Ski boots are the single most important piece of equipment a skier owns. Picking the right ski boots will not only making your skiing experience more pleasant, but it can also improve your skiing. No matter how good of a boot you may buy, if it doesn’t fit properly your skiing experience will be miserable. The good news is that boot fitting involves a few steps that, if followed, can ensure a proper fitting boot.
General Ski Boot Information
To find the ski boots that are right for you, you need to understand a few of the key characteristics of ski boots. For starters, ski boots fall into five basic categories: Men's, Women's, Kid's, Racing, and Freestyle. Compared to men's boots, women's boots are softer, have a narrower last – the interior shape of a boot – and a shorter cuff, as women's calves are generally located lower than men's. Therefore, the cuffs need to be lower to get the boot buckled. Racing boots are much stiffer than regular boots in order to hold firm at higher speeds. Meanwhile Freestyle boots tend to be softer, with a padded boot board to reduce the impact of landings. There are three key factors in determining the proper boot: size, width, and flex or stiffness. Once these are determined, it's all about the features. These will be the things that can increase the performance of your boots.
The purpose of a ski boot is to create as direct a connection from your knee to the ski without any unnecessary slippage or movement. If your boot is too loose, your skiing will suffer and you could hurt yourself. And if your boot is too tight, you are promising yourself plenty of painful days. Most people will choose a ski boot that is too big for them and this is because most people also wear their shoes a size too big. Do not pick a bigger boot assuming that it will be more comfortable, as this is one of the most common mistakes made in boot fitting. Often this is because when trying on the boot for the very first time it will feel too tight. However, over time the foam in the boot will compress leaving more room for your feet. When you try on the boot it should feel snug and slightly tight in order to determine proper fit. For more information on ski boot sizing please view our Ski Boot Sizing Guide and Ski Boot Size Chart.
Ski boot manufacturers use a sizing system known as Mondo Point to size ski boots in a universal measuring system. Mondo Point is only used for sizing ski boots, so the conversion process may seem a bit confusing. To determine US sizing from Mondo Point, simply add the first and second digits together, and then add the decimal point (you will need add 1 to you calculated result to convert a US men’s size to a women’s). For example a boot that is sized as a Mondo Point 29.0 would be calculated as 2 + 9 + .0 = 11. Thus a Mondo Point 29.0 is a men’s 11.
Once you reach a Mondo Point size 30 this calculation starts to fall apart unless you alter your formula by adding 9 to the result. For example, a Mondo Point 31.5 would need to be calculated as follows: (3 + 1 + .5) + 9 = 13.5. Without the addition of the 9, your calculation would end up as 4.5, which would definitely be too small for an individual looking for a 13.5.
A good fitting boot should be comfortably snug and not sloppy. You should be able to wiggle your toes but not have heel slippage or movement from side to side or forward to back. We also have a Ski Boot Size Chart available which has already converted men's, women's, and kid's US shoe sizes to Mondo Point.
Manufacturers do a great job of creating different lines of ski boots to satisfy all different widths. As a general rule, the more advanced the boot, the narrower it will be, with some exceptions. This is because as a person becomes a better skier, they want a tighter boot, and will be willing to give up a bit of comfort for added control. Skis.com categorizes ski boots into widths to make searching for the best width for you easier. The lasts or widths are grouped as Junior, Narrow (95-99mm), Medium (100-103mm), and Wide (104-106mm).
The flexibility of a boot is referred to as the flex or stiffness. Flex is indicated by what is referred to as the flex rating. The concept behind a boot's flex is simple: the better skier you are, the stiffer the boot you will want as a stiffer boot is more responsive and performance driven. In contrast, for beginner and intermediate skiers, a boot that's too stiff will make it so that you cannot flex enough to initiate the ski in the first place. Skis.com provides flex ratings of Soft, Medium, Stiff, and Very Stiff which will help you narrow the selection of ski boots based on your needs.
