By Steve Kopitz
Selecting ski boots online might seem like a crazy idea. Everyone in the ski industry will tell you how important fit is, and that if you get it wrong your ski experience will be miserable. Well, at Skis.com we provide you with as much or more information about each boot than most sales people will be able to give you. We also have lots of filterable options to select when shopping to help you narrow the selection down to boots that will be right for you.
The ski industry moved away from the ''Shrink It and Pink It'' mentality for creating women’s and kids products several years ago. When researching the products you might see information like Women’s Specific Cuff or Junior Last which pertain to features designed specifically for women or kids. With differences in designs between men’s, women’s, and kid’s boots; it is important to pick ski boots for your gender.
While most men choose to ski in men's boots, often times women and kids will consider using men’s equipment too. We recommend avoiding this if at all possible. Some differences are outlined in the next paragraphs, however for more detailed information about choosing Women’s Ski Boots or Kid’s Ski Boots please check the respective buying guides.
A Woman’s anatomy is very different from that of a mans; even in regards to leg and foot shape. Generally men have a longer lower leg (between the ankle and knee) than women do. This allows for their calf muscles to taper off before they would fit into the cuff of the boot. To help women with this issue the cuffs are generally an inch or two shorter to alleviate possible pinching of the calf in the top of the boot cuff. Additionally, men tend to have not only wider feet but the width tends to continue back to heels and up into the ankle/Achilles. That being said women’s ski boots are designed to have tighter heel and ankle pockets.
There are also differences between kids’ ski boots and men’s ski boots. For example kids’ boots are generally available in a “Junior Last” which is narrower than a men’s ski boot would be. Additionally junior ski boots also have shorter cuffs since kids generally aren’t as tall or have the same physical strength as a grown man which helps to flex the boot which makes the skis turn. Men’s boots are typically much stiffer than kid’s boots too. As outlined in the Kids Ski Boot Buying Guide having a boot that is too stiff for a kid can limit their ability to improve their technique.
Fit and Flex will be covered in more detail below.
Ski Boots are measured in Mondo Point sizing which is a measurement in centimeters. Many manufacturers produce shells and liners that are stamped with a range from the whole to the half size, i.e. 27.0 - 27.5. Inside the liner is a stock footbed or insole. That insole may be available in a thick and thin version to create the illusion of a "whole" size. The stock insoles do not offer much arch support and are recommended by both the boot manufacturers and Skis.com to be replaced with an aftermarket pre-formed or custom insole to give you better support.
Since the custom fit adjustments are much better than they used to be, many manufacturers have decided that producing both half and whole sizes isn't critical anymore. For this reason many of the ski boots available on Skis.com will only be available in sizes ending with .5. The refinement in the left navigation will show the sizes in ranges such as 27.0 - 27.5, and will return results for with sizes 27.0 and 27.5. For information on aftermarket footbeds or insoles to make the whole and half size boots fit the same please consult the Buying Guide for Footbeds and Insoles.
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. This is because as a person becomes a better skier, they want a tighter boot which will provide added control. Luckily for advanced skiers with wide feet there are some boots that come in high volume models to give you a better fit out of the box.
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 specific last or width is listed in the specifications for each pair of ski boots as well.
Selecting ski boots based on your skill level can really simplify the ski boot buying process.
For the most part the ability level directly corresponds to the ski boot width, flex and features available on a particular model.
Beginner and Intermediate boots are designed to be soft to medium flexing with a medium to wide fit. This helps make them more comfortable and easier to get on and off. In terms of performance the softer flex is more forgiving to the technical errors that newer skiers will make.
On the other hand advanced and expert boots are generally available in narrower widths and stiffer flexes to create a quick connection between the movements the skier makes and the reaction that the ski boots and ultimately the skis need to make. As you move up in ability level the ski boots also have more features that help dial in the fit for better performance.
Ski boots are designed for various uses including skiing downhill, side country, freestyle, racing or alpine touring. Boots have different features that make them better suited for each type of skiing.
Downhill boots are any boots for downhill skiing. Whether you are looking for beginner or expert boots downhill covers them all.
Side Country boots are downhill boots that have extra elements for the more adventurous skier. They will typically have a ski/hike feature and well as rubber sole inserts to make hiking easier.
Freestyle boots add a relaxed and playful feel to standard downhill boots. Often equipped with shock absorbing features and an upright stance, these boots are ideal for anyone looking to jump and jib all over the mountain.
Race boots are the specialty boots in the downhill boot category. These are designed for performance and feature an aggressive stance, dense liners, incredible response, and are always narrow in fit.
Alpine Touring boots are built to climb as well as they descend. Focused on lightweight construction and long stride ski/hike mechanisms for skinning and climbing, these boots are only compatible with AT bindings.
The flexibility of ski boots refers to how easily they bend forward from the ankle. Flex is indicated by the flex rating, a numeric value generally between 30 and 130. The higher the numbers represent the stiffer boots. 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.
On Skis.com you can filter by the flex ranges of Soft, Medium, Stiff, and Very Stiff which will help you narrow the selection of ski boots based on your needs. The refinement selections for flex on Skis.com are grouped 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 men’s ski boot is quite soft. A women’s ski boot with a flex of 100 is generally the stiffest you will find, where as with men’s ski boots 100 is about average with 130 being the about the stiffest.
The specific flex of each boot is listed in the specifications on each product page. The chart below outlines the appropriate flex range that corresponds with each ability level and the numeric flex rating for each gender.
|Ability Level||Flex||Men's Flex Rating||Women's Flex Rating||Kid's Flex Rating|
|Beginner||Soft||50 - 70||40 - 60||30 - 50|
|Intermediate||Medium||70 - 90||60 - 70||30 - 50|
|Adv. Intermediate||Medium or Stiff||80 - 100||70 - 80||40 - 60|
|Advanced||Stiff||90 - 110||80 - 90||60 - 70|
|Expert||Stiff or Very Stiff||100 - 130||90 - 110||70 - 90|
When it comes to ski boot flex there are some exceptions based on the skier’s size and weight. Skiers that are tall (6’0” and taller for men and 5’8” and taller for women) or are heavy for their height should consider purchasing a boot that is a bit stiffer since they can provide better leverage to flex the boot. The opposite is true for small framed skiers. A more flexible boot or one with a lower flex rating is recommended. If you have some knee problems, a softer flexing boot will make skiing easier.
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.
Most adult ski boots are designed with 4 buckles for closure. However many companies are starting to introduce ski boots for freestyle or backcountry purposes with two or three buckles instead. Some boots are featuring one large higher quality micro adjustable buckle instead of having two small buckles made out of lesser quality materials. Some companies like Nordica, Dalbello, and Full Tilt use three buckles with the middle buckle crossing the instep at roughly a 45 degree angle. This allows them to offer customers the same heel hold while reducing the weight of the boot and amount of materials used to produce each pair since they eliminate one buckle from every boot.
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, cuff alignment allows you to adjust the angle of the boot cuff. Most people aren't perfectly straight-legged, but are either slightly bowlegged or slightly knock-kneed and a simple cuff adjustment will allow for a more comfortable fit with a flat stance. 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/walk 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 side country 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, faux fur, neoprene toe boxes, and more space age materials for a tighter and more comfortable fit.
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, respectively. 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.
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 pre-formed 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.