I can still remember a conversation I had with my uncle quite some time ago. We were sitting around in a ski lodge talking about the day on the slopes, sipping a few aprés beers. After about two hours, I mentioned that my feet were just gaining feeling back from being in ski boots all day, but that I was pretty sure I had frostbite on the tips of my toes and they would never regain sensation. His response? “That’s all part of the experience.”

I looked at him quizzically, but the unfortunate reality for many skiers is this could not be more truthful. Ski boots are, in fact, the worst part of skiing. Anyone who has skied has had a similar experience of prying off your boots after a long day on the hill and feeling the blood slowly rush back into your feet, leaving them with an unrivaled burning sensation. It’s great for the bartenders because suppressing the pain requires those aprés beers, but it is not so great for the overall skiing experience.

The good news? In recent years, ski boot companies like Tecnica have been making great strides in ski boot comfort. The shells have become more advanced and the overall boots much more customizable. Furthermore, custom boot companies like Surefoot have sprouted up to add tailored insoles and liners to boots. So if skiing for you is a real pain in the feet, read on for my own story of comfort redemption. It could save your life—or at least your toes.

The Surefoot process starts with a technician taking a scan of your feet that measures them in 538 different places. (That’s right, 538!) This data is used to create a topographical picture that is then applied to the manufacturing of custom insoles, trimmed to fit your boot size.

Believe me when I say, I have some really strange feet. Thanks to having one foot a full size and a half larger than the other and oddly skinny ankles, finding a boot off the shelf that fits and performs well has been almost impossible. With that in mind, I recently tried the Tecnica Mach 1 MV 120 and have determined that it is the perfect boot for the advanced all-mountain skier who needs a little customization without sacrificing performance.

Part of their Mach 1 line, the MV 120 is intended for the skier who has a medium volume foot, based on foot and ankle width. It’s a little roomier than the low volume version of this boot (LV), and the 120 flex is designed more for the more experienced skier. The higher the flex, the stiffer the boot, which therefore provides more control and responsiveness—and less forgiveness for errors, of course. The Mach 1 MV series come in other flexes—130, 100, and 90—to accommodate other ability levels.

tecnica-boot

All this being said, the ultimate key to this boot, and many others that Tecnica manufactures, is the Custom Adaptive Shape (C.A.S.). The C.A.S. has been developed through feedback from custom boot fitters across the country and provides simple customization solutions in specific problem areas of the boots. Dimples in the shell help custom fitters avoid baking the entire boot, allowing them to heat, shape and cool distinct areas with ease. The C.A.S is not solely a component of the boot shell. In fact, aspects of the C.A.S. are also included in the liner,  which has a semi-rigid outer shell that can be adjusted by a boot fitter as well. In other words, these boots can easily be customized to fit your feet—no matter how strange they might be—and the responsiveness and performance does not have to be sacrificed at all.

During the process of deciding on a boot, I spent about an hour trying on boots at a local ski shop. After watching me try on several pairs in all shapes and sizes, the fellow helping me became so perplexed by my foot size issues he finally said, “Your best bet is to just go to Surefoot.” In fact, in recent weeks, I heard from no less than three different people that Surefoot was the way to go for customizing boots. Located in multiple locations throughout the country, they can modify any ski boot you bring to them by creating custom insoles and liners shaped to your foot’s specifications.

How do they do this? The Surefoot process starts with a technician taking a scan of your feet that measures them in 538 different places. (That’s right, 538!) This data is used to create a topographical picture that is then applied to the manufacturing of custom insoles, trimmed to fit your boot size. Once the insoles are complete, they are placed inside empty liners attached to tubes that jut out in all directions, making your boots look like some alien machine (see lead photo).

surefoot-process

The liners are then manually filled through the tubes with a gel foam that is a happy medium between firmness and comfort. This foam solidifies and molds to the shape of your feet while you are standing in the boots, and your liners are pretty much set. The technician will also set the cuffs for you to match the way your legs enter the boot, and if you really want to go the distance, add heaters to the liners. After a thorough inspection, you have yourself a sweet pair of custom ski boots.

The whole custom process took a little over an hour and was well worth it. When I took my new boots to get my ski bindings adjusted to them, the ski tech noticed they were customized, and said, “This is a total game changer.” He’s right. For the first time in my life my smaller right foot is not sliding all over the boot as I make turns. I also don’t have to experience the swollen, brick-like feeling my feet used to get by the end of the day. Bottom line is, my ski boots don’t suck. And I can only conclude that in 2016, having ski boots that feel and perform great is now very realistically “all part of the experience.”