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What to Expect When Buying Ski Boots

Buying a pair of ski boots can be daunting and intimidating. But it doesn't need to be. Here's what you need to know before you go to get the best ski boots for you.

Ski boots are the direct connection from you to your skis so getting a good boot fit is critical to your comfort and performance (= happiness on the hill.) The following information and video will tell you everything you should know and expect before you go to get the best experience and end up with the best fitting and performing boot for you! (See also our TERMINOLOGY so you know the lingo and the anatomy of a ski boot!)

STEP 1 Find a trained and experienced boot fitter at a local specialty retailer near you. Most likely these stores will also guarantee their fit (be sure to ask what their policy is, if there will be an extra charge etc.). It’s nice to be able to go back to the store after a few days on the hill to fine-tune the fit if needed. 1. Expect the process to take some time. A good boot fit will not happen in minutes. 2. Try to shop mid-week – avoid busy times for undivided personal attention. Some shops will allow you to make an appointment. 3. Plan to bring your ONE favorite ski socks. If you don’t have a thin, performance ski sock, be prepared to purchase a pair. Wearing two pairs of socks is unnecessary and detrimental to the warmth and performance of your boots. Find socks that are thin with performance, wicking and warmth materials (synthetic or wool) 4. Also make sure to bring your custom footbeds if you have them. If you don’t have them, they may be recommended for the best fit.

STEP 2 Be prepared to answer some questions. When you first enter a ski shop, you may be completely overwhelmed by the number of choices on the wall. Don’t panic, these choices will narrow quickly once two main questions have been answered by the boot fitter.

  1. What is your foot and lower leg shape? (the boot fitter will assess this) 2. What is the appropriate flex? (the boot fitter will assess this based on terrain and expectations)

To get the answers to these questions, the boot fitter should start by asking some basic questions that will help them determine where you are as a skier as well as where you want to be. They will also take a VERY close look at your feet and legs. Boots not only have to match your performance expectations, they must, most importantly, also match with your foot and leg shape.

Questions you should be prepared to answer:

  • Where do you ski or intend to ski?
  • Experience level = ability, frequency, years skiing etc. – you should also be sure to tell them if you are planning to ski more, or less, take lessons, etc.
  • What is your goal when skiing – i.e.: I just want to have fun with my friends and family and be warm and comfortable while out there? I want to challenge myself and improve my skiing? I want to crush the race course or the double black diamond? I want to be able to venture into the backcountry?
  • What boots did you use before? How did they fit & perform for you? If possible, bring your old boots.
  • What other sports / exercise do you do?
  • History of injury? Circulation issues?

STEP 3 When in the store, and they have asked the above questions, they will then ask to see your bare feet and lower legs. They will do an assessment on the basic width of your foot – skinny, average or wide, with special attention to typical problem fit areas (big toe, any bunions, 6th toe, forefoot width, navicular bone, ankles, arch shape, instep and Achilles) as well as your calf shape and where it sits on your leg. They will also check your ankle flexibility. They will measure BOTH of your feet, both sitting and standing, with a metric measurement tool. They should also perform a SHELL FIT. This will give them a gauge of the shell that most closely resembles the shape of your foot as well as the appropriate size.

SHELL FIT To check the shell fit, they will put your foot in the SHELL without the liner. You will slide your foot forward until your big toe touches the front. They will then shine a light or slide their hand down the back and see how much room is behind the heel. There should be enough space to fit 1 (approx. 1/2”) to 2 (approx. 1”) fingers. One finger will give a performance fit, two fingers a comfort recreational fit. No other parts of your foot should touch the shell. Tell the boot fitter if you feel contact with the shell - these are potential “hot spots” and they may suggest another model or customization options.

 

NOTE: TOO BIG IS BAD

Many people buy their boots too big in search of “comfort”. A good fitting boot feels short and tight out of the box and may remain very snug during the first few days of skiing. Be patient. Your liner will have some “pack out” or compression and become more comfortable with use. Buying a boot that’s too big can be painful and cause injuries as well as hinder your skiing and promote fatigue. You’ll find yourself in the “backseat,” digging in with your toes and tightening your thigh muscles and hamstrings to maintain stability and control.

STEP 4 At this point, the boot fitter will have it narrowed down to 3 to 4 models for you to try on. They will perform the shell fit to confirm the correct size. Try different models on your left and right feet, comparing and eliminating. Keep narrowing it down until you have found your match. Your feet are probably not identical and may vary in size so when you find the one, try on both boots. Leave them on your feet and walk around the shop for 10 or 15 minutes. Flex repeatedly to seat the foot and start the liners forming to your foot.

NOTE that when you put the boots on, your toes will brush the end. It will seem uncomfortably short. However, once buckled and your heel is seated correctly in the heel pocket, you should feel your toes come off the front as you flex the boot forward. The sensation you should have on your feet is that of the sensation of a glove on your hand or a firm handshake with no major pressure points. You should feel even pressure along the shin and instep.

FLEX You should be able flex the boot – remember, plastic gets stiffer out in the cold so it may feel too soft in the store, but it will stiffen up in the cold (what level depends on the plastic used in the boot). Choosing the right flex can depend on many factors (weight, ankle flexion, experience etc.) but you should be able to push the cuff forward with medium resistance.

THE FIT AND HEIGHT OF THE CUFF IS ALSO IMPORTANT! You’ll ski with greater stability, confidence and control in a boot that contours snugly along your lower leg. Everybody’s calf muscles are different – some are skinny and sit high on the leg, while some are large and sit lower on the leg. (and everything in between!) Many women’s boots will have an adjustment available to be able to customize the fit of the cuff around your lower leg like the Cuff Adapt System on the Mach1 W’s collection. A bad fit around the lower leg leads to all sorts of problems. Your circulation can be cut off leaving you with cold feet or the fit can be so bad, that your heel does not even reach the sole of the boot leading to balance and stability issues. Skinny calves can lead to too much movement resulting in loss of performance and even sore shins. Cuff height also dramatically affects stance. Shorter skiers particularly may have difficulty balancing in boots with tall cuffs and tall skiers may bend right over the top of a boot with a shorter cuff.

CUSTOM INSOLES Depending on your arch shape and ankle flexibility you will likely want to purchase a custom footbed to improve contact surface area and increase the support underfoot. A custom footbed will further personalize the boot fit and will hold the foot firmly in a more stable position and can add to the comfort and performance of the boot. A custom footbed may also help remedy fit issues right out of the box.

BUCKLES In a properly sized boot, the buckle bails should be somewhere near the beginning to middle of the ladders or catches. (Remember, the liner materials will compress!) Most buckles will have a micro adjustment to custom tailor your fit.

OTHER FIT AND PERFORMANCE ENHANCERS

CUFF ALIGNMENT If you have bowleg or knock-knee tendencies, a cuff alignment adjuster will adjust the angle of the cuff to match the angle of your leg. If it doesn’t, your balance will be compromised and your skis will not sit flat on the snow creating control issues.

CUSTOMIZATION You’ve found the perfect boot, the one that is going to take you to the next level, or let you keep up with your kids. But you have that one little pressure point around your navicular or it fits perfectly everywhere except your big toe just won’t come off the front when you flex. DO NOT GO UP A SIZE. The boot fitter can fix that with some customization to the boot.

If you do not plan to purchase new skis, you should bring your current skis to the shop so they can make sure your new boots are properly adjusted to your skis.

When you get your boots home, it’s a good idea to wear them around the house for a bit before skiing to really get them broken in to the shape of your foot.