Race Ski Boot Buying Guide
By Steve Kopitz
Race ski boots have a different feeling and performance than a traditional downhill ski boot. Race Ski Boots are designed to be skied as fast as they can at all times, whereas a traditional downhill boot can be skied at a variety of speeds and still be responsive. With Race Boots, the faster you ski, the better they react.
Race Boots have a narrower Last than recreational boots. This narrow last is best suited for skiers with narrow feet, or more commonly to have a professional bootfitter shape the shell to their foot. The most common Last of a Race boot is 98mm; some can be as wide as 100mm and the narrowest is 95mm.
Another major difference between a race boot and a traditional downhill boot is the thickness of the shell and liner. Race boots have a thicker shell and a thinner liner to transfer energy faster and more efficiently than standard downhill boots. As a result of the thinner liner they tend to be colder due to the decreased insulation. The shells are also thicker so a professional bootfitter can stretch, shape or grind the material for a better fit. Typically race boots are screw riveted meaning that all the components such as the buckles and cuff can be totally disassembled to allow for easier customization.
Aggressive Forward Lean
Race boots have a more aggressive forward lean than a recreational boot. Forward Lean means that the cuff is angled more towards the toes of the boot to provide you with a stronger stance to help you keep your weight forward so that you’re moving faster down the hill. Recreational boots have a more upright of a stance which is more relaxed for more all day comfort.
The sizing of a race boot is done the exact same way as you would in a downhill boot. Ski boots are measured in a Mondo Point size which is simply as how many centimeters long as your foot is. Some manufacturers label race boots in UK sizing but here at Skis.com we convert them into Mondo Point sizing for you. Some race boot manufacturers produce shells and liners that are stamped with a range from the whole size to the half size, i.e. 26.0-26.5. The shell and the liner are the exact same size; the difference is in the stock footbed being slightly thicker in a whole size. Since you are racing and looking for maximum performance a race boot should always be skied with an aftermarket footbed meaning the whole and half sizes are identical.
Race boots are all technically unisex - there is no difference between men’s and women’s race boots.
Adult Vs. Junior Race Boots
Both adult and junior Race Boots have a narrow fit. The major difference between Junior and Adult Race boots is the height of the cuff. Since smaller and younger skiers are not as tall, Junior race boots have a shorter cuff. If Junior, Team, or SC (Short Cuff) is in the title of the boot, it will have a shorter cuff for smaller skiers to ensure the proper amount of leverage and power to control their skis at fast speeds. Junior Race Boots can have a flex that is catered to a smaller and lighter weight skier. Junior flexes can start at 50 and can make their way up in increments of 10 to 100. Not all manufacturers produce every flex - typically only two or three.
A Race boot comes with a stock footbed that has no value to it whatsoever. The stock footbed in a race boot is of the same quality as a very low end recreational boot. An aftermarket or custom footbed is required in a race boot to give you the most performance as possible. An aftermarket footbed will provide you with better balance, more control over your skis and a better overall fit - All things that are paramount while ski racing.
The Flex of a ski boot refers to how much pressure it takes to bend and move the boot. The flex is always measured in a number. Typically, the higher the number is in the title of the boot, the stiffer the flex (Example: Nordica Doberman Pro 130 Race Boots are stiffer than the Nordica Pro 100 Race Boots). Bigger, better, stronger and more aggressive racers need a stiffer and stronger boot to provide them with the responsiveness and control since they will be flying down a race course at top speed.
Racers that are taller or heavier should consider stiffer flexed boots. Taller and heavier skiers are applying more pressure and leverage to their boots than shorter and lighter skiers so having a boot that is stiffer will give them the desired responsiveness, control and power.
Having a race boot that is too soft for you will be very sluggish and not nearly responsive enough for you. This can be called the “Flat Tire Effect”. Imagine trying to drive a sports car at fast speeds with a flat tire - there would be very little control and responsiveness.
On the other hand, having a race boot that is too stiff can cause other problems. If the boot is too stiff it will be too hard to engage causing you to bend at the waist or stick your rear out. This will waste energy and efficiency and cause you to lose control over your skis. If you find yourself in between boot flexes then error on the stiffer side. It is very easy for a knowledgeable bootfitter to soften the boot by grinding down the plastic in strategic places to allow the boot to flex easier. Other race boots have rivets or bolts in the back that can be removed that will allow the upper cuff to move easier for a softer flex.
In summary Race boots are designed to fit narrow and have a stiff flex. It is not recommended to ski in a race boot unless you are racing. The narrow fit and powerful flex are designed to be customized and tailored to your foot and body shape by a professional bootfitter. Most ski resorts and specialty ski shops have trained bootfitters that will enjoy working on a high caliber race boot (just like those who love cars love working on high-caliber cars). Keep in mind that, depending on the shop and the amount of customization going into the boot, charges may apply.