Ski Boot Buying Guide
By Steve Kopitz
With the proper knowledge and education, finding the perfect pair of ski boots is easy to do online. At Skis.com we provide you with all of the tools, filters, reviews, information, and latest fitting techniques to help you make the most educated choice for your new ski boots.
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Mens ski boots are designed for the male foot and leg shape with a taller cuff, slightly stiffer flex and wider forefoot shape.
Womens ski boots are specifically designed and shaped for the female anatomy. The female foot is typically thinner and has more taper from the forefoot to the heel. The leg shape of women tends to be shorter and fuller. Every manufacturer now makes women’s specific boots by having a narrower width, narrower heel pocket, and a shorter, fuller cuff to accommodate the foot and leg shape. Women also have a different center of mass that is located in the hips and in the backside; this causes ladies to sit back on their heels resulting in loss of control over their skis. Most women’s boots have some heel lift or forward lean to compensate for this and to keep their weight forward for better energy transfer and more efficient skiing.
Kids ski boots are much narrower in the width, shorter in the cuff and softer in flex to help smaller, shorter, lighter and younger skiers to be able to bend, flex and move the boot to give them more control over their skis.
Ski boots are measured in a Mondo Point size which is a measurement in centimeters. Your Mondo Point size is as simple as how many centimeters long your foot is. Some manufacturers produce shells and liners that are stamped with a range from the whole size to the half size, i.e. 27.0-27.5. Most ski boots are only produced in half sizes. In half sizes and whole sizes the shell and the liner are the exact same size. The only difference between the two is the thickness of the stock footbed. Liners and shells are expensive to produce, stock footbeds are not. Stock footbeds do not offer any support and are recommended by both the boot manufacturers, boot fitters and Skis.com to be replaced with an aftermarket footbed.
Many of the ski boots available on Skis.com will only be available in sizes ending in .5. The refinement in the left navigation will show sizes in ranges such as 27.0-27.5, and will return results with sizes 27.0 and 27.5. For more information on aftermarket please see our buying guide for footbeds. For more information on ski boot sizing please view our ski boot sizing guide and size chart.
There is a perfect width of a boot out there for just about everyone. Boot manufacturers do a fantastic job of making different flexes within the boot lines to give you an ability level in just about every width. The width or “Last” refers to an old cobbler’s term that has evolved into now meaning the width of the ski boot measuring in millimeters across the forefoot.
The Last is always measured in the reference size. In a men’s boot the reference size is a 26.5 and in women’s boots the reference size is a 25.5. As a rule, when the ski boot gets longer the ski boot gets slightly wider to accommodate the larger foot. For example a 100mm last boot in a 26.5 is 100mm across. The same model of ski boot in a size 31.5 may measure up to 108mm to the proportionately larger foot.
• Narrow boots can range anywhere from 95mm-99mm (in the reference size) so they can be sculpted and shaped by a boot fitter to match the shape of the skier’s foot. These are typically ultra high-performance or race boots.
• Medium width boots typically measure 100mm-103mm (in the reference size). These boots are usually performance or advanced boots.
• Wide ski boots are built for comfort and measure 104-106mm (in the reference size). Aside from a few boots out there, wide boots are traditionally built for recreational skiers.
Selecting the ski boot that is the closest to your skill level will drastically improve your comfort and performance. The skill level corresponds to the flex, shape and features on any particular model. In terms of performance the softer flex is more forgiving to the technical errors that newer or not-as-proficient skiers will make. Advanced or expert boots have stiffer flexes that are not as forgiving but are far more responsive for the technically proficient skier. Skiers that are heavier than 200lbs should consider jumping up a level and people lighter than 115lbs should consider stepping down a level to give them adequate support and rebound to have control over their skis.
Beginner skiers are first timers or someone very new to the sport that is still learning basic control.
An Intermediate skier is someone that has control over their skis, still skis cautiously on more challenging terrain and is comfortable at moderate speeds. Athletic or heavier beginners will benefit from boots designed for intermediate skiers.
Advanced Intermediate skiers are more experienced and have good basic technique, will start to explore off trail skiing, make more aggressive carves on groomers and are comfortable skiing at moderate speeds on advanced trails in optimal snow conditions.
Advanced skiers are capable of maintaining solid technique on advanced terrain in most snow conditions and ski in control at higher speeds; but do not always ski aggressively.
Expert skiers are capable of skiing safely and in control at high speeds on any terrain regardless of snow conditions with strong technique, aggressively attacking the mountain.
Downhill Boots- Any boot that works with standard ski bindings qualifies as a Downhill boot. The only boots Skis.com sells that are not downhill boots are Alpine Touring boots.
Side Country Boots- A popular term that defines ski boots that may be used for walking or hiking with a switch that can make it easier for you to walk in. They will have a sole that may have more grip on it for the more adventurous skier that will spend time seeking out fresh snow off the beaten path.
