I realise that the very idea of purchasing a pair of custom-made ski boots might make me sound like I’m married to a Russian oligarch. But due to having enormous feet (recently documented in my Big Foot blog), I’ve had an ongoing battle to find a pair of ski boots that can adequately house my sizeable clodhoppers.
And the long-suffering husband became so fed up with my incessant moaning about ill-fitting boots, that when we stumbled upon a custom-made ski boot shop, he frog-marched me straight in there.
The shop in question goes by the name of Surefoot. Sounds comforting, doesn’t it? If you happened to be in the market for a pair of bespoke ski boots, you’d feel in safe hands with a company called Surefoot. Or so I thought.
It all started off quite positively. After a bit of a wait, we were served by a thoroughly pleasant man. He was a kind of ageing surfer dude – all bleached hair and rolled up sleeves – with a relaxed but confident manner.
Ageing surfer dude talked us through the Surefoot process (based on 25 years of scientific development, no less!): first, my big feet would be measured in 3-D by a special machine, in order to create a sole that hugs the contours of the foot; next, a boot is selected based on the shape of the foot and skiing ability; finally, hot resin is injected into the shell of the boot, which cools to create a mould to hold said foot and ankle snugly in place. Simples.
And then he hit us with the price… £800! I was flabbergasted.
‘It’s too much,’ I whispered to the husband. ‘Let’s go!’
But it was too late. The husband had already been sucked into the whole Surefoot process, hypnotised by Ageing surfer dude’s steely blue eyes, soothing sales patter, and – moreover – the promise of the comfiest pair of boots you could ever ski in (ie. no more moaning wife).
‘I think we should just go for it,’ he said. ‘Just think: no more stressing about finding a pair of boots that fit. It’s an investment.’
Two hours later, we were still in the shop, waiting for the boots to bake in the oven.
Ageing surfer dude emerged with the boots, holding them aloft triumphantly. I slipped my feet into them.
They immediately felt like they were entombed in concrete.
‘How do they feel?’ he said, in his hypnotic tones.
‘Very, very tight,’ I said. This was no understatement; I was worried.
He assured me this was perfectly normal and before you could say ‘Not-So-Surefoot’, we were bundled out of the shop – £800 lighter.
The next morning, I set off skiing in my new boots. The first run was mildly painful. By the second run, a hot throbbing pain had begun to pulsate across the bridge of my feet. By the third run, it had escalated to intolerable burning that had spread through my ankles, toes and calves.
By noon, I was in so much pain that I thought I was going to pass out. I was forced to abandon the slopes and head back to boot camp.
I hobbled through the door of Surefoot and nearly collapsed face down.
‘I’m in so much pain,’ I cried dramatically.
Ageing surfer dude simply smiled at me in the way a doctor might try to placate a mentally unhinged patient.
‘Not to worry,’ he said. ‘We’ll pop them in the oven and re-shape them a bit. This is quite normal.’
I waited an hour. There was an alarming amount of bashing and clattering behind the scenes. During this time, several other disgruntled customers came in – including one man who had been having his boots chipped away at for the last three years!
‘The right boot is just about okay now,’ he said, cheerfully. ‘But the left one still needs a lot of work.’
Eventually, one of Ageing surfer dude’s lackies emerged with my newly-heated boots. It might have been my imagination but he looked a little sheepish.
I tried them on. Nothing had changed.
Back in the oven they went.
Meanwhile, several new customers entered the shop sniffing around, while I woefully massaged my swollen feet.
‘Don’t do it,’ I mouthed at one of them. ‘It’s a living nightmare.’
Ageing surfer dude caught wind of my moans and the blue eyes hardened.
‘You’re not chasing off my customers, I hope,’ he said, maintaining his Cheshire cat smile but with none of the earlier warmth.
‘No… no… of course not!’ I hastened, grinning back.
After their second oven bake, the boots felt no better and I had wasted a whole afternoon’s skiing. Ageing surfer dude naturally assured me that they just needed a bit more breaking in.
I trudged home rueing the day that I had ever set foot in Surefoot.
A year on and we’re back in the French Alps. I begrudging lugged my Surefoot boots all the way out here. I tried them for the first morning’s skiing, tolerated the pain for as long as possible, and then had to head to the boot-hire shop to get some different boots.
My redundant Surefoot boots are currently sat mocking me in the corner of our hotel room.
I passed the Surefoot shop last night. Ageing surfer dude is still there: same soft sales pitch, same bleached hair and same irritating grin in place – as he snares more victims.
And behind him, a line of weary victims waiting futilely for their boots to be re-shaped by Surefoot’s backroom boys, wielding hammer and chisel.
‘He’s a snake oil salesman masquerading as an affable ski buddy,’ said the husband. ‘He sows dreams but reaps nightmares.’
So far, I haven’t had the energy to go ‘toe-to-toe’ with Ageing surfer dude. But I’m building up to my next battle with him.
And I’ve got a feeling that during our next encounter, surf bum will be getting the boot.