The ski season is off to an early start in our region thanks to snowmaking temperatures and technology, and excitement generated by the World Cup races at Killington last weekend that attracted 34,000 spectators Saturday and Sunday.
One thing for sure about early season skiing is the pre-Christmas attention it creates for new gear.
Now most people who are regular skiers — and our area has more of those than any other metro region in the country except Denver — gobble up the pre-season articles and web postings about the latest in ski equipment, clothing and accessories. Skis with sparkly new graphics are the most eye-catching. Clothing is usually the most tempting. Who doesn’t notice a new parka?
But when allocating your money on ski gear keep in mind that the most important investment is: Boots!
Now boots can be trendy, and colorful. But for the most part, when on the hill, they are just along for the ride.That is unless your feet hurt; or are cold, or wobble in the boot. A generation ago, that was commonplace. The rule at the time seemed to be if your boots weren’t painful in the first few days on the hill, they probably weren’t any good. And if the feet hurt, chances were they were cold too. The “Ouch Factor” was accepted as an important part of new boots.
No more! Comfort and warmth are the new standards and no one understands that better than Gary Higley, owner of the Sports Page in Glens Falls who has been been fitting boots since 1982.
“Nobody fit boots back then.” he recalled earlier this week. “Boots were all narrow and you squeezed into them until the hurt stopped.”
“The big breakthrough came about 10 years ago when manufacturers started paying attention to width as well as length of boots”
“Today you can get a good fitting boot from just about any manufacturer, especially if you spend the time. You have to try on different models.”
For Higley, that means a process that commonly takes a couple of hours. The first hour is selecting a boot and model that works. Then comes the tweaking, the stretching, and the grinding that the shop will do to the boot to make sure it is the best fit for the buyer.
“It is unusual if you can find the perfect boot fit right out of the box,” Higley says. “As feet differ, so does the fit.”
Is this for racers only?
“No” says Higley.
“Racers require stiffer, tighter boots that would be uncomfortable worn all day on the hill. Ideally, recreational skiers, even experts, should be able to buckle the boot in the morning and not need to adjust it all day.”
The Sports Page will prepare more than 1,000 pair of boots each season and while the cost of a pair can be as much as $1,000, Higley says most skiers will be perfectly served spending considerably less.
“Given the quality of boot being made now by most of the top names, you can purchase new models that offer very good performance and warmth for $400 or less. That is all most people need.”
And when do you need new boots? “ After 150 days on the hill is a good rule of thumb. But I know people who have had the same boots for more than 500 days and they still work fine. By that time you feel it when the boot is worn out.”
And that “Ouch Factor”?
“A thing of the past,” says Higley. “There is no reason today that a skier’s feet should hurt in boots.”
KILLINGTON KILLING IT
The women’s World Cup races last weekend at Killington were another home run for the Vermont area.
The 34,000 spectators for the two days of competition was by far the largest crowd to attend any World Cup races in the US or abroad, besting the crowd at the same event a year ago by some 4,000. Killington will host again next year and, after two consecutive successful competitions, the chance of becoming a long term World Cup site is great, assuming the area wants to host.
While lacking the vertical necessary to hold a downhill event, the slalom and giant slalom races held right by the Killington K-1 base area make the mountain ideal to host spectators and television. And the technical sophistication and capacity of the snowmaking system make a Thanksgiving date possible.
If you missed the skiing but would still like to experience the feel of World Cup competition, there is a luge event in December 15-16 at Mt VanHovenberg outside Lake Placid. These races will feature the same competitors who will be competing in the Olympics in February, and a favorite in the men’s singles event will be Union College sophomore Tucker West who has won here the past two winters.
ANOTHER HOME FOR ALPIN HAUS
Amsterdam-based Alpin Haus, the area’s largest ski retailer, has opened up a shop in the Hamilton Square Mall in Guilderland near the intersection of Western Avenue and Rt 155. “We are intrigued by this area” said Alpin Haus President Andy Heck earlier this week. For now the new store offers apparel and accessories only but expansion, similar to Alpin Haus’ store in Clifton Park, in possible in the future, Heck said.
Reach Daily Gazette ski writer Phil Johnson at [email protected].