Women’s Ski Boot Fit – Trickier Than Buying a Pair of Jimmy Choos

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This post by WildSnow.com blogger  
boot tool

At MasterFit University, I noticed Lou salivating over a number of tools of the boot fitting trade. This one, he said, was 'what we've really been needing.' If he works on my boots, I'll buy him anything.

I’ve struggled with boot fit for years. Testing backcountry boots for WildSnow gives me wonderful opportunities to try different boots but getting the fit right is initially a slow and frustrating process for me. Part of my problem is not understanding the mechanics of boot fit. Therefore, when MasterFit University invited us to their two day boot fitting clinic, I was thrilled.

There’s quite a bit of analysis that goes into a good fit. The goal is to comfortably stabilize the foot in the ski boot. After that, you adjust all the boot’s biomechanical angles (cuff lean, side cant, ramp angle, etc.) to work with the skier’s body. With each training session delving deeper and deeper into the intricacies of the process, my respect grew for the master boot fitter.

How high can you go?

An important part of the process: evaluating toe flex.

I learned there are three core areas of focus:
1) the boot environment (size, angles, width)
2) the foot (flexibility, arch, issues such as bunions, narrow heel or hammer toes)
3) Ankle joint range of motion and toe dorsalflex

These three seemingly simple concepts got complicated real quickly with discussions of biomechanics, anatomy, alignment, assessment, footbed construction and shell and liner modifications. On top of that, most women face additional issues.

Complexities of female specific boot fitting explained.

Complexities of female specific boot fitting explained.

In Europe the percentage of male versus female skiers seems to be about 50/50. We observe a lower percentage of females in the US backcountry but a significant amount of women are enjoying the sport. Strangely, despite the 50/50 split in Europe, companies produce a much smaller percentage of truly women specific ski boot molds. Perhaps that’s because of the male dominated boot design and manufacturing culture? The majority of women’s ski boots are smaller sizes of men’s lasts. Given the differences in our anatomies, that gives us girls challenges and we have to go beyond just shopping for a boot that looks good with our cute ski suits.

Getting the right size boot shell is critical. For backcountry it’s measured by placing your bare foot in the boot shell without the liner, with the toe touching the front of the shell. A finger and half to two fingers space behind the heel is what you want. Your fingers or the boot fitters? The two can be quite different so beware of that gotcha that’s somewhat unique to lady’s boot fitting. Solution is to use a “fit stick” such as the one sold by Scarpa. Doing so keeps things standardized across the board.

Women typically have larger, lower calves, narrower heels, and a lower center of mass than men. Thicker calves can cause a high cuff to bite, and pitch you into excessive forward lean that hurts your knees and messes up your ski technique. Conversely, a lower center of mass can make it harder to get forward on skis — but excessive forward lean is not necessarily the best way to achieve that. Tendencies for knock knees require attention to side-to-side cuff angle that’s adjusted with cant rivets or custom padding on one side of the lower leg bone.

Bob Egeland, certified Podiatris and master AT boot fitter, checking the heat of a boot for the punch.

Bob Egeland, Board Certified Pedorthist, owner of Boulder Orthotics and master AT bootfitter, checking the heat of a boot for the punch.

Our snazzy dance shoes often cause bunions, higher insteps and tight tendons. During the seminar, like a crazed dentist, I ground a large divot in a shell to accommodate a bone spur. Shiny buckles are more than bling. The top buckles should be buckled securely for performance, but the bottom buckle can be closed with a lighter touch, easing numbness which can come from a high instep.

An interesting tidbit from the seminar: shops tend to stock only of few pairs of boots on either end of the sizing chart. Therefore, if you are a woman with small or big feet, availability can be another challenge if you don’t get your boots at the beginning of the season.

Women often have cold feet (my nickname, known only to a few, is Popsicle toes). A good fitting boot with the right sock will help. The boot, liner and footbed should provide the fit so rather than a thick comfy sock, a light sock is recommended. One fresh pair of socks for each day of touring is important since salt and minerals from sweating will inhibit the performance of a technical ski sock. And when driving to a trail head, you should only put on your socks right before you start to ski. Perspiration during the drive increases the chance of getting cold feet in the backcountry. Warmth can be enhanced by exterior neoprene boot covers, heavier liners, battery operated heaters embedded in insoles and heated boot bags. Unfortunately most of these come in boring black. Hopefully soon the top designers will focus their attention to ultra thin ski socks.

During one session, a MasterFit University instructor pulled out the stock foot bed of a new ski boot and it was flat as a pancake. Most design efforts focus on shell and liner construction. Most stock foot beds are generic and won’t give you the comfort or support you need. It’s a good idea to at lease replace it with an off the shelf insole, one that can be ground down to fit the liner. The goal is to stabilize the foot in the boot. A sloppy fit causes blisters and sluggish responsiveness. A good fit will have your foot encased in a warm handshake.

As you can surmise, there’s a lot involved with getting a boot to fit well. Attending MasterFit University helped me learn about my feet and their issues, and the knowledge will help me. But I’ll still work with a professional. Find one in your area. Luckily I have easy access to a number of good boot men, including Lou! A girl can never have enough shoes, but usually she’ll only have one pair of go-to backcountry boots. It pays to have them fit right.

