By Davis Perez
Blackened toenails and foot cramps are often part of a skier’s experience on the slopes. But they don’t have to be.
In fact, Eric Fuellenbach of Ken’s Bike-Ski-Board, knows the right boot — and the right fit — is key.
“It really has to do with you enjoying yourself on the hill,” he says. “If your feet hurt, you’re in pain, you’re not going to enjoy yourself.”
And he should know. Fuellenbach started skiing at the age of 2, and began racing at 12. He raced on the DHS ski team for four years and went on to race at Sierra College in Sacramento. His parents managed Ken’s, and when Fuellenbach finished college he joined them there, where he’s been for 10 years. He currently is an employee at Ken’s specializing in boot purchases and fitting.
Fuellenbach wants skiers of all levels to know that proper boot fitting is one of the most important steps you can take to enjoy yourself on the mountain.
To find a boot that fits right, you need to talk to an expert boot-fitter. Boot-fitters, like Fuellenbach, learn about the structure of the foot and what causes certain types of pain; he’s taken classes on the metatarsal bones, pronation … anything that causes foot pain.
The obvious starting place for buying a new boot is having your feet measured and finding a boot that’s the right size.
Once found, the fitter should take out the liner and have you put your foot inside the shell. Touch your toes to the end of the boot and put two fingers between your heel and the shell, which should be about 1 inch. Fuellenbach uses wooden dowels to slide in behind your heel.
If your fingers touch both the heel and the shell without being crushed, then the shell is the right length. “The liner of the boot is basically a large, padded sock,” Fuellenbach explained. This means when you try the boot on with the liner inside it can be a little tight. Also, try on the boot with ski socks.
If you have an old hand-me-down boot or are buying a boot used, you can follow a similar process to check if it’s the right size. Boot shells can be stretched to make certain parts bigger.
“You want the boot to be a little tight when you try it on because that’s the smallest it’s ever going to be,” Fuellenbach said. “After you’ve worn it, the liner will compress and there will be more room” between the shell and the liner.
If you have used a boot a few times and it’s painful, bring it in to a shop like Ken’s and the staff may be able to make adjustments, heating or stretching the shell as long as the boot isn’t altogether the wrong size.
The majority of foot problems, however, are caused by a boot being too big. This means the foot can move around too much inside the boot, which leads to muscle cramps and broken toenails. These cramps feel a lot like there is pressure on the foot, but the problem can’t be solved by adjusting the shell. It is very important to get the right fit, because if you get a boot that’s too big there’s not much that can be done.
Another thing to consider when buying a boot, Fuellenbach explained, is what type of skiing you’ll be doing. Racing boots are different from recreational boots, and beginner boots are different from expert boots. The fit of the boot relates to comfort and not performance, so even if you want to ski aggressively you don’t have to be in pain.
What does determine the specialty of a boot is flex, or how much force it takes to bend it. A boot for a more aggressive or heavier skier will have a higher flex than that for a recreational or lighter skier. It’s important to remember that the flex rating printed on a boot only compares to other boots made by the same company — there’s not an industry standard.
As for storage, boots should be stored away from hot and dry environments, and should always be stored buckled. It’s OK to store them in the cold, because that’s where they’re made to be, but they will be a little smaller when you put them on.
On a final note, Fuellenbach wants people to know that he’s there to help skiers enjoy their time on the mountain. Shopping on the Internet for boots is probably not the best way to go because you don’t have experts assisting you who’ve been trained in boot-fitting.
“(Owner) Ken Bradford is very passionate about skiing, as are his employees. We will make it right,” Fuellenbach said.
Note: Ken’s has a perfect-fit guarantee … they will make your boot right if it doesn’t feel comfortable after you’ve skied in it. They also have a junior trade-in program: First season is guaranteed to fit; after using boots for a whole season, buyers get half the value of the boot as a trade-in toward new boots; and after using the boot for two seasons, buyers get one-third of the value of the boot as a trade-in.