Ski boots designed for varying foot shapes, offering user-friendly adjustments with moldable liners and shells make boot fitters’ and retailers’ jobs easier while consumers walk away more satisfied and comfortable.
By Scott Boulbol
Since the late 1950s plastic ski boots with metal buckles have revolutionized alpine ski performance – and ever since, skiers have been plagued with everything from minor aches and blisters to debilitating foot pain, lost toenails, bruising and aggravated bunions, spurs and more.
Thanks to evolving trends in fit and comfort, today’s downhill skiers have a much easier time getting properly fitting boots as brands increasingly include customizable options and custom boot fitters have dialed their craft.
One major trend over the past few years is more walkable outsoles. Whether adding rubber to outsoles, including removable walk accessories, cuff lock outs, and building rocker into outsoles, ski boots, in part due to the influence of AT boots, alpine ski boots are more walkable than ever.
Another trend is boot models offered in two and three widths – roughly from 92mm to 106mm – which eliminates some pressure points associated with a one-width, typically narrow mentality. For race boots, it’s still common to drill out density in the forefoot and ankle to allow for wider, more exact fit. For racers with narrow feet, they’ve added padding to the liners and insole to fill space around the foot. Those remedies are not as common now thanks to width options.
“One of the big boot trends for men and women in 2015/16 is expanded last offerings for popular ski boot models, as well as high-performance boots that are specifically designed for a wider foot,” said Alex Hunt, who handles PR for K2 Skis. “Both K2 and Full Tilt are adding wider boots to their 2015/16 lineup. K2 has added more last options for their women’s SpYre boots; the SpYre 110 is now available in 97mm (LV) and 100mm, the SpYre 100 in 100mm and 102mm (HV).”
Rossignol is also offering multiple fit options for 2015/16. Both their Allspeed and Pure boot lines are built with fit as their first focus, each offering three width options. “We have a theory: Pinpoint personalization is better than general customization, and that theory is backed up with these three different fits,” said Matt Rihm, product and team manager, Group Rossignol North America.
“We also believe that any customization in a boot should be done closer to the foot, which is why we have incorporated a custom ‘OptiSensor’ liner in this entire new series. Custom liners plus three distinctive fits equal a range of boots where the initial fit, along with performance 10, 20, 100 days down the road is absolutely unmatched,” said Rihm.
“As boots have progressed recently, customization systems have become more popular and a hot talking point in ski shops around the country. At Head, we try and meet the needs of many different types of retailers and shops to assist them in boot customization,” said Andrew Couperthwait, Alpine product manager in the U.S. for Head. “As a result we use different boot fit technologies to address the different needs. [Our Challenger line features] Adaptive Fit and Perfect Fit Liner technologies that allow a custom fit in just five minutes. The Vector Evo features a new shell customization technology called Form Fit which allows the shell, when heated, to take the shape or mold of the individual’s foot.”
Custom boot fitters are still in demand, however, providing tweaks and custom orthotics needed to nail that elusive combo of maximum performance and perfect fit. Guys like Larry “The Bootfitter” Houchen, who’s been fitting boots for almost 40 years, owner the renowned Larry’s Bootfitting in Boulder, CO, agreed that huge strides have been made at the factory level, but have not replaced true customization.
“These trends give us more options in terms of what to start with,” said Houcher. “Fifteen years ago maybe one in 100 could walk out of a shop and be happy with the fit of a boot. Now I think maybe 10 or 15 can, relatively easily. But no person has two feet the exact same size or shape, so there are still a lot of issues.” With the combination of better fitting boots out of the box, and custom fitting, boot fitters are still in demand, but consumers are now able to get that much closer now to a perfect fit, he added.
Tecnica Product Manager Bart Tuttle has custom fit boots for the U.S. Ski Team, spending thousands of hours on the craft. Colleagues have called Tuttle a “mad scientist with boots”. He agreed that width options within a model line are a big improvement, adding that width options have always been around – but it meant choosing a different model or even brand. For instance years ago, Lange was known for narrow boots and Koflach for wider boots.
