Sore Feet? No Problemo

Phil Smith, discusses one of those issues that affects all skiers – painful ski boots.

Ouch! It used to be par for the course. If your feet did not hurt then your boots did not fit properly. I remember my early days where painful feet just went with the territory. Bunions were the norm for any ski instructor, racer or seasonnaire, Hard core, we skied in pain. But these days painful feet should not be the norm, they shouldn’t have been then but we were young.

The problem of painful feet is not just physical, it can ruin a holiday and the financial implications are immense. Flights, airport transfers, accommodation, meals, ski pass, equipment, lessons and time off work all add up to a hefty sum only to find yourself rushing to the nearest restaurant half way down a run to whip those ski boots off. Bliss! I’ve even had people take their boots off mid lesson on the piste! Yes I know hard to believe that even painful ski boots take precedent over those wise words that could transform your skiing, but it’s true!

Painful feet can also halt any development in your skiing. You mindset is focussed on your feet rather than your skiing. It’s hard to work on edge angles and rotary separation when your feet are crying out “please stop”.  So one thing is for sure, painful feet must be a thing of the past if you wish to get the best from your skiing.

So here we go.

Firstly you have to recognise that your feet are unique so it’s highly unlikely that you can buy ski boots that will fit straight away and are comfortable. You may be one of the very few lucky ones that have princess-formed feet but if you’re like most skiers your feet are lumpy and bumpy and look like the Himalayas themselves and will definitely hurt. Let’s face it you’re incasing your delicate little tootsies in tight fitting, stiff plastic and sliding down a mountain on a pair of planks all day. But, and a big but, you do not have to put up with it. There are many things you can do, so start at option 1, the easiest, simplest, cheapest and quickest and work your way down the list to the more expensive and drastic options.

OPTION 1 – Change Your Socks
The simplest and the cheapest. Try different socks. You would not believe how much of a difference this can make. Some people have massive thick woolly socks that a well intentioned relative knitted that cause rubbing, soreness and boots that are too tight. On the other hand if the socks are as thin as a pair of stockings then your boots may end up far too big and you’ll have to do the clips up extra tight causing pressure points. Socks are really personal and you’ll have to find socks for your feet and your boots. Once you find the ‘ones’ get a few pairs as you’ll have found the secret formula and will want to keep hold of it. Racers are fanatical about socks. Our sons will only wear the one pair. It takes a brave person to go into their rooms after a week of ski racing. Every ski racer will have their favourite socks guaranteed. Forget these on the morning of a race and all hell lets loose. Believe you me we’ve had to take big detours back to the house to find THE socks.

OPTION 2 – Get Some Custom Made Or Specialist Footbeds
A relatively cheap option. A shaped footbed can change how your feet sit in the ski boot and can bring great relief without any further adjustments to the boots. You can have them shaped specifically for your soles or buy standard ones off the shelf. The footbeds that come with the boots are generally very basic so this is a good option.

Note: This does not always work and for a few it may produce worse results than the footbeds that came with the boots, but definitely worth a try and won’t break the bank if they do not work.  For your first ski with new footbeds it’s worth taking the old ones with you so if they don’t work you can swap back easily in a nearby restaurant.

Also, yes make sure you do not put them on top of the original footbeds. We’ve had people do this. And sorry for teaching people to suck eggs but make sure they go in the correct boot. Not very comfy when your left footbed is in the right boot and the right in the left. I’ve had someone ski most of the week like this wondering why those magical footbeds and boots hurt like hell.

OPTION 3 – Blow Them Out Or If You’re A Racer Grind The Inside
Go straight into a ski shop and ask to have your boots blown out where your lumpy bits hurt. Most ski shops these days can do this and it doesn’t take long and is not expensive. It involves heating up the outside of the ski boot with something that resembles a powerful hairdryer and pushing out the plastic where it hurts. Pretty successful. It’s difficult to find an instructor that has not had to do this regularly, blow out their boots. For the last 40 seasons, that’s a new pair of boots every year, I’ve had my boots blown out numerous times every season without fail.

Note: If you’re a racer this is not advised as it widens the ski boot where it needs to be blown out and you’ll reduce your maximum edge angles. Drastic, avoid at all costs, you could lose valuable seconds. Pretty technical but if you’re a racer you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. So for racers you need to ‘grind’ the inside of the boot for any lumps and bumps to fit into.

