Like any craftsman -- oops, craftsperson -- you can only get better at your job if you are willing to keep an open mind. This is one of the reasons that organizations such as Masterfit have continuing training programs: there is always something to learn. Masterfit has a simple mantra: “Do no harm.” I take it as, “Just because something is correct does not mean it is right.” We need to get a person comfortable in a boot without risking physical damage. A bootfitter can do everything "correctly," yet it still won't be right for that particular skier.
I am a firm believer that the more tools you have in your kit, the better you will be at your craft. I had a recent fit where I knew I would not be successful using traditional methods. I will start with a little background. The client is in her mid-40s and wants to get back into skiing. There is no expectation that she will be doing the cliffs or even a black trail at a most any resort. All she wants to do is ski a few greens and easy blues with her kids and extended family. This person measures a 23.5 on the Brannock and has a vamp of 29 cm; Brannock and vamp measurements should be within one or two max. Her calves are about 45 cm (17.5 in.) at the boot cuff. Obviously, this is a significant circumference; no manufacturer makes a boot that can even remotely accommodate a calf of this size.
At this point a bootfitter usually has two options. The boot will require significant modifications, which will involve many hours and probably repeat visits, and therefore will cost money. So who is paying for the time to do this much customization? You can either charge the customer $500 for the boot and lose money in man-hours it takes to modify it, or you can charge the customer a labor rate on top of the purchase to the point that the $500 boot could end up having a comma in the price. You won’t know what your results will be until the client goes out and skis, so either way is a risky and costly undertaking.
Well, I came across a third option. A year or so back, our shop was sent one of those “frames” that allows someone to use a snowboard boot in a ski binding. Yes, unorthodox, but I happened to have access to it, so what the heck. Let's try it.
[Bootfitters, you are welcome to stop reading here and go mock this in the private bootfitting group on Facebook. Or, if you are open-minded and remember the mantra of not doing harm and doing what we can do to keep your customer skiing, keep reading.]
I asked the client what she was willing to do to get out on the hill, she said she was open to pretty much anything. I asked again, “So you have an open mind?” She said “Absolutely.” Since I really had no idea if this would work or not, I went over and grabbed a pair of rental snowboard boots and returned. She immediately said, “No, I am not snowboarding.” I chuckled and said, "I am not asking that; just put these on." She had no problem putting the boots on and lacing them up. I asked how they felt, and she said, “Fine, but I am not snowboarding.” I said I would be right back; I returned with a pair of Envy frames and had her put them on over the boots. We strapped her in and she smiled and said, “I see where you are going with this." I explained the limitations of the design and emphasized that this would not have the connection of a traditional boot, but she realized it might be her only option.
At this point, we set her up in some Burton snowboard boots (which she purchased at this visit). After making some buckle adjustments, we strapped her into the frames again. She said, “I think I can ski in these.” This whole process took maybe 30 min. If I was going to modify a ski boot to get it even near to this comfort, it would have taken hours of work.
Since we didn’t have her size Envy frame in stock, she ordered one from Amazon and came back a week later to get everything fitted. On her return, we fitted the boots into her frames, grabbed some rental skis and poles, and had her click in. At this point I knew we had a winner. She immediately got into an athletic position, showing us that at one point in her life, she had indeed been a skier. She rolled her ankles from side to side, and I could see she was mentally edging the ski. A huge smile came across her face as she knew she was going to be out on the slopes with her family.
The total investment was $200 for a snowboard boot and $250 for the frame, so for less than the price of a mid-range boot and about 30 min of time, we have a happy skier.
If you are a bootfitter and are still reading this, thank you for having an open mind. I am not saying that this is a fit for everyone. You might only do one or two of these a year, but it is a viable solution to an existing problem. It is a minimal investment for your shop to keep a couple of these frames in stock.
Please don’t be an ego fitter who must prove that you can put any square peg into any round hole, cost be damned. Be a hero to the customer who just wants to ski a couple of runs on a bluebird day with the kids or grandkids. Sometimes the best solution can be the simplest.
[Disclaimer: The customer has given me permission to write this and use pictures. If it helps get others out on the hill, she is glad to be the test person.]