I haven't written much on the subject, but the truth is I rue the day the thermofit liner was invented. For one thing, the thermofit liner and subsequent thermofitting process transfers the responsibility of boot fit from manufacturers to retail shops, which is certainly good business for the shops, but which in practice means there is a huge range in the quality of the fitters/results out there. But the biggest reason I don't like thermo liners is that they're fundamentally flawed: they ask your foot to do something that it is particularly ill-suited to do (namely, act as a battering ram). So, what are our options?
Aside from reverting to Old School foam liners (when they're available), there is also the Surefoot liner, which approaches the problem of boot fitting from an entirely different paradigm. Instead of using the foot to smash out the liner, Surefoot surrounds the foot with an empty (or hollow) liner, and then injects foam into the liner, inflating it to conform to the shape of the foot. Sounds interesting, no? This year Surefoot is debuting the next-generation version of the process, the "Contoura X1," which features their own proprietary liner.
I've worked with the local Surefoot in Santa Monica for orthotics and other fitting needs, with very good results, but I haven't taken the plunge on trying their liners, mostly because I'm usually too busy trying out other things. But a neat opportunity presented itself to me last month: my mom came to visit. She was lamenting her latest bootfitting fiasco, and, on the verge of just giving up entirely, she asked me if I had any ideas. Did I know of anyone who could make custom ski boots. No, I said...and then Surefoot came to mind.
You have to understand that my Mom's feet are pretty much a disaster. Ruined by years of arthritis and hard living, misshapen and mangled, the mere sight of them would be enough to send grown men into tears and small children scampering for the hills. The typical version of my mom's story goes like this: a self-assured ski shop fitter promises he can make everything right. She leaves the shop with an expensive pair of boots that cause her too much pain to use more than a day or two. And she sits out the rest of the season.
So what better challenge could there possibly be for Kevin at Surefoot, I plotted, than sending him my mom, and telling him she needed "a little help with boots." Heh heh.
Here's something cool about Surefoot: they send experienced technicians from their flagship stores to work tours of duty in their satellite stores. That means, when you go to Surefoot Santa Monica, instead of getting some skater punk who's never seen a day of snow in his life, you're actually getting someone from Surefoot Vail, or Steamboat, who has been promised god knows what by management to give up a year of skiing in paradise and instead spend those long months toiling in the bowels of this smoggy concrete hell called Los Angeles (maybe they come for the California girls; I really have no idea).
In any case, let us continue. So I sent mom to visit Kevin, and I eagerly awaited the results. One of the nearly innumerable complaints my mom has is that her calves are very thick. Invariably, she asks for shorter boots, which of course don't really exist. So what does Kevin do? He offers to cut the shells' cuffs down. Cut the shells? I mean, the sheer evil genius of it! When I heard that (and that he'd eat the cost if it didn't work), I really started rooting for Kevin.
But what about those horrible, disgusting, repulsive, misshapen feet? Could the Surefoot liners actually make enough room to compensate? The answer seems to be yes. Since getting her new boots, my mom has been gushing about them. She says they're the most comfortable boots she's ever had, in over four decades of skiing. She calls me and says she's wearing them around the house because she's so excited about skiing in them. So—a very promising start, to say the least.
Here are some things you should know about the liners. First of all, Surefoot will fit you into your own shells, or the shells of any boot they sell, so you're not forced to use a strange boot. You ski the same boots as always, by top manufacturers like Lange, Tecnica, and the like. Second, the whole process ain't cheap. Surefoot of course guarantees their work, and any technician at any shop will help you if you need more work done, but you will be paying a stout fee up front. Third, the injection process appears to put a lot of pressure on the foot for about fifteen minutes or so, so you'll need to be able to stand a bit of discomfort during that time. Not having done the process myself, I can't offer much more than saying it did look fairly painful—at least for my mom.
Whether you choose to try out Surefoot's liners or not, I do highly recommend their orthotics, which are done by a scanning machine, rather than by hand. They can do traditional thermofitting, but it's not their specialty. However, for any kind of shell work, including getting very creative, you won't find anyone better in SoCal. Try 'em out and let me know how it goes.