Feet First: Why Custom Footbeds May Be The Smartest Money You’ll Spend for Skiing or Snowboarding This Season

Salt Lake City, UT -
About 18 months ago, I wrote a feature detailing the many recent improvements in snowboard boot technology, features that allow wearers to truly get a comfortable and secure fit. Shortly thereafter, I was called out for what I didn’t include in that story — a reference to the value of custom, professionally fabricated footbeds.

Why the omission? Ignorance mostly. I have long ago thrown out the stock insoles that came in any of my own snowboard boots. My upgrades, however, were just a baby step in the right direction. I chose off-the-shelf footbeds, insoles that made a difference, but maybe not as much as they could.

MasterFit’s Steve Cohen invited me to see the difference by having a pair of custom insoles fabricated by a MasterFit-trained pro. In fact, he claimed footbeds were the most important change a rider, whether on skis or board, could do to improve not only foot comfort, but also balance.

Marketing hype…or sound advice? I visited Utah’s Park City Boot and Pedorthic to find the answer.

Put Your Foot Down

PC Boot and Pedorthic is run by Brent Amsbury, a board-licensed pedorthist with nearly three decades of experience under his belt. Like all shops with an America’s Best Boot Fitters certification, Amsbury has achieved a Master’s Certification from MasterFit University, a training center for boot fitting. He possesses both the know-how and the tools required to make sure a customer gets their money’s worth when they make the investment in custom footbeds. His pedorthist license also means he’s a specialist in using shoes, modifications, and orthotics to solve various foot and lower limb problems.

I hear him before I see him, as the whir of a grinding wheel greets me as I enter his shop. Everywhere, footbeds in various states of completion are scattered about, along with various ski and snowboard boots, liners, and foam. Amsbury says hi, gives my boots the professional once over, then invites me to remove my shoes and get to work.

The custom fitting process is made up of three stages. It starts with MasterFit’s Instaprint Biogel Molding System, in essence a sealed tray filled with moldable goo into which I place my feet. That gel, with Amsbury’s help, will mold around my feet and form the mold out of which my footbeds will ultimately pop.

MasterFit believes in the “semi-weight bearing” method to produce its insoles, meaning I sat during this process so that Amsbury could produce a neutral casting of my feet, undistorted by my body weight. It’s a hands-on operation all the way, with considerable time spent adjusting my foot position for the best results. Amsbury worked the gel into the various nooks, ultimately surrounding my foot to produce a near-perfect mold of the surface. If necessary, a trained fitter can further manipulate the material to put the foot in a more beneficial position.

While I’m taking a load off as the gel material takes shape, Amsbury is busy in the next room, heating a pair of Instaprint CustomForm Wintersport insoles. In stock form, the insoles are generic shaped blanks, made from a medical grade thermoplastic with an EVA covering topside. Once heated, they’re placed into the Biogel mold, where they take on the precise shape of the impression I left moments ago. After a few minor adjustments the footbeds cool, take their final shape, and ultimately prove a perfect match to my individual feet.

Still, they’re just an insole without cushioning. The next step is to select a foam posting shell of the appropriate size, align carefully, and then stick the two together with contact cement. My foot is fairly moderate, so I get the standard shell. More serious problems, like a collapsed arch, get a “pro” shell for greater support.

It’s A Grind

Now comes the fun part. The insole is complete, but it still requires trimming and extensive grinding of the base to resemble the custom, complete product I saw out in the front room. As Amsbury explains, a footbed properly fitted to the bottom of my boot will provide a more direct energy transfer and optimize balance. Working with obvious expertise as he forms my insoles against the grinding wheel, Amsbury precisely contours the shape into finished product, making sure the base is flat and matches the boot’s interior. I can tell he not only knows what he’s doing, but takes obvious pride in his work. This is the kind of guy you want fabricating a pair of custom insoles.

Construction complete, now comes the time to fit the insoles into my snowboard boots. With anticipation, I slip my feet into the boots and lace things up. The difference in comfort was immediately noticeable, as the footbeds feel like what they are — an exact mold of your individual feet, rather than a flimsy, generic, one-size-fits-all bed, or even a generic, one-size-fits-all off-the-shelf model. Still, Amsbury noted a small issue earlier. I’ve had an ACL reconstruction, and one that didn’t go too smoothly. One infection, three surgeries, and a scarred femoral nerve later, and I have a few quirks. Amsbury noted some degree of heel lift with my left foot, and compensates with a small shim under the footbed. Process finally complete, I head for the door and drive straight to The Canyons, my home resort for much of the winter. Changing quickly in the car, I head up to the top of Saddleback, then strap in, ready to give these footbeds the ultimate test.

The difference? Certainly there’s an obvious comfort level. The footbeds simply support your feet like only a custom footbed can, matching your individual quirks to perfection. They also provide good arch support and have a deep heelcup. The latter cradles your heel, and helps stabilize balance. That makes everything from walking to the gondola to hiking terrain that much more comfortable. I also felt the footbeds provided more precise response when edging, as they translated the pressure I applied directly to the board. Sure, your muscles may need a short time to get used to the new support underneath, but by the end of the afternoon I was having a blast, rather than waiting for the exact moment I could free my feet from my boots. In short, they felt good, far better in fact than the semi-custom insoles they replaced. Yes, mine were free, but knowing what I know now, I would gladly have paid for them. You simply can’t beat the custom feel. With a lifespan of 3-5 years, I’ll also be able to move them into that next pair of boots.

Believe The Hype

I’m a firm believer that no product review is credible if it’s all positive. So yes, I have a small complaint. Maybe it’s my imagination, but the Instaprint footbeds felt slightly colder. My former beds were covered with Outlast, a material that absorbs excess heat and releases it when necessary. I’d be curious to see what the Instaprint beds would be like with the same material.

All in all, however, that’s about the only negative I could find. After spending so much on a board or skis, boots, and outerwear, not to mention that lift ticket, a lot of us are hesitant to spend another $150 on something as mundane sounding as a footbed. As I discovered firsthand, however, that simple footbed can make the difference between a carefree time on the slopes, and having your fun — possibly even your long-awaited, high-priced vacation — compromised.

Sums up Amsbury, “You can ruin a $10,000 investment for the lack of a $150 expenditure. It’s cheap insurance.”

For more information on MasterFit custom orthotics, visit www.bootfitters.com.

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