Finding boots that fit properly will change the way you ski, writes Rachael Oakes-Ash
He is aiming to get my feet flat and to align my hip to my knee to my ankle. Finding boots that fit properly will change the way you ski, writes Rachael Oakes-Ash
Ski boots can make or break a week on a snow hill. Ill-fitting rental boots can leave you soaking precious blisters when everyone else is enjoying an apres hot chocolate with Kahlua and cream. Yet finding and purchasing the right ski boot is like finding a life partner – if you look in the wrong place you will be consistently disappointed and left with incompatible products that just don't fit right.
I have bought ski boots in a retail shop in Sydney fitted by a 12-year-old, or at least he appeared that age. Clearly the fitter thought he knew more about my skiing than I did. Two days later I am skiing in New Zealand in boots that may have fit in the fluorescent lighting of the shop but simply don't fit on the snow.
Boot fitting is an art. When folks are forking out $600-plus for a pair of ski boots, they want something they look forward to putting on. To understand how to fit a boot is to understand the unique biomechanics of each person's body, as no two feet are alike, not even our own.
Mount Hotham ski resort in Victoria has a unique on-snow boot-fitting program. The Skimetric Academy is the brainchild of Adalbert Leibetseder, an Austrian ski instructor and former champion racer who has utilised the expertise and knowledge of the coaches from the Austrian ski team to become the "boot whisperer".
After my last boot-fitting experience, I'm dubious but willing to give it a shot, as either my boots have grown two sizes or my feet have shrunk in the wash; either way I'm in dire need of an upgrade.
Bert and I start the day by going for a ski. He videos me taking some turns on the snow and skiing on one foot at a time. Then it's back indoors for more exercises – I am asked to stand on balance boards and to sit on my butt on the same board with my legs extended off the ground. Apparently he's testing the tendons in my ankles.
My feet are weighed and measured in degrees as notes are made on my bunions, corns and calluses and I begin to feel like a piece of meat. The right foot is longer and wider than the left by up to half a centimetre and, according to the video, my right knee pronates inward and drops in on my left-hand turns. Bert promises to fix this.
He is aiming to get my feet flat within the boots and to perfectly align my hip to my knee to my ankle, putting me in the perfect position to free up my body to ski properly. The theory is that once I am in alignment, anything that goes wrong can be blamed on my technique, so no more excuses.
My fat feet – he calls them wide – will require a wider fitting. Nordica boots are the ones for me, wide enough to accommodate and keep up the blood supply to my bunion and stiff enough to support my level of skiing.
There is no purchasing straight from the box with Bert – what you see is not what you get. Out come the Nordica Olympia women's fit boot in a snow bunny shade of white, not that I am obsessed with colour (though I am relieved to see they match my outfit). An entire new foot bed is created from scratch while the inside base of the boot is angled and tilted to accommodate my unique prolapsed stance.
Each time he disappears to a workshop in the back of the shop, he returns with adjustments designed to fit my bunion, stretch the right boot to my bigger foot and strengthen or relax the boot liners. It is not a short process. So far we have skied for half an hour and been fitting for three.
It's finally time to put the boots on and immediately my knees are pulled apart. Another ski together, captured on video, and the difference is astounding: my knee no longer drops inward. There are some boot pressure points we find while on the snow and a few more adjustments are made to ensure that while my feet are snug and tight, they are not hurting.
The option to have more private tuition with Bert on his custom-made Skimetric skis (there are only 12 pairs in the world and a "mere" $3000 for Skimetric graduates) is available. Either way, it is wise to get some skiing in on the new boots and return to Bert in a day or two for some feedback.
On the flight home I'm too scared to leave my Nordicas in the hold, lest they get lost. If I could, I would have given them a seat of their own, so instead I take them on the plane and in my line of sight.
Once you've found the perfect boot you simply can't risk losing it.
WHAT The Skimetric Academy, skimetricacademy.com.
WHERE Mount Hotham, Victoria, hotham.com.au.
HOW MUCH $595 for half a day.
GETTING THERE Qantaslink has direct flights four times a week from Sydney, qantas.com.au.