Clients often ask me if they should buy or rent equipment - the answer depends on a number of factors, but I always say, if you buy one piece of major ski equipment, buy the boots. However, buying the right pair of boots can be confusing, so here are 5 things to consider. If you don't want to read the entire article, then just take away this piece of advice: don't shop for boots, shop for a great store and boot fitter.
One big issue in finding the right ski book is that there is a boot shop on virtually every corner of a ski town. In the Vail Valley alone, there are over 50 ski equipment retailers that can outfit you with a boot. So how do you find the right shop, fitter, and equipment? Consider the following:
1. It's about the questions they ask you, not what you ask for.
A good boot fitter will match a boot to you. They won't sell you a boot because your friend has it, you like the color, or you've read a review. They have a sixth sense of discerning your needs and they know the right questions to ask. They will even suggest that you go to another store, if they don't have a perfect match. Sure, knowing the size of your foot is important, but truly knowing ability and skiing preferences allows them to apply all their knowledge in getting you the right equipment. They can figure out your actual skiing inclination and skill level through with a series of direct and indirect questions - some subtle and some direct. For example, asking about the desired flex in your boot says a lot says more than asking how often you ski. Knowing whether or not you've owned boots before is an insight. While you will be asked about the amount of skiing you do and your preferred terrain, can you answer it without aspirational editorial? A good fitter will figure it out and understand your long term goals in this great sport.
2. Will you have a long Term Relationship?
My wife has been visiting the same store with the same pair of boots going on three years and is constantly getting the fit tweaked. This store is committed to the long-term satisfaction of their clients. You need to understand if the shops you visit take this kind of approach. Have their key fitters worked their for 5+ years? Will they offer to remold and rework your equipment as long as you are using it? Can you return the boots, or exchange them for credit, if you're unhappy with them after a few days. Even if you may never return to the resort, knowing this will give you a sense of how dedicated they are to getting you the right boots with the right fit.
3. Ask locals for two or three suggestions.
A knowledgeable local may suggest a specific individual before suggesting a shop - there are known boot fitting gurus in every ski town. If you don't know locals, approach a ski instructor or ski patrol. Ask someone who's obviously lived in the area for at least a decade - you might ride on the gondola with one, have them as a bartender, or a shuttle bus driver. When you've heard the same name multiple times and know where they are working, you have a winner.
4. is selling ski equipment the main focus of the store?
This isn't meant to be dismissive of chains, but the likelihood of finding a truly knowledgeable salesperson, who also sells basketballs and camping equipment is unlikely, unless they meet the 3 criteria listed above. A focused ski equipment retailer gets the attention of the manufacturer's reps. The boot and ski companies invest time explaining the latest technology and features to the leading professionals and influencers in their retail network. For example, there can be nuances in the latest plastics or adjustment mechanisms, which only a knowledgeable fitter can translate into providing the best match possible for a customer. Only a quality store with a long-standing reputation will get extensive training from an equipment manufacturer and attention from their reps.
5. go with your gut
You're buying one of the most important pieces of equipment that will define your performance and comfort on the mountain. If the chemistry isn't right with the store's staff or you have reservations, listen to your gut. You may not have a long-term relationship with the retailer as my wife has with the folks at Double Diamond in Vail, but feeling good about who you are working with can trump most factors in a what it be a highly considered purchase like a pair of quality ski boots.
A special thanks goes out to Brian from the Double Diamond shop, in Vail's Lionshead area, and to Zito at Vail Sports in Vail Village. They and their staff were kind enough to spend time with me as I thought through this article.
As always if you have any questions or want some tips on making the most of your vacation in the Colorado Rockies, don't hesitate to drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.