Bones and Beds — Masterfit University

Post by blogger | October 19, 2012      
Masterfit University instructor Bob Gleason (Telluride and Taos) kicked off the morning

Masterfit University instructor Bob Gleason (Telluride and Taos) literally kicked off the morning. His short anatomy lesson was interesting, but I have to admit the only way I'll really use the terminology he presented is if I spend some time doing rote memorization. To Bob's credit, he did emphasize how medical terms can be useful for precise communication between professionals, but shouldn't be over-used with boot fitting customers.

I’m always fascinated by the way we humans come up with crafts to make our lives easier — and recreation more fun. In the sport of skiing, boot fitting might be the most visible yet most arcane of such things.

Ski tuning isn’t that hard to understand, and it’s often done in a back room, out of sight. Work with a boot fitter, and you’re up front (and I mean up front as in having a person kneeling in front of you messing around with your feet) and personal from the moment you start.

Good snowsport retailers know how meaningful the boot fitting interaction can be — and because of that, how important that it’s done well. Many (I pray most) boot shoppers know this as well. Problem is, as I know first hand, shoppers are not always comfortable with the results or the price of getting their boots customized. Masterfit Enterprises seeks to support the former and remedy the latter, by developing and selling excellent products such as their EZ.FIT drop-in insole (improved for this year, and looking good), as well as operating an extensive seminar operation that builds boot fitting expertise for shop employees and independent boot fitters from Kitzbuhel to Colorado.

We’re loving being here and doing some formal learning about boot fitting. I can already see how my own fitting and custom projects will receive a boost in quality and effectiveness. Good cred for a ski blogger as well. And the boot fitters we do work with will have a much more knowledgeable customer. Indeed, Lisa and I were talking about all this and agreed that any comitted skier with the money and time would receive huge benefit from doing the first level course at Masterfit. For example, if you’ve got fairly normal feet and some knowledge of fitting, you could probably buy and configure your own drop-ins to be nearly as good as an expensive custom job. That sort of thing could be key if you’re running a lot of ski boots and athletic shoes (like us). And who knows? Career number 642?

Molding boots for backcountry skiing.

One thing nice about Masterfit U is they have a specific sub-curriculum for backcountry skiing boots. That was our group, of course. The goal is a '2-finger fit' with solid heel hold, good support, and provision for types of feet and anomalies that you determine through a series of hands-on tests that we're thinking will be incredibly useful back at WildSnow Hq. 'Casting' phase of making footbeds is shown. This isn't rocket science, but neither is it hack work. Basic principles have to be consistently applied, such as leg positions and compensation for foot flexibility, arch height, and that sort of thing.

Foundation of the best boot fitting is the custom footbed.

Foundation of the best boot fitting is the custom footbed (or in some cases a carefully evaluated 'drop-in' bed). A few methods are available on the market and used in various shops, Masterfit's involves a basic foot 'casting' on a gel bed along with a surprising amount of hand crafting (such as working with this grinder).

Interfacing the footbed with the boot.

After today's learning and thinking back on years of boot fitting failures and success, I realized that the many failures I've seen in fitting backcountry skiing boots with custom footbeds has easily been the fault of what the Masterfit guys call 'interfacing.' Meaning the process of matching the footbed to the boot, after it's matched to your foot. From what I experienced, interfacing is significantly more difficult than casting and grinding a footbed. For example, nearly every well known AT boot brand (and many alpine boots) give you a platform (known as boat board or zeppa) inside the boot that is NOT flat. The footbed is molded to work on a flat surface. Thus, if your footbed is not interfaced to an uneven zeppa, likely bummer. In my view, this is where it's mandatory you work with a fitter who regularly deals with AT boots. Otherwise, they'll be perfecting that part of the craft on your dime. Come to think of it, in days past when I did not do my own boot fitting, I can only think of a few times the fitter even looked at the zeppa in my boots.

So, here is a tip for you WildSnowers out there who are working with a boot footer. It’s something you can check for yourself. While the guy is getting your footbeds dialed, he (or she in disturbingly rare cases) should be throwing that footbed in your shell with no liner and doing a tactile check for interface with the boot. Ditto for yourself. Just stick the footbed in the shell, resting on the boot board. Press gently down on the ‘bed and check for rocking or tilting that indicates it’s not shaped to fit the boot. Any lack of interface can cause all sorts of seemingly insurmountable fit problems, since once the footbed is forced to bend and conform to the boot shell, it’s not conforming to your foot.

