This is The Pizza Foot Saga, or, Things I've learned while trying to find a boot that fits.
I started skiing when I was 12 but didn't buy my first pair of boots until I was in college. They were second-hand Nordicas I bought on eBay, having never tried on a boot other than a rental. They hurt like hell. My second pair of boots were Tecnica Icon DP's, which were new old-stock I bought cheaply online, again without having first tried them on (or any other Tecnica boot, for that matter). Among other things, the shells were way too big, which I compensated for by wearing extra-thick socks. It didn't work. They also hurt like hell, but I lived in the south and skied relatively infrequently, so I figured I should keep them since they were probably still better than rental boots. Fast forward a few years and I moved to California. With Tahoe nearby I figured I should invest in some good boots. At the time I was just starting to learn about the existence of boot fitters, and I mistakenly believed that the boot fitter's job was merely to make your boot, any boot, fit well. That was the start of a long saga that still hasn't quite ended but helped me learn a lot about boots that I wanted to share.
The first mistake I made was, again, buying boots online that I'd never tried on. I was shopping mainly based on specs and a vague feature wish list. I settled on a pair of Tecnica Cochise boots that I found online for a great price. They were well-reviewed, especially for their walk mode (which actually is really amazing). I could tell when I got them that they didn't really fit me well, so I took them to a boot fitter, thinking he or she would be able to somehow make them fit. I booked an appointment at California Ski Company, a shop in Berkeley that had a good reputation. My fitter said these were the wrong boots because the shell was too big and the shape wasn't ideal for me. He had me try on a few other pairs of boots and eventually we settled on Dalbello Panterras, but I wasn't ready to spend so much that day so I went home to think it over. Anyway, they only had the Panterras in 120 stiffness but I wanted the 130, and around the same time I had a nasty experience with a different Cal Ski employee, so I decided to buy them online and have them fitted elsewhere. I figured that would be fine since I'd had a boot fitter put me in them. It turned out he was right about the Cochise not fitting, but he was wrong about the Panterra being a good boot for me. Unfortunately I didn't realize that at the time. I ultimately bought a pair in 130 stiffness and decided to have them fitted at a shop in Tahoe.
Lesson 1: Never buy boots you haven't tried on. Boot fitters aren't magicians.
Lesson 2: Like just about every profession, there are plenty of boot fitters who aren't very good. You can't trust someone's advice simply because they're employed in a shop, even one with a reasonably good reputation for boot fitting.
I'd heard great things about Starthaus in Truckee so I went there to have the Panterra fitted. I agree with many people that Starthaus has great boot fitters. That said, their boot selection can be limited, especially if you're not a racer. I took my boots in for a fitting, and my fitter knew right away that the shape of the Panterra was wrong for me. It was too spacious in the heel area. That was when I first learned that I have a "Pizza Foot," meaning it's wide at the front and narrow in the back. I had invested a bunch of money in the boots and the work on them, and couldn't return them, so I had her to some pretty extensive work: punching out the shells in the forefoot, adding pads and shims around the ankles for more support, etc.
Around this time I was sitting on the KT-22 lift next to a boot-fitter who said he wouldn't have put me in those Panterras. He couldn't have known they were wrong for me and was probably bullshitting.
Lesson 3: Two different boot fitters will rarely agree on which boot you should be in, and both might be wrong. See Lesson 5.
In the end nothing worked to cure my heel-slippage. Defeated, I went back to Starthaus to shop for a new pair that might actually fit. She suggested the Lange SX, but they were out of stock. She said Tahoe Sports Hub might have them, so I went over there.
Lesson 4: If you're buying new boots, buy them from your fitter if you can. It's often less expensive in the long run to buy boots from a shop for more than you'd pay online, because they'll usually do the fitting work for free (even over the course of multiple seasons, if the shop is good).
Tahoe Sports Hub had the Lange SX. I told my fitter that the Starhaus fitter recommended the SX because I have a pizza foot. I tried it on and it felt like a dream. Still, my fitter had me try on every other boot he could think of that had a narrow heel-pocket. In the end, the SX still felt best.
Come to think of it, the guy at Cal Ski had me try on the Lange RX, which doesn't have as narrow a heel pocket as the SX. He hadn't spotted the pizza foot. See Lesson 2.
Lesson 5: Try on as many different boot shapes and styles from as many different manufacturers as you can. Ultimately you will never know for sure which one fits you best unless you try them all.
So I consigned my Panterras and bought the SX's in 120 stiffness, which seemed fine at the time. My fitter added a little bit of extra padding around the ankle to help hold it in place, and I shelled out another couple hundred bucks for fully custom foot beds.
Fast forward a handful of ski days and I'm still having some issues, but mostly my feet are getting really cold. I figure these stock liners just aren't as warm as the Intuitions that were in my Dalbellos, so I head back into the shop to buy Intuitions. That's when I learned that maybe my foot was getting cold because my circulation was being restricted and not because the stock liners aren't warm enough. The fitter says that next time my foot gets cold, take it out of the boot and feel it with your hands to see whether or not it's actually cold.
Lesson 6: If your feet get cold it might be your circulation and not the warmth of the liner.
Lesson 7: Always talk to your fitter before you spend more money.
