[Eds. Note: BLISTER reviewer Marshal Olson posted a detailed review of four Intuition liners earlier this winter, which we consider the best starting point if you are considering replacing your stock boot liner with an Intuition. But we also thought it would interesting to share the experiences of someone making the transition to a custom, after-market liner for the first time. What follows is one newbie’s account of the process, including a few vital mistakes and some important lessons about boot fitting.]
Intuition, a company out of Vancouver, B.C., has been making custom ski boot liners since 1992 (or “the late nineteen hundreds,” as my kid would say). By virtue of length in service, proprietary EVA heat-moldable foam, and a glowing and growing body of testimonials, they are the Big Dog in after-market boot upgrades.
Sometime around when they landed the contract to be Scarpa’s original equipment liners, they moved production to China and now sew up more than 350,000 liners a year. Most of these have been for snowboarders and alpine tourers, but with the trend-advent of high-performance AT (along with a vocal cheering section of former boot-whiners who experienced miracle cures) the conventional alpine market is beginning to take notice.
Now, I’m not a boot whiner, nor am I the kind of fanatic who sacrifices toenails every season, but I had always thought a certain amount of discomfort was the price one paid for performance and responsiveness. (You don’t want to get too comfortable and fall asleep behind the wheel, right?) Still, I was curious. What if I could stop having to bend over to buckle and unbuckle my boots? Why not take a walk on the cush side?
I scored a pair of Intuition Dreamliners, grabbed my new Techinca Cochise boots, and headed up to Taos Ski Valley for a fitting from Charlie Bradley, boot physician-in-residence at The Boot Doctors, New Mexico’s premier boot shop.
The Dreamliner is Intuition’s newest product, a lace-up, tongue-style liner that comes pre-shaped with enough heel and ankle structure to make it serviceable, in theory, right out of the box. In other words, without the heat molding process that made Intuition famous.
“Why would you not heat them up?” I asked Boot Doc Charlie, whose bedside manner, in his own words, is “blunt and scathing.” (Charlie is more House than Marcus Welby.)
“Beats me. Some people hate to cook. Maybe some shops don’t have heaters.”
We agreed that the heat process was preferable in all cases. And to avoid the boot shop fitting charge, there’s even a DIY video on YouTube involving socks full of hot rice.
Charlie was skeptical about the liner’s laces (a nod to Black Diamond’s BOA system, but also handy to turn your liner into an apres slipper of sorts on hut trips) and immediately tore them out. He then asked me to produce my custom orthotic insoles. I admitted I had none, then watched his eyebrows hit the roof. I sensed a loss of snow cred, but thought it might slide as he quietly inserted the Dreamliners into my Cochise shells and placed them on the 220-degree blower for a 20-minute warm-up.
He then served up a stern lecture on orthotics.
“Orthotics are the single most important element in boot fitting. Without orthotics, everything is unstable in there. There’s no shock absorption, no support or energy transmission. You might as well be skiing in Sorels.”
To deflect some heat away from orthotics and toward the Dreamliners, I asked his general impression of Intuitions.
Stock liners are so good these days, he opined, that he didn’t see the need for everyone to immediately pimp his or her ride with Intuitions. “Where they’re good,” he said, “are to solve problem situations, or for extreme environments, like heli-skiing or patrolling. They are warm; they are light. But,” he continued, somewhat damningly, “this Dreamliner is designed more for comfort than performance. So while you’ll gain cush, you’re going to lose some sense of the snow under foot.”
And then there is the smell factor,
always on the mind of someone working close to all those gnarly extremities.
“The critical thing about Intuition liners is that you have to pull them out and dry them every day,” Charlie said. “And I mean every day, or they will get stanky and smelly. The EVA foam is hydrophobic, so it doesn’t hold water, but your feet will sweat and create a primal swamp situation down there. We’ve had customers bring their Intuitions in here and almost had to evacuate the store.” (I note here that Intuition has attempted a fix: The “Aegis Microbe Shield.”)