THE WORK OF A BOOT FITTER IN DETAIL
Fabian Stiepel is a professional boot fitter. Together with our Race-Service Manager Hans Hofer and materials expert Manfred Rogetzer, he is part of Bründl’s magic triangle of winter sport.
Hanging on the wall of his workshop is a check about the size of a towel. Entered in the amount box is € 60,000. This is the prize money won a few years ago by Finnish ski racer Tanja Poutiainen at a giant slalom event in Zagreb. Which also represented a triumph for boot fitter Fabian Stiepel, who, when the Finn tore the shell of her boot, managed to mold a replacement boot to her foot overnight.
While others are standing on the winners’ podium, Fabian has already made his way back down the stairs to the basement of the Flagship Store. As a member of the racing team, his job at Sport Bründl is to ensure that skiers in all divisions are wearing boots that fit like a glove – and boots that transfer power to the ski perfectly. »You can have the fastest, most expensive skis«, says Fabian, »but if the boot doesn’t fit, you may as well throw those skis away.«
In the course of his 30-year career, he has seen it all: squished toes, maltreated navicular bones, ankles injured on the inside and outside, every form of abuse to the big toe. Fabian says: »If you have had a ski accident, you go to the doctor. If you hobble into our department with your face grimacing in pain, there’s a fair chance your boot is the culprit.« Professional racers simply grit their teeth and tough it out, since the torment will be over in a couple of minutes or less. When it comes down to hundredths of seconds, the athlete can’t begin floundering about; which is why the shell and liner hold their foot every bit as tight as the pumped-up sleeve of a blood-pressure monitor squeezing the upper arm.
The Right Balance
Unlike winter holidaymakers: He is out on the piste all day long, for him it’s all about the ideal fit and greatest level of comfort. The art is in finding the right balance between space and tightness. Too much air will cause the skier to lose control over his skis, too little means that, sooner or later, he’ll be a case for the orthopedist. Fabian isn’t looking to alter the foot position. After all, he isn’t a physician. But he does want to give the foot optimal support, meaning the pressure will be distributed evenly and gently across the entire boot. Once the boots are fitted correctly, skiing will be fun again. To that end, he and his colleagues have use of a small basement room, which is basically a classic boot-maker’s workshop and high-tech lab all in one.
Here, as well as out there on the sales floor, there is everything a boot-fitter’s heart could ever wish for:
- pipes to pump foam into the boot
- two-component adhesives
- hot-air gun
- ski-boot oven
- ski-boot stretcher
- sole-canting machine
- pressurized socks
- hammers and
- wood and metal molds
A Craftsman’s Touch
Everything is permitted that will transform boot and foot into a single harmonious unit. And naturally, regardless of how useful machines may be, the craftsman’s touch is always indispensable. For example, when Fabi (which is his nickname) uses his fingers to feel around on the inside of the boot to locate the neurological pressure points.
He taught himself many of the tricks of his trade during his apprenticeship in the sports retail business, even though his »surgical« experiments did sacrifice the occasional pair of boots for a good cause. Later, it was about refining his knowledge: with a manufacturer in Italy, a boot fitter in the United States – and with the help of a Masters in Education. The fact that this native of Wuppertal, Germany, has turned his back on the ski-racing circuit and opted for Kaprun rather than somewhere else in the world, speaks volumes about Bründl. This company knows how to attract the best talent out there. Together with former pro racer Hans Hofer and Manfred Rogetzer, manager of the main shop in Kaprun, he is part of the magic triangle of winter sport: skis, boots and purchasing, all in the hands of professionals, all perfectly in synch.
As for Fabian, each of his customers thanks him in their own way. In Sochi, two customers for whom he had fitted their boots took home gold and bronze in the Parallel Slalom and Giant Slalom snowboard events. As for more casual skiers, the occasional generous tip or small favor is a welcome form of recognition. Once thing is very clear: No one needs extra »pressure«. Especially when they are on holiday.