Feet Tell the Tale: Sitting Down with a Jackson Hole Boot Fitting Expert

Boot fitter and certified Pedorthist Pat Sullivan getting some turns in.
Boot fitter and certified Pedorthist Pat Sullivan getting some turns in. Courtesy Kirk DeVoll
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It's hard to have a great a day on the slopes when you're nursing aching, sore, and blistered feet. But boot fitter and certified Pedorthist Pat Sullivan has made a career out of helping people avoid sore feet. Sullivan works at Jackson Hole Sports at Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, customizing ski boots to fit each individual skier's foot. He also travels around the west each fall, teaching boot fitting classes for Masterfit. We tracked him down at Teton Village to ask him a few questions about the art of the boot.

What is your boot fitting background?

I originally learned how to boot fit at Mount Bachelor, outside of Bend, Oregon, in 2002. I was working with Masterfit University at a boot fitting workshop, and I learned more about the complexity of the foot. I learned how to use that to my advantage for fitting ski boots from a bio-mechanical point of view, not just because it hurts, but finding the root of the problem and going from there.

When did you first learn how to ski?

I started skiing when I was 10 years old. I told my dad after that first day that I was going to ski for the rest of my life. I also told him that I would make a living in the ski industry which, surprisingly, I did. I've been skiing ever since then. I love the freedom of it. The freedom in movement, the complexity, and how it's ever-changing. You can always be better—it's like boot fitting that way. It also takes you to amazing places.

Why is it important to have ski boots that are properly fitted?

I look at a ski boot as the most important piece of equipment in skiing. Look at ski boots as the tires on your car. You can have a fantastic car, but with poor tires, it will drive terribly. If you have good tires, it drives great. If you have an improper boot, you won't be able to use your skis to their full potential.

Where are your favorite places to ski in Jackson?

[At Jackson Hole Mountain Resort] the Hobacks are a lot of fun. I really like the whole mountain; it's a fun playground. But I can't give you the real places. The backcountry is fantastic and unlike anything I've ever skied.

What are some common boot problems?

The foot going numb is very common, and also firing of the nerves which can lead to extreme pain. Also, sometimes we have to modify a boot due to the boot being too large, an improper foot bed, or improper socks. Very rarely are ski boots too small. What people are really feeling when boots feel too small is short-lasted liners, which can easily be fixed. The last is the shape of the inside of the ski boot. It's a matter of how the liners have been sewn. There might be materials used that are not fully lasted to the actual shell of the boot. Some other common problems include prominent bones, bunions, and Tailor's bunion.

Ski boots
Ski boots Courtesy David Blaine (Flickr)

How do you help people fix these problems?

First, I assess whether they have a foot bed. If they don't, they need to get one. Then, I align the upper cuff of the boot in relation to the lower leg. The third option is to modify the boot's shell. It's easier to make a smaller boot bigger than a bigger boot smaller. About 70 percent of the time, we can salvage a boot. The other 30 percent of people are going to be purchasing a new boot.

What do people find once their boots are fitted?

It allows for comfort while skiing. A customer might feel more balanced and centered on their boot and have a better “on snow” feel related to not being in pain.

How often should people get their boots fitted?

It's usually done once, though it may be over a period of a couple visits. People may also have to revisit due to injury, a change in foot shape, or the breakdown of their shell or liner materials

What problems can poorly-fitting boots cause?

They can create a gnarly Tailor's bunion if the boot is too narrow. Also, heel spurs can be a problem. In extreme cases, they can even cause nerve damage.

What do you recommend for people who are having issues with their boots?

First, get a foot bed. Then, try a thinner sock or thicker sock, depending on your foot shape. Definitely be sure to wear a ski sock and not a hiking sock. Ski socks are weaved with no seams or seams all in the same direction, which allows for proper blood flow.

Once you've gone through those steps and if you're still having difficulty, see your local boot fitter or Pedorthist boot fitter if you have access to one. Pedorthists can look at more things and assess them from more of a bio-mechanical point of view, which can often be missed by a novice boot fitter.

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