With several seasons of wear on my Rossignol Race II’s, and a modicum of duct tape holding the liners together, I recently found myself asking a couple of questions about my boots that I thought might benefit from a far more professional opinion than my own.
How do I know if I should try to squeeze another season out of them? And, if not, is the end of the season a good time to pick up a new pair?
With those questions rattling around in my head, I sought the counsel of Birch Royall (son of an old friend who worked for me on the Sugarloaf Ski Patrol in the 1960′s), owner of, and experienced boot fitter at First Inline Ski and Sports Shop on Route 27 headed north from Kingfield.
What follows is as close to his verbatim advice that he generously bestowed as I can remember, and deserves consideration by any of us wrestling with a season-end decision about replacing our foot gear.
“With the end of the season near,” he said, “it’s time to re-evaluate the condition of your ski boots, and the most important question is ‘how do they fit?’ After many days in your boots they tend not to fit as snug as they did in December. This may be a quick fix or it might just be time to replace the boot.”
Royall went on to explain a few factors to consider:
• The overall condition, the liner, soles and buckles.
• Is the liner worn out to the point where a quick fix will not work?
• Are the soles worn out to where it is questionable if they will pass inspection with binding compatibility?
• Are the buckles bent or broken? Buckles are very expensive to replace and may not be worth spending the money. If so, it may be time to invest in a new pair of boots.
However, now is not really the time to purchase a new pair of boots, because most shops have sold out on their stock for the year.
“I say this,” said Royall, “because when investing in a new pair of ski boots, it is important to make sure that you have the right fit and have all options available. Typically, at the end of the season, the range of options may well be very limited.”
He went on to emphasize that you should never make your buying decision based solely on price. Just because it’s a $700 boot does not mean that it is the right boot for you, and just because it is on “closeout” doesn’t mean that it is the right boot. So save your money and wait until the beginning of next season to choose the right boot from a wider variety of options.
I was reminded that buying a ski boot is an investment, so you want to make sure that you go to a reputable ski shop or boot fitter to find the right pair of boots. Here are some things to look for in the process.
• Make an appointment — this way you will have the 100 percent undivided attention.
• Expect to spend some time. This is not a 20-minute process … it may take hours.
• Expect to spend some money. Whatever it takes, your feet are important.
• Expect to be asked questions. The boot fitter is gathering information to better select the right boot for you.
• Enjoy the process, because a better fitting boot will help you become a better skier.
Lest my snowboarding buddies think I don’t understand that the same sorts of questions apply to them as well, I’ll just plead ignorance. I have yet to work up the courage to tackle the short and steep learning curve that goes with trying to teach some of us old dogs new tricks. And today’s shaped skis and rockers are so much fun I just can’t convince myself to make the switch. Although I’ve got lots of friends, old and young, that enjoy both skiing and boarding equally.
I can only assume that the same boot-buying rules apply. Do it early in the season when you can select from the widest possible variety. Seek the counsel of a professional fitter. And don’t let price be the determinant. As with skiers, fit and comfort should be your priorities.
John Christie is a former ski racer and ski area manager and owner, a ski historian and member of the Maine Ski Hall of Fame. He and his son, Josh, write ski columns on alternating weeks. John can be reached at: