Buying the Correct Ski Boots

We’ve put together this feature article in an effort to help you find all the right ingredients needed to get the best possible fit from a new pair of ski boots.

Though we’ve made every effort to make this article helpful and informative, please don’t use it as the sole basis for your research and buying decision… Without seeing your feet or your skiing ability, there’s no way we’re able to give you all the answers you need to make the right decision… Instead use this article as starting point for your decision making process, and above everything else, find a good bootfitter!

Finding the Right Bootfitter
Ski boot fitting involves a fine mix of science and art, so finding someone who knows how to balance these two Worlds is vital to your ski boot buying experience. Start by researching bootfitters located near you or the ski resort you frequent most often. Start a thread in our Ski Gear Forum or ask your friends, ski instructors and anyone else who can tell you what shops are most popular and knowledgeable in your area.

Location is one factor you might want to consider, especially when deciding between two comparable shops. For instance, if the shop is located in Downtown Vancouver and you do all your skiing in the Interior, should you have any problems with the boots you’ll be stuck until you return to the city, or have to shell out for a resort local shop to take care of your problems. This considered, shops that have a location close to your favorite ski area might be a better choice.

Also make note of any fit guarantees these shops may offer, but don’t use the guarantee as the sole decision making factor. A guarantee can help to ease the decision making process, but some will only offer a guarantee for store credit, or a guarantee on your original boots purchased… Hence you’d be stuck with this same shop trying countless times until they finally get it right, or cheat on your fit in an effor to make the boot comfortable, but lack in the performance department.

To add, be wary of big budget, sales oriented outlets and stores… You can tell these guys a mile away with their low prices, pushy sales staff and flashy ad campaigns. Sure you might be able to find a qualified fitter in amongst their batallion of salespeople, but the odds are generally against you here.

Generally speaking, you’re usually much better off with the reputable small shops where they win their customers over, one at a time!

Another important tip is to get shopping early in the season. You might want to take the first few days of the season to re-acquaint your feet with the boots you’ve already got but keep in mind most peoples’ feet are a tad uncomfortable for the first few days of the season… They’ve got to adjust to wearing hard stiff boots… Very different from the sandals you’ve been wearing on the beach all Summer! But all that said, don’t leave it too late as store inventories gradually dwindle with each passing day.

Researching the Boots
To be honest, there’s no sense in reading ski magazines to see what boots performed the best in their respective test sessions. It’s not that these tests are inaccurate, but every manufacturers’ boots all fit very different from one another. Thus you’re not going to get the top rated performance from a boot if it’s the wrong boot for your foot. Go ahead and read the articles and make notes on which models might work for your type of foot shape but in the end, the end decision MUST be based on FIT!

Price Should Be No Object
OK, perhaps that title is a bit too strong but you really should be less concerned about price when it comes to boots than for other items in your ski gear arsenal… Sure it’s nice to find a pair of boots on sale, but if they’re not the perfect boot for your foot, there’s no sense in buying them. Think about the money you spend on lift tickets, and the difference between buying the perfect boot and buying one at a great deal quickly becomes unimportant. And if you can get the perfect boot at a great deal? Karma must be in your favour. 😀

A Word About Ski Orthotics
Regardless of your foot shape, ski boot orthotics are vital… Not only providing you with a solid foundation upon which to base your fit, but orthotics also provides with clear performance benefits. Skiing involves a great degree of lateral movement and balance… If the underside of your feet aren’t properly supported, the alignment of your entire leg’s bone structure gets thrown out with every turn. Presenting a solid support structure underneath the foot provides you with support not only for the foot, but aligns the bone structure right up to your hips, where the majority of your energy is being generated.

Dimensions of the Fit
There are a number of key foot dimensions that play an important role when deciding on what boots to buy. Now these aren’t all empirical numbers you can measure off your own feet, most are general, comparative guides, general dimensions that your fitter will likely take notice of… high instep,

  • Length: Measured in regular shoe size, or the mondopoint system (centimetres). Rough conversion for Canadians is to take your shoe size and add 18 for men, or 17 for women’s. Thus size 8.5 regular shoe measures 26.5 in mondopoint.
  • Forefoot Width: Measured from A (narrowest) through EEE (widest).
  • Midfoot Width: Taking a look at the area between the widest part of the foot progressing back to the start of the heel. How is it shaped, like a triangle or more like a pancake?
  • HIP (Heel Instep Perimeter): Salomon coined this term a number of years ago with the release of their first rear-entry line up. At the time Salomon felt that the best measure for a ski boot was the HIP dimension, the distance from the rear base of your heel, around the top of your instep and back around the heel. Though usually inaccurate for the sole purpose of sizing a ski boot, it is a fairly good measure of the overall bulk of the foot.
  • Heel Width: Width of the heel as it contacts the ground, ie footprint.
  • Achilles Thickness: Just above the heel bone and towards the calf is where your achilles sits. Is there a lot of bulk surrounding the tendon or is it narrow?

