24th August 2017 | Jane Peel, Chief Reporter
Last modified on December 31st, 2019
Too worn out, too painful. I could be talking about my ageing body but, no, it’s my ski boots and they’ve got to go.
It’s time to pension off the Salomon Instincts in favour of some shiny new ones.
They’re not actually that ancient.
I bought them ahead of the 2009-2010 winter season. which doesn’t seem long ago. But they’ve seen a lot of action and are showing the signs of a hard life.
The heels and soles have worn down and staying on my feet while walking on hard, icy snow has become almost impossible.
Plus, they don’t fit properly anymore.
For some reason it takes me at least three times as long to get my boots on as anyone else I know, yet once I’m in them they feel too large and uncomfortably stiff at the same time.
So, this summer, I am taking the plunge. I have arranged an appointment with a master ski boot fitter.
Colin Martin owns Solutions 4 Feet in Bicester, Oxfordshire and has been in the ski and footwear business since he was 15.
He is a certified pedorthist and what he doesn’t know about ski boots isn’t worth knowing.
He was recommended to me by the former Olympic racer and presenter of Ski Sunday, Graham Bell.
I contacted Colin earlier in the summer and he advised me that August is a good time to buy boots. By now all the new stock is in store and it’s still available in all the sizes.
The choice on display as I walk through the shop door is impressive: alpine boots, touring boots, racing boots, hybrids suitable for alpine and touring with so-called walk-to-ride (WTR) soles…..
There are more than 60 different models from nine manufacturers with prices ranging from £250 up to £550.
How on earth am I going to choose?
The first stage is a questionnaire.
It covers things like how I ski, where on the mountain I prefer to ski and my skiing aspirations.
My answers make it apparent that what I want is a high-performance alpine boot that isn’t too uncomfortable to stand around in (for those hours spent slopeside covering snowsport competitions for PlanetSKI).
Next up is to find out what size I need.
“Interesting,” Colin says, as he carries out the measurements, glancing at my old boots that I’ve brought along for him to see.
“Interesting,” he says again. “Your left foot is 22.5 and your boots are 23.5.”
“So they’re a size too large?”
“Yes, but your right foot is longer than your left.”
Apparently most people buy boots that are too big because they think the correct size for them feels too tight and get hung up on the idea that they need more width.
“Some can’t bear it, but if you can, the smaller size is better,” he says.
“The most important thing is to get the right fit around the heel and the ankle.
“It’s very easy to make the boot wider, with the right tools it’s very easier to make the boot bigger, but you can’t make it smaller.”
He tests my ankle flexion before grabbing a pair of Lange boots.
WARNING – if you have sensitive eyes, look away now.
The Lange XT 110 LV certainly stand out.
Colin has selected them as they are an alpine boot with what the manufacturers call a “bomb proof hike mode”.
An adjustment at the back allows the boot to open up to vertical and beyond to make it easier to walk, hike, and stand around in.
They feel too tight.
The boots are whipped off and a matter of seconds later returned to me. Immediately they feel snug but no longer too tight.
All Colin has done is replace the insole that comes with the boot with a shaped insole. This has stopped my toes touching the front of the boot.
He gives me the next size up to try as a comparison. Too big. Definitely too big.
I like the Langes (despite the shocking yellow) but decide I ought to try something else too.
Step in the Atomic Hawx Ultra 110. The 110 bit is the stiffness or flex rating, in other words how much pressure is required to bend the boot forward.
The first thing I notice – apart from the fact that they are boringly black rather than yuckily yellow – is how light they feel, both in my hands and on my feet.
They are the lightest women’s alpine boot Atomic has ever made.
They fit my narrow feet well and, although the 110s are the stiffest women’s boot in the Hawx Ultra range, they are more comfortable to stand in than my Salomon Instinct 90s.
For the technical geeks among you, the Hawx Ultra has a 13 degree forward lean that can be adjusted to increase it to 15 or 17 degrees, if that’s what you want. My old Salomons have a 17 degree forward lean.
“The old boot felt stiff because you had used all the range of motion that you had available in the ankle,” Colin says. “The new more upright styles allow you to use this range of motion to actually bend the boot.”
I ask Colin more questions. He asks me more back.
Decision made. We agree. The Atomics get the vote.
Now the real work begins to make them mine.
Step one is to fit a custom-moulded carbon footbed.
Then it’s time for the boots to be moulded to me.
The shells are pre-heated to 110 degrees, I put them on, flex my ankles and stand there…. and stand there… and keep standing there.
Eventually – cooking complete – the boots, with me still in them, are wrapped in icy plastic covers that resemble wine coolers.
I’ve chosen not to go for custom liners, although I’ve always had them in the past.
Colin says the liners that come with the boots are much better than they used to be and I should try them first.
That’s anything between £150 and £230 saved, thank you very much.
I won’t know for certain whether the boots are set up exactly right for me until I test them in anger but the good news is that, if I need to come back for any adjustments, follow up appointments and alterations are free of charge.
“Boots are the one piece of kit you shouldn’t skimp on,” Colin says as he hands over my new boots. “You can ski on any old skis.”
Solutions 4 Feet operates a booking-only system and appointments ahead of next season are filling up fast.
The shop will never sell you ski boots without a personal fitting service which takes about an hour-and-a-half to two hours.
“If there was a problem it would come back that the boots had come from here,” Colin says.
Reputation is everything in this business and he’s not about to lose his.
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