Bootfitters are the Real MVP

Good people of the internet: I HAVE SEEN THE LIGHT. I’m here, right now, to tell you that boot fitting is modern day alchemy.

If you thought that buying a pair of multi-hundred dollar ski boots would translate to a good fit, bless your heart, that’s only the start. You could say that a stock boot, straight off the shelf, is essentially lead. Boot fitters turn that shit into gold.

Perhaps you’ve been on a similar journey. Does the following sound familiar?

Being a savvy skier, you decide, “I should probably invest in some footbeds.” And oh my god, game changer, your boots suddenly feel amazing. (Thank god for the good people at Superfeet. Especially Jeff Gray – you’re my hero. I can’t preach the precision and power of the Custom Cork any louder. BRING THEM BACK!!) As you continue to ski with feet happily nestled into footbeds, you notice improvement… But there’s still something missing…

Ok, so then comes the socks. You know the ultra-plush-padded-comfy socks that make you think, “Yeah! This should do the trick!” No. Put those down. You want to get an ultra thin sock so as not to crowd your feet inside of your boot. I’m partial to Smartwool PhD’s, though I can’t say I’ve gotten any smarter since using them. Side note: I have never had an issue with temperature control since switching. Try it. Thank me later.

Ok, so we’ve put some quality insoles beneath your feet. Wrapped your feet up in the right sock. But we’re only just getting started my friends because boot selection is EVERYTHING. If we were in person, my eyes would get all big and I would throw my arms up in the air as I said it. Let me repeat: EVERYTHING!

And allow me to talk you down before you just spring for the boot with the best reviews, the right flex, etc., etc. and just say: DO NOT think that because you read about the features of the boot, you read the good reviews, etc. that you’re going to purchase the right boot from the modern bazaar that is the internet. No, no.

If you want to feel good, look good, ski good, go visit a retail shop and you have the dude (or lady) have a look at your feet and talk to you about their boot line up. If you do not feel that the person looking at your feet is actually talking to you about features or aspects of your feet that correspond with the boot, don’t waste your time and for the love of god, do not buy their boot. No chemistry? No boot. Go find another boot fitter.

I have been to a few people. I have had a few peoples’ hands on my feet. I’ve gotten a few suggestions. But it wasn’t until recently that I had an experience that resulted in an excellent fit, a new friendship, and the right fit for my foot. Brandon at Evo, you are amazing and as of Friday, this girl’s new best friend because you completely transformed the way I experienced skiing and ski boots. I now know SO MUCH BETTER how a ski boot should fit and feel. I appreciate you.

Allow me to recap so that you too can find an excellent boot fit:

Step one: Don’t be afraid to visit multiple boot fitters until you find your guy.

And your guy doesn’t have to be a guy, it can definitely be a lady, but emphasis on that special person that is giving you their undivided attention to talk to you about all the weird things that you didn’t know about your feet. This person should not be partial to any particular brand. Instead, they’re going to couple the unique deformities of your feet that make you, you and then they’re going to have you try on a couple of different boots to see which is going to be your Cinderella slipper.

Step two: Be uncompromising in finding a good fit, but go in with an open mind.

Turns out, I’m the greenest gumby of my skiing friend group. For the last few years, (SIX YEARS, people) I’ve watched the homies rip everything from backcountry lines to chopped up resort chunder and I have wondered how TF do they do that?! Well-fitted boots are a great place to start.

When I waltzed into Evo to talk to someone about honing in on the right alpine boot for me, I went in with a short list of my expectations for my boot: nothing softer than a 100 flex, nothing that looked soft, maybe a size down, and something with decent reviews that I was going to be able to jump in. Truthfully, I’d already purchased a boot and discovered that Miss Guide Girl had been misguided by her own preconceptions of what her next boot should be. #plzhalp

Brandon gave me a line up that resembled what I was asking for. But none of them felt right. He asked me to flex the boots. I kinda crouched down and tried to push the tongue out and then later confessed that I really didn’t know what he meant when he asked me to do so. (Like I said, baby skier. I’m still learning, even 6 years after my first day on skis.)

He then told me that he knew the boot for me. Taking care to not set me off about putting me in a boot that was softer than my 100-flex-minimum, he assured me that the boot would feel stiff and that it was going to fit my high-instep, medium-volume foot.

I slipped it on and felt secure, but not crowded. When I flexed the boot, I felt it respond to my movement. A light bulb popped on for me. Even though it was a fluffy-liner, soft-blue boot, it was the right one for me. (The aesthetics are a whole different rant. In sum: I don’t want cute gear. I want gear that looks good. Would a man wear a boot with a fluffy liner? No. Do I want to wear a boot with a fluffy liner? No. But here I am, loving my fluffy-liner boots.)

Step three: Acknowledge that the right fit is a journey that might take time.

