For the last six months your feet have been living it up in flip-flops and your metatarsals have had it easy. But now your Teva tan is fading and the snowline is creeping down again. Yes, it's time to stuff your summer feet back into those stiff polyurethane casts you use to pilot your skis.
If you're breaking in new boots this fall or even re-dialing your old ones, chances are you're dealing with thermal liners. Now, any ski shop worth its salt will mold these for you upon purchase, but people come by their gear through all sorts of channels these days, so if you've found yourself with a set of liners that needs shaping to your feet but you're too cheap to pony up for a fitter, you're not alone.
Follow this recipe, step by step, for a great set of home-cooked liners.
- One pair of thermal liners
- Standard home oven
- One wooden cutting board
- Two nylon stockings or a set of ski socks
- One toe cap (or duct tape to make one)
- One phone book (ideally two inches thick or so)
- One small chunk of plywood (optional)
Step 1: Pull all but one rack out of your oven to make some space. Most liners like to be heated to be about 200 degrees Fahrenheit in a convection oven. You're going to crank yours to 350 and let it get up to heat.
Step 2: You'll do one foot at a time. Put one nylon stocking on, place the toe cap on your toes, and then the other nylon over it to hold it in place. If you want more space in your boots, use thicker-weight socks (like your ski socks).
Step 3: When you hear the ‘ding’ indicating the oven is ready, turn it off. You don't want the elements on, just the residual heat. While you wait for it to cool down a bit (you'll lose some heat when you open the oven, so don't wait too long), toss the phone book on the floor. It also helps if this is a floor you don't care about, because you're going to stomp on it. Otherwise, you might want a small piece of plywood to protect it.
Step 4: Place your liner on a wooden cutting board, slide it into the oven and turn on the light so you can watch it. Most liners are pre-lasted these days, so they don't need to be heated that much. When it starts to sink a little bit under its own weight, it's ready—if you have your doubts, just check on it a couple times. It should feel spongy but not mushy. You don't want it so floppy that it doesn't have any structure when it goes in the shell, or it'll fold like crazy.
Step 5: Put your footbed in the liner (if you use one), and stuff the liner into your shell.
Step 6: Put your foot in holding the back cuff of the liner. If you're in a wrap, remember: Inside of the wrap goes to the inside of the leg. Once you're in, hold down the shell, lift your heel once more along with the liner, and slam it back down. This will get rid of any folds in the heel. Inspect quickly that nothing's crooked, wrinkled, or stuffed elsewhere. Tongue liners tend to slip into place better, but give the tongue a small tug up as your foot slides in.
Step 7: Before you fasten your buckles, smash your heel against the ground and feel it sink to the back. Next, smash your toes and feel them sink, then finish with the heel again to put you back into the pocket.
Step 8: Prop your toes up on the phone book and do up all your buckles. The tighter you do them the more space you make, so this part's up to you. Don't do up the power strap, you'll want to keep the foam ample up there and not pack it out through the molding process.
Step 9: Gently flex back and forth, wiggling your toes (it won't feel like you have any space to do this, but it makes a difference, so do your best). If you're in touring boots, after about a minute, loosen your toe buckle and go into touring mode. Walk around, striding as hard as you can to shuffle your foot back and forth, until the liner cools down. Should take about 15 minutes. If this is your hill-banging boot, just stay put on the phone book and wait until it cools.
Step 10: Pull your now-very-cramped foot out, pop the liner out, too, and inspect that there are no folds. Next, try it on with your ski sock to see how you did. If successful (and you will be, grasshopper), repeat for the other liner.
Step 11: Invite all your friends for a Sunday meal of pow and show off your culinary skills.