The foot was not genetically designed to attach to a board. The foot’s Darwinian design never conceived of the snowboard movements needed to avoid bumps, rocks, trees, towers, and tourists. To perform these activities efficiently, playful minds have developed devices to compress and clamp the foot to the slippery slat.

The word “boot” has an abrupt and harsh sound that seems to denote its character. It doesn’t have the soft “v” sound of glove. It doesn’t dance sweetly from the tongue like silk. However, in the past couple of decades boot fitting has evolved as a science to eliminate the discomfort and to make the boot more like a glove, and additional attention to fitting can make its fit smooth as silk.

Tight Is Right

Snowboard boots need to provide precise control over the board, so they need to fit very snugly. Typically, a boot for boarding is half a size smaller than the correctly sized street shoe. The most common problems boot fitters encounter are related to boots that are too large. Shin discomfort, ankle pain, heel pain, bumps, arch cramping, instep discomfort, and toe bang can all be the result of a too-large boot.

When fitting a customer in a new pair of boots, advise them before the boot is put on to expect tightness in the toe. A customer who is prewarned will have patience while the boot packs in.

Removable liners are constructed to be approximately a centimeter shorter than the external boot-this prevents it from bunching up when inserted into the external shell. But when first tried on, this short inner boot will be tight on the toes. With a couple days of use, the inner boot stretches to meet the external shell, and toe room increases. But many people are not aware of this trait and go to the next larger size for initial toe comfort.

Boots are shaped generically. Feet are all unique. Match your customers’ feet to the boot patterned closest to the wearer’s foot shape. A good boot fitter will guide the buyer to a boot shaped similarly to the buyer’s feet.

The most common fit malady in boarding is motion in the heel. Reshaping and packing the area above the heel is often required to deal with these problems. Padding to pack the heel in is best placed between inner shoe and outer boot and can only be accurately accomplished with a removable inner. Linerless boots are lighter and a bit more sensitive, but offer limited capabilities for refit.

Building A Foundation

In walking, the foot has several functions. When the heel strikes the ground, the bones in the foot spread out and function as a shock absorber. When this happens, the arches flatten in the motion known as pronation. Ideally, as the stride progresses, the bones stack back up, the arch raises in height, and the foot becomes firmer for balance and propulsion.

This heel-strike doesn’t exist in snowboarding. The foot’s job is stability. Unfortunately, a majority of snowboarder’s feet remain flattened in pronation rather than in the more stable stacked position. This flexible alignment of bones causes constant motion and leads to sore spots and arch fatigue. It also hinders balance and reduces efficiency in applying pressure to the board.

The best solution to this problem involves molding a custom footbed (if prescribed medically, it’s called an orthotic). With a good footbed in the boot, rubbing abrasion is greatly reduced. Since the mold is an exact, mirror-image duplication of the foot’s shape, pressure is distributed evenly across the foot. Numbness, cramping, and pressure points are reduced, and balance and efficiency are improved.

Since a bit of articulation in the foot is required for freestyle or freeriding, a bit of flexibility in the footbed is highly desirable. A rigid plastic or cork footbed can be uncomfortable. A semi-flexible plastic or foam footbed works best.

The footbed should be contoured to allow arch flex, and its bottom needs to be flat to give a solid foundation against the boot. Converse, the top of the footbed should be deeply cupped heel the foot stability. If not, the foot will rock and roll in the boot. Fill in and grind the bottom of the footbed so it’s flat.

If price is a concern, offer your customers trim-to-fit footbeds. These are configured with deep heel cups and mid-foot support to help reduce the fit problems related to pronation. They’re not molded to the precise shape of the foot, but they only cost about one-fourth the price of molded footbeds.

Under Pressure

After the foot is stabilized, eliminate your customer’s pressure points. Many freestyle and freeride snowboard boots have foam inner boots that can be ground down to a custom fit. Mark the precise points where the discomfort is occurring and thin the outer skin of the inner boot with a grinding head. The foot and footbed should be in the liner with the rider standing in the boot. Don’t approximate, mark the precise point where the discomfort is occurring.

Step-in binding systems integrate hard plastic structures around soft boots. If some part of the foot or leg rubs against these plastic structures, the rider ends up in pain.

However, shell expanders (when properly used) can provide space for an enlarged bone or an exceptionally broad foot. The boot is heated until the plastic becomes soft at the critical spot. Areas that should not be exposed to heat (nylon and cloth components) can be shielded with aluminum foil. The expander pushes the plastic to the desired shape. The plastic is then cooled until it’s firm. Good boot fitters should have the necessary tools to reshape a plastic hard boot.

If your customer’s boot has a removable inner, you can also reduce pressure points by inserting precut boot pads adjacent to the point of discomfort. These pads should be glued and taped on the outer surface of the boot liner, and can also eliminate unwanted space from a boot.

Heel Lifts

People have varying degrees of flexibility in the ankle joint. Sit your customers in a chair with their lower legs perpendicular to the floor. With their heels remaining on the floor, ask them to both their forefeet toward the ceiling as far as they can.

Ideally, there should be twenty degrees of motion. If there is less than fifteen degrees of flex, a snowboarder will have difficulty staying balanced. The hips will have a tendency to staying back.

If your customer has a problem with leaning too far back, don’t push the highback further forward. The problem stems from a lack of mobility in the ankle. Lifting the heel with a heel lift and straightening the angle of the lower leg opens up the ankle joint. More motion in the ankle joint allows a longer range of adjustment in hip position, the key to balance.

Cant Wedges

Knock-kneed or bowlegged stances are weak and unbalanced. Being knock-kneed reduces the strength needed to squeeze a tighter arc when carving turns. Bowlegged positions cause knee pain.

Straightening the stance can be accomplished through adjusting binding angles or by installing cant wedges under the bindings.

Look at the rider’s leg angles with the boots on. When the feet are parallel and about ten inches apart, there should be a straight line from the thigh, through the center of the knee to the big toe. If the legs appear knock-kneed (most common in females), rotate the front of the feet apart. As the feet open to a “V”, the knees spread. Adjust the stance of your knock-kneed customer to provide better alignment. Instead of the average ten-degree rear foot and 25-degree forward foot angles, go eight and 27.

If the legs are bowed, rotating the toes inward reduces the bow. Try fourteen degrees at the rear foot and 21 degrees in front. The other way to accomplish leg-angle adjustments is through cant wedges under the bindings. These wedges will tip the entire boot system to adjust leg angle. If your customer likes riding in a wide stance, cants may be required to avoid a bowlegged stance.

Good boot fitting exists and is worth charging for. For the cost of a lift ticket your customer can have months of comfort and a lot more fun on the hill.

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Bob Gleason operates the Boot Doctors in Telluride, Colorado and Taos, New Mexico. He has been training boot fitters for twenty years at ski- and snowboard-industry training seminars. He is currently curriculum director for the Master Fit University, which travels the country each fall offering training in ski and snowboard boot fitting. For more information call: 1-800-575-4348.

>Good boot fitting exists and is worth charging for. For the cost of a lift ticket your customer can have months of comfort and a lot more fun on the hill.

———————————

Bob Gleason operates the Boot Doctors in Telluride, Colorado and Taos, New Mexico. He has been training boot fitters for twenty years at ski- and snowboard-industry training seminars. He is currently curriculum director for the Master Fit University, which travels the country each fall offering training in ski and snowboard boot fitting. For more information call: 1-800-575-4348.