After you've spent thousands of dollars on new skis, boots, poles, pants, parka, helmet and logged hundreds of hours in ski school, there's one $40 item that is almost guaranteed to make you ski better - custom footbeds.

Footbeds (also called orthotics) are custom made insoles that you insert into your ski boots. They are designed to support your foot and transfer the movements from your hips, knees, and legs directly to your skis. They also can cure a number of common problems such as pressure points and sore feet. Without them, you may not be able to ski your best.

Unlike other sports, skiing depends on providing your feet with solid platforms. Think of footbeds as the foundation of your house and your feet and legs as the studs that support the building. As you apply pressure to your feet by standing and moving your knees fore, aft, left and right, your feet are designed to absorb pressure by flattening, or "pronating." While that may be a good thing when running or walking in tennis shoes and sandals, it can work against you while skiing.

Footbeds are designed to support the bottoms of your feet so that as you flex your ankles forward or to the side, they transfer the movements directly to your skis so you can make those perfect turns. Your feet will flex and flatten, making it difficult to control the edges of your skis without footbeds. 

Make sure your boots fit properly by visiting a boot fitting technician at your local ski shop before you invest in a pair of footbeds. Some of the best places to find qualified boot fitters are in towns located near ski resorts. Assuming that you do have a good fit, ask the technician about the types of footbeds his shop sells. Most sell a wide variety that cost $40 to $200. While you can buy less expensive, pre-made footbeds, you'll get more benefit from having them custom made to your feet.

Masterfit Instaprint makes a high quality foot bed that begins with resting your feet in a custom mold, making an impression of the bottom of your foot. As the gel is forced up into the contours of your feet, the technician can make a perfect a perfect mold that takes into account all of the nuances of your feet. The structure of each foot is as unique to an individual as a set of fingerprints. An insole blank is created out of high-grade plastic after the mold has been created. This is the most important part of your footbeds. After gluing a foam shell to the bottom of the footbeds, the technician will insert it into your ski boot. Trying on your boots with your new footbeds is mandatory - the footbeds will dramatically change the way your boots fit. Be sure to tell your technician if you feel any "hotspots" or pressure points in your boots. He can heat the boot shells and manipulate the plastic so that you end up with a perfect fit.

Surefoot approaches custom made footbeds using a slightly different approach. You begin the fitting by placing your feet inside of two rectangles that are permeated with holes. The technician will start a computer program that pushes hundreds of small metal "fingers" through the holes to make a perfect negative impression of the soles of your feet, after checking your position. The results are sent to a computer-operated lathe that mills your footbeds out of high density plastic. The resulting product is honed and shaped for a perfect fit to the bottom of your foot.

Chances are you'll need to have a different set of footbeds made for each pair of your boots, if you enjoy different types of winter sports, such as telemark or cross-country skiing. Even though they may look similar, telemark boots fit differently than alpine boots and may require footbeds with a unique shape or design. The fitting process is the same for both types.

When it's time to get fitted for a new pair of ski boots, take a tip from the pros - include a pair of custom-fitted footbeds into your purchase. The small amount of money and time that you spend in the ski shop will have dramatic results on your skiing.