This week I am interviewing Colin Martin, who will guide through what you should expect when you get your next new set of Boots fitted this winter. Colin has a strong personality, a big heart & has worked in the Ski industry for most of his life where he is widely known & respected.
Personally, I’ve run Boot Fitting clinics for some of the UK’s largest retailers & have worked in Footworks (Chamonix) & other boot rooms over the years. I know how important boot fitting is for Skiers & Snowboarders. I’ve known & respected Colin for many years. His attention to detail & effort to find the perfect fit is admirable & there are few boot fitters with his in depth/broad knowledge. JC
Tell us about yourself.
Colin Martin, managing director of Solutions 4 Feet, specialists in ski boot fitting and custom insoles for all types of footwear, the business was set up 15 years ago (2005) to give the very best level of service in footwear fitting. Having worked in many ski shops/ centres it became apparent that whilst many wanted to offer a great service I wanted to just go that little bit further offer the really in depth services that require more skills and equipment….
Where did I start.
Glasgow ski centre as a ski hire assistant and as a ski tech and boot fitter in Nevisport Glasgow in 1985, a carpenter and shop fitter to trade, the company I worked for went bust in 1991 I moved back into skiing, first full time at Glasgow ski centre running the rental, workshop and slope maintenance, moving south to be on the team which opened Snowdome in Tamworth 1994, when the business was sold, the retail shop was then sold on to Ellis Brigham who kept the staff but brought their own management team in so the boot fitting element of the job disappeared.. time to move on! 8 years at Lockwoods in Leamington Spa, building the ski boot fitting business to over 1000 pairs of boots a year, 2002 spent the summer in NYC studying Pedorthics at NYCPM and the eneslow pedorthics institute, becoming the first board certified Pedorthist (C.Ped) in the uk , 2005 saw the birth of Solutions 4 Feet for the reasons above.
Always an interesting question, I would like to expand the business in some way, possible with franchising if the right people come along with the right skills and attitude. Also to continue teaching the subject, I love sharing knowledge and there are simply not enough people who think of boot fitting as a career, most still see it as a low skilled seasonal job, I would love to change this attitude and see more people develop skills and become career boot fitters earning a good living not just scraping by.
What is the big difference with Ski boot development over the last couple of years for consumers & why should they consider upgrading?
Probably 2 main things, materials and shapes, materials are getting lighter, stronger and more mouldable, this makes boots easier to move around in compared to the clumpy old buckets of yesteryear, boot manufacturers have also started to look much more at the shapes or lasts of their boots, the advent of 3d scanning technology has enabled brands to scan hundreds of thousands of feet and find the averages to give them better start points for developing the boots we now all take for granted, these more “foot shaped” boots allow closer fitting for better comfort and ore precise skiing. If I was to add a third thing then Gripwalk, whilst it has been a bit of a battle with binding compatibility over the past few years the advantages in terms of consumer ease of walking and the more comfortable stance when not on skis is a definite benefit.
Why is it important to have boots fitted, rather than buy by size online & why does this apply to Snowboard boots too, which are often overlooked?
With so many boot shapes out there if you are just buying on a size (the size conversion from uk shoe size to mondopoint is so far out it is laughable) then even if you get the length of the boot correct (which is doubtful) the chances of getting the correct shape for your feet is unlikely, and lets say you got it close in terms of size and shape, modern boots are so adjustable that you are simply not getting the best out of the product that you are buying, coupe this with if you do buy on line any adjustments that you might need to the boots will be chargeable wherever you want them doing.
Tell us about the first process of a boot fit & what people should expect before they even see a boot on their foot?
Assessment Assessment Assessment! Every good boot fit should start with an in-depth assessment of the foot and ankle and the needs of the skier, a good boot fitter will understand how the foot will move and change between seated and standing positions and should be able to explain this change to the client, at Solutions 4 Feet we assess foot size, both seated and standing, look at overall shape of the foot not just the length and width, but heel , ankle and instep an any protruding lumps and bumps, we then carry out a range of motion assessment, looking at the calf muscles, ankle joint, and other key joints in the foot, this along with the measurements and overall shape will direct us towards a suitable boot selection. All in all there is probably at least 15-20 minutes of work to be done before we even discuss boot models
Tell us more about socks & insoles/footbeds & why they are integral to a good boot fit?
