High Gear: Surefoot custom boots
December 23, 2013
From goggles down to socks, just about every ski or snowboard gear company is likely to tell you that their piece of equipment is the key to optimizing your skiing experience. But ask any ski or snowboard instructor, and chances are they'll tell you it all starts with the right boots.
That's why this week we checked in with the guys at the Copper Mountain Surefoot custom boot shop to learn a little more about the science behind boot fitting and just what can be done to get the perfect fit. They also set us up with a pair of their full custom fit boots to get a feel for what the right size is supposed to feel like.
People often don't realize what can be done to fix a boot's fit, store manager Jeremiah Hughes said. There's much more to it than just getting the right size out of the box. And buyers often don't even get that right.
An out-of-the-box or stock ski boot shouldn't fit perfectly from the get go; it should be a little more snug than you would want. They're designed to "pack out," or compress, to conform to the user, long-time ski instructor Johnathan Lawson said.
But stock boots can be hit or miss, and even a close fit can have pressure points that can affect comfort and performance.
"With stock boots, you have spots that cut off circulation," Hughes said.
He frequently hears people complain that their boots are cold but said that the reality is usually that the boots don't fit properly. If it doesn't allow proper blood flow, an ill-fitting pair of boots will make your feet cold.
Boots that don't fit right will also make skis less responsive, Lawson said. You want your skis to respond to minimal movement. If a boot is too loose, it will take more movement from the skier to get the skis to respond.
That's where the boot mechanics at Surefoot come in. Changes can be as simple as hammering out the shell of customers' existing boot to make more room for the proverbial skier's "sixth toe" or as complex as a full custom fitting with computer-generated measurements to the nearest millimeter.
The full custom experience
For this review, Hughes took us through the entire custom process with a pair of Lange RX 120's. Surefoot can either make an orthotic sole and custom liner for a customer's existing boot shell or suggest the best-fitting shell to go with them. They'll sell each piece individually or as a package.
For a full custom fitting, it starts with one of their technicians determining a skier or boarder's ability level. Then they take basic measurements of a client's foot to determine a boot shell that best suits their foot shape and ability — Surefoot has access to factory-measured internal dimensions of the boot shells they stock, including Tecnica, Nordica, Lange and Salomon.
Once that's determined, the process really get's interesting.
The company has a proprietary computer scanning system that scans the bottom of a person's foot and creates a topographic image of it using pressure-sensitive rubber pegs that measure the foot in 538 places. That image is then stored in their system so that any Surefoot store nationwide or abroad can have access to it for a customer's future needs. Surefoot also guarantees their work and will make adjustments, if needed, after the initial fitting. After the scan, the image is sent electronically to an automated CAD-CAM orthotic milling machine that uses the measurements to shape a custom medical grade orthotic footbed. The scan can also be used to make orthotics for regular shoes.
When the orthotic is finished, the customer steps in to their new boot with an empty liner that is then injected with foam in three locations to create the custom fit around the entire foot, heel and ankle.
Start to finish, the process takes about an hour and a half. Surefoot also offers boot heater inserts at an additional charge.
Put to the test
Ditching my blown-out Technica boots with stock liners for the Surefoot Lange RX 120's, the difference was immediately noticeable. My skis did in fact feel more responsive from the first turn than they had in my Tecnicas. Like Lawson said, Surefoot's boots fit properly right from the beginning, unlike stock boots that need to be broken in or may eventually pack out to a point where they become loose.
Lawson —who has been skiing and instructing with a number of pairs of Surefoot boots for the last 14 years— also added that the custom liners tend to be more durable than stock models.
"They don't break down as quickly," he said.
Having now skied in them for a few weeks, I'm sold. The added cost pays dividends on the hill. Even on a minus 4-degree day, my feet weren't nearly as cold as they've been in previous boots. The fit really does make a big difference in both comfort and performance. Covering the Dew Tour last week, there were days that I spent around 10 hours in them without any issue.
Lawson may have summarized them best: "Just imagine a boot without pressure points; anybody that has had a boot that doesn't fit right will know what I'm talking about. Skiing with bad boots is like riding a bike without a seat."
That's why Lawson, like other pros and athletes, seem to keep coming back to Surefoot.
"It's one of the best purchases you'll make," he said.
Full Surefoot custom boots — shell, liner and orthodic— range between $700 and $1,400, depending on model and skier ability.
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