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When you first introduce your children to skiing you want them to be safe. So you buy them a decent helmet. You want them to be warm. So you buy them good gloves and a thermal base layer. You want them to be dry. So you buy them a waterproof jacket.
But even though you want them to be comfortable when they are skiing, you don't buy them boots. Instead you rent them a pair of ski boots designed to suit the lowest common denominator.
This is not meant to be a criticism. Far from it, we all do it. Your child is five, their feet are growing at a rapid rate and you simply do not know if they are going to get hooked on sliding down a mountain.
While it may seem like financial lunacy to consider buying your son or daughter ski boots, perhaps consider this - well fitted boots are probably more essential to developing good technique than the latest rocker skis.
Rental boots are frankly the only sensible option when your children first start. But fast forward a few years, when they are hooked, their technique is developing each year and maybe they have discovered how much fun it is to train and race year-round at their local dry slope or indoor snow dome.
Now is the time to treat them to their own pair of ski boots. You don't want to spend six or seven hours a day walking, skiing and standing around in a pair of ill-fitting and uncomfortable ski boots. Neither do they.
It is tempting of course to buy blind online. A quick Google search will throw up some amazing deals. But in my experience a proper foot measure and boot fitting are absolutely essential to avoid major pain on the slopes. Boots really do have the potential to put people off skiing.
10-year-old Ollie - one of the junior members of Parallel Trails - has just grown out of his first pair of ski boots. So we headed up to Ellis Brigham's store at the Xscape snowdome complex in Milton Keynes. We'd had a look on the retailer's website and spotted a couple of potential options - by Atomic and Fischer.
Ollie is an advanced skier who skis dry slope slalom when not on snow. So we needed an advanced race boot. But the range of children's boots at Ellis Brigham is excellent, from beginners through to wannabe Olympic champs.
The staff at the store are friendly and knowledgeable. It is also worth noting that a fitting can take at least one hour, so having a supply of water and snacks is a good idea. And as your child will spend a fair amount of time standing around in boots getting slightly bored, maybe have a book or magazine for them to flick through.
Our fitter Ben took us through the process that would find Ollie the perfect ski boot.
1. THE SOCK CHECK
First of all he checked the socks we had brought with us. He explained that the thinner the sock the better as the boot liner provides all the warmth and padding needed. Adding that concerned parents often make the simple mistake of putting two pairs of socks on their child's feet if they are cold. Don't - the double layer can rub and create sores. A much worse result than cold feet.
2. THE FOOT MEASURE
Next it was time to measure the feet, both in a seated position and standing up with the knees bent. Ski boots have their own special measurement called Mondopoint. Ollie is a UK shoe size 5.5-6, which translates as a Mondo 24.5 boot size. As part of the measuring process, Ben checked the heat map left by Ollie's feet. This showed the spread of the foot, how it rolls and how the heel lifts to better understand where the pressure will be felt inside the boots.
3. THE SHELL TEST
Then it was on to the shell test where the padded liner was removed from the boot. Ollie stepped into the empty shell with socks on and slid his foot forward until his toes were just touching the end. Then employing a really hi-tech piece of equipment - a length of cylindrical wooden dowel - Ben measured the space behind Ollie's calf and heel. For a comfort fit you need to be able to get a 20mm dowel behind the heel. For a race fit, it would be a 15mm dowel. This test helps confirm that you have the correct Mondo size when the padded liner is reinserted into the shell.
4. BUCKLE UP
Now it was time for Ollie to wear the boots for real. Ben continued to offer easy to understand advice to Ollie. Always start by doing up the top buckles in front of the shin as this pulls the ankle into the boot. Plus the second buckle from the front is the most useless one - people often over tighten this buckle and all this does is cut off the circulation and push the foot width out so over a long period it actually makes the boot looser.
Ollie started with the day-glo Fischers and even though both boots were the same Mondo size, he immediately felt they were too narrow around the little toe. It is always best to wear any new boots for five minutes of so, but it was clear the Fischers were not to be.
The Atomics were a different matter and it was clear from Ollie's reaction that the all-round fit was spot on. Ben then heated up the boots in a special oven for five minutes to soften the plastic shell. Ollie then put the boots back on and stood in them for a further few minutes so the shell could mould to his foot shape as they cooled down.
THE EXPERT VIEW - Mark Watson at Ellis Brigham
"For a child the most important consideration is comfort because you're going to know about it pretty quickly if the boots don't fit properly. It is tricky to get across to a child how a boot should feel so that makes the shell check the most important part of fitting.
"It is tricky from the parents' point of view because if they're buying a boot for a child that they want to last for two years and they're only going for a week a year, it is hard to get that boot to fit across that large period of time due to the amount of foot growth likely.
"Buying ski boots is a bit of a Cinderella story. It is all about buying the boot that fits, one that complements your foot shape. So trying on a range of boots, with different dimensions, different shell shapes is really important.
"We can adapt and modify boots as well. They can be stretched and worked on so we can get them to fit properly. Whereas with a rental boot you don't have that option. Plus with rentals the solution you have to problems is going bigger or smaller, and often that means you compromise the fit."
Ollie, aged 10, says: "It was really busy in the shop and it felt like I was there a really long time. But Ben told me during the fitting that he was checking to see how much room there was for my foot to grow in the boot. He checked down behind my foot and over the top too. The Atomic boots were a bit more comfy and a bit wider, but when I had the Fischer ones on they were a bit tight around my small toe on the outside. Ben made it easy to understand what I had to do and was clear when we were doing the fitting. My advice to other children is you need to be patient and when you have the boots on you spend a long time standing up. When I took my boots home I wore them to train at Bowles ski race club and they felt much more comfortable than my old ones. Boots are really important as you can't ski without them really and hire boots seem to make it harder to ski as they are not in the shape of my foot."
THREE TO TRY & BUY...
Head Kids’ Edge J2 Ski Boot £65
Smaller, younger skiers don't need three and four clip boots, as they can be too stiff and high on the leg. The Edge J2 is easy to put on and take off, has a junior walk-mode for getting around, and combines comfort with good foot hold.
Lange Kids’ Starlet 60 £80-£95 (depending on size)
The Starlet is ideal for girls still improving their skiing, but who want a boot that will last many improvements in technique. The flex is supportive without being tiring; the plastic is firm enough to control skis but not over responsive. 4 metal buckles help in getting the right pressure around the foot and the Velcro powerstrap increases the contact with the shin, for more comfort and precision. Also available for boys.
Atomic Redster Pro 90 £250
The Redster WC 90 is the ultimate in performance for the junior racer. It carries similar features to the full-on adult boot including Atomic’s new Memory Fit technology so the shell and liner can be fully customised to the skier’s foot. It also uses the Carbon Spine, improving power transmission to the rear of the ski giving more kick out of turns. The WC 90 has maximum cuff alignment with dual canting for 10mm cuff rotation and lightweight micro adjustable buckles making it a serious junior race package. 95mm last.