“Those are the real people,” he tells me, as a mother and daughter depart from his care, with the daughter’s feet freshly cast in the best fitting ski boots she’s ever had. Previously, she’d never been at ease; low calve muscles wedged her too far forward and her forefoot would knock around painfully. All that’s gone now, via some simple fixes. “I just wish she’d needed more, so you could have seen me rebuild a boot,” he says with a mad-scientist’s wink. “Sometimes you get the rest of the family coming in and thanking you because they can finally ski with their loved one.”
George McConkey has been fitting ski boots in Whistler for over 30 years, for up to three generations, and is still going strong. His latest happy customer is part of a devout league of believers he’s built up over the last three decades. Beginning his practice at a time when there was no such practice, McConkey is one of the original authors of the dark art of boot fitting, but he’s kept his methods mostly to himself over the years.
“It’s all about listening to people,” he says, joyfully towering over my five feet and seven inches like a gentle, blond giant who loves plaid. “Every time I skipped that step, I messed it up. You have to align the boot to the foot, you don’t manipulate the foot to the boot. Get the cuff to align with the tibia and calf, and the forward lean to feel natural. Ski boot manufacturers don’t build in enough adjustment. Some don’t even add cuff canting anymore because they don’t trust fitters to get it right.”
While some people have built boot-fitting empires around techniques they can mass-produce in franchise stores, McConkey’s always opted to help people one-on-one. Today, his waiting list still overflows: he can relocate your cuff pivots, realign your forward lean, move buckles, or reshape your shell. Or he’ll do the most minimal of things, if that’s all that’s needed.
“All Shane ever needed was an ankle punch,” he says about his dearly missed half-brother, a man who changed the ski world forever. Born to the same father as Shane, McConkey grew up in Sacramento, California, and eventually followed his dad—the legendary Jim—to Whistler, while Shane stayed in California with his mother. Jim had set up Jim McConkey’s Ski Shop and Ski School in 1968, and when his older son moved to town, he gave him an ultimatum.
“Dad said, ‘Are you going to be a ski instructor?’ And I said, ‘no.’ So he said, ‘Then you better be a boot fitter.’”
That was back in 1979. Nine years later, McConkey co-founded a store called McCoo’s. He worked his magic from that space until 2014, when he sold it. But he couldn’t bring himself to retire, so for the last five years he’s contracted a workbench at Whistler Village Sports, continuing his craft as a freelancer, now 62 years old. “I think I’ll go until I’m 70,” he says, launching into stories from over the years about the drastic experiments he’s tried. Like the time he mounted Shane’s skis in duck stance rather than just canting his boots, and it actually worked.
Today, McConkey is excited about the emergence of hybrid boots. He says current shapes adhere to a DIN standard that came out in the ’70s, and don’t match the foot. “Eighty per cent of the time, what are you fitting for? Toes!” Touring boots, though, aren’t stuck in that old norm, and can break the rules. Something McConkey’s clearly fond of.
“You don’t need lasers,” he says, scoffing at the industry’s fancy tricks. “You can see how a boot should fit by eye.”
An apt proclamation from a man born to a family of visionaries—the proof resting quietly on thousands of happy feet. —MATT COTÉ