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Skiers and snowboarders: How to end the pain of ill-fitting boots

For more than 30 years, The Destination’s custom boot fitting has helped mountain enthusiasts achieve peak comfort and performance

Some years ago, Paul Zirk, founder and owner of The Destination Slope & Surf Outfitters, was talking to original Grouse Mountain co-owner Stuart McLaughlin.

They were discussing the vast number of people at Grouse and other mountain resorts who would sign up for ski and snowboarding lessons, only to drop out after just a few sessions.

For a long time, Zirk says, they and many others assumed the problem was “the method of teaching – that people weren’t learning quickly enough.”

But then McLaughlin discovered the most common reason was something else entirely: It was their boots.

“Stuart would talk and listen to people,” explains Zirk. “They would say they just packed skiing in because the boots hurt. Or they were too loose. Or somehow they couldn’t seem to make them work right.”

If only these defeated mountain enthusiasts had known a custom boot-fitting would eliminate their frustrations, they might now be conquering the slopes like champions.

For more than 30 years, Zirk and his team have been dramatically transforming skiers’ and snowboarders’ mountain experiences for the better. When The Destination first began offering custom boot-fitting in the 1980s, they shifted the perspective from something that only professionals would need, to a service that made skiing and snowboarding more enjoyable for everyday people who just wanted to have fun.

Even those who had long assumed they were achieving peak performance on the slopes discovered that a custom boot-fitting made their adventures not only much more comfortable but more skillful.

“The first benefit of a custom fitting is better control of your skis or board because the boot is going to be more precise and a closer fit in certain areas of the leg or foot,” says Zirk. “And in that precise fit, we actually bend the plastics of the boot to make it more comfortable."

A poorly fitted boot can potentially cause foot spasms, cramping, coldness – even lost toenails. But a custom fitting virtually eliminates these outcomes, as well as the often painful and awkward break-in period that most skiers and snowboarders accept as the price of admission when they acquire a new pair of boots.

“A fitting quite literally does the break-in for you with tools, rather than you having to try to do it with your body,” says Zirk.

Zirk likens a custom boot-fitting at The Destination to a master tailor fitting you for a brand-new suit.

“The brand and model of your boots don’t mean anything until we’ve analyzed your body,” he explains. “We look at the shape of your leg, the shape of your instep, the width of your forefoot, the ball of your heel and the Achilles. There are some boots that, out of the box, are a better starting point depending on your shape.

“And we factor in how aggressive of a skier, how athletic you are. The experience is shifted from brand marketing to tailoring.”

The Destination has developed such a superior reputation for its custom fittings that podiatrists and physiotherapists now refer their frustrated patients to the shop, says Zirk, “because they understand we solve problems that most boot-fit shops can’t.”

This is among the most rewarding work for Zirk and his colleagues – especially when medical obstacles had led a person to assume their beloved sport was now out of reach forever.

Zirk recalls making the acquaintance of a woman who suffers from lymphedema, a rare and chronic condition that often causes significant swelling of the legs and feet. Despite trying numerous boot brands and models, as well as custom insoles and fittings from less-experienced practitioners, she had all but given up on the thought of ever skiing again.

Then she had a custom fitting done at The Destination.

“She phoned me from the top of Sun Peaks,” Zirk emotionally recalls. “She said, ‘I can ski with my kids! I’m doing it now!’”

To learn more about The Destination Slope & Surf Outfitters and to book a custom fitting, visit Please note that early booking is recommended, as demand increases greatly closer to the winter season.

Video via The Destination Slope and Surf Outfitters