For nine years, SKIING Magazine has taken their boot test to the slopes of Vail, CO. The comprehensive boot test of between 50-55 models of next season's boots is the basis for their in-depth Gear Guide published each fall.
The boot test differs greatly from the ski test. Just like fingerprints, feet are particular to each individual. Only people with certain size feet are able to participate in the test because the boot manufacturers only build their sample sets in a certain size range-- women's sizes 24-25 (size 6-7) and men's sizes 26-27 (size 8-9).
Their 12 testers, all Vail/Beaver Creek ski instructors, are chosen for their knowledge of skiing, the size of their feet, and because most of them teach all levels of skiers, from beginner to expert.
The staff at SKIING Magazine prefers ski instructors because of their vast knowledge of skiing. Their experience and skiing expertise enables them to decipher what boot is best for a particular level skier.
"I try to match a specific boot with a specific skier type based on the 1-9 ski school scale," explained Peggy Wolfe, a 14-year instructor and a three-year tester. "I think about the physical characteristics of skiers and consider every boot for a specific person based on their ability."
Before the testers get near the slopes, test organizers spend close to a week working on the fitting process. It is important to figure out which boots fit which feet. Depending on the fit, each tester skis only 16-20 pairs of the 50-55 different pairs of boots.
The first day of testing, each tester wears his or her own boot on one foot and a test boot on the other, to compare and contrast skiing on each.
"Each boot can differ greatly," explained Andy Berger, a 25-year instructor and a four-year tester. "Fit is very important. A boot that fitted well and was great in the soft snow may not hold up on the hard-pack. Each boot has a different experience."
After comparing the new boot to their own, each tester wears a different boot on each foot, allowing them to test the consistency. A tester might evaluate a boot several times in several types of terrain and snow conditions before he or she is able to diagnose the boot's strengths and weaknesses.
Pam Melone, an instructor for 19-years and a fifth year tester looks for the performance in each boot. "I look for the type of skier each boot is best suited for. I can't try to make each boot perform to my level because I wouldn't be able to tell what's best for a specific skier. I look for stiffness, lateral stability, and what lets me turn the ski easily."
John Lancaster who has been instructing for 21-years and testing boots for three years explains that he looks for, " a boot that supports every direction. One that is stiff, but has a flex. I also look for a boot that wraps the foot well and doesn't lose control in the slop or at higher speeds."
Similar to the ski test, when the testers are finished, they fill out evaluation cards for each boot. The cards are then averaged together according to the testers' responses and comments.
For complete results of SKIING Magazine's boot test, pick up an issue of their annual Gear Guide due out next October.