My first pair of ski boots were given to me for free: hand-me-downs from my little sister’s friend. I skied them without insoles, with thick socks and without much joy for a few years. Then came the size 25.5 touring boots that I bought from a second-hand shop with zero guidance from the sales rep who sold them to me. (Face palm.) I remember asking, “How should they feel?” And he assured me that if they felt ok, they were probably the right fit. That was dumb.

Then, I got fitted by someone in a busy shop at a resort who essentially stuffed their hand into the back of my boot and confirmed for me that I should ski a 23.5 boot. So I hopped online, found the seemingly right boot at the right price, and bought it. Heat molded. Got the custom footbeds (thanks Jeff!) But…

OUCH. OUCH. OUCH. It has been SUCH a painful journey breaking these boots in. I one time accidentally hiked 10 miles on a trail in them (don’t forget your approach shoes, folks!) After all of that, I have learned:

Signs that your boots don’t fit:

1.) You feel like you’re constantly fighting them to stand/ski/exist in a comfortable position. They either put you too far forward over your skis or too far back. This can be remedied by a boot fitter.

2.) You can lift your heel up and down. An insecure heel leads to an insecure skier. I can’t entirely speak to the physical damage, but the emotional damage of having a shitty day on the hill while everyone else seems to be having a blast is enough to make you reconsider the sport. Give me an amen in the comments if you’ve ever had this unfortunate experience.

3.) If it feels like flexing your boot is being resisted by the Great Wall of China conveniently located in front of your shin, honey, you’ve got the wrong boot. I previously thought that I would eventually grow into a hella stiff flex (120) because I had planned on jumping and dropping cliff features. Nope. I was wrong. Your flex should correspond to your height, weight and ability. If you feel like you’re fighting your boot, you probably are, and you’re probably giving up some control in the process.

4.) It should go without saying, but if you feel pressure points as soon as you step into your boots, something is wrong. Some of these can be remedied by a punch by a talented individual like Brandon, but sometimes the geometry of your feet just doesn’t match the boot. Pay close attention to where buckles sit relative to your pressure points.

I think that’s about all I’ve got for you today. And I think there’s probably still lots to learn. All I can say is that I’ve embarked on this journey of learning the intricacies of a good fit in a climbing shoe, and I cannot believe how much more complicated fitting a ski boot is. That’s why good people like Brandon have jobs. I assure you it is completely worth your time to make the time and financial investment.

THANK YOU BRANDON! And in case you’re wondering, I went with the Dalbello Chakra.

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Awakening

In my mind, I stand at a stony precipice looking down into inky blackness. Above me, the stars shine brightly, beautifully. All is quiet and well up there. I feel a gurgling inertia in my chest. I wish to slip into the darkness, sound into sleep, but the untamed faucet of my thoughts pounds my mind. Pressure builds against the dam of my own making.

And then suddenly, a single drop leaks through. A crack forms. Then there’s a burst: the thoughts rush through and comfortably settle, like a river no longer resisted. There’s calm, clarity and a certain natural order. Truth. A literal breakthrough.

I, like any person native to anywhere, am the product of my surroundings.

I am the first born daughter of two small parents. I too am small, but able. I was nurtured to believe in myself. I am naturally wild. I find affinity in animals, flora and fauna; confidence in my quiet. Like a puppy, I can be riled. Like a horse, I long to run free. Like a girl, I love to love. Love finds me and I find love, though it comes with ample searching.

I found climbing when I was looking for myself. I was lost at the time, searching for purpose in school work. I applied my passionate heart to my studies, but never found the thing that gave me wings. I went to school to write, but couldn’t seem to find my voice. I felt stifled by the style I was being trained in.

In time off from school, I worked as often as I could. I climbed sporadically at my local gym but was never truly moved by the colorful plastic holds, challenging as they were. I knew it was possible to climb outside, but I didn’t know how to do it. So I asked for help.

When help came, I discovered something that I would do for the rest of my life. I knew it immediately. Nothing had ever rung so true and so right. I have fought ever since to be with my love of climbing.

To those who have never fallen in love with a passion, I probably make no sense. To those who limit their passion to a joyous corner of their life, a small shrine of what it means to be alive; I probably come off as cavalier. Trust me: I am. A mountain does not fit in the tidy closet of an hard-earned apartment space, I’m afraid. And one certainly isn’t enough.

To return to my opening thought, the enormous dam of my self-imposed insecurities burst tonight when I realized that I wasn’t meant to be a rock climber alone. Oh no, my calling comes from deep within the mountains that have lent shape to the last 25 years of my life. I was born into the rugged Cascade Mountain Range for a reason.

Now if only I could fall asleep…

Thanks, Guys

SATURDAY

One after another, I watch the guys throw big tricks off an improvised jump. I often volunteer to film them partially to support them, but mostly because I’m in awe of what they can do. Before I get into position and pull my phone out, they tell me that I have to hit the jump too. Oh boy. “Okay.” I quietly hope that I’m not getting in over my head.

