Buying Guide for Race Ski Boots
By Steve Kopitz
The Difference Between Race Boots and Recreational Ski Boots
Think of the difference between Race Ski Boots and Recreational Ski Boots as comparing a Corvette (race ski boot) to a Cadillac Escalade (recreational ski boot). The Corvette or the Race Ski Boot is a performance driven vehicle, taking creature comforts into consideration second. On the other hand the recreational ski boot or the Cadillac provides much more “leg room” (no pun intended) and a more comfortable ride. Racers often need their skis to react quickly and need a performance driven boot to ensure they get the quick response and reaction they need.
Race Ski Boots are typically designed to be extremely narrow and stiff to be responsive enough to provide racers with the precise, performance they need. As you can see in the image below the ski boot on the left is a race boot and the ski boot on the right is a recreational ski boot. These two ski boots are actually the same size. The Race Ski Boot has a much lower profile fit through the foot, especially, than the black recreational ski boot on the right. This snug fit allows the racer’s skis to react quickly to small movements made by the foot to make skis turn precisely when necessary. As a result race ski boots aren’t necessarily comfortable, especially for prolonged time frames. The thinner liners used to help transfer energy from the boots to the skis better don’t provide as much insulation and therefore Race Ski Boots are typically much colder than Recreational Ski Boots. If you aren’t racing it is not suggested to purchase a Race Ski Boot.
Features of Race Boots
The following features outline some of the major differences between Race Ski Boots and Recreational Ski Boots.
The image above outlines some of the features of Race Ski Boots which are different than most recreational ski boots.
The Aggressive Forward Lean isn’t as pronounced now as it was in race boots dating back about 5 years or so, however the more aggressive forward stance helps racers apply more pressure on the tips of the skis in order to make clean carved turns.
The Performance Liner is made from materials which are thinner and denser than those which make up most recreational ski boot liners. The thinner, denser materials don’t “pack out” or compress as much, offering racers a performance fit out of the box which doesn’t deteriorate as quickly.
The Low Profile buckles lay flatter on the ski boots so they don’t clip gates while racing or training technical events like slalom and giant slalom. When buckles are clipped on gates they may break or get damaged.
The Lower Profile Instep and Lower Shell provide a sung fit which is highly beneficial to racers who need precision from their ski boots.
Different Calibers of Race Boots
Junior Race Ski Boots– Each brand typically makes a few models of Junior Race Ski Boots to accommodate young racers.
Kids / Junior Race Ski Boots are typically available starting as small as size 18.0 in a 60 or 70 flex. These boots are typically very similar to a performance recreational ski boot from the same manufacturer with a color scheme and graphics to match the adult race boots.
Stiffer flexing junior race ski boots (between 80 and 100 flex) are designed for bigger kids and teens. These boots have a race specific design. Depending on the size of the boot and model the lower shell may be the same or very similar to the adult race boot, but the upper cuff is junior specific. Junior cuffs are shorter to accommodate a kid’s smaller frame and to make the boots softer than an adult version. The softer flex and shorter cuff allow junior racers to have the performance they need in a boot that is still soft enough for them to be able to flex it dynamically.
Adult Race Ski Boots– Most companies don’t make men’s or women’s race boot. Usually, they are all technically unisex. There are different flexes of adult race ski boots, usually 110 and 130, but sometimes models are available in stiffer flexes than 130. The softer flexing boots may have a shorter cuff to help accommodate smaller framed racers. Some brands just make the softest flexing adult boot with the shorter cuff. Other brands have the Short Cuff (SC) specified in the model name of the boot.
Plug Boots– These boots are very stiff and very narrow. They often have lace up liners for a more precise fit. They often come with a better powerstrap as well. They are designed with the intention of requiring a professional boot fitter to do custom shell work in order for the boot to fit properly. These types of boots are typically only worn by elite racers, competing in FIS races. Due to the small amount of racers who choose to ski in a plug boot and the amount of custom adjusting often required to make them fit, most retailers do not stock plug boots.
Which pair to pick?
While a few companies are starting to product race ski boots in multiple widths or lasts, most race boots only come in one width - narrow (approximately 98mm). Therefore, most of the discussion regarding race boots then turns to flex.
It is important to pick a race boot which is stiff enough but isn’t too stiff. If a race boot is too stiff, the racer won’t be able to properly flex the boot to make their skis turn.
Aggressive male athletes typically ski in the 130 flex versions of the race ski boots. Lighter male athletes may race in the 110 flex version to allow them a softer flex and easier turn initiation.
Teenage girls and women generally ski in race boots between 90 and 110 flex depending on their weight and abilities. The more aggressive of heavier a female racer is the stiffer the boot she should use.
Bigger kids will generally move up from the softer 60 or 70 flex kids race boots to an 80 or 90 flex junior race boot when the develop the physical maturity to flex the stiffer boots. Generally this happens when they weigh more than 80 or 90 pounds.
Many adult Race Ski Boots have more features than recreational ski boots. The additional features allow for more custom adjustments to me made so that a racer can not only get a more comfortable fit, but tailor their boots so they perform better with a racers body structure.
Spoiler - The Removable / Adjustable Spoiler is a wedge shaped piece of rubber or plastic which is typically velcroed to the back of the liner. This spoiler essentially fills the back of the boot, behind the calf and helps create more forward lean keeping the racer’s body weight forward on the balls of the feet and over the tips of the skis. Some racers especially women need some extra room in the cuff of the race boots. The spoiler can be removed in order to provide more space for the calf muscle.
The spoiler is adjustable in the sense that it can be moved up or down to change the angle of the lower leg inside the boot in relation to the lower shell (foot). To create more aggressive forward lean and helping the racer get their body weight further forward the spoiler should be moved further down into the boot. If a racer doesn’t need as much forward lean, but doesn’t want to remove the spoiler entirely, the spoiler can me move up and stick up out of the boot top more.
Adjustable Cuff Catches - The Adjustable Cuff Catches are easy to adjust using an Allen wrench. The Adjustable Cuff Catches can be moved to allow more room for the calf or to allow for the buckles to be tightened further providing a snug fit for racers with smaller calves.
Flex Adjustment - Flex Adjustment is available on most adult race boots. The Adjustment is typically in the form of ‘rivets’ which can be removed using an Allen wrench. It is important to seek professional guidance when changing the flex in this manner and each brand and model.
Cuff Alignment - Cuff Alignment is an adjustment that is made to align the cuffs of the boots with a racers lower leg shafts. This adjustment is typically best made by a boot fitting professional to ensure that the cuffs are aligned properly to provide the best transmission of power from the body through the boots and to the skis.
*Keep in mind that due to the narrow nature of Race Ski Boots that a professional boot fitting may be required to get the best fit possible.