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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Powder Princess

This story is by no means a glamorous, Instagram-worthy write up. It’s more like a confession: forgive me Powder Gods, for I have been a whiny, defeated princess. I have a greater appreciation for all that ‘backcountry skiing’ entails and I have a lot of work to do. I will repent by spending more days in the resort, spending more time gear prepping and religiously observe bi-weekly leg day at the gym. Amen.

Here’s what happened:

A few weeks ago, I found myself in some sort of ditch, unable to wiggle-slide my skis any further; my feet were screaming, my legs were shaking with fatigue and I realized that I’d had it. I sat down in the ditch, on my skis, in utter defeat and felt hot tears well up into my eyes.

I hunched over and rested the heavy, P-O-S helmet — the same one a friend had long-term “borrowed” for me from a ski resort lost and found — on my arms, wrapped around my knees. All I could do was look down at the boots that I just could not seem to get to fit right. “This is hard,” I thought to myself.

It wasn’t just the boot pain or the hot fatigue shooting through my legs. It wasn’t the techy-tight tree skiing. It wasn’t the avalanche fear constantly simmering in the back of my mind. It was hard for me to admit defeat to someone that I respect so much. It was hard for me to accept that I’d tapped out.

That one day of skiing absolutely humbled me.

I like to think that I’m pretty strong for a girl. In fact, I like to think of myself as just a pretty capable ‘partner;’ no gender, no bias. Just a person that likes to wake up early, get out and do things. I like to think that if I set my mind to something, hell yeah, I can do it.

While yes, it’s true, I can get out and go skiing. No, I cannot pretend that I can keep up vis-a-vis with someone who has 15 years of experience. I can’t pretend like it doesn’t bother me to see him waiting, held-back and slowed-down by my inexperience. I try to brush off the feeling by expressing gratitude, by laughing at myself and by constantly trying hard to keep up.

In that moment, I’d finally run out of my signature effervescent energy.

The phrase that comes to mind is, “I hit a wall.” But it was more than that. The pain, the fear and the anxiety of being ‘good enough’ threw me right through that wall, into this ditch, onto my ass and past my ego.

Begrudgingly, I accepted my defeat and cried frustrated tears. I succumbed to full princess-mode. I was actively living out one of those girlfriend-trips-gone-wrong that I’d heard about from guy friends; and I realized that I was no better, not immune and yeah, the girlfriend crying in the ditch.

Meanwhile, my boyfriend called out to me. He wanted me to come under the trees and out of the ever-falling snow. But my sad little legs wouldn’t budge. I couldn’t even bring myself to pick up my helmet-heavy head from my hunched over position to tell him that I was struggling. (He obviously knew.)

I continued to look at my boots, ashamed.

For a little additional context, my ski boots have been a struggle since the day I got them. I’ve had them worked on. I’ve had the liners formed to my feet. But for whatever reason, I can’t quite seem to get the fit right. Some days, with the right socks and the right warm-up, they feel pretty alright. Sometimes I even forget that I have issues with them. But other days, my feet cramp in my arch and forefoot. The cramping causes my legs to try to compensate. Before I know it, my knees are shaking like leaves and I have to stop, unbuckle and work myself up to try it again.

I took a deep breath in, put my skins back on my skis and walked over to my boyfriend, Tim. It was hard for me to look him in the eye because I was so frustrated with my epic gear malfunction and so determined to be a savvy, capable and competent partner.

We started climbing back up the hill in the direction of the truck in silence. I was strangely glad (relieved) to have had such an emotional outburst.

If I’d been out there with a different partner, I probably would have had an epic (of the gong-show variety) but better held it together. Unfortunately for Tim, I absolutely trust him and knew that I could be completely vulnerable. I didn’t know the extent of my willingness to be vulnerable until my full-fledged princess moment.

Even though I am not proud of my princess moment, I think I learned a lot from that experience. I think I realized the extent of my trust of Tim, both for his backcountry savvy and his patience with me. And I think I also realized how silly it is to dive in too deep, too fast. Doesn’t matter how good the powder is.

I have a lot of respect for the mountains, my mortality and the constant learning process that flows between the two. I’m lucky that I have a strong enough partner that I can get into a situation where I am safe and realize that I’m in over my head.

It’s kind of funny that this is what I was playing on my mini speaker all that day.

My Job

My job as a mountain guide is probably not what you think.

As I’ve reflected on before, my job is not the one that my journalism degree from Western Washington University prepared me for. But here I am, still writing.

My job isn’t playing in the mountains on the regular; it is a lot of preparation and anticipation with regard to route finding, dietary restrictions, food shopping, coworker coordinating, weather observations, gear packing, van driving, etc. It’s preparing myself for all of the questions my clients might have and being truthful when they ask me something I didn’t plan for (this comes with a little embarrassment.)

The perks of my job are sunrises and sunsets in the mountains; conversations about life with people from wildly diverse backgrounds; the occasional nap while technically “on the clock;” all of my Trader Joe’s snacks are paid for; incredibly savvy, humble and inspiring coworkers; the opportunity to grow into my profession and simultaneously as a living, thinking, breathing human; the chance to do what I love, with love, as much or as little as I choose to accept work. (I want ALL of the work.)