When looking for ski boots, beginners should look for a boot with a soft flex rating. Intermediate skiers will feel comfortable in the medium range, advanced skiers should seek out boots rated as stiff, and boots for experts are rated as stiff or very stiff. Many ski boots will also provide a numeric flex rating of somewhere between 45 and 130, while some racing ski boots are available in flexes up to 160. The higher the number, the stiffer the boot. When initially narrowing the search parameters for a ski boot, it is best to use the flex filter along the left hand side of the ski boots page to narrow the selection by soft, medium, stiff or very stiff as the numbers will vary based on gender. For example a 65 flex kids ski boot is about the stiffest you will find outside of junior race boots. However, a 65 flex mens ski boot is quite soft. A womens ski boot with a flex of 100 is generally the stiffest you will find, where as with mens ski boots 100 is about average with 130 being the about the stiffest.
In regards to flex ratings on race boots, junior race boots will typically be rated anywhere from 60–100, while senior race boots will range from 110 up to 150. Note that a boot rated 150 feels like it's carved from rock, and is suitable only for the most elite racers. You will also want to keep in mind these few exceptions. Heavier skiers should add a bit of stiffness, while lighter than average skiers can add some flexibility. If you have some knee problems, a more flexible boot will make skiing easier.
Before trying ski boots on, remove the liner from the shell by unbuckling the boot fully and pulling on the back cuff of the liner until it pops out. Then put your foot in the boot’s shell and push your toes up until they just touch the front of the boot. Next, have someone check to see how much space is between your heel and the back of the boot. You’re looking for 1/2 to 3/4 of an inch space, and even less if you are a racer or very high performance skier who likes a very tight fit. If you have more than that, you probably have a boot that is too large.
If you have conducted Shell fitting using the process outline above, slip on the liner while it’s still out of the shell. If you have not removed the liner from the shell, do so and then slip it on your foot. Your toe should just feather the front of the liner. (This assumes that your foot has stopped growing; a little growing room for kids is fine.) Next look at how the liner is shaped compared to your foot. If any part of your foot is pushing hard or stretching out the sides of the liner you may have a boot that is too narrow. If the liner fits properly, put the boot back together. This can be a little tricky, but it helps if you put the boot shell on a hard surface. Insert one hand into the liner (making a fist), while using your other hand to spread the shell as you push down hard with the liner.
Putting Your Boots On
Once you’ve found a ski boot, you need to try it on properly to make sure it fits. Open all the buckles and pull the tongue up slightly. Then spread the sides of the boot while you slide in your foot, you may need to wiggle the tongue to get your foot to feel right. Next, kick your heel down hard on the floor to properly seat your heel in the boot’s heel pocket. Next, start buckling up. You should start with the lower buckle on the upper cuff; this helps to lock your heel before tightening the other buckles. Next move to the lower buckles, but don’t buckle them very hard. They should only require a small amount of pressure to buckle and unbuckle. If you have to buckle these hard to get a snug fit, you probably have the wrong size or model of boot. Buckling the lower buckles too tight will actually twist and contort the shell. The upper buckles are the ones that really hold your foot in place in the boot. You may need to go back and forth between the 2 upper buckles to get them snug. Lastly, put on the power strap at the top of the boot to hold the cuff onto your calf nice and snug.
Once the ski boot is on and snuggly buckled, stand up. This is the part that confuses new skiers the most: your toes should be touching the front the boot. Lean slightly forward and bend your knees. Your toes should pull back from the front of the boot. It’s ok if they are still feathering the front but they should not be pushing hard. Many better quality boots have a neoprene toe that is made for the toes to be right up against the front of the liner. While still leaning forward, bend your knees and push your shins hard against the front of the boot. Your heels should hold in the heel pocket of the boot without lifting. Note that you’re not trying to force your heels up, but testing if they come up when you flex the boot. If everything is good so far, stand around in the boots for 30 minutes. This should help determine if the overall fit is right and that you don’t have any severe pressure points. To really determine if the boots fits, wear them around the house for a couple hours just to be sure they fit. While the exterior shell of the ski boots won't change shape or break in. the liners will. When you try ski boots on for the first time, that is the tightest they will ever feel. With most boots the liner will "pack out" giving you about an extra 1/2 size once the ski boots are fully broken in.
