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Good boot fit stops foot agony

Hold off on the honey-do list. Thinning crowds, sunshine and burgers on the deck make spring a great time of year to ski and ride. It’s also the best time of year to upgrade your gear.

Prices are slashed. Some shops still have a great selection. For your most important gear – boots – there’s another reason.

“This is a great time to buy boots, said Brian Ellsworth, manager at the Spokane Alpine Haus. “Things really slow down in the shop and that gives us more time to get a boot completely dialed in.”

Ellsworth said fitting a boot is a process that can take several weeks. If you’re willing to devote the time, your boots will fit better than any you’ve experienced.

I’ve heard about a trend toward softer boots. My stiff-flexing high-performance boots had served me well for five years – or so I thought. Is it possible to get response and power with an easier flex?

“Skiing now is all about lateral movement,” Ellsworth said. “As long as you get a boot that’s stiff edge to edge you’ll get response. A softer flex front to back makes it easier to stay centered over your skis, especially off groomed.”

To start on a proper fit, Ellsworth had me bring in my old boots. He pulled out the liner. I put my bare foot in the shell with longest toe touching the front of the boot. He measured the daylight between my heel and the back of the shell with his hand.

“You’ve got almost three fingers back there,” he said. “You could go down to the next size and get the feel you’re looking for.”

Ellsworth said I’m similar to 85 percent of skiers held back by boots that are too big. A boot liner can grow a full size the first day on the hill. A nice fit off the rack won’t last until lunch.

It’s important to start the fitting process with a smaller boot. Talented fitters can add up to a full size to address individual foot issues. A roomy boot can’t go the other way.

The length of a boot is usually stamped on either the side or sole. My existing boot is 325 millimeters long. Ellsworth put me in a boot 314 millimeters long. He wanted my toes to be touching the front of the boot. As I flexed forward, my toes pulled away.

“If your toes aren’t touching, you’ll get front and back movement,” he said. “Your feet will ram into the front of the boot. People with black toes usually need less room in a boot, not more.”

Even though the boots felt small, I took Ellsworth at his word. He told me to ski several days before he started working on them. I left the next day on a mountain- hopping tour and four successive days of skiing.

I enjoyed the benefits of the softer flex. But my toes often made contact with the end of the boot. By the end of the trip they were sore. Ellsworth’s diagnosis: insufficient ankle flexion. Using stiff, oversized boots, I may have developed a habit impeding better skiing.

He put a small heel lift in the boots to help increase the range of motion in my ankles. The added forward lean will help pull my toes back. He also used a Dremmel tool to grind away a small bit of plastic from the toe box.

I’ll ski this weekend to feel the difference. Then I’ll take them back to Ellsworth for another tweak. Finding the perfect fit is a process. I have three weeks left to get it right.