The Perfect Fit




Watching an experienced skier glide down the slopes of a tall and snowy mountain is a beautiful sight to behold. As they carve smooth and winding curves through the porcelain snowdrifts, their skis seem to gracefully float from edge to edge in an elegantly athletic two-step dance. Though their fluid motions might look effortless to a casual observer, the bio-mechanical science behind their movements is incredibly deep and complex.

The perfect fit

Much like every snowflake has its own distinctive geometrical pattern, every person has a uniquely different foot and body type that comes with its own specialized set of bio-mechanical needs. Taking this into account, Southern Vermont’s most skilled and dedicated boot fitters have developed meticulous processes to help athletes of all skill levels enjoy a more comfortable and pleasant experience.

In the words of Green Mountain Orthotic Lab (GMOL) owner Bill Haight, “In most athletic disciplines, the feet are the foundation on which you build everything else. I like to tell people that their bodies are a lot like houses– no matter how beautifully you build the rest of the structure, it will most likely start to crumble and crack if  the foundation isn’t flat, level, and balanced.”

Bill is a passionate industry professional who has dedicated his life to helping his clients achieve their maximum potential through bio-mechanical performance enhancement. Through a painstakingly comprehensive process, Bill custom-fits his clients’ footwear to bolster their athletic abilities. In addition to skiers, Bill says that he works with snowboarders, runners, bikers, soccer players, and “anyone who uses their feet in their chosen sport.”

Bill describes his fitting method for ski boots as “complex and nuanced.” He says that the boot fitting process begins with a number of precise measurements – each of which are essential to ensure the perfect fit. “I start by measuring the width and length of the feet. I then measure what’s referred to as the ‘heel-to-instep ratio.’ It’s a measurement taken around the circumference of the ankle from one side of the heel to the other. It tells me how the foot is shaped. It’s incredibly important to my process. I also measure dorsiflexion. That’s the flexibility potential of your ankles. If you don’t have enough dorsiflexion in your ankle, you won’t be able to stand in the boot comfortably, and that will have a very noticeable impact on your skiing. If you have too much dorsiflexion, your legs can get tired easily because the natural angle of your feet in the boot puts your ankle in a constantly engaged state. In order to correct both of these problems, you have to reposition the skier’s heel within the boot.” 

Bill then measures the range of motion in the “first ray” – or big toe – in relation to the four smaller rays. He then the measures the “little ray” – the pinky toe side – in relation to the other four bigger rays. “This tells me how the foot is going to rest on the floor of the boot. I like to tell people that the foot is like a tripod. In a perfect world, we would want the first ray, the fifth ray, and the heel to all touch down on the floor of the boot in symmetrical balance. If those three pressure points on the foot aren’t hitting the floor of the boot in the same way, you’re not going to have the same power in your movements, because the energy will be lost where your foot does not make contact with the boot.”

After these measurements are taken, Bill creates a custom-made footbed to address any structural irregularities in the feet that may prevent skiers from achieving a properly balanced stance. Bill takes pride in the fact that every footbed that he uses is custom made at GMOL. “We take a direct mold of the foot. It can take specialists who outsource their footbed production up to four weeks to deliver a custom footbed to their clients, but it takes me roughly half an hour to forty-five minutes to produce one. You can walk out with it the same day. Everything is done here on-site using proprietary technologies and materials.”

Once the feet are stabilized on a custom-made footbed, the fitting process then moves on to the “cuff alignment” stage. Bill says that the aim of this stage is to make sure that the lower leg is centered in the cuff of the boot. “Most people’s legs have natural biases towards either the inside or the medial side of the boot. If the center of the leg is properly fitted in the center of the upper cuff of the boot, you will achieve maximum efficiency during the energy transfer from one edge of the skis to the other. We shift the alignment by adjusting the cuff of the boot to make sure that there is a snug and even fit. This ensures that the ski edges will be able to dig into the snow and gain the traction necessary for an even and stable turn.’”

Bill says that one typical problem that skiers often experience is that their skis are not entirely flat on the snow. “They may have a bias where the outside edges are lower, or they may have a bias where the inside edges are lower. There are many possible biomechanical issues that may cause this phenomenon – such as being bow-legged or knock-kneed. All of those things are going to create issues with your turning that are going to make skiing a lot more difficult. Skiers might notice these biases in the differences between their left and right turns. If you have one turn that’s better than the other, that might be due to an issue that’s easily fixable through ski boot fitting. I solve a number of these issues through the processes of sole-planing and canting. By installing a deliberately placed ‘cant shim’ underneath the bindings, we can adjust the angle of the skier’s foot to create a more balanced stance. This can help considerably with turn symmetry. We can also mill down the edges of the boot to help correct natural biases.”