Be ready for the first big storm and treat yourself to a few pairs of fresh, new socks. Buy ultralight wool ski socks.

Comments

10 Responses to “Women’s Ski Boot Fit – Trickier Than Buying a Pair of Jimmy Choos”

  1. Dan October 24th, 2012 10:48 am

    Lou/Lisa, So, exactly what is the purpose of the tool that Lou lusts after in the photo? other than hold the boot open so you can drill holes, remove stuff, etc. Just trying to make every visit to wildsnow a “learning experience”.

    Thanks
    .

  2. Jim October 24th, 2012 10:55 am

    I sure wish someone would make a custom fit touring boot similar to Daleboot. I’ve always had a hard time getting a boot to fit due to wide flat feet, sometimes taking years to do. I paid almost as much for fitting as I did for my last pair of boots. Finally it was my local shoe repair man not the fancy ski shop guys who finally fixed the issue at metatarsal. Would rather start custom right off.

  3. Lou Dawson October 24th, 2012 10:59 am

    Dan, yes, it’s just a boot spreader. Makes it easy to get in there and do stuff such as grinds. Grinds are more common with thicker walled alpine boots, but can be done on some AT boots. Lou

  4. Lou Dawson October 24th, 2012 11:13 am

    Jim, I think if you worked with a good ski boot fitter and talked to them even before you bought boots, you could probably get the fit you need. The tough part is finding the right guy. Not just any “boot fitter” can formulate a complex strategy like you probably need. But first step is simply getting the best shell fit you can in a boot that can be radically punched and ground for your wide metatarsal. After that, the rest is pretty standard though the liner might need to be customized as well, which again a good fitter can do in their sleep.

  5. Tina October 24th, 2012 1:54 pm

    My next boots are going to be a custom pair, the generic fit women’s backcountry books have wrecked havoc on my feet, and I practically live in them during the winter.

    Thanks for the interesting info!

  6. Lisa October 24th, 2012 6:06 pm

    Tina, are you planning to get custom made AT boots, or did you mean a customized fit? I learned that company to company, the boot molds are very different. I hope you’ll be able to find a boot that is a good match for your foot, and then fine tune the fit with a moldable liner and an appropriate insole. Good luck and let us know what you do.

  7. Sue October 24th, 2012 6:53 pm

    The timing of this article is good luck for me. After 5 years of regular use, I need a new pair of boots. I know what’s worked in the past so I’ve been waiting for a sale or at least for the season to get closer. But I have a small foot and now I remember the ordeal I went through finding boots the last time. Thanks for the tips, it’ll help me work through the process.

  8. Jeff October 25th, 2012 11:38 am

    Response to Jim-”I sure wish someone would make a custom fit touring boot similar to Daleboot. I’ve always had a hard time getting a boot to fit due to wide flat feet, sometimes taking years to do. I paid almost as much for fitting as I did for my last pair of boots. Finally it was my local shoe repair man not the fancy ski shop guys who finally fixed the issue at metatarsal. Would rather start custom right off.”

    Surefoot makes custom ski boots and has a few models that are AT compatible. The Lange XT120 and the Cochise Pro 130 are two models that come to mind for men’s boots and are stocked in every store. For women’s boots, they offer the entire Tecnica Cochise line as well as the Lange XT90 and XT100. They can also customize any AT or alpine boot you already have by adding the Surefoot Orthotic and Surefoot Contoura Liner. There is a new, more forgiving liner this year that will be great in backcountry boots that just came out his year as well.

  9. Greg November 4th, 2012 8:44 am

    i have LARGE bunions on both feet and have a hard time finding ski boots of any kind to fit. I would like to go to AT, but regardless of the brand, my boots will need to be punched out for the bunions at least a half inch. Due to the construction of most AT boots, punching the shell looks difficult. I have had several shops say you can’t do it. I don’t want to have to wear my super punched out Technica 20 lb alpine boots forever. Any advice on brands to look at in AT boots would be appreciated!

  10. Stacie January 12th, 2013 10:14 am

    Anyone out there tried the Dalbello Kryzma size 21?
    I too have never found a boot that fits my foot. I’ve tried the 22 Raichle now Full Tilt and I’m in a Jr Technica right now. Unfortunately there are no professional boot fitters in Alaska and there are few shops that carry boots, much less a selection of boots-small ones at that .
    I work as a ski patroller so I’m in my boots 5-6 days a week- it drives me crazy how sloppy my boots always are and how unresponsive my skis are.
    I know Lange makes a 97 last, Jr boot but it gets expensive buying boots and them not working…
    Anyway, I was super excited to hear that Dalbello made a “true” 21. Found out too late though- not many produced and a hot commodity so Dalbello was out before I got a pair :(
    So is it a true 21? Is there really less space inside the boot to fill for those of us who have NARROW, bony feet and skinny heels? Please say its so!!!

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Welcome to Louis (Lou) Dawson's backcountry skiing information opinion website and e magazine. Lou's passion for the past 45 years has been alpinism, climbing, mountaineering and skiing -- along with all manner of outdoor recreation. He has authored numerous books and articles about backcountry skiing and is well known as the first person to ski down all 54 of Colorado's 14,000-foot peaks, otherwise known as the Fourteeners! Books and free back country news and information here, and tons of Randonnee rando telemark info.

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