Every year I eagerly await the annual America’s Best Bootfitters Ski & Skiing Magazine’s Boot Test. Hosted in Bend, Oregon it brings together the top boot specialists. Spearheaded by the infamous Mark Elling and Steve Cohen, it is the boot event of the year. Being a part of the boot team test gives me the unique ability to ski next years boot lineup and see what is up and coming on the market.
Every April, 200+ boxes carefully make their way to Pine Martin Lodge, perched on top of Mt. Bachelor. The goal is simple: ski hard, test boots. The boot testers are diverse, ranging from Masterfit gurus, shop techs, racers, ski patrollers, big mountain skiers, backcountry junkies, and skiers that just plain slay. America’s Best Bootfitters is an international organization that specializes in boot fitting. The spring test is lead by Masterfit University, which trains the top bootfitters nationwide. Masterfit offers comprehensive training, leaving its veterans skilled and certified to find you the best boot. It’s worth finding a Masterfit trained technician at your hill, or if you are an aspiring boot fitter, enrolling in their courses. My exposure to Masterfit transformed my relationship to my boots and heightened my ability as a skier.
It is essential to understand the interplay between your foot and the product. Boots are by no means one boot fits all. Many boots can be dramatically customized to meet many foot needs. Why had I been suffering through hot spots for so long? I have learned two things as a boot tester: I was in the wrong boot and boots really can be comfortable. I also began to see the correlation between boot and overall ski performance. Your ski boots do impact your skiing, and if you are an avid skier it is imperative that you invest in a high performance boot that fits you.
The ABB boot test features all the usual suspects: Lange, Atomic, Fischer, Head, Dynastar, K2, and so forth. In the last few years touring boots have stolen the spotlight as well. Leading the change are Dynafit, Scarpa, and Black Diamond. While the majority of boots are skied out of box, I scored the chance to ski a few custom fit boots, exposing me to the future of the ski boot industry. Companies like Fisher and Dalbello are creating boots that are specifically designed for your foot. The goal of the ABB Boot test is to provide accurate assessments of each boot. In order to do this I have a formula for feeling out the boots. First I assess the boots aesthetics, ergonomics, and fit on dry land. Then I evaluate the performance of the boot in motion. In order to be a happy skier it is essential to take the time to find your sole mate boot.
Below is a quick rundown of how I assess ski boots. Happy Boot Hunting!
HOW I ASSESS BOOTS BEFORE INVESTING?
First, know your size and your foot. If you were a 25.5 in 2002 you are most likely not any longer. As boot product design evolves sizing and fit also transform. Don’t let yourself get shuffled into the boot that seems to meet your skill level; TRY boots. Ideally all boots should be tested on dry land and on snow, not just doing laps around the shop. Many shops have demo boots available for you to ski before taking the plunge.
First I familiarize myself with the boot on dry land. How do the buckles function? Why is the powerstrap higher than normal? What is this nifty green button? Ask questions and know the boot. It is important to not get dazzled by the “sexy” boot and actually understand the functionality of the design. Look at the soles and how the shell is formed. I always pull the liner out and give points to any boot that doesn’t drive me crazy putting the liner back in. Check out how the liner and shell interact. Does the liner get pinched in the shell? Look at the ergonomics of the design, play with buckles and walk-function.
Next get in the boot. Make sure that you buckle and fully tighten the powerstrap before beginning. How easy was it to get into the boot? While standing still pay attention to the overall comfort of the boot. How cushioned is this boot? Where does the front of the boot hit my shin? Does the cuff feel high or slightly low? All these things matter. Next I flex in the boot and determine if I feel fore, aft, or perfectly stacked in my stance. When you are first in the boot do you feel any hot spots? Although some hot spots are deal breakers most can easily be eliminated by a skilled boot fitter.
Now it is walk time. While walking I assess comfort and fit. How are my toes feeling? Do my heels stay locked down or are they flying around? Is the bridge of my foot supported? It is critical that you listen to your feet and let your fitter know what you’re feeling. Another boot might be tailored to your foot or there may be simple modifications that will make a dramatic impact on your comfort. Once you start feeling sufficiently awkward wandering around the ski shop see if there is a demo model available to take for a lap. You wouldn’t buy a new car without test-driving, right? Make sure before you head out to the snow that a shop tech has adjusted your binding for the specific boot.
Once on snow I think about comfort, agility, and the interaction between my ski, my boot, and the snow. Because I ski so many boots every spring I know that all boots are not even remotely the same. While some boots make you timid others can transform you into a superhero. My superhero boot is the Lange RS, but that will come later. Do your skis feel quick edge to edge? How do your toes and heels feel? I dread boots that leave my heel box loose and banging around. I pay attention to the flex of the boot and how responsive it is underfoot. If you are a confident skier get off the groomed. Off-piste skiing will help you really assess how the boot performs.
ABB Boot Test Video Reviews
America’s Best Bootfitters
All photo credit goes to Kirk Devoll