Bill finds that another fairly prevalent issue that skiers encounter is leg length discrepancy (LLD). “It’s fairly common to find skiers who have one leg that is longer than the other. There are a lot of ways we can help with an LLD. Sometimes we can bring the ground of the boot up to meet the heel of the shorter leg. We may also have the ability to change the height on the outside of the boot, depending on the brand. There are a lot of companies that make lifter plates that can be screwed onto the bottom of their boots. If there is a five-millimeter leg length discrepancy, I can put a five-millimeter lift on the bottom. This then requires that I mill or router 5 millimeters off of the top of the toe so that it still fits in the binding.”

Bill says that at the end of the process, the boot should feel snug and sturdy around the foot – but not uncomfortable. “Ski boots are not supposed to hurt. If the boot hurts, it’s because it’s not fitted properly. It’s incredibly important to openly communicate with your specialist during the fitting process. We want to make sure to avoid the complications that can arise from reduced circulation and improper alignment. There’s nothing better than the feeling of skiing with a properly fitted setup. It’s like a completely different sport.”

The perfect fit
WINTER 2021 Stephanie Juhasz making the perfect fit.

By working with extensively qualified ski instructors – such as Stratton-based ski coach Brian Whatley – accomplished boot fitters like Bill are able to gain valuable insight into the issues faced by skiers who come into his shop. This is done through a process that Bill refers to as “cooperative diagnostic assessment.”

Brian is a Professional Ski Instructors of America (PSIA) Eastern Examiner and US Ski & Snowboard (USSS) Level 300 coach who has an extensive background in corrective detection, recognition, and assessment. Brian says that whenever he works with a skier, the first thing that he will do is study their posture to see if they are in a neutral athletic stance. “I want to make sure that they aren’t leaning forward or sitting too far back in their stance. I also want to make sure that their skis are level. You can see if there are problems from the way that their skis are tracking in the snow. The arc of their turn says a lot about their ski performance. If their skis are skidding or washing out during a turn, this could happen for a variety of reasons. Sometimes it stems from problems with their stance, and sometimes it stems from equipment issues. If I notice any problems, I can refer them to a fitting specialist or ski equipment specialist who can potentially help them overcome those

Brian says that many problems he encounters with the skiers he works with come from the fact that they are skiing with oversized boots. “if you constantly feel that your calf is on the back of your boot, that might be a sign that your boots are far too big. Many skiers press their calf against the back of the boot to compensate for the boot being too large. This sends the forefoot into the front of the boot like a funnel. It creates a noticeable imbalance that can easily be corrected by buying the right pair of boots and having them properly fitted. One of the main advantages of a proper boot fitting is that you won’t get tired as quickly on the slopes. You’ll be more comfortable, you’ll have better control of your turns, and your athletic stamina will improve due to the fact that you have better balanced equipment.”

According to Brian, in order to effectively help the skiers that he works with achieve athletic excellence, the coach and the boot fitter both have to be incredibly perceptive. “I think the unfortunate truth is that a less-seasoned ski instructor or ski coach might not be able to recognize many of the problems that prevent skiers from achieving athletic breakthroughs. Many of these problems are exacerbated through the use of poorly maintained ski equipment. If they don’t have properly waxed, tuned, or sharpened skis or properly fitted boots, you’re not going to be able to coach them effectively. Almost all performance-level skiers will perform some form of ski maintenance on a daily basis, such as touching up the edges of their skis. On the other side, if the coach is not perceptive enough to notice stance and bias problems out on the mountain, the skier might not get referred to the right specialist. Once the problem gets diagnosed, you can take the steps necessary to solve the issue at its source. I find I can coach the skiers I work with much more effectively once their equipment setup is really dialed in.”

First Run Sports Retail Manager Tom Kajah echoes this sentiment, adding that “A lot of people aren’t aware of the benefits that a good boot fitting and a supportive footbed can truly provide. Here at First Run, we offer a wide range of both custom and off-the shelf footbeds. They can drastically alter the comfort and fit of a boot.”

Tom adds that “snowboarders can greatly benefit from custom footbeds and boot fitting, as well. Even though the range of motion for a snowboarder is vastly different from that of a skier, the same principles apply: a more comfortable and well-fitted boot translates to a much more enjoyable time on the slopes.”

Equipe Sports boot fitter Stephanie Juhasz encourages all skiers coming to Stratton Mountain to take the time to set themselves up for success. “Regardless of your skill level, it’s always better to work with a knowledgeable boot fitting professional. It’s incredibly important that all newcomers who are just getting involved in skiing are properly taught from the beginning. In a way, that process all starts with the boot fitter. If we make sure that all novice skiers are correctly equipped and advised from the start, it’s going to influence their whole attitude towards the sport in an incredibly positive way. They’re going to want to come back and do it again. It makes me so happy to see people return to my store to thank me for helping them have a great time out on the mountain. A well-fit pair of ski boots should feel like a firm handshake from an old friend. It gives a skier the confidence that they need to go out and enjoy themselves safely and comfortably.”