Monday, February 22, 2010

How-to: Find Professional Figure Skating Boot Fitters


This guest post is courtesy of my friend and master skate technician, R.H.

Question from a reader: I've been searching on the Internet for a certified skate technician or professional to advise us on new boots with little luck. We have a gentleman who visits our rink monthly and is excellent, but seems to bring a very limited supply of skates due to the nature of traveling. Is there a Website or resource that lists professionals by geographic location?

R.H.: This is a very good question! I'm not sure who is coming to your rink for fittings and what brand or brands of skates he carries, but ideally you should work with a skate fitter who represents several brands of skates and is (relatively, at least!) impartial. Skates are like jeans - Levis may fit your waist/hip/thigh ratio perfectly, whereas I can't find a pair of Levis that fit my frame to save my life! Every skate brand fits slightly different and offers features that may work better for certain foot types, so to have a fitter who only sells one brand of skate or who is very partial to one particular brand can be a hindrance to finding the boot that is best for you! An experienced fitter will measure you for several different brands (as each brand runs different in sizing and width) and then steer you in what he or she feels will work best for you, your foot type and your skate needs.

Unfortunately there is not a Website that offers this information. Each and every boot company has a list of retailers in your area that carry their brand of skates, but this is not a guarantee that you'll be fitted properly by someone who has adequate experience. The best method for finding a shop/person who does an excellent job is to first ask your coach. Most coaches do have an opinion as to the skate shop he/she prefers and trusts, and this advice is worth considering. If the coach doesn't have an opinion or you dislike the shop he/she mentions, then my recommendation would be to ask AT LEAST 5-10 people actively involved in the sport WHOSE OPINION YOU RESPECT (if you are willing to travel, even ask around at competitions, skaters who are novice, junior and senior most likely didn't get to that level in consistently poor fitting boots, so their opinion will be worth a shot). The key is to ask a variety of people, and if necessary, you may have to travel a good distance.

How far you may ask? Well, many of my customers come from within an hour's drive of my store, but we do have several customers who drive 4-6 hours each way for fittings and sharpenings. That may seem like a long drive (and to me it is), but considering that the skate is the foundation of everything the skater does, it is important that the equipment be fitted by technicians who are experienced and can give you the benefit of their knowledge.

Question from a reader: Does anyone know of any formal training courses offered for this?

R.H.: Another awesome question! I wish there was...unfortunately there is none. The skate companies do offer some educational support to their retailers, but the training mainly comes from working with a highly experienced boot fitter on a daily basis for at least several years. Best of luck in finding the skates you deserve!

Thanks, R.H.!

Update: From reader Anonymous who thinks driving to a good skate shop is worth it: It is so important to get skates that fit properly! The last time my skater was complaining about the fit of her skates, I assumed that she had just grown - again. We took her to a different skate shop (based on recommendations) and discovered that her feet had not grown. Not only were her boots the wrong size but the boots were just plain wrong for what she was doing (also based on her height and weight). My skater was well on her way to serious foot problems. [...] We are several hours away from our closest skate shop (and the new shop is even further) but the trip is worth it! I like to save money wherever possible and skates are definitely the place to apply those other savings!

Update: From skate coach, skate parent, skate blogger, and Advisory Board member Xan of Xanboni!:  Just another word from a coach--when you buy your first "real" skates, please go to a reputable dealer, not to SportMart, or the bike shop, or that hockey guy, or the used skate store, or grandma's garage. Get the tech or the salesperson to give you a primer in skate technology and don't PLEASE don't lie about the skater's tested level.

So many people quit skating because they think they're incompetent, when really they just have the wrong skates.

Update: From reader Jillybean: Remember that just because someone works at the rink, it doesn't mean that they know how to properly fit a skating boot. I had a bad experience with my first pair of "real"skates. I was fit by the guy at the rink, and I ended up with a pair of boots that were too big, and much too strong for my skating level at the time. I ended up with some serious foot problems. My doctor wanted to operate on my foot to fix one of the problems and told me that after I healed, I would need to get custom made skates. I decided to skip the surgery and go straight to the custom boots, and the problems that I had just went away!

It's worth it to spend a little more to get the right boot.


Update: From reader poorer but wiser, who had a bad fitting experience: [...] sometimes even an experienced pro can screw up. Do as much homework as you can before hand, read reviews from other skaters using various boots and try to be as educated a consumer as you can possibly be. And don't let the fitter strong-arm you into buying something you're not comfortable with ...


Have a question for Ice Mom? Want to write a guest post? E-mail Ice Mom at icemom.diane@gmail.com.

10 comments:

Vlad said...

I would like to say thank you for your advice about skates!Really useful information.Thanks!

Anonymous said...

