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Confessions of a Bootfitter

Photo by Troy Hawks Photo by Troy Hawks

By Troy Hawks

If youre a skier on Colorados Front Range then you or someone you know has heard of Larry the boot-fitter. Hes a one-named legend that for the past 35 years has been making ski toes sing like Elvis made young women cry.

Tens of thousands of skiers have come to Larry to bare their soles. The most important thing to know when buying ski boots, says Larry, is the shape of your foot. Today, the top ski boot companies are building boots that fit a larger swath of foot shapes, and thats very good news for skiers. Now we have more boot styles to choose from, better, warmer technology, and all at very competitive prices.

Ski Country recently sat down with Larry to learn more about his craft and how a proper boot fit can help put hip-shaking swing back into our skiing.

Whats the most important thing in buying the right boot?

Its a matter of finding out your foot shape and trying on boots with the right flex and your foot shape from a couple of different companies and you can narrow it down pretty quickly. The most important thing in boot-fitting is whats called the last, basically the shape of the inside of the ski boot, and you want to match that as closely as you can to the shape of your foot.

How far off are most people feet compared to how boots are designed, should most people get a boot fitting?

I would say 70 percent of the people on the hill are skiing in boots that are too big, they are in boots with the wrong volume.

How does that affect their skiing?

Radically. You dont want the foot to move and beat against the inside of the boot in order to move the ski. You want everything to move in unison. On the other hand, 90 percent of the people who ski dont need to be in tight-fitting race-fit boots, they simply need to be in a boot thats the right volume for their foot and the right size.

Can you wear boots right off the shelf, or do you need to go the extra step with having foot-beds made?

The people we deal with take the extra step and get them fit. As long as Ive been doing this, lots and lots of people we see bring in their old insoles to have them evaluated to see if they can use them in new boots and 90 percent of the time they can, which is great. But we still make more than 1,000 pairs of insoles a year.

No matter what, you do have to endure some level of discomfort when breaking in new boots, right?

I always like to remind people that ski boots are plastic shoes that allow you to turn skis while youre standing around in temperatures below freezing and in snow. All of those factors dont help you [laugh].

How about the boots themselves, how has design improved in recent years?

Now everyone makes several different last shapes, and they also make different volumes of boots. Everyone is trying to feet those most amount of different shaped feet in their product line. Keeping in mind that every Italian and French engineer has a different idea of what the perfectly shaped foot is, so they all fit a little differently.

Talk about the boot flex. Didnt it used to be more of a guessing game?

Right, it used to be that manufacturers just said that one boot was made for racing, and others were made slightly softer. Now with the Flex Index they at least put a numeral to it, so within product lines it cohesive. But between brands its not cohesive, for instance a 120 Salomon is not going to flex like a 120 Tecnica or 120 Rossignol because of the way theyre engineered and built.

What are the most well-known feet that youve fit?

Ive worked with Johnny Moseley and Ann Battelle, another champion bump skier, and Jim Palmer, the former pitcher for the Orioles. Theres a bunch of other people that probably wouldnt dig it if I said they came here [laugh].

How many skiers, say out of every 10, have stinky feet?

At some point all of them.

Have you ever refused service due to stinky feet?

No, we have not. We do however have Lysol and antibacterial soap.

Oh, so you might ask folks to wash?

Yes, and we have.

Youve asked them to wash, really?

Yes, especially in September and October when the college kids come inthey dont have the worlds best hygiene.

What about toe nails, a person should pay keen attention to the length of their toenails, right?

Yes, there are two types of toenails. There are winter toenails, and there are summer toenails. Summer toenails dont cut it with winter sports. Not if its hockey or no matter what it is, you dont want that toenail hanging out past your toe.

Whats your inspiration, was your father a boot-fitter?

I started off working in ski shops 37 years ago, I worked in the back shop, tuning and mounting skis, and one fall the manager asked me if I wanted to work in boots. After three days, I noticed that no one else who was working in boots knew any more than I did, so I started educating myself because I thought it was an area of job security.

So its a good way to get and keep a ski job?

Yes, and its a skill thats come in handy over the past 35 years.

Whats your ski background?

I grew up Nordic skiing in Montana.

Do you still Nordic?

Once in a while, its much more fun to lock your heels down and let it rip though. The vast majority of my skiing is in Rocky Mountain National Park, the Never Summer Range, and Indian Peaks across to Rollins Pass.

How many days a year?

Typically 30 to 35 depending on the snow pack.

How many bootfitters have you apprenticed?

[laugh] Well we dont have a direct, specific educational program, but Id say about a dozen.

What makes a good bootfitter?

Patience and something my father taught me a long time ago: you have two ears, and one mouth, use them proportionally. Its more important to listen, than it is to talk. No matter how busy it gets in here, I always like to be able to say hi when people walk in the door and I like to watch and know whats going on with everybody. And its not a control thing, I want to make sure everybody knows we care.