Active Outdoors: When seeking the perfect boot fit, retail experience matters


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!

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 AWD 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 your feet have "issues" or abnormalities.

Fitting ski boots is tough and what you can learn from a visit to an expert bootfitter can help you with every other kind of footwear you need for winter.

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 (www.eastern, not to be confused with the magazine 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 (

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 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 "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.

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 than winter is coming. Hope you feel the same way.

Life isn't a spectator sport. Get out and enjoy!

Tips for buying (any) boots

n Go in when the store is quiet. Usually Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday morning. If you can, allow several hours to buy boots so you can try on, take off, re-try, walk around... you don't want to rush a decision.

n 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.

n 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).

n 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.

n 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 is the executive editor of the online magazine and writes about outdoor sports and travel. Email:


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