First stage of bootfitting is all about knowing how a ski boot should fit and how to pick the right boot for your customer.
If you are doing this correct you will minimize the amount of special modifacations needed to get a proper fit.
How a good fitting ski boot should feel
It should have even pressure all around your foot with a steady and firm grip without major buckle tension. You will not want to have any big problems at the instep area (often under or around the second buckle of the boot) because that's a very sensitive area of the foot with nerves and blood vessels coming down the foot and that area of the boot can also be very tricky to adjust.
One thing that is really important for bootfitters is to test test and test different types of boots. Make sure you have at least tested all the boots you have on your wall. It's of course very good if you can test them skiing. If this is done you will get a very good personal reference library of how the different boots and last types feel compared to each other.
First and most important: Talk with your customer and try to find out what kind of skiier he or she is? Performance or comfort? Speed or cruise? If you are good at this you will automatically narrow down the selection of boots that may be interesting to start trying on.
How to do a useful measurement of the foot
You need to measure the length and width of the feet without socks. There are different schools out there how to do it but one way is to take measurements with the foot unweighted or semi weighted (seated with the feet on the ground) and also fully weighted (standing). Then you'll get info about flexibility of the foot. How it's changing during pressure etc. You must also visually observe all areas of the foot. Look for bunions or strange shapes anywhere that might be an issue later on.
This step in the process will give you the opportunity to narrow down the selection of boots even more to a few models that will be suitable for you customer.
Your goal here can for example be to pick three boots in the same style but with slight differences. Pick the one that you think is going to be the best match, maybe one model with more volume at the instep and maybe one model with more generous space in the toebox area.
If you are a serious bootfitter you should know about how important the dorsal flexion of the ankle is. The range of motion in the ankle joint decides a lot about which boot to consider due to stiffness and alignment adjustments. This can for example decide that a beginner should do better in a really stiff boot.
When you are done with your measurements and have an idea about boot models it's time for shell sizing. If the foot is 26.5 cm a general rule is to choose a shell with 26.5 (mondo point size ~ 305mm stamp on the heel of the shell) to start with. Is it 26 cm aim för 26.5. Is it 25.8 start with 25.5 and if it is 25.2 go for 25.5.
In most cases the 26 shell and 26.5 shell is exactly the same shell but with different thickness of the softer pieces inside. Some brands has 26.5 & 27 shells as the same.
So go get your three different models with the same mondo point size and remove the liner from the shells. Then have your customer to step in the shell, still no socks. Now you will take a look at how the foot matches the shape of the shell. One test you can do to confirm what kind of fit you are going to get is to have the customer slide the foot in the shell so the longest toe barely touches the front of the shell. You want to look at the space between the heel and the shell. Here are some guidelines for that:
- If you have 1" of space the general fit of the boot will be more of a comfortable and loose fit.
- 3/4" of space is probably the most wanted fit for recreational skiers.
- 1/2" or even smaller fits are more sought after by performance skiers and racers.
When you have found the shell that you think is going to be the best option put the liner back in and let the customer try the boot with socks this time. Be sure to buckle up all the buckles and use the power strap (it's kind of the 5:th buckle and you can do some magic with it - but more of that magic on another page).
Something you can look at when the customer is tightening up the buckles is how big the buckle tension is. You don't want your customer to tighten the buckles to the max. If so the volume of the boot is probably to big. A good sign is to have the buckles somewhere in the middle with a good snug fit overall.
The right boot!
When you and your customer have picked the models with the best fit it's time to make the choice. If you are good you will now have two very similar pairs left. My philosophy here is to have the customer to make the actual choice. I don't say - Take this boot, or so. I know that if all of the previous stages are done correctly we will have two pairs of boots that will work really good for the customer. That gives me the confidence to let the customer choose which pair is the right one. It might be the colour, some feature like hiking mode or whatever the customer feel for. Maybe the famous gut feeling kicks in here.
What about thermoformable liners?
In most modern ski boots you will find a liner that has some degree of mouldable or thermoformable material in it. Some boots have a lot (usually the more expensive models) and some have less.
When you have found the right boot you usually go through some kind of heating and fitting process for the liners. The process can vary a little bit because of different liner construction and materials.
Some say it's better to break in the liners through skiing if you are more of a performance skier. For most of the recreational skiers it's good advice to do the thermoforming process. For some types of liners (Intuition liners or liners made out of similar material, EVA) it's recommended to always perform the heat moulding process to get the best possible boot fit.
What about foam liners?
This is an expensive upgrade replacement liner. You put your feet in this liner and put it in the shell. Then you fill it with some foam. The foam expands and cures around your foot and voila, you will have an even better fitting boot! This type of liner can be made for both comfort and performance.
What about custom insoles?
Custom insoles are also replacement insoles that are shaped individually to your feet. This is something that can help or ruin your skiing experience depending on the skill of the person who did them. If you are selling custom insoles be sure to have the appropriate training in making them! Can't stress this enough.
What's the general purpose of the cusom insole? It is to keep your feet stable in their "neutral" position in the ski boots under pressure from the forces generated by skiing. If done correctly you will also have increased comfort, better fit, less fatigue, improved alignment and so on. Be very very careful to try to do advanced correction maneuvers, leave that to the medical orthopedic department.
The making of custom insoles is not basic bootfitting. It's advanced and you need training to do good.