When Jack gets you the boot, it fits
January 17, 2014
Earning a reputation as a first-rate boot man is high praise when you live in a ski town.
Jack Rafferty is technically a pedorthist, but when skiers encounter trouble with a proper fit on their feet, they come running for "the boot guy."
Rafferty, owner of Thotics Inc., has saved skiers from agony of da feet in Aspen and Snowmass Village for 35 years. He showed a knack for proper fitting and making adjustments for comfort and performance when he worked at Stefan Kaelin's ski shop adjacent to Guido's Swiss Inn in Aspen.
"In the early '80s, there was no one in town doing this kind of work," Rafferty said.
“I’ve dealt with some of the strangest feet on the planet.”
Dr. Robert Oden, an Aspen doctor who also treated the U.S. Ski Team, recognized Rafferty's potential and encouraged him to return to college to pursue an education as a pedorthist. Rafferty pursued his education at Ball State University but returned to Aspen as soon as possible.
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Rafferty has worked as an independent contractor in ski shops ever since, currently at Aspen Sports on the Snowmass Village Mall. Gripe to a longtime local about a ski boot problem and chances are they will send you Jack's way.
He estimated he splits his time about evenly between selling people properly fitted boots and making adjustments after listening to them describe their aches and pains. It might involve heating up the hard plastic shell and "punching out" the toe area for more space, grinding minute amounts of the shell to prevent irritation of an ankle bone or paring down the thickness of a liner for a truer fit.
"I've dealt with some of the strangest feet on the planet," Rafferty said.
However, he claimed to have never found a foot or boot that he couldn't help.
Midmorning Monday brought a typical customer contact for Rafferty. An Aspen Skiing Co. ski instructor had a client in a private lesson who had a horrible fit in boots bought elsewhere. He brought her to Jack, who placed her on the boot-fitting perch. She described the problems. Rafferty took the boot to his workbench, locked it in a vice grip and toiled away with various tools of the trade. He had her try it on a couple of times and tinkered some more until everyone was happy with the alterations.
In a nutshell, Rafferty said, his job is about "making better skiers out of people." It's not just about comfort. It's also about promoting the best balance so skiers can perform their best, he said.
A lot more skiers probably could benefit from proper fitting, he said.
"For every one that we have in here, there are probably six out there," he said while pointing to the skiers and snowboarders preparing their gear at the Snowmass base.
Rafferty doesn't horde his trade secrets. He is part of Master Fit University, a group of six boot fitters each with more than 30 years of experience at different resorts. They created a curriculum that they teach to retail boot fitters at shops in places such as Denver, Seattle and Reno. They get 100 to 120 people at the classes, which start in September. At Thanksgiving, Rafferty is firmly planted at Aspen Sports for the season.
He provides custom and sports orthotics for runners, cyclists and all types of adventurers during summers. He helped Martina Navratilova with orthotics during her tennis career.
"Martina's probably my biggest ally over the years," he said.
He helped Aspen native son and Olympic cycling champion Alexi Grewal with his cycling shoes.
Ski boots are his bread and butter. What he has seen over 35 years concerns him. Ski rental shops tend to put their least experienced seasonal workers in a position where they deal with the least experienced skiers, Rafferty said. That often results in ill-fitting ski boots that cause the newcomers to the sport pain and frustration, according to Rafferty.
Skiing has more baby boomers leaving the sport than new blood entering.
"The ski industry is in a quandary right now," Rafferty said.
When newcomers aren't fitted properly, that exacerbates the problem, he said. Rafferty is an advocate of "retention intervention" — creating dedicated newcomers to the sport by fitting them properly with gear their first time out. He has been invited to speak on the topic at a convention later this winter in Steamboat held by the National Ski Areas Association, an industry trade association, he said.
It seems only fitting.