Again, these are not all empirical measurements you can take yourself, write down at give to your bootfitter… Aside from Length and Forefoot Width, the rest are all comparative measures… yup, you got a wide heel, high instep and narrow achilles. Err, what’s that in numbers? I dunno, just compared to the other thousand or so customers I’ve seen this year, that’s your measurements.

Getting Started With the Fit
OK, now you’re comfortable in knowing at least a little bit about what makes a good quality ski boot fit, we’re now ready to send you off to the ski shop!

When you first meet your fitter, they should be most concerned with your feet. Hop up on the bench, remove your shoes, socks and roll up your pants. At this point, your fitter should be taking a very close look at your feet and lower legs. Be sure to mention anything you think he might not have noticed, or issues you’ve had problems with in the past that he might not have noticed or been able to see.

Now Onto the Boots
OK, now that your fitter has had a chance to take a close look at what he’s up against, and discussed with you all the details that will contribute to selecting the right boot, he’ll probably take off into the back room to find a few to try on. Under normal circumstances, this decision process will lead to two, maybe three reasonable options.

The Shell Fit
Before you’re even trying on the boots, your fitter should be performing what’s called a “Shell Fit” with each foot. That means he’ll remove the boot’s liner from the shell, and have you stand in the shells barefoot. Stand with your feet at approximately skiing width apart, and your big toes just grazing the front edge of the shell. He’ll have you flex forward and take a look behind your heels to see how the length looks on your foot… For the average fit, there should be between 1.25-1.75 fingers’ width behind your heel and the rear edge of the shell.

Then, he’ll have you center your feet in the shell, and hopefully stretch them open to take a closer look at things like width and overall closeness of fit. Finally, he’ll probably close the front buckles and see how much room sits between your instep and the top edge of the shell.

Getting Them On
OK, so after possibly a couple of shell fits, the fitter has found a boot that should work with you and your foot type. He’ll then stuff the liner back into the shell, and help you into the boots.

While stepping into the boot, pull the tongue to one side and the other side of the shell to the other in an effor to make the opening wider for your foot. Don’t force your foot in there too hard… If you do you’ll sock will catch up on the liner material, pulling your toes back and making the boot fit a ton smaller than it actually is.

Once your foot is in the boot, resist stamping down to get your heel in place. Instead, flex forward into the boot (yes, buckles not yet closed) to get your foot firmly planted into the rear of the shell.

Now, center the tongue, pushing it into the shell comfortably above your foot. Now close the velcro powerstrap and again, flex forward. Close the the top two buckles, flexing forward once again.

Now That They’re On
First sensation when you go to stand up? Toes, meet the front of the boot! Yes, you should feel the front of the boot while standing for two reasons. First off, when you’re straight upright, you’re battling the forward lean of the boot, leaning against the upper cuff and forcing your toes to the front. The other reason is because this is a brand new boot. Over time the liners will back and smooth much closer to your foot shape so don’t worry about this not feeling perfect just yet.

Now, assuming you’ve got both boots on, stand up, place your feet skiing width apart and take a bunch of deep flexes. Walk around a little bit, but try to concentrate on flexing the boots and mimicking the lateral motion of skiing. Remember these boots are not made for walking, they’re made to capture the lateral motions of skiing and translate that into on-snow power. That said, keep walking a bit and deep flexing the boots for about 15-20 minutes. Though there’s guaranteed way to know for certain that after this time the boots will be suitable, it’s about as much time most can spend in a boot in shop circumstances.

Some shops will even have a pair of skis mounted up with demo bindings so you can simply stand in a pair of skis to more accurately mimic the skiing motion.

Make note that the flex pattern of the boot in the shop will be much softer than when you’re out on the hill in the cold weather. Ski boot plastics differ greatly in their sensitivity to temperature, but expect a markedly stiffer boot when you get it on the snow.

Also, to test heel hold, don’t try and lift your heels in a standing position. Beleive it or not, this is one of the body’s strongest muscle motions so you’d be hard pressed to not pull your foot out of any boot, regardless of fit. To add, this really isn’t a motion you use in skiing. To properly test heel hold down flex deeply into the boots and once you’re at full flex, then try to lift your heels… This is a much more accurate simulation of the skiing motion.