I head back out to the hill and after a while my feet are getting cold. It's a weekday with nobody around so I head back down to my car and take my boot off. Sure enough, my foot feels really cold but is warm to the touch. I've been skiing on some super-slarvy twin tips that are way too wide under foot for the early season conditions, so I switch them out for some narrower cambered ones and head back up the hill. After a handful of laps my feet are really starting to fall asleep and my heel is still slipping more than it should. Time to go back to the shop.
Lesson 8: Always go to a fitter near the hill so you can easily go back and forth between skiing and fitting.
Back at the shop I'm telling my fitter about the not actually cold feet, heel slippage, and numbness. Something else is bothering me, though. Why am I mostly OK with the slarvy skis but going totally numb with the narrower cambered ones? My fitter has me put my boots on and flex them a little. That's when I realize what's going on, and it's a big problem: the shell isn't stiff enough. What's happening is that when I flex the shell hard, it compresses along the top of my foot, cutting off my circulation. That's why the slarvy skis didn't make me go numb. I can do anything I want with the flick of an ankle on this icy groomer, but the narrower skis need to be driven hard over the fall line, which is compressing my shell a lot over the top of my foot because it isn’t stiff enough, and it’s putting my feet to sleep.
Lesson 9: When you flex your boots while trying them on, watch the part of the shell over the top of your foot to see if it compresses a lot. If it does, you might need a shell that’s stiffer or that doesn’t put as much pressure onto the top of the foot when it flexes (there is a ton of variation between brands in terms of how stiff a given numerical rating is IRL, and there seems be some variation across brands in how flexing the leg part of the shell affects compression of the foot part of the shell).
Fortunately there’s a band-aid available to try before we resort to more drastic measures, and that’s cutting material out of the part of the tongue that covers the top of the foot. Unfortunately this doesn’t seem like it would be a viable option if you had wrap-around liners. Perhaps people who experience numbness due to pressure on the top of the foot should stick with tongue liners so they can remove material if needed. It turns out the tongues are stuffed with actual carpet padding (that weird vomit-looking multi-colored foam stuff). It’s easily removed, and the tongue fabric glued back in place.
Lesson 10: Nothing is stopping you from cannibalizing your liner in any way that might help it fit better.
Tongue fabric removed, I put the boots back on and stand in the store for a good half an hour, applying a modest amount of pressure. My feet are still falling asleep. If I’d only stood there for 5 or 10 minutes, I probably wouldn’t have noticed.
Lesson 11: When you try boots on during a fitting, take your time and try to keep them on for a good 20+ min. It takes a while for certain kinds of problems to manifest.
And with the fabric removed from the liner for my slightly smaller right foot, the heel is now slipping again slightly more.
Lesson 12: Don’t automatically do to one liner what you do to the other, especially if your feet are different sizes.
This is bad. Now I only have two options left: replace the liners with Zipfits and/or buy a much stiffer shell. Ideally, I should do both, and both are exceptionally expensive. So I’m back to trying on shells with narrow heel pockets, this time some Atomics and a new Tecnica (Mach 1 130 HV). The Tecnica is both stiffer and a more natural fit for my pizza foot than the Atomics or the Lange SX’s I’m in now. Damn. Why didn’t I try on these Tecnicas last season? Because they’re new this season, which means I’m not going to find a deal on them anywhere, and they’re 130 stiffness, which means I’m *really* not going to find a deal on them anywhere. Did I mention they’re $700.
Zipfits are $450 liners made primarily of neoprene, wool, and natural cork. If you’ve never had occasion to try a pair, I am either jealous of you for having a foot that’s easy to fit, sorry that you have poorly fitting boots and haven’t yet experienced the joy of Zipfits, or sorry that you can’t afford them. You’re probably also asking yourself who in his or her right mind would spend $450 on a pair of liners. The answer is mainly desperate hard-to-fit people like me. My fitter has a pair he loves and just puts into whichever shell fits him. He immediately takes out and stashes the stock liners when he buys new boots, so he can consign the shells with brand new liners when he’s ready for new ones. OK so you’re also paying for versatility and potentially lifespan, but how many times can you realistically move that liner into a new boot? Apparently the answer is just about forever. My fitter has more than 700 days on his.
I decide to take the plunge on the Zipfits because I have a 200 some dollar store credit from consigning my Dalbellos. They are ridiculously supportive and well-structured, especially in the heel pocket and ankle. Plus, the ground cork inside the tongue and ankle can be added, removed, or moved around in order to reinforce areas or take pressure off hot spots. Only time will tell but it seems unlikely I’ll ever need another pad or shim around my ankle. Zipfits are a pizza foot’s dream. Another interesting thing about them is that the tongue has virtually no material over the top of the foot where applying pressure will cut off your circulation. This seems to corroborate my fitter ripping the carpet pad out of my Lange tongues.
Lesson 13: When all else fails, try Zipfits.
I still haven’t bought those Tecnicas. They’re too expensive even if I consign the Langes. Between them, the Zipfits, and my foot beds, I’d have almost $1500 into my boots. But I will probably buy them anyway because boots that don’t fit right take too much of the fun out of skiing.
Lesson 15: Finding a boot setup that fits exceptionally well can be really expensive if you have a pizza foot or some other hard-to-fit shape. Deal with it.
**This thread was edited on Dec 14th 2018 at 6:46:13pm