You know the moment you walk into Larry’s Bootfitting in Boulder that you’ve stumbled onto something special. It’s more like a clubhouse than a ski shop, oozing with the funk of a man cave—and I mean that in the most endearing way. Vintage skis and boots line the walls and crowd dusty shelves. Well-thumbed ski magazines lie in disheveled piles at the ends of benches, which are reclaimed church pews. Customers’ dogs lounge about, occasionally nuzzling up for a scratch. It’s the kind of place where you go to get your boots fitted and end up sticking around for a beer.
Larry Houchen has been fitting ski boots for nearly 35 years, earning him icon status in this über-active Colorado town. He might not be comfortable with such effusive praise, but that’s okay because he won’t read this or anything else written about him anyway. He’s a humble, quirky guy who loves what he does: which is helping customers find the best boots for their feet, and then tweaking the fit to be just right.
“Boots determine the quality of someone’s day on the hill,” says Larry.
Heather VanGilder, who has been fitting boots at Larry’s for about eight years, says their philosophy is snuggest and most comfortable. “Larry has always been known for fitting boots on the smaller side.”
Boots that are too big are a recipe for disaster. Liners that feel comfy at first quickly pack out, resulting in rubbing, hot spots, blisters, shin bang, and a host of other complications that can bring skiers to tears, or sideline them for part of a season. No one wants to be on the injured reserve list as a result of ill-fitting boots.
“You want to match the shape of the foot as closely as you can to the shape of the boot so when the boots pack out you use the buckles to adjust the fit. You don’t want to use the buckles to be the fit,” Larry explains.
Larry starts by choosing the right boot model to match your foot and skiing style. Then he heat molds the liners to form a tight fit. He also recommends custom insoles for proper support. After making adjustments to remedy hot spots or discomfort, Larry sends you out to ski. Some customers never need to return, others come back for adjustments, sometimes toting a six-pack and primed for some bra talk.
A desire to keep the mom-and-pop shop atmosphere alive is what inspired Larry to strike out on his own in 2004. There’s no question he’s succeeding on this front.
“People like hanging out here,” says Larry. “They get to talk about things they like to do with people who also like to do the same things, whether it’s mountain biking or skiing or snowboarding. I think it’s because the people who work here actually care, and they want to do a good job.”
VanGilder, for one, really enjoys troubleshooting people’s problems. “People come in all skeptical and pessimistic about boots and when they leave, they’re happy,” she says.
The place bustles with activity. Larry is a master juggler, a multitasking aficionado. At any one time, he might be answering the phone, keeping his eye on a couple of pairs of boots that are cooling, crafting a set of custom insoles, and offering advice. To the linear brain, it might seem like a chaotic approach, but somehow Larry manages to keep all the balls in the air.
If the repeat clientele is any indication, then he must be doing something right. Like migrating geese, customers—myself included—have loyally followed him from shop to shop for years.
Leslie Resnick, who has worked in the ski industry and has been going to Larry for bootfitting for more than two decades, is quick to sing his praises. “If you know the best doctor, you go to the best doctor. And he is the best doctor for ski boots,” she says.
Larry’s Bootfitting sells and fits AT and alpine skis, boots, and bindings. They also fit snowboard boots, although they don’t carry them. The shop ramps up for the season after Labor Day and shutters the third week of April so Larry can earn some turns. Call ahead for an appointment if you want to be top priority.
1665 Folsom Street