Buying ski boots that fit your feet and complement your ability level will make a huge difference when you hit the slopes. First and foremost, you’ll need boots that are compatible with your skis and bindings. Ski boots are divided into four main categories: alpine (a.k.a downhill), telemark, alpine touring and cross-country (a.k.a. Nordic). Also, depending on what kind of bindings you use, only some boots will be compatible with your equipment. The first section of this guide will explain the differences between boots, so you’ll have a better idea of what to look for. Once you’ve narrowed down your search, be sure to check out the fit tips section near the end of the guide.
Since Nordic skiers navigate less aggressive terrain, cross-country ski boots are lighter and less bulky than alpine, telemark and AT boots. Most cross-country ski boots tie using traditional laces and have a waterproof outer cover with a zipper. There are five main types of Nordic bindings, and subsequently five main styles of boot soles (see fig. 2):
It’s important to be aware that these systems are not interchangeable, so be sure the boots you select are compatible with your bindings, or visa versa. Visit the Nordic Skiing Guide for more information on bindings and skis.
Ski boot flex is a measurement of the stiffness or forgiveness of a pair of ski boots. A boot with more flex (i.e. less stiffness) will be more comfortable for recreational skiing and more forgiving to beginners. Stiffer boots transfer more energy from skier to ski, which is ideal for aggressive carving. For this reason, advanced skiers usually prefer a stiffer boot. However, there is no industry standard for ski boot flex, so the flex ratings of different brands will vary slightly.
In general, a boot with a stiffness rating of 60-80 will be the most forgiving. Boots in the 80-100 range are usually moderately stiff, and best for intermediate and advanced skiers. Boots in the 100-120 range are stiffer and geared toward advanced skiers. Any boot with 120 or higher stiffness is geared toward aggressive carving and expert ability levels. It’s also important to be aware that women and lightweight individuals will have a harder time flexing a stiffer boot than a heavier person, so weight should also be taken into consideration.
To better accommodate different-sized feet, some brands offer ski boot models in two or three different last widths. Similar to athletic footwear, a boot’s last determines the width of the boot. A last measuring 98mm or less is usually best for skiers with narrow feet. A medium last frequently measures around 100mm. For skiers with wider feet, look for a last width of 102mm or greater. When measuring the width of your foot, it’s important to measure the widest part of your forefoot. Boots designed for wider feet are sometimes called “high volume” boots. Stiffer boots designed for advanced skiers tend to be narrower or “low volume,” which can make it difficult for advanced skiers with wide feet. However, some brands have begun offering stiffer boots with more volume.
In order to get the best-fitting boot possible, it’s crucial to know your exact foot size. The ideal tool for measuring feet is a Brannock Device, which is used by nearly all shoe stores and ski shops. Most ski boot sizes are represented in Mondopoint sizing, which accounts for both foot length and foot width. If you don’t know your Mondo size, the conversion chart below can help determine what ski boot size is best for you.*
|Mondo||US Men||US Women||Europe||UK|
Most buckles on hard-shell ski boots only have five settings. Can’t seem to find one that feels right? Most modern ski boots have micro-adjust buckles. By simply rotating the clasp of the buckle 360-degrees, you can incrementally increase or decrease the length, helping you achieve that perfect tension.
All ski boots need to be broken in and will usually feel a little snug out of the box, especially hard-shell boots. This is normal. As you wear them, the new liners will compress slightly, giving your feet and toes a little more wiggle room. If your boots feel roomy out of the box, they could become too loose once they’re broken in. Of course, your new boots shouldn’t be uncomfortably tight, either.
Some ski boots feature heat-moldable liners. Although these liners will conform to your feet over time, for the best results, take your new boots into a ski shop and have a qualified technician fit your boots using a specialized heating device. By getting your heat-moldable liners and boots properly fitted, they will require little or no break-in time. Visiting a shop is also a good opportunity to have a technician make other adjustments for an optimal fit.
Although they may not be aware of it, some people don’t have a perfectly even stance. For example, one or both knees may bend slightly inward or bow slightly outward. These small imbalances aren’t always noticeable in everyday life, but on the slopes they can prevent your skis from resting perfectly flat on the surface of the snow. This slight misalignment can make skiing more difficult, depending on the degree of imbalance. Not sure if your stance is off? Bring your boots and skis into a shop. A qualified ski tech can check your stance and help compensate for any imbalances by adjusting the canting of your ski boots. If your boots don’t have built-in canting adjustment, ask a technician about your other options.
If you’ve addressed all of the previous boot fit tips and are still experiencing discomfort or uncomfortable pressure points, you may require additional boot customization. A ski boot technician has several tools that can be used to stretch or reshape certain parts of the boot shell to help relieve pressure points.
Thanks for reading our ski boot guide. For information on skis and bindings, check out our Alpine Skiing Guide or our Nordic Skiing Guide.