The agony of the feet

A good bootfitter can cure ski boot woesBoot camp

Expert bootfitter Bud Heishman of Snowind Sports in Reno using professional tools to custom-fit a pair of ski boots.

Expert bootfitter Bud Heishman of Snowind Sports in Reno using professional tools to custom-fit a pair of ski boots.

photo/Allison Young

It’s a huge mistake to ski in boots that hurt your feet. I know. A couple of years ago, I skied for two days in agony, thinking it wouldn’t matter. I’ve skied for decades, and I’m an instructor, but even I didn’t know the damage that can be caused by ski boots.

My feet are now deformed. I have a tailor toe (bunion) that won’t go away. I also endured a painful neuroma—a pinched nerve on the top of my foot. I could’ve bought new boots for the money I spent on podiatrist bills.

There is, however, a way to prevent pain and deformed feet, and it will save you money in the long run. Schedule an appointment with an experienced bootfitter.

Real bootfitters—not boot sellers or the folks who measure your feet at rental shops—are a rare breed, the artisans of the ski boot world. Luckily, Truckee Meadows and Tahoe have some of the best around.

Finding a bootfitter is like finding a doctor or a dentist, according to Theron Lee, who’s been bootfitting since 1983 and has worked at Bobo’s Mogul Mouse Ski & Patio in Reno for nine years, in addition to coaching ski racers. “Find a bootfitter you can trust,” Lee said. “If he doesn’t earn your trust, don’t go to him.”

Bootfitters will not only recommend the best ski boot for you, but they can often adjust the boots you have so they are comfortable and don’t harm or hurt your feet.

“You don’t have to ski in pain,” said Bud Heishman, owner of Snowind Sports in northwest Reno. “A good bootfitter can get you comfortable.” Heishman was named by Ski Magazine as one the of top 15 bootfitters in the country.

It starts with a foot assessment, which is most important, said Lee. “Most people blame their boot if they’re having pain, but what if the problem is your foot?”

A bootfitter will measure your feet and legs seven ways from Sunday: feet, arches, knee-to-ankle length. (Since you have to take your socks off, it’s a good idea to get a pedicure before your appointment, not after.) Bootfitters also assess the angles your boots create in your body when you’re wearing them.

“I look at 10 different angles on the planes of motion,” said Heishman. “I look at these angles and try to get people into the most balanced position, where they have equal access to both edges of each ski, and they are symmetrical from left to right.” Most people, he said, are asymmetrical. One leg is longer than the other. One foot is longer than the other, and their ankles lean in or out at different angles.

But bootfitting isn’t just about comfort. All that measuring and assessment can help with performance.

“A ski boot is a rigid, plastic shell,” Heishman noted. “It predetermines a lot of the angles that you stand in, but they may not be the best angles for you. Manufacturers try to hit a target that works for most people, but, inevitably, they miss almost everybody.”

Ski boots can be planed, canted, heated and blown. Inserts can be fitted in boots to adjust for leg or ankle discrepancies. Footbeds of all sizes and types, including custom made, can be prescribed to nestle your feet in a perfect bed of comfort and control.

But the first and biggest mistake most people make, according to Lee and Heishman, is buying boots that are too big.

The size you wear in a street shoe is irrelevant, said Lee. Ski boots aren’t sized like street shoes. Ski boots are measured in centimeters using the interior measurement. Width can vary, and that’s why you need an experienced person to guide you to the best boot for you, according to your measurements. “Just because your friend has a pair of X-brand boots, doesn’t mean that you should have that pair,” said Lee.

“When your toes hit the end of the boot, don’t panic!” said Heishman. This is normal. Ski boots have forward lean, so until you stand up, bend your knees and flex forward, your toes should hit the end of the boot. When you lean forward, your heel will push into the back of the boot and your toes will pull away from the front.

The end of my foot agony and podiatry expenses came first with a bootfitting and adjustments that gave me more room around my little toes and—ultimately—with new boots, inserts and footbeds. It’s delightful to be able to ski and not think about the shooting pain in my toes or feel my foot going numb.

Best advice on finding a good bootfitter: Ask around. Other skiers will know. Here's a short list:


Bud Heishman, Snowind Sports, (775) 341-4409

Theron Lee, Bobo's Mogul Mouse Ski & Patio, (775) 826-9096


Buck Brown, Olympic Bootworks, (530) 581-0747

Cosmo Cosentini, Cosmo's Custom Footwerks, (530) 386-3795

Christian Denis, Elite Feet, (530) 562-8922

Jim Schaffer, Start Haus, (530) 582-5781

Gunner Wolf, Granite Chief Ski & Mountain Center, (530) 587-2809