Liner and insole companies have been pushing R&D lately, searching for ways to make those six-pound hunks of plastic and foam purr like a pair of lounge slippers. Most major boot manufacturers have even upgraded their stock liners, using everything from heat-molded foam to inflatable air bladders. We toured the Surefoot shop in Copper Mountain's base village for a play-by-play of one of the best boot-fit procedures money can buy. Then we tested after-market inserts to find out what will keep you skiing better, longer, and more comfortably. —Pieter van Noordennen
Best In Fit:
Stepping into a Surefoot store is like bringing your boots to a high-end gym. First, professional technicians measure the length and width of your foot and make a digital weight-distribution readout of your sole. This information is then used to create EVA (ethylene vinyl acetate, the same polymer used in sneaker midsoles) orthotic footbeds, designed to support your arch and prevent your heel from rolling. The damage: $185
Next, a technician wraps your feet in boot liners made by Conformable, and buckles you into your boots. Expanding foam is pumped into five bladders in the liners. When the foam bursts through the liner walls, you're done. The result? Once a privilege reserved for racers, foam-injected liners provide the tightest fit on the market—with no pressure points. The precise fit makes for excellent energy transfer from your legs to your skis to your edges. The damage: $335
As a last bit of fine-tuning, techs grind away inside the boot's shell to accomodate your podiatric anomalies. (surefoot.com)
Let barking dogs lie
Don't have $500 to spend on custom footbeds and foam-injected liners? Try these (slightly) more affordable, foot-coddling options.
Custom: The philosophy behind Superfeet's Kork Custom Footbed (shown): An unweighted, vacuum-molded fit prevents your foot joints from spreading under your body weight. This stops your foot from elongating and keeps it centered in the boot. Once formed, the natural-cork base is covered with Outlast, a space-age material designed to keep your toes warm in cold weather by storing body heat. We've used both weighted and unweighted fits, and like them both. The bottom line is that these footbeds will have you skiing proud. ($150, superfeet.com)
Semi-Custom: Sole's do-it-yourself, heat-molding Custom Footbeds produce an individualized insole in about five minutes. Pop the EVA beds into your toaster oven for two minutes, slide the soles into your boot, and then step in to create a cushioned platform shaped to your foot's specific contours. ($40, yoursole.com)
Insoles: For the simplest foot-fix on the market, try Shock Doctor's Ultra2 insoles. They're not custom-fit perfect, but rigid torsion bars in the heel and instep stabilize your foot, while foam-cushioned pads keep your dogs from barking. (shockdoc.com; $35)
Heat-Molded: Backcountry skiers have long praised the warmth and durability of thermal-molded foam liners. A fitting expert heats the shaped liners to 250 degrees, making them pliable. When you step into your boot, the foam molds around your foot and to the inside of the shell, providing a custom fit that won't throttle your feet. Intuition (shown) recently developed a new, ultralight foam, but still uses the company's signature overlap design to provide extra cushioning for your shins on long, uphill slogs ($165, intuitionsports.com). Conformable's new dual-density liners have a traditional tongue design—which they say offers improved support and energy transfer. ($170—$200, thesozegroup.com)
Find your fit: Find fitting shops on these company's websites, or call your local shop and find out which brands they carry. Be sure to ask the extent of their fitting capability (if the shop does custom footbeds, it's a good sign), and whether the fit is guaranteed (meaning you can bring your booots back for fine-tuning later in the season).