If you determine that the ski boots you have purchased aren't going to work for you, please note the following. If it feels to narrow or too wide but the length is fine, that particular model of boot isn't going to work for you. Most of the time, getting the next size (smaller or larger) will not make the width fit any better. It is best to select a different model of ski boots which has a narrower or wider fit, respectivly. If your toes are 'aware' of where the end of the boots are, that is a good fit. If they are crammed in the boots or if you have too much room in the ski boots the end result will be an uncomfortable fit. If the width is fine, you can size up or down in the same model of ski boots that you picked out. If you experience pressure on the top of your foot (instep) the boot isn't too small, it just has the wrong shape for your foot. Look for a boot which mentions a high volume or tall instep in the product specifications.
When it comes to ski boots, features make all the difference. With ski boots, the goal is to find the perfect fit for your foot and features can be the best way to perfect a good ski boot. Many higher end ski boots come loaded with adjustable features designed to improve fit. Some of the most common features you'll find today are micro-adjustable buckles, cuff adjustment, flex adjustment, ski/walk feature, high performance and heat moldable liners, dual Durometer shells and built-in boot heaters.
It isn't uncommon when buckling your ski boots that one notch on a buckle will leave your boot too loose, but the next notch leaves the fit too tight. Micro-adjustable Buckles are a wonderful features found on many high end ski boots that lets you spin the buckles to tighten/loosen them a smidgen at a time, allowing for a perfect fit between the notches.
Often mistakenly referred to as canting, most people aren't perfectly straight-legged, but are either slightly bowlegged or slightly knock-kneed. Bowlegged skiers end up riding on the outside edges of their skis, and knock-kneed skiers end up riding on the inside edges. Your skis should always be riding flat, and that's where the cuff adjustment comes into play. Simply loosen the cuff adjustment on each boot and get into a natural stance on a flat surface. A friend can then tighten your boots using the cuff adjustment to make them sit flat on the ground. After this is done, your boots will be locked into place. Click here to see all ski boots with cuff adjustment options.
Ski boots with flex adjustments will have either a screw or a lever that allows you make the boot flex harder or softer, depending on the type of conditions you're skiing that day. Some flex adjustments can be changed on the fly, while others require you to remove a screw and reinsert it a different way. The latter can be set and forgotten, or can be changed in the lodge during times of rest throughout the day.
The ski/hike feature is usually found in better beginner and intermediate level ski boots.It allows you to walk more comfortably in your ski boots by releasing the upper cuff with the turn of a knob. The released upper cuff can now move freely, creating added comfort while walking. However, there are more advanced and expert level ski boots with Ski/Hike features being made for the increasing number of sidecountry skiers.
Manufacturers use many different technologies in today's boot liners. The more you pay for a ski boot, the better the liner will be. Better liners may include features like heat moldable functionality, stiffeners, more contoured lasts (the accuracy of the shape), materials that make it easier to get the boots on and off, fur, neoprene toe boxes, and more space age materials for a tighter and more comfortable fit.
Dual Durometer Shells
Durometer is a measurement of how hard or soft a material is. A Dual Durometer shell has stiff material on the sides and upper cuff of the boot shell, but softer and more pliable materials that wrap over the foot. This allows a higher performance or stiffer boot to also be comfortable.
Built-in Boot Heaters
Some models of ski boots pre-wired for boot heaters. These are a great way to keep your feet toasty warm on cold days. If your boot selection does not include heaters, they can be easily added to any boot.
If all steps have been taken to ensure that a boot fits properly, but there is still some discomfort, custom boot fitting is the best choice. The most common reason for custom fitting is if there are pressure points or sloppy areas in the boot. Custom boot fitters can heat and stretch out shells and liners to eliminate pressure points, add foam to the boot to take volume out, insert heel hold devices, tweak the footboard, and plenty more. Most major resorts have ski shops that specialize in custom boot fitting. Typically you will want to do custom boot fitting at the hill itself because it is easier to feel a pressure point or other discomfort while skiing. After a few runs if you feel this discomfort, take the boot in to the shop at the hill to have it adjusted. You may need to bring in your boot a few times to get it just right.
The footbed is the removable sole within the liner of your boot. Typically this footbed is pretty flimsy. Manufacturers don't include high-end footbeds, as they expect you to invest in a better fitting store bought footbed or get one custom made. If possible, go for the custom option. It will not only make your ski boots more comfortable, but will also lead to a more precise transfer of energy from your knees to your skis.