These are probably the two most overlooked items in the shop, they are both a part of the fit and should be treated as such, and not as an accessory. Socks form the interface between your skin and the boot liner, their primary purpose is to move moisture from the skin which in turn keeps the foot warm, you don’t need thick bulky socks to do this, these will cause restriction in blood flow and result in cold feet. Key is a selection of sock materials so the fitter can select an appropriate sock in terms of the physiology of the foot and the volume required to tune the fit of the boot.
Footbeds really are the foundation of the fitting, around 80% or people have unstable feet and if these feet are not controlled within the confines of a ski boot then you are trying to fit a moving target. For those with stable feet then the footbed improves both comfort and performance.
They are often badly described by people using words like arch support or correction, in essence a well made footbed for a ski boot simply brings the ground up to meet the foot in its best functioning position. Foot flexibility also comes into play with footbeds, all too often a store will have one custom footbed option and it is a “one size fits all” approach (even though it is a custom product if they are the same blank they are all the same stiffness) for this reason I believe a store should have at least two different brands of custom product so they can offer differing levels of flexibility within the custom products that they offer.
Once you’ve done the assessment, how do you choose the right boot, how many options do you go for on average & how do you check the right size?
Our boot selection is based on the information we have gathered within the assessment, our knowledge of all the models in our range, along with the skiers body weight, level length, ability level and needs (alpine, race, freeride/touring) our first check for size is the shell check, the number on the box is simply a starting point and it is really important that people understand that there are no ½ sizes in ski boots. We start with one boot and possibly “cage match” it again something similar from a different brand, occasionally we get to a 3rd model but that is rare
Why is the shell check so important & what are you really looking for?
With a shell check we can not only see if the boot is a suitable length but we can check for fit around the heel and ankle area, the instep clearance and lastly forefoot width, lastly as this is the easiest part of the boot for a fitter to adjust if needed (much harder to make a heel pocket narrower than it is to make the forefoot wider)
What should the customer expect when they first put the boot on out of the box & what signs are you looking for that the boot fits well?
Communication at this point is key to the success of the fitting, when putting on a brand new unmoulded ski boot the first thing that happens is your toes will be very aware of the front of the boot, we have to pre warn the client of this, if not when it happens they will 100% say that the boot is too small and whatever else you do any boot the correct size will feel too small, only when the boot is buckled up correctly and the client has flexed forward a few times will the toes begin to free up, even then the boot will often feel a little short to begin with. Other than the toes we are looking for a snug fit everywhere akin to a firm handshake, ideally with no specific pressure points but at this stage we are not too concerned by this as these can be resolved further into the process.
What happens next?
Now it is time to take advantage of the manufacturers technology, be that heat mouldable shell or liner or indeed both, but only where required, if there are no protrusions on the foot and the fit feels good with the footbed fitted and there is not excessive pressure anywhere then we may only mould the liner, but each and every case is unique. If the boot has only a heat mouldable liner and the skier has a bunion for example, we will make an adjustment to the shell before heat fitting the liner.
Do you ever have to stretch boots with various tools during the fitting process?
Yes, we frequently accommodate bony protrusions such as large ankle bones, bunions or an oversized navicular bone using heat and stretching tools of various types, we have several options in the workshop so have the most appropriate tool for each area of the boot to be worked on.
Now you’ve done what you need to do to the boots to make them fit, what should the customer expect when they try on their boots for the final time?
After the final fitting when the customer tries the boot they should be feeling a really firm even fit around the foot, a little wiggle room for the toes and no undue pressure points, ski boot liners will break down with use so we definitely don’t want too much space at this point
Is there anything else you make the customer aware of before they go?
When we have done with the fitting we then go through all the adjustments and features on the boots, ensure the customer is aware how to clip the boot correctly, how to store the when not in use and how to dry the liners without causing any damage to the boots. We also explain about what to do if there are any problems ad explain about our adjustment service which is free of charge for 2 years from date of purchase.