Follow these simple steps to ski boot euphoria.
1) SET ASIDE SOME TIME
It's no 10-minute task finding boots that properly support the 26 bones, 36 muscles, 56 ligaments, and 10,000 nerve endings of each foot. You need about two hours with a proven bootfitter. To find a good one in your area, ask instructors, patrollers, or coaches—anyone who spends all day on skis—where they go.
2) REALLY KNOW YOUR SHOE SIZE
Because foot length can increase by as much as a full size when arches collapse under body weight, a trained fitter measures your feet when you're seated and standing. He'll then select a few models that work for your foot shape.
3) GET SHELL SIZED
Take the liner out of the boot and step into the shell. You want about five eighths to three quarters of an inch of space behind your heel when your toes just touch the front. That way when the liner packs out, the shell will still support your foot.
4) FIND YOUR SOLE-MATE
Put a different boot model on each foot and plan to spend at least 15 minutes in them. The ball of your foot should sit flat and snug. Same with your heel. As your foot warms up the boot, the liner will begin to mold to your foot. The boots should feel better after this time, not worse.
5) REMEMBER: THEY AIN'T FUZZY SLIPPERS
New boots should feel snug—not painful or so restrictive as to cut off blood flow, but uniformly tight with no severe pressure points. Your toes will touch the end of the boot when you stand up straight. That's OK. As soon as you flex the boots, your toes will pull back.
If the boot is fine everywhere except for one place, like on your yellowing bunions, a fitter can tweak the fit by grinding or stretching the shell.
7) GET THE RIGHT FLEX
Sadly, there's no industry norm when it comes to boot flex, so a 120-flex Lange doesn't bend like a 120-flex Tecnica. To make matters worse, boots are roughly 20 percent softer in a warm store, so it's hard to get a feel for how they'll ski. Your best bet? Buy stiff boots and soften them if you must by having your bootfitter cut the lower cuff. It's easy to soften a stiff boot, but it's tough to stiffen a soft boot.
8) DIAL IT IN FOR PERFORMANCE
An alignment—in simple terms, adjusting the boot to bet-ter line up the ankles with the knees and hipbones for a natural athletic stance—should be the final step in any comprehensive boot fit. But don't even think of tweaking the canting or upper cuff without custom insoles. Folio changed from Otherwise, nothing a fitter does will be permanent.
Quick Tip: Buckle right: Lightly clasp the top two buckles, and then undo the top buckle. Flex the boot, driving your heel into the pocket. Now buckle from the top down.
The Expert: Larry Houchen has fitted ski boots for nearly 30 years. Each season he sees more than 1,000 pairs of feet walk through his Boulder, Colorado, boot shop, Larry's Boot Fitting (303-402-6733).
Learn More: America's Best Bootfitters (bootfitters.com ) offers a comprehensive website that lists shops specializing in custom bootfitting and gives additional tricks and tips for finding boots that won't grind your feet into burger meat. - Tim Neville