Freestyle Boots are more upright in the cuff and stance to make skiing and landing switch easier. They also have a more relaxed fit with shock absorbing properties for sticking huge landings off of sick jumps.
Race Boots are designed to be going fast at all times. They are focused on speed and performance with an aggressive stance and thicker shells with dense liners to deliver power and energy transfer.
Alpine Touring Boots are designed to be lightweight and easy to hike, climb and skin in. They go up as easy as they come down and are only compatible with AT bindings.
The Flex of a ski boot refers to how much pressure it takes to bend and move the boot. Flex is always measured in a number rating where the higher the number, the stiffer the boot. Bigger, better, stronger skiers require a stiffer boot to give them support, rebound and control over their skis. For recreational or beginner skiers it is much more important to have a boot that is forgiving and soft that does not need as much pressure to bend and flex.
One thing to think about is that taller or heavier skiers will have more leverage over their boots than a shorter skier. Therefore, a taller, heavier skier with the same skiing ability as someone shorter and lighter should have a slightly stiffer boot for the same amount of control and responsiveness. Again skiers weighing over 200lbs should consider stepping up a level in boots and skiers less than 115lbs should consider stepping down a level in boots to ensure that you have the adequate amount of stability and rebound.
The actual flex of a ski boot can vary depending on the manufacturer of the boot, the type of plastic the boot is made out of, the design of the boot and how many buckles the boot has. There is no industry standard as to what determines the flex of a boot. A 100 flex boot from one manufacturer can be very different from a 100 flex boot from another.
Finding the proper flex is easiest when you consider these factors: your ability, how aggressive of a skier, how tall are you, how much do you weigh and how much ankle flexion (the amount of flexibility of the Achilles tendon) you have.
Please use this table as a reference guide:
||Men's Flex Rating
||Women's Flex Rating
||Kid's Flex Rating
||50 - 70
||40 - 60
||30 - 50
||70 - 90
||60 - 70
||30 - 50
||Medium or Stiff
||80 - 100
||70 - 80
||40 - 60
||90 - 110
||80 - 90
||60 - 70
||Stiff or Very Stiff
||100 - 130
||90 - 110
||70 - 90
Leg and Foot Shape
The Calf Volume or Shaft of the Leg refers to the part of the foot from the ankle on up to the knee. Some skiers have very narrow, skinny legs (low volume). Some people have a very wide and thick calf and leg shapes (high volume). If a boot is too narrow for your leg shape it will be difficult to buckle as well as squeeze the blood out of your feet causing discomfort which then makes the rest of your foot cold. If a ski boot is too wide for the Shaft of the Leg, the boot will not move with you as you bend and flex to make your turns. Having a boot too wide for your leg can cause shin bang or blisters in the middle of the shin. Just about every ski boot out there has some adjustment that can be made to the cuff buckles either macro (by using screwdriver or allen wrench to take off and relocate the buckle in one of three settings) or micro (by simply twisting the buckle itself to adjust the length).
The instep is the area of the foot that is directly on top of the arch. For most people, instep height and arch height go hand in hand. If you have a high arch you most likely have a high instep, or if you have a low arch you most likely have a low instep. If you have a boot that is too tall across the top of your foot you can get slippage, loss of control over your skis and general discomfort. If a boot is to low across your instep it can cut off your circulation making your toes cold and can be very uncomfortable.
Ski/Hike Feature- The Ski/Hike switch is located on equipped boots usually on the rear spine that can be flipped to unlock the upper cuff from the lower shell to give you more rearward mobility when walking or hiking.
Flex Adjustment- Some ski boots give you the ability to slightly adjust the flex either by increasing it or decreasing it by 10 for a fine tuning feeling to get you dialed in just right. Some can be changed by moving the dial on the boot from the stiff to soft setting with an allen wrench while some need to have a rivet removed or inserted. This is located on the spine of the boot.
Cuff Adjustment- Some boots have a single cuff adjustment on the outside ankle of the boot. Higher end boots have dual cuff adjustment on both the inside and outside ankles while inexpensive or beginner boot have no cuff adjustment at all. The Cuff Adjustment slightly angles the cuff of the boot towards the inside or outside to compensate for any bowlegged or knock knees. This should only be done under the supervision of a knowledgeable boot fitter.
Footbed- It is recommended by Skis.com, bootfitters, and the boot manufactures that every boot needs some sort of aftermarket arch support to give you better balance, better alignment, better fit and warmer toes. For more detail please watch our video:
Custom Boot Fitting- Most ski resorts and good ski shops will have a boot fitter that can make tweaks or adjustments to you boots by stretching the shells to eliminate pressure points, add volume if needed or make an alignment evaluation. Good boot fitters have training and positive attitudes and will gladly look at any boot that comes through their doors. Most modifications are easy to do but may require some time.
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