High Gear: Surefoot custom insoles and liners
Surefoot in Summit
All local Surefoot boot shops are open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily during the ski season. For more info on pricing, fit options and all stores, see http://www.surefoot.com.
Find it: 411 S. Main Street, Unit 1
Find it: River Run Village, next to Keystone Sports across from the ski school
Find it: Center Village, next to the Spyder store beneath Jack’s Slopeside Grill
Everyone hates ski boots.
It’s true. At one point or another, anyone who’s stepped into a pair of skis has dealt with a miserable, stiff, heavy boot, a straight-up torture device that pinches in all the wrong places and makes most of your toes go numb. It’s the nature of the beast: Traditional alpine ski boots are rigid for a reason. Like it or not, that’s just the way they are.
It’s one of several reasons I went over to the dark side as a teen. Once you’ve spent a day in snowboard boots, it’s hard to make the switch back to hard, hefty alpine boots. And that’s without getting into all the other reasons everyone should embrace the dark side, at least for a little.
But, skiing is still a blast, and, after getting a decent pair of modern skis, I wanted to try it more. Only problem was my boots. For the longest time, I only had a cast-off pair of rental Salomons, the kind that came with a flat footbed, a paper-thin liner and way more plastic than any boot needs.
It was time to upgrade. I bought an old but nice pair of Rossignol Bandits off a friend this season for $50. The only issue: They were his race boots, and the liner was way, way too tight for an already whiny skier like I.
“Custom insoles are the way to go,” he told me after I bought them. He swears by them, and he easily gets 90 to 100 days every season. I’d heard of Surefoot and their miracle footwear before — my roommate, several other friends and plenty of random folks on chairlifts wouldn’t ski without them — but I’d also heard of the Surefoot price. Custom insoles and liners aren’t cheap, running from $235 for insoles to $419 for foam-fit liners to nearly $1,400 for a complete rig with custom insoles, liners and boot shells. That’s about the same price as your average pair of high-end skis. Is it worth it?
I swung by the Surefoot shop on Main Street in Breckenridge to find out.
Custom boot 101
With two hours to spare before Dew Tour finals, I dropped by Surefoot and met with the longtime store manager, Ollie Holmes. He’s an avid skier, and, like most fitters at the shop, he’s come back season after season and now has 14 years at stores in Vail, Keystone and now Breck. Like my roommate, he’s a Surefoot convert.
“I like how snug and tight and close it is, the responsiveness you get,” he said when I asked what he likes about a custom setup. “A fully-custom boot won’t let your foot slip, and that transfers to how you feel your edges. We go for performance and comfort, finding that balance.”
The entire fitting process takes up to an hour and a half. They told me to just bring the essentials: my boots and thin ski socks. Why not thick ones? Those will throw off the fit, leaving pockets for air. That means cold feet, and $1,400 definitely shouldn’t buy anyone cold feet.
Custom insole fitting, 10:30 a.m.
First up was the insole fitting. To start, Holmes had me stand on a platform in the middle of the basement-level shop. It felt very sci-fi: The platform measures your foot on 500 different points and then creates a map of it’s bumps, ridges, contours and everything else.
“This, the insole and footbed, is the key to any boot functioning properly,” he told me. “It’s really the most important part of your boot. Having insoles in any boots, whether you’re a cyclist or a snowboarder, will put you in the best position.”
But ski boots are like snowboard boots, and I know that, no matter how good the insoles are, they will pack out and lose shape eventually. Holmes said a ski patroller who gets 150 days of solid skiing each season can go for two seasons before getting new Surefoot insoles, while someone who gets 10-15 days can go for six years before paying again.
How are these different than heat-moldable insoles?
Insole cutting, 10:45 a.m.
Answer: The Surefoot EVA insole is cut to fit your foot using a CAD/CAM orthotics printer, similar to a 3D printer. Holmes put my foot map into the CAD machine, pressed a few buttons and sat back for 20 minutes while the robot did its job. This also felt extremely sci-fi, especially when the thing started cutting. Imagine R2-D2 in the throes of ecstasy, and you’re on the right track. (Yep, I’ll keep using the Star Wars metaphors.)
Shell and insole fitting, 11:05 a.m.
After the machine wrapped up, we went back to the front room and started the next step: shell fitting. I usually wear a U.S. men’s 11 and my Rossignol’s were 10.5s. Luckily, when Holmes removed the tight race liner he said my foot fit perfectly in the shell.
This isn’t always the case. It’s one reason the Surefoot stores sometimes suggest different boots — even when it ups the price.
“The big misconception is that we can pick any boot, fill it with foam and it will be great,” Holmes said. “But really, the foot-to-shell ratio is the trick. Finding the right mix there makes a difference.”
When a shell fits poorly without the liner, the Surefoot employees can also heat the boot plastic to readjust it, no extra cost required. It just adds another 20 minutes or so.
Foam prep and fitting, 11:10 a.m.
With my shell ready to go, Holmes fit my foot in a plastic bag and eased it into a liner with tubes. He even pried open the boots with wedges to make it an easy fit.
Then comes the foaming. Holmes said people describe it as “somewhere between a good foot massage and torture,” and I’d say that’s right on point. (It felt like one of those blood pressure cuffs at the grocery store.) The tube liner slowly fills with foam as you stand in a neutral position (the best skiing position) on yet another sci-fi looking platform.
It fills and fills until you can feel that, yes, it’s forming exactly to my foot and ankle and everything else. The entire process takes about 20 minutes, 10 minutes for each foot. It was over before it began, and, after stepping off the platform and out of the boots, that was it. The custom insoles and liners felt suspiciously like snowboard boots when I walked around the shop.
The moment of truth, 9 a.m. the next day
They were just as impressive my first day on the slopes. I went out for a few test turns before Dew Tour the next day and felt pretty at home on my skis. I didn’t even notice the boots, which is the first sign they were doing their job.
But, like Holmes said, I could notice how well a good fit transferred to good form. My feet hardly wobbled and slid inside the boot, and even when hanging on the chairlift they didn’t feel too roomy or heavy.
In the end, price is up to the consumer. But if $230 is all it costs to upgrade a good boot that’s seen better days, well, that could be a steal.
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