look hardly used, but most likely won’t behave as if it were new. At the very least it will prove difficult to get on and may have other issues its apparent newness disguises. (One couple I met this winter had their ski boot liners devoured by pet rats. Did not see that coming.)

This technical tidbit is directed to the small army of skiing dropouts who are returning to the sport this winter. As former skiers, many of you still have your last set of skis, boots and bindings squirreled away somewhere. By all means bring them to the specialty shop that’s going to re-equip you, but don’t expect them to be resuscitated. The bindings are likely to be obsolete, meaning the shop can’t work on them, and the skis they’re on will be murder to turn compared to what’s available today.

The only reason to still cling to your ancient boots is pathological self-hatred, as they will ensure that your first time back on snow will be misery incarnate. Do mankind a favor: if you’re not going to re-purpose your old gear as garden art, be sure to dispose of it in a manner that is environmentally friendly so it won’t find its way back to Craig’s List.

One of the least fond memories of the returning skier is often the ordeal they went through to find the right boot when they last shopped for one. Do not let fear of fitting keep you from getting properly fit this time around. While you’ve been away, the variety of fit environments has expanded enormously, as have the means of modifications at the bootfitter’s disposal. Even erstwhile skiers with chronic fit issues will discover that a talented bootfitter can actually solve issues in a ski boot that are more difficult to address in normal footwear.

The lapsed skier has a lot to catch up on. Happily for him or her, there’s now a publication that answers all their basic questions and sets them back on the path to maximum skiing enjoyment. Its official title is America’s Best Bootfitters.com Powered by Masterfit Buyer’s Guide in Partnership with Realskiers.com. Whether you’re new to skiing, a returning veteran or a lifelong expert, you’ll find the Masterfit Buyer’s Guide to be essential reading.

The 2018/19 Masterfit Buyer’s Guide is available on digital newsstands now. 

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