In the past 25 years, a lot of effort has gone into developing well-fitting, high-performance boots for peoplewho enjoy sliding downhill on snow. The science of boot-fitting is rooted in skiing, but most of the theoriesthat apply to two slats hold true for the single plank as well. Boot fitters hear similar tales from frustratedsnowboarders all the time: “My feet ache in the arches.” “My heels always lift out of the heel cup, so I lackcontrol.” “My boot digs into my ankle and kills me.” “My toes bang into the end of my boot on every turn.” “Ijust don’t feel linked to my board.” “I want better performance … ”
Fortunately, many things can be done to quell these complaints and improve the fit and performance of snowboard boots. Unfortunately, a largesegment of the snowboarding population doesn’t take advantage of the options available, choosing instead tosettle for a less-than-ideal riding experience. Let’s work through some of the most common problems,starting with the basics, and see if we can’t solve your snowboard-boot dilemma. A good fit starts withwhat’s worn inside the boot. Your clothing layers should be fairly smooth, and free of overlap, wrinkles, andridges. One snug pair of socks usually offers more comfort and better blood flow, which carries warmth,oxygen, and nutrients to the tissues of the foot.
As a result, the foot stays warmer, muscles don’t cramp, and performance is improved. When purchasing a new boot, the initial fit should be suspiciously tight. Foam, leather, and nylon stretch with use, so if it seems just a bit too tight in the shop, you’re probably on the righttrack. Try on more than one brand of boot, and more than one model. Some boots are wider, others arenarrower, with wider or narrower heel cups, and higher or lower instep areas. The boot that is naturallyclosest to the shape of your foot will usually provide the best fit in the long run. Walking around the shop inthe boot tells you little about how it will fit while riding. Strap into a board on the carpet, lean on a handrail orwall, and put the boot through some paces-roll toe to heel and back, observing if your foot shifts, or if thepressure around the foot is uneven.
A great fit consists of a firm, evenly contained grip on the foot. Without the benefit of straps to help ensure a good fit, it’s even more essential for riders using step-ins to make sure their boots fit well to begin with. A boot with a removable inner (also called a liner) is extremely adaptable,allowing you to customize your boots and solve many fitting problems. Boots that do not have removableinners-linerless boots-are capable of very little adjustment. If your boot has a removable liner, you don’t haveto put up with that spot where your boot digs, or rubs, against your foot or ankle. Eliminating a pressurepoint like this can usually be accomplished with some strategically placed padding. The boot’s liner isremoved, then the foot is inserted into the liner and probed by a boot fitter to find the problem area. Thefitter attaches dense padding to the exterior surface of the inner boot that surrounds the sensitive spot. Whenthe inner boot is reinserted into the shell, the padding exerts pressure around the high point, redistributing thatpressure away from the problem area.
Boots that feature injected-foam liners can be customized in a different way. Boot fitters can grind down the external surface of these inner boots, thinning the material at the sore spot, which eliminates the pressure point. The edges of the grind should be feathered to provide asmooth transition from the ground area into the surrounding area. Looseness in the heels (dreaded “heel lift”),cramping of the arches, and banging of the toes are all tell-tale signs that you’re in need of moldablefootbeds. A molded footbed (your doctor would call it an “orthotic device”) conforms to the uniquecharacteristics of your foot, providing superior support and minimizing motion in the foot and heel. Thefootbed shhould be molded to the shape of the foot when it’s at rest-not when it’s supporting weight.Generally, feet “collapse” when they are bearing weight, which means that the foot elongates (causing toes tocram into the toe box), the arch stretches (causing fatigue), and the joint in the middle of the foot unlocks,making the heel more susceptible to motion.
A properly molded footbed, which keeps the arch in an elevated and supported position, will combat the “collapse” of your feet while riding, considerably improving comfort, fit, and performance. The most important component of a well-made footbed is a deep, controllingheel cup. The heel bone is your foot’s largest bone, and the position of the heel affects most of the otherbones in the foot and lower leg. When the footbed has a deep, secure heel cup, looseness of the foot isreduced, arch shape is improved, and elongation of the foot is minimized. A well-made footbed supports andcradles the foot, creating the feeling of a solid link between foot and board. It’s probably the most importantelement in improving the performance of a boot. Unfortunately, many riders are using low-quality footbeds,ones that were not skillfully finished and mated to the boot, or no footbeds at all. Heat-moldable liners are agreat way to ensure maximum comfort and performance. These liners are literally heated up and shapedspecifically to your foot, ankle, and lower leg using EVA foam. The result is the ultimate in custom fit,eliminating the need for a lot of extra padding and refitting.
A good boot fitter is the key to your success. It takes a few years and a lot of experience to learn the subtleties of a good fit, so find out how long the fitter has been at it, and what sort of training they’ve received. Also, make sure the shop guarantees the fit and hasall the necessary tools and fit materials to back up that guarantee. Give the boot fitter enough time to makethe fit just right (don’t rush them!), and if problems arise or persist after you’ve gone riding, go back foradjustments. Good shops don’t mind seeing you again-they realize the best advertising is a satisfied rider.-Bob Gleason
Bob operates Boot Doctors in Telluride, Colorado and Taos, New Mexico. He’s beentraining boot fitters for twenty years at ski- and snowboard-industry seminars, and is currently thecurriculum director at Master Fit University-a training program for boot fitters.