Written by Ted Kerasote
When the English writer Eric Newby set out to go mountaineering in Afghanistan, he couldn’t find a pair of boots in all of England that would fit him. He had a pair specially made in Brescia, and upon seeing Newby’s feet, the Italian bootmaker remarked, as Newby relates in A Short Walk in the Hindu Kush, “Sir, these are not the feet of a man, but of a monkey.” When I first read those lines, I thought the bootmaker was speaking of me.
From an early age my feet were so wide that I had to wear custom shoes. They only got wider. As one orthopedic surgeon diplomatically put it after taking off my left bunion, “You have poor foot architecture.” What he meant was, “You have the feet of a monkey.” My twelve-year-old niece, prone to hyperbole, was more graphic. “Uncle Ted,” she said, “your feet make me want to vomit.”
None of this stopped me from skiing, of course, and over the years, I stretched, punched out, melted, and otherwise modified more ski boots than could fit in the Wing of Tortured Feet at Chamonix’s Musée Alpin. Matters came to a head this winter after three long ascents of peaks in Grand Teton National Park. My remaining right bunion developed bursitis, swelled to almost the size of a golf ball, and an open blister formed on top of it. The pain was so acute, I couldn’t ski: not uphill, not downhill; I couldn’t even get my foot into my ski boot.