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Fitting ski boots to wider feet
By:  Mark Rajack   (2013/11/04)

I've got 99 problems and my feet are one.

Most people don't quite understand just how challenging finding properly fitting footwear can be when you have extremely hard-to-fit feet. My feet aren't just wide, they are unimaginably wide, prohibitive of many activities that require specific foot wear, take rock climbing for instance. The only reason I can cycle is thanks to one company out there that makes cycling shoes almost wide enough for me, that with a little adaptation to the shoes, I can bike. My hockey skates are custom made and so are my hiking boots. This article describes the challenges I faced getting nordic ski boots to fit my feet, what I had to do and where I had to go, to keep me on the snow.

When most people see my feet, they usually make a comment along the lines of, "oh, you must be a great swimmer because you already have flippers". Or as local XC Ottawa funny-man Andre Marchand stated, "you should just throw out the boots and ski in the boxes they came in".

Fun fact: despite my natural flippers, I'm a terrible flutter-kicker due to the fact that I have little plantarflexion. Think of a dolphin with a crooked tail, it won't swim effectively. My feet are essentially just massive parachutes that drag through the water, slowing me down.

I have yet to see another foot out there as wide as mine. So out of curiosity, I sent a print of my left foot to the Ontario Veterinary College for analysis by some of their most astute and erudite students.

Too wide for any ski boot.

The students at the O.V.C. got back to me and here are their research findings... "after much in-depth research and thousands of hours of work, we have reached the conclusion that this foot (quite comedic in appearance) cannot be human. We believe it to be the first ground-breaking evidence of what we believe is the mythical Caribbean Yeti! An exciting new discovery !!!"

Well that was very mean of them.    :o(

Anyway, for most of you "normals" out there, the world of nordic skiing does provide a variety of boots with different widths. Your first place to start is Fresh Air Experience, one of our amazing sponsors, located at 1291 Wellington, in Westboro. Their friendly and knowledgeable staff will be able to explain and help you to choose the boot that will best fit your feet and will meet your needs.

The expansive boot wall at Fresh Air Experience !  Lots of choice !

The world of nordic ski boots is quite accommodating for different shapes of feet and most companies have boots of differing widths between them. Some companies offer both a low volume and high volume option in their boots too. Another company offers a heat-molding solution that essentially helps to reduce the break-in period of the boot by shaping the inside of the boot to your feet. Now I'm not a statistician, and my numbers have no merit, but this will accommodate 90% of you out there.

Heat molding in action.

Should your boots still not fit properly after this, the next step will accommodate 98% of the population (please remember, I'm making these numbers up). This process was both used on my classic and skate boots and worked perfectly for my classics at least. I went to Lincoln Fields Shoe Repair in the West of the Ottawa, in the Lincoln Fields Shopping Centre.

Here my boots were put on a shoe stretcher for 3 days and opened up nicely. The gentlemen  at this location are excellent in their craft and they have modified several boots for me in the past with great success. I assume they are from Russia since they also really appreciate a "bol'shoye spasibo" for their work.

My boots next in line.

As for my skate boots, a problem arose with my feet from rollerskiing over the summer. I noticed a thickening of the joint below the toe of my right foot. It was because my foot wasn't able to splay properly on the inside of the boot, producing an unfortunate and painful result. I became very concerned that I might not be able to continue skiing.

It was fabled among the underground wide-foot network that the final solution to this lay outside the domain of cross-country skiing. I was advised to seek out Frank at Dinardo's skis and Wheels in Bells Corners as he is known to have the ability to find solutions for desperate athletes in desperate situations, where footwear and snow is concerned.

You won't find any cross-country skis in here !!!

As it turns out, Frank is specialized in fitting alpine boots to all different types of feet and dealing with proper alignment. On assessing my situation and analyzing my feet, he offered a solution. This solution involved heating my boot with a heat gun and using a boot punch to stretch specified areas on my boot, to allow my foot to splay properly and to relieve pressure on my small joints. He mentioned he only felt comfortable working on only the highest calibre of boot, of the best quality and construction, that could withstand the forces involved in this process. Finally, despite the promise of using the utmost care, it was said that there would be some cosmetic damage to the shell and that he couldn't replace the boot for me if it broke as a result. Given my dire situation (of skiing or not skiing), I accepted the conditions and he went to work.
We alternated between stretching and trying the boot on to ensure the most precise fit.

I am thrilled to report that this procedure was an outstanding success and witnessing Frank restoring my ability to skate ski before my eyes was indeed a most happy event for me. Thank you!

Given the choices and options to obtain and modify boots in our city, I now feel secure in claiming that this article should cover 100% of all wide-foot issues when it comes to cross country skiing. I haven't had a problem with my feet since and I am only now waiting for the races to begin. Perhaps one day in the future, we will all be able to get a scan of our feet and have custom boots 3-d printed on the spot. Until then, I'll be doing this.

Thanks for reading and as always, stay frosty out there.

Interesting Reading. . .
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