OK, now that you’ve been in the boots for 15-20 minutes, now’s the critical moment. Your fitter will remove your boots, then socks and should quickly examine your feet’s patterns. After being in those boots for that amount of time, red marks will show up where potential areas for problems exist. Don’t worry if your foot is covered in these red areas, or there are none whatsoever, everyones’ sensititivity to pressure is very different, especiallyin terms of how it displays on the foot.

Custom Work
Generally speaking, I’d say around 40% of all skiers need some sort of custom work done to their boots, most of those being those who demand a close AND comfortable fit. How do you know what needs to be done now, and what might work it’s way out after a few days of skiing? Well, that depends on a couple of things.

Add To Cart
Now that all the work is complete, and you’re ready to take the plunge into new boothood, the shop will need to adjust your bindings to the new boots so go grab your skis from the car… You did bring them didn’t you? Some shops will be able to do the binding adjustment for you while you wait, but generally speaking, expect on having to wait at least a few days, especially during the busy first few months of the season. While you’re at it, maybe get a fresh base grind and wax job, they’ll only help to make your first day on the slopes all the more enjoyable!

Your First Days
The hills got dumped on last night, you’re in the lift line 30 minutes before opening and you start to get a little concerned about what these new boots are going to do to your feet. Well, in a nutshell, don’t expect perfection. It takes time for the liner materials to mold to your foot shapes, and there’s not much we can do.

Recent improvements in ski boot liner techologies have shortened the break in period for the most part, but most skiers don’t see true comfort until the 2nd or 3rd ski day.

If you continue to experience discomfort after the 3rd day, depending on its severity… If it’s a minor annoyance let it ride for another day or two, if it’s presenting you with painful then now’s the time to bring them in. An important disclaimer though… What I’m describing here is mild discomfort… You should not be cringing from this pain.. If that’s the case and this is a serious discomfort then there’s something wrong… Bring them back to the shop now.

Final Adjustments
OK, so you’ve had a few days on the hill and have noticed a few problem areas…. Perhaps you’re getting a pressure point along the side of the foot or ankle, or maybe you’re not getting the kind of heel hold you were orginally expecting. All is not lost.

Long Term Care
So now that you’ve put all this time, money and effort into getting a great pair of ski boots, how do you ensure you don’t have to go through all this again later than sooner? Assuming your feet don’t change markedly (eg due to injury or growth spurt), your perfectly fitted new boots should give you hundreds of skiing days if you follow a few simple rules.

First off, close the boots whenever you take them off, making sure the tongue is in there straight, and buckles are closed one or two latches looser than what you ski at. Why looser? This help the shells keep their shape while at the same time, not forcing the toe dam seals to lose their tightness when they’re up on the hills batting the liquid freeze.

Keep your boots away from heat sources. Heat to ski boots is like Kryptonite to Superman… As you’ll recall, most custom shell work, and many other types of custom ski boot work, requires the use of heat to mold and re-shape the shell. Expose your boots to too much heat and the shells will tend to start trying to move back to their originally molded shape… That’s not good a good thing.

Don’t remove the liners every night to dry them out. This puts a ton of stress on the liner materials, shifting everything around inside the boot to where you’ll start getting weird little pressure points. It’s fine to remove them every once in a while, say after an extremely wet day, but generally speaking, keep the liners inside the shells, your knuckles will thank you too!

Alternatively, get a room-temperature boot/glove dryer, which will dry out your boots and gloves overnight without exposing them to heat. Trust me on this, they’re worth their weight in gold!

Be careful when you’re walking and don’t drag your feet! Ski bindings need a minimum amount of clean face on the front edge of the boot sole. If there’s not enough material there, the binding will perform erratically. Properly qualified shops will measure the amount of clean material remaining on the front edges of the boot and will refuse to adjust them to any binding should your boots be too worn. You’ve spent some good cash on your new boots, try to prolong your investment!

Some ski boot soles are replaceable, but most high performance models have a solid plastic core which cannot be replaced. Even if you do have replacable toes and heels, they’re dang expensive and very difficult to find.

OK, that’s about it for our brief introduction into buying ski boots. I’ve said it before, and I’ll close with it again, this guide is only a brief introduction to the world of Ski Boot Fitting. Read the information presented here once more, take care in finding the very best fitter in your area or located at the resort you most often frequent, and get on it… You don’t have to ski in pain!

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