Skiers can be a picky bunch – and rightfully so. The fit of your ski boot affects not only your comfort on the slopes but also your performance. In turn, this impacts how much you will enjoy your day of skiing, and even a minor fit issue can cause serious headaches.
While most skiers can find a standard boot that fits them appropriately, there’s a faction of skiers who need a little extra assistance in finding that perfect fit. This can happen for a number of different reasons.
Whether it’s because of unusually-shaped feet, medical reasons or simple preference, skiers who experience fit issues often look to boot stretching as a solution. It can be a very effective option for many, but is it for everyone?
Can My Ski Boot be Stretched?
Being a bootfitter for several years, I get asked this question quite often. This is not always a cut and dry answer. The answer is that it really all depends on several factors.
The first factor to consider is if the plastic of the shell is strong enough to be pushed out. Typically, advanced to expert ski boots are made of much thicker and stronger plastic. A thicker, stronger plastic has a much stronger energy transfer that is designed for stronger, more powerful skiers. Boots made from stronger material are capable of taking the required force to physically move the shell and alter the shape.
On the other hand, ski boots for beginner and intermediate skiers are made with a much lighter, softer plastic. Materials used in these boots simply are not strong enough or thick enough to take on the required force to move the plastic without it cracking, warping or having the stretching device blow through the plastic.
The next factor to consider is whether you have a mono-injected boot or a dual-injected boot. Mono-injected boots are seamless across the forefoot. This gives the bootfitter a chance to work on the area that is most commonly stretched, the width of the foot.
A dual-injected boot is a little more challenging, however. If you have a dual-injected boot, there is at least one seam where two different types or layers of plastic meet in common stretching areas. Some brave or skilled bootfitters will attempt to stretch these areas, but once too much force is placed on a seam it can easily split, destroying the boot. So while possible, stretching a dual-injected boot can be risky.
What Tools are Needed to Stretch a Ski Boot?
Regardless of what the internet tells you, stretching a ski boot at home, frankly, is not possible. Ski boots are a highly specialized piece of sporting equipment, and without the proper tools or training, it is very likely that you will destroy your ski boots. Under no circumstance would we recommend trying to stretch your ski boot at home.
Most specialty ski shops will have a tool used specifically to stretch ski boots. A Hydraulic Expander is a tool that is capable of adding a little extra length and expanding the toe box or the width across the forefoot slightly. This tool has an arm that allows the bootfitter to position it into the area of the boot that needs to be stretched. Then, heat is applied to the shell. The bootfitter will then start to turn the crank and expand the shell. The disadvantage of this tool, though, is that if you start to push the shell too much in the area that needs to be expanded, it can start to deform the shell in other areas.
A boot press is the most accurate tool when it comes to stretching boots. This type of tool has the ability to maximize the stretch of a boot, but also requires the most amount of training and experience to be effective.
A boot press has two “arms” to it: a long fixed arm that is connected to a tappet, and a moving arm that has a bell on the end. The shell is first heated, then moved into position so that the tappet on the fixed arm is inside the boot on the area that needs stretching. The bootfitter will then pull down on the moving arm causing any of the shell that is inside the bell to be expanded. Then the fitter will need to feather out and gently shape the shell near the area that was stretched to maintain a cleaner look.
You can go to most any specialty ski shop that is equipped with the proper tools and training and they will stretch your ski boots for a fee, regardless if the boot has been purchased from them or not. Good bootfitters have open minds, experience and training and will gladly service any boot that walks into their shop.