Master Bootfitter Sam Tischendorf is the only woman with her experience and skillset in the entire country — and her home is in the San Juans
Sam Tischendorf is your neighborhood foot expert with a sweet addiction. Between tinkering with ski boots, she reaches into her apron and pulls out a small wrapped chocolate coated in grinding dust from a foot bed, a frequent fueling process throughout her winter season’s 14-hour shifts as the supervising bootfitter at Bootdoctors in Mountain Village, adjacent to Telluride Ski Resort. Supporting her 10,000 daily steps in the shop, the 33-year-old wears weatherized Vans with just-right breathability and protection—but not enough to get sweaty—and a sensible footbed, which this master bootfitter keeps in every pair of shoes for overall comfort.
Her own ski boot maintenance falls on the back-burner. She’s too busy with her labor of love: heating and stretching ski boot shells, grinding interiors, drilling cuff alignments and altering heel shapes. She’s wants to help skiers feel perfectly hugged by their boots.
“I get to see cool, weird feet—people who’ve lost toes or part of their foot or have different sized feet or bunions. I love problem-solving strange biomechanics and canting issues, balancing ski boot alignment relative to body mechanics,” said Tischendorf, a late-bloomer on the slopes. She was born and raised in South Africa. At 13 years old, her family moved to sub-tropical Australia, where her parents live today. Growing up, it was too expensive and unrealistic to ski.
After earning a Bachelor of Health Science in Podiatry, Tischendorf worked in high-risk foot health care for several years. Then, she transitioned into sports podiatry with an emphasis on lower body biomechanics and high-level athletes. She’d taken a few trips to learn how to snowboard and ski over the years but always dreamed of a North American winter.
She spent the 2011 ski season in Revelstoke, catalyzing her new career pursuit: The following winter, she got a part-time weekend gig—on top of her clinical work—fitting ski boots at Snowcentral. Eventually, she heard of foot guru and Bootdoctors founder Bob Gleason and landed a shop position in winter 2013.
In High Demand
“The lifestyle here got under my skin as did my fascination with being a ski boot fitter. Folks travel from across the world to see us for our high-level boot fitting skills,” Tischendorf said. That ever-flowing line of customers includes visitors from Argentina, Netherlands, United Kingdom and Chile who return every few years for boot updates. “When the doors close, beers are cracked and music is up while we finish projects, like Christmas elves. It’s a big noisy mess, super fun, and easy to passionately overwork,” explained Tischendorf, who also teaches ski boot fit courses for Masterfit University.
She’s one of the youngest instructors and the only female professor in the United States. Each October, she road trips around Vermont, Colorado, Nevada and Washington to lead that coursework with nine other industry leaders for nearly 150 students per spot.
But no matter how banged up Tischendorf’s hands are from the tools, her biggest joy is working at the shop: “I get such a kick out of making boot adjustments for people and having them come back to the shop after a ski run overjoyed and stoked that you were able to make them comfortable. It lifts my day.”
Adventure Journalist MORGAN TILTON is a recipient of multiple North American Travel Journalists Association awards with a focus in travel, industry news, and human endurance. When she’s not jet-setting, she’s backcountry splitboarding in the Elk Mountains, where she lives today, or visiting her family in Telluride, where she grew up. She works with close to 55 publications.