Active Outdoors: Winter prep starts from the ground up
We interrupt your enjoyment of this gorgeous New England autumn to remind you that winter’s coming. Snow and ice are on the way. Hooray! Now, in the quiet season between Columbus Day and Thanksgiving, is the time to get prepared to enjoy all the wonders that the coming winter has to offer.
If you really want to have fun every possible minute of a New England winter, you have to start from the (snow- and ice-covered) ground and work your way up. In our household that means putting good snow tires on our all-wheel-drive cars so we can get where we want to go safely. And, whenever we head out the door, it means having the right footwear. That means good boots for hiking, mountaineering, snowshoeing, Nordic skating, cross-country skiing, Telemark and Alpine Touring (AT) skiing, and lift-serviced Alpine skiing. Different boots, and they all need to fit right to function properly and keep your feet warm.
Of all of these, ski boots, whether Alpine, AT or Telemark, are the toughest to get to fit right and function perfectly – especially if you have “issues” or abnormalities such as unusually wide or narrow feet, low-volume or swollen ankles, high arches or flat feet, bunions, hammer toes, or any of the endless list of “aches and thousand natural shocks that feet are heir to” (apologies to Shakespeare). I truly envy anyone who has totally average feet that run true to size.
Anyway, fitting ski boots is tough and what you can learn from a visit to an expert boot-fitter can help you with every other kind of footwear you need for winter. And late October and early November is the perfect time of the year to buy ski boots – especially if your feet have issues and you need to try a selection of boots to find the ones that fit.
Both Marilyn and I needed new ski boots. With the madness of Columbus Day past, we made a mid-week getaway of it, headed north, did a little autumn hiking, checked into a lovely room at the Eastern Slope Inn (easternslopeinn.com, not to be confused with the magazine EasternSlopes.com) in North Conway, ate dinner at the Red Parka (a tradition for us) and, first thing in the morning, headed for Stan and Dan’s Sports (stananddansports.com). One of the things you’ll notice when you walk into this shop – there aren’t any kids working here; everyone has decades of experience. We connected with one of the owners, Dan Lewis, and spent a couple of fascinating hours finding the right boots for us.
Dan started us out by measuring our feet on a Brannock device for length and width, then examined our old ski boots (10 years old with over 700 ski days on them!), and started asking questions about what was wrong with our old boots and what we wanted from new ones. He then had us put on our favorite ski socks and started having us try on boots. Some boots he would “shell fit,” removing the liners and having us stand in the empty boot to make sure it roughly fit our feet. Occasionally we tried two different sizes of the same boot, but in each case his first choice was the correct one. He told us: “Up to 80 percent of people, if left on their own to buy ski boots, will buy them bigger than they have to be for comfort and then will try to compensate by buckling them too hard, which makes them feel too tight.”
What was truly fascinating was that he “prepped” each pair of boots before they went on our feet, warming the liners, lightly compressing the padding in spots that he knew would be an issue – Marilyn’s bunions, my “sixth toe” – so when we slipped on the boot, it already felt more like it would after wearing it. We walked in each boot, flexed it, spent time seeing how it worked with our feet.
By noon, we both had our new boots. It took another hour to fit mine, Fischer Ranger 11 Vacuum, which work for both Alpine and AT skiing. The vacuum-fitting process for this boot, which actually molds the shell to your foot, is cutting edge technology, and Stan and Dan’s is one of the few shops that can do it right. Marilyn got new Salomon X-Max 90 Women’s that already fit her well enough with just minor tweaking that she can start the season without any additional fitting. Having the right ski boots has gotten us even more excited that winter is coming. Hope you feel the same way.
Life isn’t a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!
Five tips for buying boots
1. Go in when the store is quiet – usually Tuesday, Wednesday or Thursday morning. If you can, allow several hours to buy boots so you can try on, take off, retry, walk around ... you don’t want to rush a decision.
2. If the sales clerk doesn’t measure your foot on a Brannock Device and ask questions about issues with your old boots and what you want to accomplish with your new boots, find another sales clerk or another store.
3. Bring along your old boots or at least know the size, model and existing issues. Also, bring along any footbeds you use and your favorite socks. You may need thinner socks with new boots.
4. Try different sizes than you are used to. With new lasting in-ankle area in most boots and better-fitting heel pockets, toe bang is less of a problem than it once was. When you are loose in the ankle and heel pocket, your foot moves and the boot feels like it’s too small.
5. Though it’s tempting to shop for value at the end of a season, you are likely to find the best selection and the best fit a few months before the season gets going.
(Tim Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)