Surefoot has dedicated four decades to setting benchmarks in boot fitting, helping generations of racers reach the podium
Bob Shay has always loved skiing. Growing up in Stratton, Vt., he and his brother Russell would often be the first two kids on the chairlift every morning and the last down the hill at the end of the day. As they grew older, they continued spending all of their free time chasing each other around the slopes.
As much as he loved it, Bob would be wincing in pain after those long days, hobbling to a base area stairwell where he could take off his ski boots, rub his feet and wait for the burning and throbbing to stop.
“I’ve always had difficult feet to fit in ski boots – a wide forefoot and high instep. I had so much pain in ski boots when I was young,” he said.
By the time he was a teenager, Bob had sought boot help at every sports shop in town and exhausted every possible resource trying to find a solution to his increasing boot pain. Finding no answers, he finally took matters into his own hands.
“I learned how to adjust liners and boot parts to help alleviate the pain my boots were causing. I started working it out on my own,” he said.
As the Shay brothers and their friends delved into the racing world, the vital role of ski boots became even more pronounced. It became clearer that for every individual, boots could make or break the sport, not only in terms of comfort, but performance.
“When you grow up in ski racing, everyone you know is in ski racing. At the time, ski boots sucked,” Bob said. “You realized it every time you carved a turn or tried to build speed. They were too tight in places, or so big they felt like buckets on your feet. Most of our friends had some issue with their boots. Each problem, just like each foot, was different. We’d work on them. We wanted to make them better. That was the simple basis of the business. We wanted to make them better. It’s something we’ve stuck with through our whole history.”
Waves of innovation
Fast forward 40 years and Surefoot’s “make them better” motto has led the industry in ski-boot fit and comfort technology, notching one state-of-the-art benchmark after another. Shay moved to Park City, Utah, at age 18. He and his brother opened the first Surefoot there in 1982. Today, there are 25 Surefoot locations all over the world.
“Looking back through our history, there are so many things we introduced to skiing,” Shay said. “They weren’t commonplace when we started.”
Fueled by their personal experiences and challenges with ski boots, the Shay brothers set out to help one skier at a time, understanding at the most profound level that each person’s feet, stance and style are entirely unique. Hence came breakthroughs that transformed the entire ski industry – alignment systems, custom orthotics and boot heaters – each of which Surefoot has continued to advance year after year.
“Really, the ability to improve boots has come down to diagnosing the problem and what we can do. Throughout the process, we have always stuck to this pure way of doing things. The performance of the ski boot is so critical. Every aspect of skiing – racing or otherwise – comes back to the boot,” Shay said.
As more and more skiers discovered how Surefoot could take their skiing to the next level, the company expanded globally. Naturally, ski racers everywhere jumped on the bandwagon, relying on Surefoot for all of their boot needs.
These boots are made for champions
“Alberto Tomba, Hermann Maier, Lindsey Vonn, Mikaela Shiffrin, Lasse Kjus … the list goes on and on. At minimum, 50% of the best skiers on the planet have come through Surefoot,” Shay said. “They might just use our orthotics or alignment systems. They might use our custom services to alter the boots they’re in. We have more athletes now than we ever have.”
Beyond Olympic and World Cup champions, Surefoot has helped racers at every level, implementing programs such as Growing Pains, in which young skiers – not only racers – get 50% credit toward their next pair of boots if they outgrow their current pair within two years. The Shay brothers masterminded this concept as they raised their own alpine racing children.
“I saw the expense parents were having with getting kids into proper gear and equipment,” Shay said. “One day I was watching the kids train and I saw a girl on the Park City Ski Team – my daughter’s teammate – in a pair of boots that were just wrong for her. I said something to the coach and he said, ‘I think the parents just bought those boots.’ I said, come to Surefoot. We’ll swap them out. We put her into a pair that allowed her to flex and ski properly. The next weekend, she was on the podium. The father said something to the coach like, ‘what an amazing thing.’ The coach pointed to me and said, ‘It was him. He put her in different boots.’”
The surest fit
Surefoot pioneered ski boot alignment systems and custom orthotics, fine-tuning each over the years in accordance with the most cutting-edge technologies available. These days, boots and liners are customized to the most microscopic degree through computer imaging and real-time foam shaping.
“The big innovations were when we played with chemical compositions and injected materials, what most people refer to as ‘foam.’ This is a chemical composition that we adapt to the foot and the boot shell. It doesn’t matter if the person is a beginner skier or a World Cup racer; it allows their foot to be in a balanced, neutral position. The material has developed over time in density, flow, warmth factor and how we can get it to comfortably wrap around the foot,” Shay said.
When you get a pair of custom boots at Surefoot, the digital measuring stages leading to the mold conclude with wearing the boot liners as liquid foam snakes through the material, solidifying around your lower leg, ankle and foot. The result feels like an extension of one’s own body. The system can also include boot heaters – something Surefoot also introduced to the ski industry back in 1989.
The latest iteration of the heaters have ultralight, removable batteries. The wiring is seamlessly integrated into the liners to distribute warmth to every part of the foot and operated with a phone app.
“Working with the science of the circulatory system, what we’re trying to do is let you be the athlete, let the product be as perfectly synced to you as it can and let the body perform at the level that it can,” Shay said. “Ultimately, what the ski boot does is allow forward flex to drive the ski. Inside of that, we allow you to be properly balanced and comfortable. If you can click into your boots and spend your day thinking about everything else, it’s a much better day. Comfort is a big, big deal.”