The secret of perfectly fitting ski boots

Investing in a custom-fitted boot liner could make a world of difference to your skiing.

Nick Hammond has earned a reputation as one of the most sought-after ski boot fitters in the Alps.

Originally from Buckinghamshire, he studied finance in Canada before settling in Verbier in 1984.

Nick Hammond, boot fitter at mountain air, VerbierOne of the most important features of a well-fitting boot, he says – often overlooked by skiers – is the liner.

What is the liner and why does it matter?

Nick Hammond: The liner is the interface between your foot and your boot, just as your boot is the interface between you and your ski. It determines how well you are going to be able to ski.

If the liner is not shaped to your foot, you will probably tighten the boot to compensate. You are likely to clamp on some areas more than others, which will cut off circulation – you’ll get cold, your feet will go numb, which could mean lots of boot pain.

Which do you choose first, the boot or the liner?

NH: First we decide on a shell – depending on the level of your skiing, what kind of skiing you want to do, the shape of your foot and leg, your weight, and other factors. We then look at the foot in the shell; and depending on the amount of space around the foot and the qualities you want out of the boot, we look at different lining systems.

Which liners do you use?

NH: Here at Mountain Air we use either Zipfit, Strolz foam liners or Intuition thermo-mouldable liners.

Nick Hammond holds a Zipfit boot liner, Mountain Air, Verbier

Zipfit ski boot liner

Zipfit liners were developed by Sven Coomer, who is in many ways the godfather of ski boot design. At first he used silicone in the liners – but it’s heavy and conducts heat fast, so the boots ended up heavy and cold.

So he started developing liners with a paste that is made up primarily of oil and granules of cork; when heated, it goes soft and flows. It’s in shaped envelopes around the liner, and it moulds to your foot. As it gets colder it hardens, and stays in position.

With Zipfit we can remould the liner as many times as we like. We can even remould it to fit into a different boot. We find Zipfits often outlast the shell, and in a lot of cases we can re-use the liner in a second shell.

We reckon we are about the only shop offering them in mainland Europe. There are a couple in the UK, but most are in the States.

How do you fit them?

NH: We prepare the foot by padding the potentially sensitive areas. We heat the boot liner and the shell; put the footbed in the liner, and the liner on the foot. We then place the hot liner in the hot boot, and mould both of them to the foot. To speed up the cooling process, we stand the client in a box of snow.

There was a time when we used to microwave the liners to heat them up. Except we had some problems where they had metal shavings from the production, and I had a few catch fire, so I thought I’d give that game up.

Nick Hammond holds a Strolz boot liner, Mountain Air, Verbier

Strolz foam liner

And the alternatives?

NH: Before Zipfits we used mainly foam liners. We still offer them – ones by Strolz, the Austrian ski boot maker. These are hollow liners into which we inject foam to fill out the space between your foot and the boot; the foam then solidifies. You need a lot of experience to fit them, and even doing it as long as I have, you still make mistakes. And the trouble is, once you’ve made a mistake, you have to throw the liner away. They are also almost too precise: feet change.

A lot of people find it takes them a couple of days each time they go skiing to get back into them. Also, a foam liner can only be used in the shell you created it for; you can’t reuse the liners in a new shell. I don’t do nearly as many foams as I used to. I still make them for clients who are used to them, but I don’t generally put new clients in foam liners.

The system we sell most, though, is by Intuition. These liners were developed in Vancouver, and use a foam that we can soften by heating, and mould into whatever shape we want. The ones we offer have no tongue, just an overlap construction. It’s the warmest as well as lightest liner on the market. As long as the shell fits the foot correctly, it can be as precise as any other liner, but you can only remould it a couple of times, so it’s not really suitable to be moulded into a different shell. Its light weight and excellent insulation make it especially popular with female customers.

Nick Hammond holds an Intuition boot liner, Mountain Air, Verbier

Intuition thermo-mouldable liner

What should the liners feel like?

NH: When a liner is brand new, for the first few runs, the liner may feel too tight. But we suggest clients come back to the shop after skiing, and if they’ve got problems, we can then change the shape of the liner.

How long do the liners last?

NH: The Strolz foam liners have the longest lives. I’ve got people who’ve been in their Strolz liners for 15 years, and they are still perfect. I’ve got one Austrian ski instructor, and he did 1,500 days of skiing on a pair of Intuition liners, which I think is a world record. We reckon, though, that a liner has done its job if you have skied 200 days on it. That’s double what a normal liner would do.

Any tips on how to use them?

NH: The warmer the boot is in the morning, the better. It will be easier to get into, your foot will be more comfortable, and will stay warmer.

How did you learn your skill?

NH: There is no formal training facility for boot fitters. Most have learned by experience. I have no formal training at all – just 25 years of looking at feet, and not giving in. You take the view that you’ll do whatever it takes to make someone comfortable in a ski boot, and you don’t give in. If you’re as determined as that you’re going to find the solutions.

  • Nick Hammond works at Mountain Air in Verbier, and sees customers by appointment; it is best to call before travelling out to the resort. Book through Mountain Air (00 41 27 771 62 31; www.mountainairverbier.com). A pair of liners, including fitting, costs from CHF 250 (approximately £160) for Intuition (www.intuitionliners.com), from CHF 300 (approximately £195) for Zipfit (www.zipfit.com) and CHF 480 (approximately £310) for Strolz (www.strolz.at).
  • General travel information: the Switzerland Travel Centre (00800 100 200 30, www.MySwitzerland.com) and the Verbier tourist office (www.verbier.ch).
  • Train tickets from the UK to major Swiss cities are available through Rail Europe (0844 848 4070; www.raileurope.co.uk); onward travel within Switzerland through the Swiss Federal Railways (www.sbb.ch).