Lisa and my first Masterfit footbeds. A bit rough, but they'll work with the correct tweaks.

The couple that beds together stays together. Lisa and mine, first Masterfit footbeds. A bit rough, but they'll work with the correct tweaks.

Masterfit website.


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21 Responses to “Bones and Beds — Masterfit University”

  1. Harry October 19th, 2012 10:31 am

    I am very excited about this series of articles Lou, as a bootfitter for over 10 years I can say that an informed communicative customer is by far easier to work with, and will end up with a better final result because they can tell me what they are feeling and what they want. A customer with good feedback can tell me as much about pressure distribution as a foot scan pressure map, and more about what the pressure distribution is within the boot.

    Halleluja and an Amen on the knowledge drop on footbed to boot interface. Damnation to the non neutral and non removable zeppas on the market. As you have now seen it adds a lot of time to the process of stance alignment and achieving a comfortable fit. I don’t understand the purpose behind a lot of the arch bumps and varrus that is put into those areas. Individual variation is so high that they end up poorly located for more people than for which they are correctly sized and located. In the alpine world such bumps are almost gone except at the lowest price points. They are a prime cause of overposting, and make the use of inexpensive off the shelf footbeds more troublesome (as I am sure they have gone on about at length!)

    I can’t recall the number of times I have had to re-do the work of other because of that issue.

    As for expectations of what a customer can expect from a bootfitter, especially on the dog and pony show side of things, they need to be tempered with the customer keeping an eye on the prize as it were, which is a great fitting and skiing boot.

    Things such as footbed interfacing and modifications for fit and balance are often done out of sight, and what is being done is not always discussed. This is done so as not to pollute the customers mindset as to the effect of what is being done and adding noise to the feedback. If a customer asks directly what I am going to do, I answer and am sometimes told “oh so and so did that to me on another pair of boots and it didn’t work.” In any new pair of boots and new bootfitter is a clean slate, so no options should be dismissed. Maybe it will work, maybe it won’t, maybe it is just part of a progression that the fitter is comfortable with. If you trust your bootfitter, don’t second guess him while the process is ongoing. If you don’t trust them, find another one.

    Often the running changes that are made are made ugly, we don’t want you to see them. Often a change is made not to make it feel better but to test your feedback, establish limits, and calibrate our judgements, roll with it.

    Don’t judge the work till we pronounce it fit to be seen!

  2. Lou Dawson October 19th, 2012 7:55 pm

    Harry, thanks for the comment, you should hear these boot fitters talk about the way these backcountry ski boot zeppas are shaped “the things are a nightmare” or “who’s foot did they mold that thing for?” are common ways of phrasing it. Interestingly, Black Diamond did it right. Kudos to them Lou

  3. Dan October 19th, 2012 9:54 pm


    Very interesting article…thanks. BTW, besides BD, who else manages to get the zeppa right? I assume Dynafit is in there because their boots have a flat footboard? Although, the TLT5 seems to have a bit of arch.

  4. kevin October 19th, 2012 11:18 pm

    I have to disagree with the clean slate theory. I have seen too many bootfitters discount the customers experience or the ability of a previous bootfitter. Now I have seen the flipside, on vacation, where ready to shell out big money for pain relief, the bootfitter has made only minor tweaks. I appreciate a little hubris in my boot fitter. Certain bootfitters seem to have a god complex. My wife gets ran over by these types. Bootfitters, love them, hate them. It’s a tough job. If only we could have perfect feet.

  5. Lou Dawson October 20th, 2012 7:10 am

    Dan, the Tecnica boots have a zeppa that’s easy to work with (removable, alpine boot type.) The Dynafits I’m familiar with have a shaped zeppa just like most other AT boots, and thus harder to interface footbeds with unless you happen to have a foot that matches their zeppa. I spent quite a bit of time yesterday and the day before working on interfacing, with the help of the experts here. Time consuming and imprecise. What’s needed, for example, is each AT boot maker could supply a set of casts of their zeppa, that the shop could use to quickly do a perfect interface of custom footbed.

    (Apologies to AT boot companies who do have boots with flat bootboards, and that I didn’t mention above.)

  6. Bob Gleson October 22nd, 2012 6:27 pm

    Dear Lou,
    Thanks for coming to Master Fit. I really enjoyed our interaction. I found you and Lisa super inquisitive and very well informed. People should ask lots of questions of bootfitters and vice versa. It should be a very interactive process.

    The footbeds you and Lisa made were very high quality, espcially since you do not spend every day in a boot shop.

