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The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

The cold world of skimo & alpine climbing

Monday, May 6, 2013

Ouch! That hurts! Ski boot fit?

I think it takes some effort to wrap your head around how a BC ski boot should fit.  If you are looking at an ski boot fit specifically to climb in you may (should) think differently than the guy who wants a BC boot specifically to *just* ski in.

My take from the experience of seeing so many unhappy BC skiers (from ski guides to clients mind you) is most would be better served to simply forget the whole idea of a "ski boot" fit in an AT boot.   

All this would seem rather obvious one would think.   But from skiing with various partners this winter nothing could be farther from the truth.

It would seem that there are a lot of skiers that try every thing possible to get the smallest shell size  that will fit their feet.  Then they go to great extremes to heat mold the liner or change liners and punch the shell to every bump and nuance that their specific foot needs require.

Done it myself.  Likely the end result a perfect fit for skiing.  Likely not the perfect fit if you want to climb or walk in those same boots any length of time.


A two minute search on the Internet will show you variations of this: "Boot liners are very cushy at first, but they will conform to your foot in 10-15 minutes, and after several ski days, they can really pack down. What feels so perfect in the store often feels sloppy and uncontrollable on the hill. The correct boot should feel snug all over without pressure points.  If it feels too tight initially, almost enough to make your eyes bulge, it's probably about the right size."

"Eyes bulge?"  Ya, likely not the right size you are  looking for even when heat molding your boots.

Might be a nice fitting ski boot.  But think about that for a minute.....or more realistically way more than just a minute.  Because you will have a lot of time to think  about it when walking 8 hours or so on your next day tour?!   The local professional ski boot fitter may not be the guy you want fitting your back country boots.  If you are going to be climbing in your ski boots...and your boot fitter has no clue what climbing or a full day in the back country entails......he or she likely NOT the guy you want fitting your BC boots.

Typical ski boot fit for down hill rentals and the inexperienced:

"You see it more and more in rentals — “What’s your shoe size?” They tell me 10, I’ll give them a 28 boot, which is a size too big, being conservative because they’re rentals. The customer will open it up, put their foot in, and without buckling it, they’ll say, “Oh, I need the next size up.” Then you have a choice to make, because there’s a line of people waiting. You could do the right thing and say, “Listen, I know it feels a little short. You want to buckle it up. When you stand in the boot with a buckle, your heel is nowhere near the back, so your toes are jammed in the front.” Depending on the day and the mood I’m in, I might just say, “Here’s a 30, try that.”

More typical BC ski boot fit by the experienced:

Pick the correct shell size for back country skiing by placing bare foot in shell, touching end with toes, then seeing how many stacked fingers you can fit behind your heel. Any more than a 2 finger stack and the back country skiing boot shell is too big. Less than one-and-one-half fingers and it’s probably too small. In some cases (as in mine) you’ll be between shell sizes. If that happens try fitting the smaller shell first, but remember it’ll probably be colder and you may have problems with getting enough length for your toes. The larger shell will be warmer and easier to get comfortable for touring, but you may have problems getting the fit tight enough for downhill skiing.

The reason I bring all this up?

"tight enough for downhill skiing"  There in lies the rub here.

We now have boots that ski very well that you can climb difficult technical ground in and not be at a disadvantage.   But if you fit those same boots as tight as you might have fit your typical down hill ski boot the amount of time you'll want to spend in them is likely going to be limited.  And you'll pay for that mistake in either pain or a new pair of boots in a larger size eventually.

This would seem to be a North American problem.  Not a Euro problem as they have been climbing long and difficult technical ground while in ski boots for a while now.  Pretty common there actually.   I don't have to mention their long, hut to hut, ski tours.  Here just the the thought of a full day out, on a up and down ski tour, seems to put most feet into some serious pain.

I intentionally thought of my TLTs as "climbing boots" and fit them accordingly.  I use a 29 shell.  My "ski boots" are generally a 28 shell.  And I wear a size 12 street shoe!   None of  the 28 shells do I want for a lot of walking.  But no question the 28s do ski great.

Still, I've had some of my best days skiing in the, "big" TLTs.  I've also spent some time walking, climbing  or drive my truck's manual transmission in them with little complaint.  And some times those were  some lonnnnggg walks.

Always worth the effort of getting a custom insole/orthotic made to support your foot in any of these boots.  A totally rigid boot sole is not a great thing for your matter the use.  An properly fit orthotic can make the difference between a great fit and a painful ski boot.

A custom orthotic allows me to comfortably use a TLT 5 with a very narrow last.  Without my orthotic in the boot my feet collapse enough that over time the boot is painful on the outside toes.  With the orthotic my foot is supported enough that there is no pain or boot pressure.  I don't require a orthotic in my mountain boots or running shoes.  But in my ski boots it makes a big difference on how long I can stay in them comfortably.

We use a different and appropriate fit for our running shoes,  rock shoes (trad and sport?) and our mountain boots.  Probably time for some to look at how to fit their BC ski boots as compared to their down hill ski boots.

Because if it really is "all about the down" in your ski boots, likely your feet are going to suffer....a lot.

Done right the same boot can serve both purposes easy enough.

Get it wrong and it is a pleasure to simply get them off your feet!
Bottom line?  I am not sure (almost positive) that a ski boot you'd want to climb in,  is the ski boot you'll want to take to the local lifted served area and ski all day on your fat skis.   Several years ago I thought  you could have one boot that would do both.   Now I own two types of boots.  Ski boots and BC boots.  The boot model might well be the same today....but the boot fit is definitely not the same.

