A guy I grew up with here has an amusing but apt nickname for ski boots: “Cruel shoes,” he calls them. Putting your poor feet back into the dark, dank recess of your ski boots for the first time is a real podiatric wake-up call. Ski boots are the deal-breakers for some people when it comes to learning to ski. They eagerly ram their foot into a rental boot, clamp down the vice-like buckles — with their jeans still stuffed in around the cuff — stand up, take a few steps around the rental shop and wince. It’s nature’s way of telling them skiing‘s probably not their thing.
Ski boots are an effective modern-day torture device. Have you ever left your boots in the back of your car overnight, only to realize your horrific mistake the next morning on your way out the door? It’s a rare form of cruel and unusual self-loathing; putting those embarrassing mistakes on, cold and wet from the day before. Even the rookies here have a primitive, plug-in boot drying system at home. I’m actually surprised that new European cars and Subarus don’t have some sort of ski boot-heating feature. Cold feet are the absolute worst.
My thoughts are that the CIA should buy a stock of well-used rental boots, put them in a walk-in freezer, and make captured terrorists walk around in circles wearing the frozen ski boots — one size too small — until they start to talk. It would be much more effective than waterboarding and probably more palatable to the cable-news watching populace.
Speaking of one size too small, it seems like the ski boot fitting industry is hell bent on getting you into boots that don’t fit with the disclaimer that they’ll “pack-out” and fit you perfectly. What they don’t tell you is how long or how excruciatingly painful the “pack-out” process will be. Getting a liner a half size bigger usually solves the problem. No wonder a lot of people here are so pissed-off during the winter months; their ski boots are too small.
The typical thought process surrounding ski boot fit for people like you and me is that your toe needs to be touching the inside of the boot. But not just any boot, a race boot with a minimum of 120 flex. That’s a proven, no-fail, high-altitude-adjusted recipe for blackened toenails. You’re not a local ski bum until you’ve lost a toenail or two from jackhammering moguls on the Ridge of Bell in a race boot until your shins feel like raw hamburger and your big toes look like they got slammed in a car door. The things we endure for this sport never cease to amaze me.
I’ve suffered permanent foot damage from ski boots — not just any ski boots, but those fancy-pants, lightweight Dynafit uphilling boots that are all the rage now. Two mountains in on the “Power of (what the hell am I doing this) 4,” I got blisters on both heels the size of silver-dollar pancakes and — for the first time ever — blisters on the bottoms of both feet. The stiffness ratio of those things is completely irrational — when you lock them down it’s like skiing in wooden clogs. They should come with a complimentary face-harness ball-gag. At one point, hiking up Midnight Mine, I actually considered taking the newest trendy incarnation of medieval torture chambers off and walking up to the Sundeck in my bloody socks. It blows my mind that people actually ski in those contraptions on the “resort” as their daily boot. Even traditional alpine boots with a “walk mode” make me extremely suspicious.
The power strap is by far the greatest invention in the ski industry since the ski brake. By simply torquing down on that thing you can improve the performance of your boot dramatically. As proof, try walking on a flat surface with the boots unbuckled with the power-strap fully engaged. It’s like walking with flippers on. Orthotics? Personally, not a big fan. My go-to is a $2.49 Dr. Scholl’s foam cushion insole cut to match my footbed for comfort and warmth. The less fussing and personalizing you do to your boots the better. If it doesn’t feel comfortable when you first put it on, try other brands and go a half size up. I don’t care how perfectly they match your skis and outfit.
One time a lady wearing ski boots clomps awkwardly into Incline Ski Shop in Aspen complaining of foot pain and that something just doesn’t feel right. The manager sits her down on the carpeted bench, takes a knee and starts unbuckling the boot. With a little bit of finagling, it comes off to reveal that she’s still wearing her tennis shoes inside the boot. Come to think of it, that’s not such a bad idea. And if ski boots hurt too much, you can always try snowboarding.