Xanthe Demas was going through ski boot hell. The Aspen, Colo. resident and SKI Magazine ski tester went to a bootfitter that some friends recommended last season and walked out of the store expecting her boots to fit properly. Yes, they hurt at first, but with the expectation they would break in, Demas kept skiing in them. The pain never stopped, but because of the money she invested, she struggled through the rest of the season as best she could.
“I was having a terrible time,” Demas says. The boot she was fitted for had no accommodation for her accessory navicular, and she could feel it in a bad way. “I dreaded putting them on because they were so uncomfortable, and I was in so much pain that the performance was lacking. I couldn’t put any sort of pressure into that boot because my foot just couldn’t handle it.”
The Telluride, Colo. native, who relocated to the Roaring Fork Valley for work a number of years ago, gave up on the boots that never stopped hurting and decided to give Surefoot a try. Yes, their prices were a bit more expensive than most online shoppers might be used to, but considering the level of customization and the virtual elimination of the boot break-in phase, she walked out of the Aspen Surefoot shop to the gondola, and went skiing without pain on the very first run.
“Something that I noticed in a huge way was the comfort,” Demas says about her first few days in the Surefoot boot. “I had no pressure points in that boot at all. The first couple days of skiing in a boot, you always expect some sort of pressure point, but even the first two days I was in it I felt awesome. And I owe that to the liner.”
Read more: If the Boot Fits...
Demas’ Surefoot story matched many of my friends' experiences in Aspen. Locals and visitors alike swear by the local Surefoot shop. After so many years of hearing good things, I decided to try Surefoot myself. In early December, while everyone else was having après after a day of skiing at Aspen Mountain, I walked from Gondola Square, crossed Durant Avenue, and entered into the boot shop Demas and many others rave about.
The Surefoot Method
As a ski boot tester, I work a lot with bootfitters. A month before I tried Surefoot, I had my foot measured by a major ski boot brand’s lead tech using a Brannock measurement tool. The year before that, my feet were “scanned” at another high-end shop in Vail. After both foot sizings, I came away thinking my feet were equal in terms of width and length.
Surefoot’s insole measurement method, on the other hand, discovered why I consistently have pain in my right foot when skiing no matter how many times I get ski boot work done: My right foot is three millimeters wider than my left.
Surefoot’s proprietary insole scanner measures feet in 538 places using pressure-sensitive rubber pegs and some nifty software. The result is a three-dimensional map of the bottom of your feet, which is then grafted to a medical-grade ethyl vinyl acetate blank via a CAD-CAM milling machine. Unlike some custom footbeds, which use heat-shaping methods and leave a gap between the footbed and the liner, Surefoot’s footbeds sit flat on your boot liner when installed, increasing energy transfer from foot to ski.
(Editor's note: SKImag.com highly recommends any custom footbed with any new ski boot purchase, whether or not it sits flat on a liner. The cheap, flimsy footbeds that come with most ski boots out of the box aren't cut out for the job.)
Unfortunately, some ski boot brands are also relying on cheaper, less reliable liners—with notable exceptions—which means stock liners can wear out well before the shell. In some cases, this leads to reduced performance after a couple dozen uses. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some boot companies are starting to use liner features that increase comfort, including built-in Bluetooth controlled heaters, injection-fit liners, and soft, fuzzy cuffs. These comforts are so nice, even the most “hardcore” skier can enjoy them.
Surefoot’s new sixth generation Liner X Series with Heat has all of these features and can upgrade your ski boot performance at the same time. I opted to have the latest X Series liners installed in some of my favorite boots that had worn-out stock liners, but plenty of life left in the shell.
Out of the box, Surefoot's newest liners have a number of tubes sticking out like some kind of sci-fi movie prop. They went on my feet and into my boot shells. My bootfitter Austin injected two different gels into the liner via the tubes which created just slightly uncomfortable heat and pressure throughout the boot. The process took maybe five minutes, after which the tubes were ripped out and my feet suddenly felt like they were home-sweet-home, ready to ski.
Because I used my own shells, I didn’t need to purchase one of the many custom-branded shells Surefoot offers, which includes the 2019 Best in Test Lange RS series, the Lange RX and SX families, and a few other brands, including the 2019 Gear of the Year Salomon S/MAX line.
Altogether, the total price for a custom footbed, custom liner, fitting process and slightly modified shell costs around $1,100 depending on the level of work the shell might require for your foot. Considering most of the boots tested in SKI Magazine’s High Performance and All-Mountain Utility categories range from $750 to $975 MSRP, the belief that a Surefoot custom fitting is overly expensive is simply not true. Boots that fit well and are made to last are certainly worth it in the long run, especially according to Demas.
“I have zero pain, which is a huge upgrade for me,” says the Aspen Snowmass employee. “I’m at day thirty-seven this season [in the Surefoot liner] and they’ve held up awesome. The footbed feels great, the liner feels awesome. It doesn’t feel like anything is compressing or moving around at all. It was a ‘one-and-done.’ I went in, got it all set, and haven’t gone back.”
More from Footwear: 2019 Best in Test Ski Boots
As for my own testing, I haven’t had as many days in the Surefoot liner as Demas, but I’ve been very pleased with the comfort and increased performance in my ski boots after a half-dozen days using the custom liner and footbeds.
After years in hard custom footbeds from brands like SOLE and Sidas, my only concern is that the softer Surefoot footbed option can feel a bit squishy on hard snow, but it is very comfortable and responsive otherwise. The fitting process is as quick, simple, and effective as any I’ve experienced, and the customer X Liner breathed new life into some of my favorite boots.