You’ll hear nothing but warnings from brick-and-mortar specialty bootfitting shops about buying ski boots online. And for good reason—it’s fraught with trouble, and of course, they would rather be the one selling you the boots!
But there are strategic ways to utilize an online boot purchase that benefit both the skier and your local bootfitting shop. No, really! But to do it right, it pays to understand the essential problems with an online boot purchase.
First, the most critical fit zones of a ski boot are the flex feel along the shin produced by the combination of liner tongue and cuff design, and the instep fit at the throat of the boot (essentially the boot’s corner where the upper cuff turns into the lower shell). These two areas are of critical importance to both performance and an agony-free fit. These areas are also highly subjective fit zones that really require a physical “try-on” of the boot to assess a proper fit match with your body. Furthermore, these are areas that are absolutely the worst spots to work on for a bootfitter, as the solutions are not straight-forward, they’re more of a “trial-and-error, hail Mary” that often ends up in a shift to start over with a new, different model boot.
So really, the first rule in how to utilize the online boot purchase in a smart way is: just don’t do it.
But if you’re going to consider it, start with your friendly neighborhood bootfitting human to identify the right boot for you in the key areas including:
- foot fit
- instep fit
- leg/calf fit
- performance level
- specific application
- personal stance quirks
- potential needed modifications.
Even if you end up buying a boot online, you are going to need a bootfitter’s help, so start with him or her and pay close attention to how your local bootfitter will be able to streamline the process (and price) if you keep your purchase with their store. They can help you with answering important questions, such as,
- What’s the shop’s bootfitting policy in terms of costs of services?
- Is bootfitting included in the purchase price or is there a discount on services if the boot is purchased there?
- Is there a different price for custom footbeds? (You might want a fresh pair with your new boots).
It may simply make the most sense (financially and otherwise) to find the right boot by way of real human interaction, physical try-on and a purchase made right then and there. A bird in the hand, right?
However, most bootfitting shops would still like to keep you as a customer, even if the boot is sourced elsewhere, as their fitting services and accessory products remain valuable sources of revenue. They’d also like to maintain a positive ongoing relationship with you since your good word-of-mouth goes a long way to keep other boot-buying customers coming through the door.
If the conversations with your local bootfitter don’t seem welcoming of the sourced-elsewhere boot, then you may need to look somewhere else for a more relaxed boot service attitude.
So, before you hit the purchase button on that online deal, be absolutely sure you understand the return policy and process, so you can return the boot if necessary—you’ll likely have to return them. Also, if you’re trying to find the same boot you tried on (and liked) in a shop, but at a better price, make sure it’s the same boot model—usually the better deal is an older version or model that lacks the current year’s updates and features. If by chance you have found an exact match, show the link to your brick-and-mortar retailer to see if they’d be willing to match the price. This will save you on shipping costs and either way you’ll have at least done your part in trying to keep the transaction in the local shop.
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