Will: Backflip. Ashton: Backflip. Drew: 360. Tim: Lincoln loop. Suddenly it’s my turn. I stuff my phone into my chest pocket and pick my way through trees to the starting point above the jump. My skis slide hesitantly a little lower. Then a little lower. The guys cheer me on from below. I point my skis downhill and feel myself blast off the thing.

My air wasn’t huge, but it was pretty big for me. Somehow, my body knew what to do. Rather than spazzing mid air, I felt controlled. I crest the highest point and come back down to a plush, powdery landing. Ooh, it felt so good. And it set the tone for the rest of the day.

A few laps later, I look up from the skin track and see another opportunity to feel the air rush beneath my skis. A sizable cornice had formed above a cliff feature that wrapped around into a sweeping left turn. The time was right and the cornice was calling.

Tim and I climbed above it, keeping our distance from the edge while we determined precisely where to drop off. From above, the landing was somewhat blind. Suddenly my fun cornice drop became a scary question mark in my mind. I paused a moment, balking at my seemingly brash decision. Tim directed me to the sweet spot and encouraged me with his phone out, ready to film my drop.

I often get too caught up in willing myself to jump off things and struggle to announce my drop: “Three… two… one… dropping!” Most times, I’d rather just push off at two so that I don’t have to confront the fear of getting to one. For this reason, I often don’t get the shot, haha.

The air whooshed beneath my skis as I plunged from the cornice above, to a small intermediate rocky cliff, to smooth powder snow below. It all happened so fast. I link a few swooping turns and look back to see Tim perched above the cliff, only higher. He asks me if I want to film. In the interest of saving transition time, I shout back, “No!” And watch him push off, tapping the edge of the cliff before dropping 15 or more feet to the snow below. I immediately regret not taking my phone out.

Tim is my boyfriend, but he’s so much more than that. Most of his boyfriend duties practically stop once we leave the frontcountry. From there on, he’s my partner. Tim rarely pushes me to do things I haven’t set up myself; but there’s something about his encouraging smile that gives me the courage to trust my skis and will myself into the unknown. Often, into the air. It reminds me of when I was learning how to slackline; if there’s somebody there beside you to rest so much as a single finger on, you suddenly find the stability you need to make tiny steps forward. Progress.

couloir

We skied until sunset, pausing before we ripped the skins from our skis for our last run of the day. I looked across the valley and pointed out a couloir saying, “I’d like to ski that.” To my surprise, the guys thought it sounded like a good idea and said that we’d come back for it tomorrow.

SUNDAY

My nervous mind had played out several crash reels on the skin track on the way over and up. What if there’s a mandatory drop and I catch an edge immediately? Will I tumble to the bottom? Will I learn what it feels like to tomahawk? Are there any cliffs I need to worry about? Trying to estimate my margin for error, I asked Drew, “Do you think I should do this? I don’t want to chicken-shit-out at the top.” He reassured me that it wasn’t as bad as it looked. Drew’s vote of confidence was good enough for me. My doubts melted away as we crossed over to the peak.

We began to climb a face too steep to skin; Ashton and Drew ahead of me rapidly kicking steps, and Tim right behind me. As we climbed a semi-steep bootpack together, I felt well aware of the fact that I only had a shot at this line because I had the comfortable buffer of their experience to insulate me from poor decision making. Especially Tim.

About halfway up, Tim asked, “Are you nervous?” I can’t remember what I said verbatim, but I remember telling him with paradoxical confidence in my answer that I was. Yeah I’m nervous, but not scared. I was comfortably pushing it. I felt aware of my exposure and risk; I was accepting. There were still opportunities to bail, but so far, no reason to.

Drew and Ashton took a steeper, more committing couloir that split the center of the peak. The ride down looked like what it would feel like to drop a bouncy ball down a stairwell; from either side, step-like cliffs protruded just enough into the narrow corridor before letting out to the valley below.

Tim encouraged me to check out another couloir to the west. Our line was less steep and wider. I could see that this line was definitely going to go for me. Even though it was just the two of us standing there, we didn’t say much to each other. He encouraged me to look out for rocks and stay low in the couloir. And then he was gone.

I paused a moment. Alone. I looked out from my perch, keenly aware of my exposure. There’s something magical about being alone in the mountains. It’s not a feeling that readily lends itself to description; it’s the combination of recognizing your own mortality, and esteeming it with such vigor that it motivates repeat encounters with the ineffable: the vast masses of granite, impossible icy plunges, wilderness as far as the eye can see.

I click into my bindings, well aware that I could kick a ski from my perch 1000 or so feet below. I buckle my boots down. Check all of my zippers. Gloves on. Goggles in place. Okay. It’s time.

My hand fumbles for the radio at my shoulder. “Dropping in 30, boys,” I say, trying to feign my usual casual confidence, but my voice comes out small and higher pitched than usual. I don’t know how long I waited, but I pushed the fear from my mind as I simultaneously pushed my skis over the edge.

And so it goes. My first true couloir.