I can ski the same amount of ski under foot and generally the same length ski till I get around 115mm in a 29.  Same boot I ice climb in.    And am pretty happy with.    At 115mm under foot with my ski I start looking for a size 28 "ski boot".    It is not so much that the support/design of the boot changes but how the boots fit, does.


Anonymous said...

How much room do you have for your toes once you have molded the liners?

Dane said...

I have a lot in my TLTs. Room to curl up all five toes no problem. More room than I have in my climbing double boots by a little bit. The liners are fairly tight from the arch of my foot back and ski very well. Of course I can still crank the buckles tighter too if required. I use a very thin smart wool sock to ski in. Nothing special there. It should be an easy to get a really good fit when heat molding your liners if the shells are big enough. I am convinced too many of us go for a too small of shell and create the problem. Then we spend a bunch of time, $ and effort to fix it.

Anonymous said...

Hi Dane,
I’ve been agonizing over ski boot-length sizing, so it was interesting to read this blog post. As a fairly novice BC skier, I have couple of questions about which I’m interested in your opinion, if you don’t mind. In determining length, your experience-backed advice may prove valuable.
I’m currently living in Bulgaria where we have a shop that sells Scarpa (I’m interested in the Maestrale RS), but no one there is close to being a professional boot fitter, so I’m on my own in sorting out the proper fit.
In any running shoe (Nike, Asics, etc.), I run in a US-size 14, yet on the Scarpa Brannock device, I surprisingly measure 29.5 on one foot, and 29 on the other, which is a shockingly small US 11.5/11. (Go figure! And this discrepancy is making ski-boot sizing all the more confusing). Yet the Brannock arch measurement (the vertical sliding mechanism next to the inside ball of the foot) indicates that I would fit 30.5/30, respectively, due to the length of my arches. So a 30 Scarpa ski boot seems like a good starting point. When I try on the size 30 (29.5-30 shell, with Scarpa breaking sizes at 0.5), the fit feels snug – which is good - but my toes are quite uncomfortably jammed against the front of the liner. Of course they are not molded, but I can’t help but wonder if, with my toes feeling so crushed against the front, molding the liners and later packing them out will provide the right kind of length for long walks? (Basically, when boot-fit experts describe a “snug” and “tight” fit in the liners pre-molding, does that imply that toes uncomfortably crammed beyond mobility is the right kind of “snug?”)
Finally, with regard to fitting the shell, Scarpa has a shell fit tool which measures 14mm and 30 mm. In the 29.5-30 shell I can get the 14 mm side between the heel and shell, and in the 30.5-31 shell I can get the tool on the 30mm measurement in between my heel and shell with no extra space. (The tool jiggles when used on the 14mm setting.)
I know this is improper science and hardly best practice, but I wonder if the data I supplied above gives you an idea of which way to go? The data is confusing to me and, alas, we don’t have pro boot fitters in this area.
Thank you very, very much in advance for your advice.

Dane said...

Hi David,
The Brannock is generally a pretty good size indication.

The new mast head photo is Brian Harder skiing some steep in Scarpa RS boots while we were testing gear recently. I think you'll like your choice.

I'd suspect the 29.5/30 shell would be good for you once molded and if you still have problems punching out the shell for your toes should solve any other issues. Lou over at Wild Snow has written many, many blog posts on boot fitting. Best to look there.

Not specifically on subject but a place to start.

Dane said...

Forgot. Soory! Long walks means I want a lot of room for my toes. Fitting my own boots up this morning after sking and a little hiking yesterday made me rethink your question. On a long up hill tour I want comfortable feet even if that is at the expense of the down hill skiing. And why I tour in TLTs and then "ski" in the RS.

MY tour boots are 29s while all my ski boots are 28. And I have several of each. I could make a 28soemthing I would tour in but would have to puch the shells dramaticvally to get the toe room. If I only owned one boot, I would buy a 28 and punch the shell.

Going back and forth from a 28 to a 29 several times yesterday the differnece in how the boots ended up skiing side by side was so marginal...I am fully convinced your feet are always better off as comfortable as you can get them rather than some sort of "performance fit" that you can't tour a full day in.

Custom orthotics make a huge difference on how comfortablemy my feet are as do heat molded liners.

Unknown said...

Read this a couple of times until I understood it. Am interested because I also wear a size 12 Mens USA running shoe/hiking boot with a narrow last. I have found by trial and error that is the best fit for my feet.
Here is where it gets interesting. My longest foot is 27.7 cm long which is closest to a 10.5 USA Men's fit. On a Brannock device I am size 12 USA Men because of my arch, which is not where it is supposed to be, presumably because I have short toes. My width is then "B" width if you call me a size 12. So here is the tragedy when i encounter a shoe shop. They will want to give me a size 11 ( or even 10.5) shoe in a "D" width because (and i watch these guys now) no one measures my arch size. This is tragic because the entire reason to use a Brannock device is to check the arch size, which no one does where i live anyway. The best fitting boot I own is a Scarpa size 12 in a "B" width (and a thin sock!)
What I am wondering is this - would the best AT boot for me (and you) be a very narrow AT boot in a size 29 ? Reason i post this here is that you seem to have adopted a TLT (which used to be narrow anyway) in a size most "experts" deem too large and find it good on the uphill. Also am wondering - have you ever measured your arch on a Brannock?