So, what else does a retired veterinarian do with his/her free time? In my case I decided to attend Masterfit University and start to learn boot fitting.

Charlie Bradley casting a footbed
All of us on Skitalk know the importance of good fitting ski boots. We know that there is expertise involved. Some wonder how much science is involved or whether ski boot fitting is a dark art exercised by individuals who have sold their soul to the devil in order to gain knowledge.

Masterfit University is the brainchild of Steve Cohen and Jeff Rich and aims to teach the science behind ski boot fitting. Both have been involved in the ski industry for decades. Steve was executive editor of Ski Magazine for 15 years and Jeff is a board certified pedorthist. Together they started on-hill ski boot testing in 1987 and continue to run the industry’s most comprehensive test under Masterfit’s America’s Best Bootfitters association of top bootfitting shops.

In 1994 they pursued the idea that there could be a demand for teaching ski and snowboard retailers how to fit boots and founded Masterfit University. Over the years, they have gathered a group of talented individuals to help pass on their knowledge, developed a detailed curriculum, and invented and improved a variety of tools and devices to assist the boot fitter in his/her work.

There are various courses available: Associates, Associates Plus, Masters, and Masters Plus (The Dark Arts). As one might expect, the different courses are aimed at the level of expertise of the student. Like most things in life, there is always more detail and nuance involved as you gain skills in any endeavor.

Entry level ski shop employees take the Associates or Associates Plus course. Some return year after year to touch up their skills before handling a customer’s boots. The courses are taught during a 1-2 day period in various resorts around the world. This year, the courses were held in Austria, Colorado, Nevada, Washington State, and Vermont. I attended the Associates Plus (2 day) course in Vermont. There were 83 students and 12 instructors at the course that I attended. According to Steve Cohen, the male/female ratio of students is usually 90/10, but my eyeball estimate was more like 75/25 at this particular event. All age groups were represented. Most students seemed to be employed by ski shops; some occupied other roles in the ski industry; a few were curious citizens such as myself.

Jim Otto Shaffner discussing different boot plastics
On day one, after signing in, getting our course materials (basically a very detailed book), and given our complimentary drop-in foot beds, we all gathered in one room for general welcome comments and introductions. We then separated into our respective groups. It is important (to me anyway) to note that coffee was provided along with tea and water. For the Associates (and Plus) course, the first morning was devoted to concepts of boot fitting, evaluating feet, and how to go about helping a customer choose a proper ski boot. There was a lot of information. More than once during the course I had the phrase “drinking from a fire hose” echoing in my head. Fortunately, the manual that we were given has everything that we were taught in a detailed and organized manner.

We were taught three basic tenets of bootfitting:
  • Measure and evaluate each foot that is presented to us before even considering a boot choice.
  • Discuss with the customer their needs and goals (including ideas for sales techniques to make this easier).
  • There are 4 basic things that can cause boot fit problems:
  1. The Unstable Foot (due to poorly fitting boots)
  2. The Unstable Foot (due to lack of underfoot support – this includes discussion of footbeds and where and why a more rigid vs a more cushioned foot bed may be warranted)
  3. The Unstable Foot (due to limited ankle flexibility)
  4. Whatever Else (this is where liner and shell modifications begin)
We spent the entire morning getting into the details of all of this. And then: lunch. Lunch was provided by Masterfit U and was a satisfying hot buffet.

The afternoon of the first day was devoted to shell and liner modifications. We learned about various types of padding that might be used on the liner to enhance the fit of the boot that the customer chose. Then we moved on to the basics of boot grinding and boot punching.

Tools of the trade
Much of the afternoon was spent playing with the tools of the trade and practicing on the multitude of ski boot shells and liners provided for this purpose (no clients’ boots were injured in
Andy Mink getting alignment assessment
this process!). One of the big take-away points for me was that, if you have the right tools, grinding and punching is not hard. However, doing these things properly is what separates the experts from the neophytes.

We were encouraged to explore extremes and explore we did: seeing how much effort was involved in grinding completely through a shell (not as much as you would think), seeing what happens when you heat different plastics to different temperatures (some shells will just wither), and so forth. Definitely a fun and instructive afternoon. Of course, we were welcome to bring our own boots to play with.

The first day ended with a beer and wine social. This gave us the opportunity to ask more questions and also to just chat with folks. Apparently, describing myself as a retired veterinarian did not stop several people from encouraging me to start a new career in a ski shop. My interpretation of this is that a labor shortage can demand desperate measures to find employees.

The second day began with general comments and a discussion of the agenda for the day. In the morning, we were given a choice of working with stance alignment, more boot and liner modifications, race boot operations, or footbed building. I chose basic footbed building: We learned how to cast and build custom footbeds using Masterfit’s AirVac System and InstaprintQF insoles. The technique is pretty straight forward, but mastery takes practice and effort. After another excellent catered lunch, we began the afternoon session. The afternoon was broken into 3 hours – each hour offered a selection of possible topics to attend depending on one’s interest, and delved deeper into boot fitting, stance and alignment issues, introduction to canting and plating techniques, more advanced footbed adjustment (including forefoot issues), discussion of the different plastics in use today for ski boots, and so on.

Footbed posting
Overall, this is a great course. I would recommend it for anyone, and I would consider it essential for any person that plans to work in a ski shop. There is always the pitfall after taking a course like this thinking that you know all you ever need to know about ski boots. You don’t and you won’t. You will, however, gain enough knowledge to start fitting ski boots properly (including, I feel, your own). The average person (e.g., the average reader on can get a lot from attending these workshops (besides just having fun). Taking this course has helped me understand better how foot and ankle shape, flexibility, and position affect how my ski boots fit. One benefit of attending Masterfit University is that I will be a better customer when I am shopping for ski boots (either for myself or when accompanying family or friends). Knowing that there are different acceptable techniques for attaining the optimal fit and being better equipped to communicate about ski boot fitting will hopefully make my boot fitter’s job easier as well. Becoming a good boot fitter will take practice, looking at a lot of feet, trying on a lot of boots, being able to communicate effectively, and learning how to transfer another person’s words into action on the plastic that he or she will wear on his/her feet. I doubt that I will ever work in a ski shop, but now I can pretend that I could.