He added though that not just width, but shell shapes out of the box have also changed dramatically in recent years. And any customizing that does need to be done is much more easily achieved now. Whereas boots have traditionally had a straight, uniform shape, recent lasts are far more anatomically correct. “Plus, within the last few years you’ve seen a lot of customization capabilities coming out whether it’s Salomon’s Custom Shell, or our Custom Adaptive Shell,” or others, Tuttle said. “At Tecnica, while we have an incredible anatomical shape right out of the box, if you did need to do customizing, it can be done very quickly and effectively.”
Here are a few new models with the latest out-of-box fit and customizable technology.
Rossignol is jumping head first into the multiple-widths trend with its new men’s and women’s lines, the Allspeed and Pure. Both offer three widths to fit the widest range of feet. Both come in three separate flex models, with the Pro 120 (TKTK, Flex 120, Width 98, 100, 102mm), and Pure Pro 100 (TKTK, Flex 100, Width 98, 100, 102mm) the stiffest of the family. Both feature the Custom OptiSensor liners (
Women’s with Merino wool) which allow customization for comfort, warmth and support. Mono-injected construction with Flex Adjustment options and canting compatibility optimize fit and performance for the needs, stance and foot shape of different skiers. Compatible with “Walk to Ride” rocker soles (sold separately).
K2’s Women’s SpYre has added more last options for the season. The SpYre 110 ($600, Flex 110; Width 97, Width 100mm), and SpYre 100 ($500; Flex 100, Width 102mm); both are available in two widths. The high-performance, all-mountain line offers the LuxFit Intuition liners, replaceable outsoles and padded mid-grips for all day comfort and performance. Thermoplastic rubber on the outsole improves walking traction.
Embracing a wider last is K2-owned brand Full Tilt, which introduced a new men’s and women’s line of boots specifically engineered for a wide foot. The Descendant 6 ($500, Flex Medium, Width 102mm) and Plush 6 ($450, Flex Medium, Width 102mm) series have Full Tilt’s traditional three-piece, three-buckle design with a 102mm last. These all-mountain boots share the even flex pattern and lightweight typical of the three-piece design. The cable closures on the Plush 6 tighten around a wider area than traditional buckles for more even closure on varied anatomies. Both feature replaceable, grippy, dual-material outsoles.
Tecnica Cochise Pro 130 and Pro W ($840, $720 Flex 130, 105, Volume 98mm), part of the Cochise line that has been around for five years, both feature the CAS Liner for improved fit, customization, and an extremely low pack-out rate. There’s only one width available, but others in the line offer different widths. The boots easily accommodate grinding and punching and come with pre-glued pads for problem areas. Both feature the Cuff Mobility System, interchangeable soles, lightweight Triax shell, and Power Lock Buckle.
Scott USA’s G2 110 and 130 ($700, $540; Flex 110, 130; Volume 97mm) all-mountain, high-performance boots offer one width, but they come with the PWR Fit Liners that are thermo-moldable for a personalized fit, with a squared “Moccasin” toe for more room. The PWR Fit Shell is wider inside now but retains a narrow heel, and it’s been more anatomically designed through the tibial area. They have also been pre-punched and stretched in typical problem areas – like the ball of the foot under the fifth metatarsal, and the “sixth toe” bunion below the pinky toe — to eliminate common tweaks by custom boot fitters.
Trickledown race performance meets custom comfort in the new, race-ready Head Vector Evo 130 ($800; Flex 130; Width 100mm). It’s also available in 110 and 120 flex models, all with Form Fit Technology that allows users to mold the shell to a specific shape, plus Evo Fit Pro Liners that adapt to the shape of the foot and ankle. Single canting adjustment helps properly align the leg. Head takes the comfort angle a couple steps further in the Challenger 120 ($650; Flex 120; Width 99-101mm) a less-advanced model with Power Ski/Hike Transition which frees the ankle to walk with a more natural gait and Adaptive Fit Technology that allows users to change the boots’ widths from 97-to-101mm with a simple hex key. It’s also available in 110 and 130 flex models.
–Lead photo courtesy of Tecnica