As the rental process becomes more refined and streamlined, one step remains wide open for improvement: bootfitting. This crucial act can augment or undermine all the improvements resorts, shops, equipment and software suppliers have made elsewhere throughout the rental process, and has the potential to make or break a renter’s day. It only takes one broken link to ruin the chain.
Today, most of the other steps in the rental process have been addressed, and the solutions are both well-known and widely implemented. Quick-disc snowboard binding adjustment. Integrated reduced-sole-length alpine ski/boot/ binding systems. But often, bootfitting remains a wild card.
Just ask Joe Hession of Snow Operating Inc., who analyzes the entire learn-to operation, from parking lot to the hill and back. “We do a variation analysis on each step of the rental routine as part of our process mapping at the areas we work with,” he says. “Most rental processes have relatively little variation in the amount of time it takes to complete them. But bootfitting—wow. It can take three minutes to 20 minutes.”
Some of that variation in fitting time is unavoidable. Not all renters show up with appropriate socks; few understand how a boot is supposed to feel, don’t know how to determine the right size, or even know how to buckle up (or lace up, in the case of snowboard boots). Conversely, experienced skiers and riders—especially those who are stepping up to performance rentals—may want to try on several pair, to make sure they get the best possible fit.
But rental shops can do a lot more to speed the process and make it more effective at the same time. “You have to commit to having enough staff,” Hession says. “You can’t just hand boots to the guest. You have to help them. Otherwise, so many things can go wrong and slow down the fit process.”
Jack Rafferty, an instructor with the Masterfit bootfitting academy and an independent consultant, agrees. “Most shops want some proof that it will produce at the other end of the process,” he adds. He has worked with Vail Resorts Retail rental operators to provide a higher level of fit for renters, and reports that the shops have seen increases in both return renters and retail sales. “We’ve got some data that show added training of staff, and added time in rental, pay off,” he adds.
So, where do you find motivated and capable fit staff? It may be easier than you might think. Bromley, Vt., turned to an unlikely source: its snowmakers. “It turns out they were very good at it,” says Hession. “They were very motivated. GM Bill Cairns is a mountain ops guy; he explained the need and importance to the snowmakers, showed them how bad the process could be, and the snowmakers were into it!”
“Assign instructors to assist with the bootfitting process in the rental shop,” advises Shaun Cattanach of Burton. While snowboard boots are less strange and foreign to many renters than ski boots, it’s still important to make sure snowboard renters get the right fit, too, and are properly socked. Areas that have employed instructors as fitters find this also boosts the number of lessons sold.
Steps to Success
Here’s what the fitters, wherever you find them, can do.
1. Actually measure/size the foot. Use a Brannock device or mondopoint measuring tool. Burton has created a custom Brannock device for just this purpose; Dalbello offers a custom mondo- point device.
Heidi Ettlinger, a Heavenly Resort instructor who works a lot with families, recommends that with kids, it’s best to remove the liner from the boot, and feel where the toes are. Rafferty agrees. “There should be perhaps a thumbnail’s worth of toe room at the front,” he says. In fact, liner fitting works with just about anyone, when all else fails.
2. Make sure the renter has appropriate socks. “That means one pair of non-cotton socks,” says Cattanach, for both skiers and riders. Have socks available and at hand for rent or purchase.
3. Assist with the try-on procedure. “Show the guest how to properly tighten the boots, regardless of the closure system,” Cattanach says. Rental staff can help renters get into their boots, keep pants out, demonstrate how to buckle or lace them, and make any boot adjustments needed, such as adjusting cuff straps on ski boots—many rental models have quick-adjust mechanisms. These can be especially useful for women with large or skinny calves.
Simple fitting stations can speed the process and make it easier on staff. For example, Brian Head, Utah, has a unique rental boot fitting setup: a bridge. “You climb a few steps to a platform, fitters measure you for size, put the boot on, and you walk down stairs at the other side,” says Hession. Telluride does something similar: guests are in elevated seats, and fitters scoot around on mobile seats, easing the strain on their backs and speeding the boot-selection process.
4. Confirm the boot size. For riders, make sure the boots are not too tight or too loose. That takes a little extra effort with skiers. Instruct them to stand and flex forward. They should feel their toes pull away from front of boot. This test has two benefits: It gives renters confidence that the boots are properly sized, and it puts them into the proper balanced position they will use on snow.
5. Show them how the boots function. “Act as an educator,” Rafferty says. “Show them how to bend and flex the boots. That will help them get out of the back seat when they are on snow. Make them aware this is a piece of athletic footwear. Explain that, if the boots are too big, their balance is handicapped, they can’t get forward, they won’t have as much control on-snow, and they won’t have as much fun as they could.
“At the entry level, everything you do should help their proprioception—that is, their ability to feel what it’s like to be balanced in the boots, a sensation they will need to feel on snow,” Rafferty adds. “It gives them a platform to learn from.”
While those steps take a bit more time than just handing boots across the counter, they also reduce returns, simplify the exchange process, and shrink the number of dissatisfied customers. Having a set fit procedure reduces variation and takes confusion out of the process, Hession says. “And that, overall, reduces the process time,” he concludes.
SAMMY GUEST EDITOR
In my days as a ski instructor, there were few things worse than the guest that arrived to a lesson with a layer of denim crammed into boots that were also stuffed with three pairs of wool socks.
Putting on a pair of ski or snowboard boots for the first time is intimidating and conjures a sensation in one’s feet somewhere between finely crafted ballet slippers and clown shoes. The reality is, a beginner has no clue what it is supposed to feel like, and simply accepts the comfort level in the pair of boots handed to them by a minimum-wage ski bum. For some, this could end their winter sports experience.
The most important piece in the bootfitting puzzle is using the resources already on hand to help drive the process. Look at shop layouts. Make certain there is space for guests to try on boots and room for staff to assist them. Simply rearranging a few things can help create a more comfortable environment for guests to go at their own pace. Then give them the time they need and assistance from knowledgeable staff.
Lastly, think about how you deal with your own boots. Most of us spend quite a bit of time, effort, and money to get that finely tuned feel that translates into comfort and performance. We can’t do that with most of our renters, but we can make them comfortable enough.— Kevin Stickelman