The challenges associated with my job are working with people in emotionally challenging circumstances from the minute I wake up until the minute I fall asleep. I have to coax people into completely trusting me when they’ve only met me 24 hours prior, when they have little to no experience with what we’re doing and when they’re completely exhausted by the physical exertion and possibly the numerous questions I’ve asked them on the approach (I can’t help myself; I’m just so curious.) It’s (obviously) a lot of grinding up and down hills; it’s been a little hard on my body at times. The pay is something people often ask about; all I can say is that I make it work, whether it’s a second restaurant job for the off-season or forgoing a splurge or wearing the same clothes until they literally fall apart. (Actually, it’s all of the above.)

With each trip, I learn so much. I’ve had the pleasure of working with people that are incredibly talented — technically and interpersonally — and done my best to keep up and offer what I can. Besides my coworkers, I’ve had the distinct challenge of working with clients that didn’t seem interested in working with me; the joy of reaching the top when it seemed unreachable; and the bittersweetness of relinquishing a summit and savoring a high point more than 1,000 feet beneath our intended objective.

My job is so much more than a job. It’s being a relatable, conversational person; a source of inspiration when the client thinks they’re too tired to go on; a sense of emotional security when the going gets tough and scary; the voice of authority when difficult decisions need to be made; a backcountry chef in the wee hours of the morning and after a long day of climbing; all in all, it’s a lot. It’s not easy.

I heard a joke that cracked me up the other day that I think is especially relevant right now: “How can you tell someone is a mountain guide?… Because he or she will tell you.” In case plain text doesn’t convey the humor, it’s funny because it’s true! When what I do for work comes up, people generally either look at me with awe or ask plainly:

“So you take people hiking?” Yeah, something like that.

Sometimes that hike involves moving through terrain that you might not survive without adequate skills and preparation. Not trying to be dramatic, but it’s definitely more than just hiking. You get the idea.

One thing that has occurred to me in this career pursuit is that I no longer seek to put down the 9-to-5er. And it’s not just because most of my clients are 9-to-5ers — though I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a consideration — it’s because it takes all types to make it happen; whether that’s the climb, the company I work for or the community that I recreate in. I hope that in my life decisions, I’ll be taken seriously even if I’m not a suit-wearing professional. I’m a professional in my own right in that I keep people safe in alpine circumstances; I give people the opportunity to have impactful experiences in high, wild places; I get to share what so many mentors have given me along my own journey into alpinism.

The bottom line is that I’m lucky to do what I do. I am so grateful that Mountain Madness decided to have me on this season. I love the line of work that I’m in. I’m living my dream with all of the hang-ups and challenges that come along with it.

Basically Amelia Earhart

I am a pilot’s daughter. I grew up in the back of planes, in cargo boxes and in hangars. I remember looking forward to when my dad would come home from work; I would hug him and deeply breathe in the smell of oil, engines and aircraft. I still love those smells.

I am the grown daughter of a pilot now. I’m 23. I’m alone. I’m trying (unsuccessfully) to sleep in a twin size bed. My mind is racing. Metaphorically speaking, I’m the pilot now. I’ve lifted off from the runway of childhood and now I’m monitoring a number of gauges, knobs and meters while charting my path through life.

To take that metaphor a step further, it seems to me like there are people and experiences in life that provide feedback much like a gauge or a meter would to a pilot. I feel as though I should grab at the mic and announce on the intercom, “Hold on to your hats, folks, we’re in for a bumpy ride!” But it’s just me on this plane.

I’ve gotten some harsh feedback lately. And you know what? That’s okay. But it kind of sucks. Makes you feel kinda crappy. But the things you feel shitty about are learning opportunities. So let me share with you some of the shit I’ve learned the hard way recently:

Not everybody wants to be your friend. Like this guy I work with right now. Sometimes I get the feeling that he hates my guts. Like, a lot. But you know what? That’s okay. We’re both grown ass adults and this isn’t kindergarten anymore. Do I feel shitty about it? Only every time I see him. But the second that I realize that I don’t need his approval, I feel better. I do my thing. And that’s good enough.

Sometimes past relationships will go up in flames. It’s kind of fun to watch fireworks until you realize that it’s your personal life that’s on fire. Okay, maybe that was a little dramatic. But — deep breath — I recently tried to remedy the situation that inspired a previous post about being the type of girl that sucks at being friends with other girls. And it absolutely did not work. And part of me wants to believe that I’m just “that type of girl that can never be friends with girls” but then I realize how stupid that is and that I have to learn from my mistakes. What I learned? Sometimes being spontaneous and open to life experiences involves saying yes and sometimes it involves saying no. Sometimes when you say no, you upset people you care about. Sometimes, they don’t forgive you. Again — deep breath — you accept that you did your best and move on with your life.

And just like that, a couple hundred words later, I feel as though I’ve gotten through some turbulence and can get on to trying hard not to make the same mistakes. I’m a pilot’s daughter. I’m brave but sometimes I lose my way. But it’s all gonna be okay.