It is not a stretch to say Lee Kinney changed lives.
The pioneering bootfitter, who spent hours handcrafting footbeds and ski-boot liners for each of his clients, enabled Colorado athletes to play without pain.
"There are a lot of happy feet out there because of Lee," his close friend Kiki Sayre said. "He had such an impact on so many people."
Kinney died Monday after a year-long battle with bone cancer. He was 68.
It didn't take long for Kinney to develop a loyal following at The Custom Foot, a shop he founded in the Colorado Outdoor Sports store at Speer Boulevard and Bannock Street in 1987. In the early 1990s, they followed him to Mountain Miser in Englewood, where he developed a reputation as the region's top bootfitter and sculptor of custom orthotics and footbeds.
"Back in the '80s, Lee was one of just a handful of genuine bootfitters in the U.S.," said Steve Cohen, the former editor of SKI Magazine who now is CEO of the bootfitting empire MasterFit Enterprises, in a statement about Kinney that was released Wednesday by friends and family. "He helped move the art and science of bootfitting and custom insole making out of its infancy."
Kinney demanded a few hours of a client's time to craft footbeds and liners, a meeting that most his clients cherished as much as their orthotics. Kinney, a veteran backcountry skier and fly fisherman, could thrill with tales of his adventures.
"Unlike a lot of people in the foot business, he was as active as any of us, out there doing the same stuff," said David Goodman, who owned the Mountain Miser.
When a nasty motorcycle crash in 2000 left Goodman hobbling on two shattered ankles, Kinney labored to form the perfect footbeds for Goodman's shoes.
"Because of Lee Kinney, I walk without a limp," said Goodman, who regularly visited The Custom Foot on South Broadway to replace worn-out footbeds. "He worked with me so closely to tweak my joint spacing via the foot and alleviate my pain. I'm scared what I'm going to do without him now."
An unwavering craftsman, Kinney kept abreast of the latest technological advancements in ski boots and orthotics with regular trips to Europe, where he trained with leading shoe and boot makers.
Kinney's clients include mountaineering film producer David Brashears, former Denver Nuggets center Bison Dele and outdoor photographer John Fielder.
Podiatrists and chiropractors often directed their patients to Kinney, whose appointment schedule was booked out months in advance.
Kinney used a French-made machine called a SIDAS VAC system, one of the few in the U.S., which creates a precise negative of the foot in a standing position. Kinney then molded a footbed from the impression.
"Lee built The Custom Foot into one of the most respected specialty bootfit shops in the country. If you wanted your boots to fit right in Denver, Lee was the guy to see," Cohen said. "But he was more than a technician; he was a great guy. He had a calm, classy and reassuring demeanor. Everybody felt comfortable around Lee."
Services for Kinney have yet to be planned but will likely be announced throughTheCustomFoot.com.
Jason Blevins: 303-954-1374, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jasonblevins