How the Magazines Get Their Boot Evaluations.

Boots waiting to be evaluated. Credit: MasterFit
Boots waiting to be evaluated.
Credit: MasterFit

Since the mid-80’s a group of serious skiers has convened at Mt Bachelor, in Bend, Oregon, to evaluate the boots store buyers have purchased for the coming season.

This year the show, which is organized by MasterFit Enterprises, moved to Solitude in Utah. I was invited to participate. The collective impressions of the boot testers inform the rankings to be published in, among others, Ski, Skiing, and their respective .com media outlets. The most comprehensive report will appear in www.bootfitters.com.

Yes, the evaluators—some of whom have been doing this from the beginning—are serious about the task at hand. But they also understand a good party. It’s a fun group of people from around the country; many are professional boot fitters who know their stuff from years of experience, including training at the annual MasterFit University boot fitting school.

The more experienced among them understand the foot’s anatomy and how choosing the right boot can make all the difference in how people enjoy their skiing experience. They’re the people you can trust when selecting boots.

Like other lab animals, I had a Pavlovian experience: skiing an uncomfortable boot, I couldn’t wait to get off the hill. Skiing a boot I liked, I was scratching for more.

Here’s how it works. All the boots to be tested are listed, categorically, on paper. The Men’s sheet had 58 boots from 20 brands organized into four general categories, two of which were subdivided by width. The Women’s sheet was similarly organized.

Advised to focus on one category, I set out to test those in “Men’s All Mountain Medium.”

Each boot evaluation is recorded on a test card. One side is completed in the lodge and evaluates look, ease of entry/exit, buckles, and fit and stance. The other side is completed after skiing a few runs on Solitude’s outstanding terrain.

There had been a series of good dumps the week before. But warmer weather made off-piste an effort. Best to ski early and stay on Solitude’s groomed, some of which are steep and interesting.

There are five on-snow categories for observations to be recorded and scored. For “Stance” I evaluated how the boot positioned me. For “Dynamic Balance” I focused on the boot’s positioning and flex while skiing. For “Edge Power and Fore-Aft Support” I determined transfer of energy from body to edges, as well as how the boot performed when weight was on the front of foot vs heel. For “Quickness, Steering, and Feel” I took note of the boot’s performance skiing pitches, bumps, and at different speeds. For “Convenience, Warmth, and Features” I was able to observe, for example, that Head’s buckle with built-in lever made for easy adjustment by a senior skier and that Apex’s infinite adjustments assured comfort for older feet.

After all these years on the hill, a few days in the lab gave me a new insight into how to find a boot that really does the job.

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