32 Degrees: Meet Master Bootfitter Matt Schiller

This article, by Robin Barnes, appeared in the Fall 2022 Issue of 32 Degrees, which you can read here.

Meet Matt Schiller, whose industry background includes alpine instructor, race coach, brand competition director, US Ski Team technician, Park City Boot Room owner, and PSIA-AASI education staff member. Here, PSIA Alpine Team member Robin Barnes interviews Matt to get his thoughts on bootfitting and how your gear can aid your performance.

Robin: Can you tell us about your snowsports career?

Matt: I’m lucky. Having multiple high- performance jobs throughout my 27-year career has given me a holistic approach to skiing, a solid understanding of skier and equipment mechanics and proficiency, and opportunities to build supporting rela- tionships with some of the greatest skiers of our generation. I’ve high-fived athletes at the top of the X Games halfpipe; spent summers testing and training at Mammoth, Mt. Hood, and in the southern hemisphere; worked 15-hour days on World Cup speed skis for athletes to perform at Kitzbuhel in Austria; served as a SKI Magazine buyer’s guide tester for over a decade; and provided ski boot stance and balance workshops for several National Academies. I’ve worn many hats in my career while using my knowledge to help others excel.

R: You take a collaborative approach to bootfitting. Why is personalizing the process important to you?

M: Most of my assessment takes place before the person even puts on their boots. I need to understand their equipment IQ, what they’re trying to accomplish, and if their equipment helps or hinders their desired technique. I also need to relate to their style and athleticism by listening to and watching them describe their movement patterns. These steps help me “get inside their boot brain”!

Small corrections often make a huge difference. When working with professional athletes, the athlete, coach, and I will watch videos, have conversations, and discuss equipment to help the athlete decipher how changes in their technique or equipment can help them reach their goals. If their movement patterns are sound, I can augment their gear to enhance certain aspects related to discipline or conditions.

R: What are the differences or similarities between bootfitting with elite athletes, like US Ski Team members, versus recreational skiers?

M: The difference is that an elite athlete’s gear is fine-tuned consistently to a level almost beyond comprehension. Every run is full-throttle, and the materials must be dialed to support that level of effort.

The similarity is that elite athletes keep their setup simple and neutral, for the most part, so they have a baseline from which to experiment. The mantra is, “You have to know the rules before you can break them.” For both elite athletes and the public, small corrections can go a long way. While we are not built symmetrically or ingrained with perfect techniques, I shy away from going too far out of the box with boot setups to compensate for less-than-ideal mechanics and abilities.

R: How much pain or discomfort do you have to endure when breaking in new boots? Is a “sufferfest” still expected?

M: No, but it’s all a matter of perspective. You have to consider each individual foot’s tolerance spectrum. What’s tight and miser- able for one person is loose and sloppy for another. You have to be smarter than plastic and foam. Meaning, you can often fix what feels like a massive pain point or hurdle to overcome with a simple modification. For example, a small glitch in the plastic or foam, or a rivet, is a simple issue to address and fix.

I fit over 500 boots a year, and I can easily say it’s the same five problem spots on all feet. My job is to address the rules of skeletal function, range of motion, dorsiflexion of the ankles, footbed and cuff alignment, and canting. Pain and discomfort are often a result of the body working against the design of the boot, not addressing the stability of the foot inside the plastic and foam cast, and not matching the boot to one’s anatomy. Be one with your boot!

Liners are key in the fit game. The false fit of a new stock liner can yield the greatest comfort/discomfort reaction. To fit properly, your liner needs to address your foot shape, both for positive and negative spaces.

R: What would you like your customers to know before they walk into your shop for a boot consultation?

M: It’s helpful if you know what works and what doesn’t work for you. I’ll ask, “What are you doing well in your skiing, and what do you struggle with?” That conversation gives me a direction to aim for in achieving a better platform. We’ll examine and measure their current setup and relate on-snow deficiencies to the way the boot works for them. I’ll also take a few minutes to discuss their whole setup: skis, bindings, and boots. These three elements MUST work together as a cohesive unit.

R: What’s the weirdest thing you have ever done ON PURPOSE to fit a boot?

M: The weirdest adjustment I did was to cut the entire lower lugs off, so the boot board (the part of the ski boot under the liner) could fall through the bottom and allow the athlete to stand directly on the ski. I’m sure his next Teton Gravity Research movie segment will confirm the test and blow your mind.

R: What’s your opinion on removing footbeds? There was a movement when racers were opting out of using them.

M: There is no absolute answer. There are pros and cons related to footbeds, since each foot and boot environment is different. All a footbed needs to do – in a properly snug- fitting performance boot – is take up the negative underside space of a semi-weighted natural foot shape. Taking up negative space enhances the athlete’s proprioception and helps them use their whole foot to manipulate the boot.

Some of the variables that are often overlooked in bootfitting are arch flexibility, footbed material density, foot tri-pod balance, bed volume, and boot integration. The bottom line is that you must be able to manipulate your foot inside the boot, and articulate your joints some, within the foot- bed and boot environment.

Adjustments are all within margins. For some skiers, taking the footbed out creates too much room for the foot to move and causes inefficiency. For others, it gives them space to move their foot and can help increase performance.

R: Can bootfitting help participants excel in other sports aside from alpine skiing?

M: Yes! Cross country skiing, snowboarding, telemark skiing, rollerblading, cycling, running, ice skating, you name it. Every sport involves the relationship between the athletes’ body function and skill acquisi- tion. To be proficient in a sport, you should address the translation of body energy to materials and surfaces, tapping into laws of physics. When you can successfully inte- grate body and equipment, your success and enjoyment increase tenfold.

R: As a high-level skier, master bootfitter and clinic leader with PSIA-AASI’s Intermountain region, what characteristics of great skiing stand out to you?

M: Power, both inherent and usable. Watching, coaching, and demonstrating purposeful, powerful movements produces momentum, efficiency, and more power. It’s as if time is standing still and you have full command of the environment. Having stood on the side of many World Cup races and PSIA-AASI National Team selection events, I’ve noticed a pattern: The stand-out athletes can command and produce power at a flick of the foot.