If your backcountry skiing boots fit out of the box, you are blessed. If they heat mold and fit good you’re okay — or? I’ve had quite a bit of trouble with heat mold liners over the years. They never get snug enough around my ankle and seem to shrink and become more roomy once they cool after molding.
|Victims of cruel experimental exploitation.|
A few months ago we got a convection oven specifically for boot molding. I cooked a few liners as test boots came in and was never totally happy with the results. So a few days ago I went crazy and molded five pairs of liners for the same pair of shells, and experimented with how to get the things snug.
Molding without socks was a no-brainer to get a tighter fit, but doing so didn’t totally solve the problem. Next step was to eliminate the toe cap that shims the liner out while molding so you get more toe room. Instead, I just taped a wad of duct tape on the end of my big toe, put a spacer between little toe and the one next to it, and called it good. Huge difference. Turned out even the standard toe cap was causing my boots to mold with way too much room in the front. (Proceed with care if you try this, as the toe area can end up too tight and you’ll get cold feet or bruised toenails. Mine are almost too tight, but are packing out with use.)
Next, how to get the overall fit tighter? My theory was that my liners were getting “over molded,” in effect being packed out before even skiing them. I did a couple of things to prevent this, and it all worked. First, I slowed down a bit when transferring the liner from the oven to the boot and getting my foot into the boot, on the notion that allowing the liner to cool off a bit would prevent it from getting so squished. No need to hurry as I’d been taught for years by boot fitters. Next, I only kept my bare foot in the boot and hot liner for two or three minutes, and after removing my foot I immediately yanked the liner from the shell so it wouldn’t sit there getting packed in by the shell as it cooled.
Tips: Wearing garden/work gloves (ones with the little grippy rubber buttons on the palm) helps you manipulate the hot liners with confidence, and prevents scrapes and cuts while arranging the liner in the boot so the overlap is correct. If fitting with bare feet, use foot powder or a nylon stocking foot on your feet so they slide into the heated liners without catching.
Prior to this, I’ve been snugging up my liners by spot blasting with a heat gun. I’ve had mixed results with this, and it’s bad for the liners because it uses up your heat/mold/cool cycles. I still ended up heat gunning the ankle area of my newly molded liners, but the need for this was minimal compared to past moldings.
In all, a fun rest day after three backcountry ski days in a row — and now my boots fit better!
Boot model note: I was fitting a pair of Scarpa Matrix. While molding I noticed my thicker left leg (it was broken, long story) ended up with more forward lean than my skinny right leg. I’d noticed this while skiing, and had thought about correcting with a shim behind my calf. The Matrix has adjustable forward lean. A few turns with a hex wrench, and my legs are in harmony. This fine tuned forward lean is a nicely executed and truly excellent feature of Scarpa AT backcountry skiing boots.
WildSnow.com publisher emeritus and founder Lou (Louis Dawson) has a 50+ years career in climbing, backcountry skiing and ski mountaineering. He was the first person in history to ski down all 54 Colorado 14,000-foot peaks, has authored numerous books about about backcountry skiing, and has skied from the summit of Denali in Alaska, North America’s highest mountain.