I’ve been wearing the same ski boots for over a decade. The thought of buying another pair has always filled me with fear. Paying so much for something I have long associated with pain just felt so wrong. But finally I had to face my fear. One Friday afternoon in December I arrived in Verbier and headed straight to Mountain Air to see Nick Hammond who I had been told was the person to see for ski boots.
Nick has been in Switzerland since 1979. He started off in Nendaz and then migrated over the hill to Verbier in 1984. He has been there ever since.
“What have you done to your calf?” was Nick’s opening line. “It’s smaller than the other one.”
In 2002 I was in New Zealand with my boyfriend (now husband) who was working there as part of the America’s cup team. There was a party in the boat yard with tables…being fully trained in après-ski we naturally all chose to dance on them. Unfortunately, unlike the tables at the Farinet or La Folie Douce, these weren’t built for dancing on and collapsed under the weight of several well-built sailors and me. Unfortunately, I was at the bottom of the pile and my calf was crushed by the weight of said table and three burley sailors.
And Nick had spotted my injury immediately.
He swung into action and measured both my legs; “Face forward. Sideways. Spin around”.
Nick then asked me about my old boots. What, if anything, had been the problem with them?
I had suffered with ‘hot’ feet and used to undo my boots on the lifts to stop my feet from ‘burning’. Nick informs me that pressure gives the same sensation as heat and that is why my feet always felt ‘boiling’ in my old boots. Now things are starting to make sense.
“Sit ” I am told, and Nick starts to rummage about in his incredible drawer of important bits and bobs. Bits of foam are strategically taped to my foot and then I’m squeezed into a compression sock.
Meanwhile a pair of Canadian developed ski boot liners made from hard foam have been loaded into an oven which is set at 120 Celsius. These liners were developed in Vancouver in the 1990s and Nick first bought them to Europe in 1993. Since then he has fitted more of these than anyone else in the world – he estimates 10-15,000 of them!
My boots are now in the oven too.
Nick explains what is about to happen next. I am given precise instructions and there is to be no mucking about.
‘You need to have a straight leg with a relaxed ankle. Stand up point your toe and then push down quickly” I am told in a firm tone.
Suddenly he’s ready. My foot is enveloped in a (boiling) hot liner and he forcefully wraps it around my foot and calf as I push as hard as I can into his chest. He then squirts some silicone into the heated boot and I do as told – stand, point toe, push, stamp. Next I’m told to flex back and forth as he buckles up the boot. I’m in. And whoa it’s warm. But Nick is not finished. He grabs the blow torch and briefly blasts the boots with yet more heat, this time at 600C to ensure a snug fit.
Then immediately it’s onto the other leg.
Next it’s time to chill, literally. I am made to stand in a bucket of snow. Thankfully someone at this point bought me a glass of fizz – it was a Friday, the lead up to Christmas and by now it was 6pm.
I finally have my new boots. The boot is Dalbello which was chosen to suit my foot shape and leg and I have the Intuition liners which are moulded to my foot shape. These liners don’t have a tongue, are lightweight and really warm and so a good choice for girls.
Mountain Air is exceptional in that they only buy the outers of the boots from the suppliers as all of their inners are custom fitted. No one else does that.
So my boot fitting journey is coming to an end… I’ve learnt I’ve got wonky legs with one calf bigger than the other. Next I needed to test these beauties…
…After a few days in Switzerland and week in Avoriaz I can honestly say that my feet and boots are finally working in harmony. I have comfortable, warm feet and I am in total control of my boots and skis with no pain.
Skiing never felt so good.
Nick Hammond works on an appointment only basis and can be contacted through Mountain Air +41 277 754 402.