Boots: How We Test

To test boots, we returned to Mt. Bachelor, Ore., last spring and called in the pros from America’s Best Bootfitters and Masterfit University— the guys who teach bootfitters how to fit boots—to help us evaluate the 2012 offerings. The question we get asked the most? Easy: “Why are all the reviews positive?” The answer is simple. We begin the test only with boots we think are going to be good. Once the skiing starts, boots that don’t meet testers’ standards are eliminated from further review. So what’s left? Just the best of the bunch. Hence the positive comments. In short, we want to write only about the good stuff; if we don’t have anything nice to say, we don’t say anything. Here’s a deeper look at what goes into the test.

The boot gurus › First, we bring in the experts to manage the boot test. We worked with the top pros from America’s Best Bootfitters (ABB). They teach bootfitting to shop employees at clinics around the world. Masterfit University’s curriculum director, Mark Elling, is our test director.

The preliminaries › The test is limited from the outset to high-performance boots—those that would interest SKI readers—and the test team divides them into three width categories. (We also tested sidecountry boots; look for those in a later issue.) Elling consults with each manufacturer to determine which boots to accept for testing.

The test team › Good boot testers are hard to find. Only with experience can a tester learn to put aside fit issues and assess a boot strictly on how well it serves the type of skier for which it’s built. So we recruit bootfitters, instructors and former racers, all naturally critical and all with testing backgrounds.

The venue › Mt. Bachelor, a 9,065-foot volcano with nearly 4,000 acres and up to 3,365 feet of vertical, is overkill. (But our testers love it, as they love the Bend area.) This year’s record 665-inch snowfall ensured the usual prime spring conditions, including a knee deep powder day. And our slopeside test headquarters at the West Village base area made for quick turnaround between runs.

A typical test day › Testers rise early for the 20-minute drive from their lodging at Mount Bachelor Village Resort to the mountain. Each tester selects a model and swaps in his or her own footbeds. First they evaluate the fit in 12 key zones, then flex, stance, entry-exit, hardware, adjustments and features. Then they hit the hill, giving each boot two or three runs. On the test card, they rate it for dynamic balance, edge power, stability at speed, rearward support, agility, snow feel, warmth, comfort, liner quality and even aesthetics. A full day’s work (well, we call it work), covers only about six or seven boots. It’s why we need a lot of testers.

Après-ski › As we said, there’s a reason we chose Bend/Bachelor at the beginning of spring. Testers love it—golf, biking, fishing, caving, rafting on the upper Deschutes or just chilling out downtown.

The results › Testing boots is as much art as science, given the fit issues. But a good test team invariably comes to consensus on which boots just shouldn’t make the cut and which are worthy of review. That’s what you hold in your hands. Only the best, tester-certified.

Special Thanks: Mount Bachelor Resort, Mount Bachelor Village Resort lodging, Pistil hats, Instaprint/Zapz/EZ Fit Insoles, Bollé eyewear, Swany gloves, Leki poles, Dry Guy boot dryers, Transpack packs, Lorpen ski socks, Stanley beverage containers

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