words & photos:: Colin Field
When asked the simple question, who should be getting their boots fit, the Skiis and Bikes boot fitter Cam Alma has an obvious response:
I’m not that convinced, but I’m here to give it a go. I’ve got brand new boots I’m terrified of wearing: they hurt to get on, they hurt to ski in and the one time I wore them, my toes were freezing. But my god, taking them off feels good! My feet are more or less normal (still ugly), but my toes seem to get colder every year. I always figured it’s part of getting older, but Cam says that isn’t so; it’s because my boots don’t fit right.
The first thing he does is pull out my Intuition liners and put them in an oven. He asks me what kind of skier I am (advanced, obviously). He makes me take off my socks and stand on a couple different devices; a slightly angled board, a centering stand. He checks out my stance. Then he starts sticking slices of foam to my foot here and there. A neoprene cap goes over my toes, then I put my socks over all of that.
When the liners are out of the oven, I put them on. We cram the liners into the boots and buckle them up. Then I stand on an angled board for ten minutes.
“People make it really complicated, but honestly it’s carpentry,” he says. “You’re just trying to make everything square in the boot. We look at your foot, assess your foot. We look at injury to ankles, major weight loss, or gain; that will change how you stand. We’ve got x amount of volume and we’re just changing the shape of it. We’re not really making more volume. When you grind something, when we lower your footbed, then we’re finding space, but manipulating shells is all about reshaping the volume.”
Alma’s tells me he’s been fitting boots since 1978, and he’s seen it all. He’s worked with racers, recreational skiers, freestyle kids and he says getting boots that fit properly makes all the difference, no matter who you are.
“It’s hard to impress on people that everyone should be getting their boots fit,” he says. “People say, ‘I hate skiing because the boots are uncomfortable.’ We’ve got families that are shopping with us now, that have been skiing for 15 years and are just realizing boot fitting makes a big difference on how comfortable our feet are. When the family’s feet are happy everything is just that much better. It really is the number one thing.”
Of course, there are different parameters for racers, freestylers or weekend warriors; but determining that is all part of the boot fitter’s job. They’ll work with you to tune your boot so your feet are comfortable (unless of course you’re a racer, then they’ll make your boots perform to their best ability). If they don’t get it right on the first visit, simply pop in again with more feedback and they’ll make it right.
But the real proof is in the proverbial pudding. And I went directly from Skiis and Biikes’ Collingwood store to Blue Mountain on a windy -10C day. I did some laps at the North End waiting for my toes to get cold. They didn’t. Then I headed down to the Central Chair where the top is guaranteed to be windy and always brings a chill to my toes. Nothing. They were toasty warm. I hit the Southern Comfort chair skiing the pre-groomered bump runs of late afternoon, expecting to feel at least one or two hotspots of a blister forming. And still nothing. I couldn’t believe it. These are brand new boots! And they’re instantly more comfortable and better fitting than my five-year-old, punched-out boots that I assumed had formed to my feet. They hadn’t. But my new boots feel amazing.
I’ve been preaching about Alma’s work to all my buddies every time I ski now and none of them have had their boots fit before. Boy are they missing out.
So what’s it cost to get your boots fit?
“We break it down,” says Alma, “it’s about $120 an hour. It’s time and materials. We break that down into 15 minutes windows.”
And if my first day skiing on boots that fit properly is anything to go by, it is worth every cent. For years, every time I’ve taken my boots off the thought has crossed my mind that taking your ski boots off is the best part of skiing. Not today. And never again.