OPTION 4 – Buy A Foam Filled Custom Made Inner Boot
This used to be my first option always but these days I have found the standard inner boots have sufficed albeit with the need to blow them out here and there and a few more drastic options described later. Most ski shops offer custom made inner boots. This involves standing in a pair of boots whilst foam is injected into the inner boot which surrounds your feet, bliss, a perfect match. Do they work? Most of the time yes but not always, so be ready for either exhilaration or disappointment. It’s not 100% satisfaction guaranteed. Most shops will offer a follow up policy, so if they still hurt head back to the shop as you’ve spent a large chunk of your well earned spondulees and I’m pretty sure the shop will follow up with a bit of ‘blowing out’ and refitting as described earlier.

OPTION 5 – Find A Specialist Boot Fitter
Specialist boot fitters have sprouted up everywhere and more or less every shop will advertise themselves as one. Google the internet and search for recommendations and you’ll find boot fitters with great reputations. All specialist boot fitters will offer a follow up service as you’re paying a premium and it’s in their interest to get your boots comfortable as they rely on reputation. It can be expensive but not always. They will take a detailed look at your feet and custom make a solution. It may be simple or more complex depending on your feet. It could involve one or all of the above options. Socks, footbeds, blowing out, custom made inner boots. It can definitely be worth it but it’s not 100% guaranteed as a few people have feet that more or less no boot fitter can seem to solve. I know they will aim to prove me wrong and aim for 100% success rate. That’s a good thing. Go to one even if you think you feet are impossible to solve. For some boot fitters the more difficult the challenge the more they enjoy themselves.

OPTION 6 – Change Boots
Go to a shop with a very large selection of boots and ask to try every boot in your size. You’ll feel like Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman, but not quite as glamorous, and be prepared to be embarrassed as you may end up walking out after trying 20 different boots on. “Merci et au revoir”. Eventually you may find a boot and go wow! A colleague of mine had been having boot problems for years and had tried all of the above to no avail. The last straw was when she had spent a fortune on custom boots and still wanted to take them off half way down the mountain. After skiing, we went in to a ski shop together and asked for every ski boot they had in her size. We went down the line trying every boot on. It was an eye opener. “No, no, hmm maybe, oh I like these”. “keep going”. “Mmm maybe, no, no, wow these feel amazingly comfy, no, no”. “OK try the amazingly comfy ones again”. “Yes these ones, definitely”. We bought them there and then something like 150€. Any boot problems since? Zero. Problem solved. They may not have been the best technically for her skiing but hey what’s the point of having a great technical boot if you cannot use it.

OPTION 7 – Use A Doughnut
Specialist boot fitters may often resort to this but you can do it yourself. Get some thin foam, sticky on one side, cut out a doughnut shape and stick it on the inner boot where any lumps are. Your bumps should fit through the hole into the foam doughnut and this should take the pressure away from the bump on your foot and the shell. If the bump is already painful you may not get relief straight away as it’s a bit like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted, so you may end up having to resort to the next drastic option, the knife and cut away the inner boot so the bump can literally fit through the centre of the doughnut you have created.

OPTION 8 – Take To The Knife
A drastic measure but works for me every time especially when I’m out ski touring and half way up a mountain in the middle of nowhere. Get your knife out and cut away the inner boot where it hurts. I normally do this combined with the sticky foam doughnut described above. I have also regularly cut away the stitching at the end of the boots to give my toes room to move. Nothing like losing a few toenails in the middle of a humongous hike! Beware there’s no going back so you’ll need to be confident and probably at the end of your tether. A drastic measure but it can work. Less drastic is cutting bits of the inner boot that are pushing into your feet and causing pain, like the sides of the tongue where the stitching is. I’ve had to do this with a many a ski boot. I’ve also cut away the sides of the footbeds to give a little more room here and there. Racers are notoriously good at this. Some racers have legendary inner boots that they will keep for years. Completely falling apart but they work.

OK this may sound like I’m teaching people to suck eggs but here we go:

Check that the inner boots are in the correct shells. Yes I have seen this before and not just once! It’s easy to do, you’ve rushed out of the shop and the inner boots have been put in the wrong shells or you’ve done it yourself after drying out the inner boots over night.

Check the boots are on the right feet. Yes kids don’t know their left and right. It happens.

Check the insoles are in the correct inner boots. Easy to do especially if you’ve had everything out to dry and gone out in the morning with a hangover.

So that’s it. If they still don’t fit after you’ve exhausted every option described then you’ll need to go back over them all, trying everything again with various combinations. I’ve yet to find someone with feet we have not been able to solve but there’s always a first.

Good luck and as always never give up. Ahhhhh comfortable boots, bliss!

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