You can't walk in them, but you can fly in them
You know what this ritual feels like: You loosen every buckle on your ski boots, pull your sock up, and mentally armor yourself for the next few seconds. You slide the toes of one foot into the top of your boot, breathe in, maybe make a funny face, and shove your foot through a padded 90-degree turn as you yank up on the boot liner. When it goes OK, it’s over in a second or two.
When it doesn’t go OK, you wrestle with it, spending a few seconds over a few tries, experiencing a sort of foot claustrophobia purgatory that only ends when your heel pops into the bottom of the boot, and you exhale, feeling a sense of relief oddly reminiscent of popping your head through the birth canal—or, less dramatically and more recently, the last time you put on your ski boots. The whole process is enough to make you take a step back and think about how strange they really are, in the grand scheme of footwear.
I paid full retail price for a pair of ski boots three seasons back. I had dropped off my old skis and new alpine touring bindings at a shop in town to have them mounted, and there was an issue with my seven-year-old boots, and then another issue, and prior to that, two different friends who know way more about skiing than I do had both said “Your boots are not very good boots,” so I finally threw up my hands and bought new AT boots. They were a little over $700 with tax.
If you have never purchased a new pair of ski boots, let me tell you three things about them that are very likely true:
- They smell way better than most used ski boots.
- They are probably the most expensive shoes you will ever own.
- You will very likely look at least somewhat like a jackass while walking in them.
Sure, technology has improved, and contemporary ski boots are way easier to walk semi-normally in. But if I have to walk around the block, I’ll take a pair of broken-in running shoes over a pair of ski boots any day. “But wait,” you say, “you can’t ski in running shoes.” That is correct—you sure as shit cannot ski in running shoes. You can do a decent standing glissade on soft snow while wearing running shoes, but they’re not very good at carving turns or negotiating moguls. If you shoved me out of the tram at Jackson Hole on a Saturday in January with nothing but a pair of running shoes to negotiate my way down the 4,000-plus feet to the base of the resort, I would be a bit disappointed, to put it mildly.
Sometimes when I put on my ski boots, I think about someone being helped into a deep-sea atmospheric diving suit, and how that person will miraculously be able to survive ocean depths of up to 1,000 feet in that suit, but if you set them down on dry land in it, they could barely take a few steps. Ski boots are a little bit like that, in a much smaller and less expensive way. Ski boots do one job: they attach you to skis, which make it possible for you to fly. They click into skis, and click you out of skis when you need to. Do your ski boots do that well? Then hang on to them.
If you and I walked into a shoe store, and you pointed at a pair of $700 shoes and told me I should get them, I would tell you to get out of my face, because I, like most people, do not inhabit the circles of society that recognize or appreciate $700 shoes.
A pair of shoes that costs $700 would have to do something amazing, something absolutely incredible, for me in order to be worth that much money. They would literally have to do something that would change my life, in the few hours of the few days I would wear them, to create a feeling I couldn’t get anywhere else, and enable me to do something that would hang around the corners of my memory for years or decades, something that would float above all the emails and to-do lists of everyday life and be a truly special part of my life.
Something like skiing.