    Totally agree that the place for a bootfitter’s ego is left outside the back door.

    I look forward to following and when possible contributing to on-going discussions about bootfitting for AT. I love hiking and AT skiing around Telluride and farther throughout Colorado.

    Bob Gleason

  7. Lou Dawson October 22nd, 2012 6:34 pm

    Hey Bob, we heard you had a bit of an automobile crash on the way home. Heal well. And thanks for all your wisdom! Looking forward to working closely with Masterfit to help keep all our readers here informed about boot fitting issues. Lou

  8. Lester Barnwell October 31st, 2012 11:09 am

    Hmmm. How large a diameter finger for this supposedly standard “2-finger fit”?

    My experience is that 2-finger fits give too much volume, which causes several problems. One is lack of responsiveness, as the shell is too far away from my foot. Another is that pack-out leads to too-large a boot.

    My opinion and experience are that 2-finger fits are good for people who want slippers rather than ski boots, and who ski infrequently. They are popular with some bootfitters because it’s easier to sell a slipper-comfy boot than one which will be slightly uncomfortable until the boot packs out.

    All the above commentary is based on “2-finger fits” using some pretty chubby fingers. The question is whether you just want to sell a pair of boots for your shop’s income, or whether you want to sell a fit that helps a skier enjoy skiing.

  9. Howard Runyon November 30th, 2012 11:41 am

    Lou, I hope you can give this a minute or two. You gave me some good advice about altimeters and avalanche beacons back in the 90s.

    I’m an occasional skier still using a pair of Kastinger’s Messner Kombi boots, which I guess are from the late 1980s. During last spring’s sales I bought my first new skis and bindings in 20-plus years: K2 Coombacks and some Fritschi Diamir Freeride Pro bindings. (I think that’s the full name.) My local EMS shop, where I bought the new stuff, have told me they won’t mount the bindings on the skis with those boots because the boots don’t conform to some current industry standard. I may be able to get them to do the mounting just by bringing my boots home, so there’s no implication that EMS have approved the combination. But I’d like to know whether you have knowledge and/or experience about whether it would be reasonable, insane, or somewhere in-between to ignore the advice of Black Diamond (the bindings’ distributor) that the bindings not be used with my old boots. On the day I bought the bindings, I had the boots with me and popped them into the bindings fifteen or twenty times, and all looked fine. But, of course, I did no organized release testing.

    A complicating factor is that my feet are big (minimum 13 U.S., Euro 48) and it took me a long time to find these boots. They’re the only AT boots I’ve ever tried on that were big enough. I hardly ever see an AT boot advertised as available in a size that might work. And I like these Messners, because they’re relatively good for walking and I’m not an ambitious skier. I just want to be comfortable and go where I like.

    For whatever consideration you can give to this, thanks very much.

    Howard Runyon
    Lake Placid, New York

  10. Lou Dawson November 30th, 2012 12:17 pm

    Hi Howard, that’s a good question. What I’d do is try and find a knowledgeable ski tech who will help you informally, so there is no liability issue. The boots might very well work fine, part of what shops are required to do if they’re concerned about litigation is have a cutoff date on gear, for obvious reasons such as the way plastic breaks down and the industry progresses.

    That all said, those boots are junk compared to what you can get these days. More, plastic that old can get brittle. How would you like it if your boots broke in half 15 miles from nowhere? Time for a helicopter rescue and no small amount of embarrassment (grin). I’d suggest trying really hard to find something that’ll fit you in a boot from the last 5 years or so. You’d be amazed.

    And by the way, a size 13 is Mondo 31. A 48 would be about 19 inches long (grin). To get Mondo 31 out of a boot all you have to do is get a pair of 30.5 and do a big toe punch.

    Lastly, I do have a pair of tires I took off a car back in 1985 that I’ll sell you cheap (grin). They’ve been in the sun a bit and are quite used, but almost 30 years old? Shouldn’t be a problem if you drive conservatively and stay three blocks from home.


  11. Howard Runyon November 30th, 2012 12:39 pm

    Thanks for your opinion. Fair enough re the aging of plastic—I did retire my 1984 Koflach Ultras, at least five years ago!—but these boots don’t spend much time in the sun. (And 48 is my Euro street-shoe size. I wasn’t claiming anything about Mondopoint.) And I don’t think I bought the Messners until 20 or so years ago. So it’s only two decades, not three.