It is so important to get skates that fit properly! The last time my skater was complaining about the fit of her skates, I assumed that she had just grown - again. We took her to a different skate shop (based on recommendations) and discovered that her feet had not grown. Not only were her boots the wrong size but the boots were just plain wrong for what she was doing (also based on her height and weight). My skater was well on her way to serious foot problems. In light of this discovery, I spent a long time quizzing the new boot fitter and she was very patient and answered all my questions.

For Example (I know Ice Mom has covered these before): Can we buy boots a 1/2 size bigger for growing room? "No" - because they will not fit correctly in the mean time and her toes will be in the wrong position for landing jumps and put stress on the wrong parts of her foot.

Would it be better to move "up" one boot level since she's an advancing skater? "No" - because she needs a certain amount of ankle flex that she won't get in the stronger boot. She emphasized again that skater size is very important when selecting boots and that is not taken into consideration when manufacturers publish their usage recommendations/guidelines.

The answers were more technical (and fit with what I had researched ahead of our shopping trip) but that was the jist of it.

We are several hours away from our closest skate shop (and the new shop is even further) but the trip is worth it! I like to save money wherever possible and skates are definitely the place to apply those other savings!

Anonymous said...

Oh, I have a question about skates! Well, about blades to be specific. So I just recently started skating, and I got my first pair of skates over the summer. I got them sharpened by this guy who was VERY highly recommended. I thought it was fine. But then a few weeks ago, my coach took at look at my blades and said that they were TOTALLY messed up. Apparently there wasn't a rocker left (which was a relief to me- my backspin and camel spins were horrible.) So we took them to the sharpener and asked him to look at them (politely). He got really upset and said that there was nothing wrong whatsoever, and to go tell my coach to stop talking trash about him. So now we don't know who to believe. My coach skated at around the Olympic level before she injured her knee, and this sharpener trained under the guy who used to sharpen Dorothy Hamill's skates. Who do I believe? And should I trust my coach's opinion about what skates and blades to get? The lady who is fitting my skates (tomorrow, actually) is the best in the area, but she doesn't know much about blades. And the sharpener told us not to get the model of Riedell that my coach and the skate-fitter woman are recommending to me. It's one big mess and misunderstanding...can you offer any advice? My mom and I are really confused.

Ice Mom said...

Hi, Anony!

I'm not R.H. and I don't even pretend to be an expert on blades, but I would take your coach's opinion over the skate tech's.

Here's why:
1. You've been having trouble with some of your elements. Something's wrong.
2. Your coach is a highly qualified skater who couldn't have achieved that level without knowing something about skating gear.
3. That guy's attitude was out of synch with your concern. If there really wasn't anything wrong, why did he go nuts?

Of course, this is all anecdotal. I give parenting advice, but as a parent, I think something's up.

As R.H. said, ask experienced skaters at your rink about sharpenings. Who do they use? Have they used this guy?

I've e-mailed R.H. your question, too.

Best wishes for success!

Ice Mom

PrettyBowtie said...

Thanks for this informative post, Ice Mom! I'm fortunate enough to have had a good start in skates- essentially new second hand boots that are incredible and the perfect fit. I'm also going to buy new skates in July. A lot of skate jargon goes over my head, so I'm travelling to Sydney (from Melbourne) to what is apparently the best retailer in aus for skates- I'm also lucky in that I have someone to come with me to give me advice :)

Xan said...

Just another word from a coach--when you buy your first "real" skates, please go to a reputable dealer, not to SportMart, or the bike shop, or that hockey guy, or the used skate store, or grandma's garage. Get the tech or the salesperson to give you a primer in skate technology and don't PLEASE don't lie about the skater's tested level.

So many people quit skating because they think they're incompetent, when really they just have the wrong skates.

Jillybean said...

I'm really lucky because my brother sharpens skates and has been fitting boots for years (and he lives 15 minutes away:0)
Remember that just because someone works at the rink, it doesn't mean that they know how to properly fit a skating boot. I had a bad experience with my first pair of "real"skates. I was fit by the guy at the rink, and I ended up with a pair of boots that were too big, and much too strong for my skating level at the time. I ended up with some serious foot problems. My doctor wanted to operate on my foot to fix one of the problems and told me that after I healed, I would need to get custom made skates. I decided to skip the surgery and go straight to the custom boots, and the problems that I had just went away!

It's worth it to spend a little more to get the right boot.

Ice Mom said...

Hi, Prettybowtie!

I think it's a great idea to take someone who knows about fitting skates with you. I also think it's worth the drive to a shop you trust, but wow - Melbourne -> Sydney is quite a distance!

Thanks for the comment!

Ice Mom said...

Jillybean:

You lucked out with the custom boots. I'd rather pay for custom boots than custom surgery!

Ice Mom

angel said...

Remember that some of us have no skate shops/fitters.
Also that sometimes coaches like one brand of skates. Doesnt mean they are the best for your skater or your skaters foot.Every skaters foot is different!