    Guess I’ll try on some boots if I find huge ones. But the boots nowadays all look so alpine-ski in their height and shape that I’ll be surprised if they’re tolerable to walk in. Does anyone climb in them anymore?

  12. Lou Dawson November 30th, 2012 1:29 pm

    Howard, sure, they climb well, that’s the whole idea. They’re always trying to mix both modes. Cuff articulation is the key. Sorry I misread the “48.” ‘best, Lou

  13. Florian November 30th, 2012 2:49 pm

    Howard, Scarpa used to make very big touring boots. Got a pair in mondo size 32,0 here and I think they run even bigger. At least they did some years ago, don’t know what they do now. In European alp countries it’s not too hard to get them, the bigger shops have them in stock. In the US things might be different.

  14. Ben December 1st, 2012 7:30 am

    Fit is of course personal, but I wear minimum size 46 shoes and a Scarpa Denali 29.5/30 boot shell is actually a little big for me. I would try a 30 or 31 boot shell before ruling out new boots. And thermo-fit liners should mean you need less room in the shell than old liners took up. Howard, you will need the large size Fritschi bindings, and because Fritschis adjust, the shop doesn’t technically need to have the boots to mount the bindings to length, but they are probably doing you a favor.

  15. Howard Runyon December 1st, 2012 7:46 am

    Florian and Ben, thanks. The bindings that I have are M, but my old boots fit into them when they’re set at max length—and Fritschi recommend using the smallest workable size of the binding, to keep flex to a minimum. This is the final wrinkle in my situation: If I buy new boots and their soles are longer than those of my old ones, I _will_ need longer bindings. So if I go shopping for boots I’ll be measuring sole lengths.

  16. Lou Dawson December 1st, 2012 8:25 am

    Howard, or, get Dynafit bindings that work with any boot sole length (grin).

    Seriously, you shouldn’t have any trouble getting boots to fit, though a bit of help from a boot fitter might result in much better results. I’m assuming you are on a tight budget. If so, the orange Maestrale appears to still be available in 30.5. If you waited till after Christmass I’ll bet you could find it for a killer price. Perhaps even walk into a brick/morter store and make an offer on that size, as those unusual sizes tend to sit in inventory (if they even have them).

    If you’re concerned about walking comfort, the orange Maestrale is built with plastic that’s a bit more flexible than the latest RS model, and thus lends itself to that mode. The cuff articulation is way better than what you’re used to. Much better for the health of your knees and ankles, and much more efficient than your antique boots (grin).


  17. Howard Runyon December 1st, 2012 9:00 am

    Lou, I am trying to limit the bucks spent. (How’d you figure that out–just from my having a habit of using decades-old stuff? You should see my bikes….) The Scarpa Pegasus looks a lot like the various Maestrales; would it be functionally similar (albeit, maybe, with harder-walking plastic), just heavier? I usually tour with my wife, who moves slower than I do, so a modest weight penalty on my feet wouldn’t hurt anything. And might there be a durability advantage with the heavier boot?

  18. Lou Dawson December 1st, 2012 5:45 pm

    Howard, if you’re concerned how modern AT boots climb, check this out.


  19. Kirk Turner December 1st, 2012 6:49 pm

    Lou, stumbled on that video last week, I want to be there nowwwwwwwwww!

    Howard, yes they can climb rock and ice quite well, Colin Haley has done quite a few big routes in Alaska in TLT5’s. They can also walk pretty well in general however, 5-6 miles of dirt trail starts to push it, I made that mistake once it was still tolerable, but not quite optimum. Louie rocked the Maestrale’s and I the TLT5 mountains on a particular trip with a lot of climbing last year to great satisfaction:

    There look to be even more climbing competent boots this year I am sure you can find something to fit you needs.

  20. See December 1st, 2012 7:52 pm

    If not on really big skis, I’m still looking for something I like better than my Matrix’s.

  21. Howard Runyon December 20th, 2012 2:36 pm

    Thanks for the help, everyone. I ended up going into my local climb/ski shop (Mountaineer, Keene Valley) and buying a marked-down pair of Dynafit Zzeros, the urethane ones, Mondo 30. (Low-temp stiffness shouldn’t bother, since we do our Colo. touring in spring; my deep-winter skiing tends to be job-related time at a ski area, where stiffer is all to the good.) They fit me better than anything else in the place, and though they don’t have the ankle-flex range of the Scarpas and the newer DFs, they flex a lot better in walk mode than my old Messners. Should be a happy ending—now I can get to business with the new skis and bindings. Here’s to the future.

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