Buying ski boots can be an intimidating – and expensive – undertaking, but by following a few simple guidelines the experience can be rewarding and enjoyable.
First, and this point cannot be stressed enough, you need to find a reputable ski shop with qualified, experienced bootfitters. Yes, this is a real profession and we take it very seriously.
After all, skiing is an active sport and the ski boot is designed to keep your feet more or less in a fixed position. The two opposing forces can be uncomfortable if your boots are not properly fit.
Not only will a qualified bootfitter be able to fit your boots properly at the time of purchase but many shops have some type of fit guarantee and will work to adjust your ski boots after you have tried them out if there are any problems.
When you are ready to purchase the boots there are a few things to keep in mind while going through the fitting process – which could take upwards of an hour or more – that will put your mind at ease calm some of those nerves.
- Trust your bootfitter. Remember that your bootfitter knows what he or she is doing. They’ve seen a lot of feet and probably fixed just about every problem that can arise from improperly fit ski boots, so trust them.
- Try on at least 3 pairs of ski boots. You should try on at least three pairs of boots and depending on your foot shape possibly more than that. It is your foot shape and skiing ability that will ultimately determine the boot that will fit you best. Not your favorite colors or the pair that matches your skis or jacket.
- NEVER BUY SKI BOOTS FOR THEIR APPEARANCE! It will undoubtedly come back to haunt you. Ski boots are made from a plastic shell around a soft moldable liner. Feet come in many shapes so your bootfitter will match your feet to the boots he or she feel will work best for you.
- Try a shell-fit. The first thing that should happen when you're trying on a ski boot is a shell-fit. To do this, take the liner out of the shell (often more difficult than it looks) and slide your foot (with a thin sock) into the plastic shell only. With the boot on the floor, slowly slide you foot forward until you are just touching the end of the boot with your toes. With your foot in this position reach your hand behind your heel to the space between your foot and the back of the boot; you should have no more than two fingers (about 1 ¼ inches) of space there. Any more than this and the boot will actually be too big for you.
Here is where an experienced fitter can help you because if you ski more than 40 or 50 days a year, you probably want to go smaller than a two-finger or “comfort fit” into a one-finger or “performance fit.”
- Put the liner back in the ski boot and try it on again. When the shell sizing is complete and you try the boot and liner on together it should feel tight on your toes, like the boot itself is too short. THIS IS OK.
While sitting down, kick the heel of your ski boot back into the floor a few times to settle your heel into the liner of the boot. This will pull your toes away from the front of the boot and get your foot into the correct position in the ski boot.
To buckle the boot – and yes there is a right and a wrong way to do this – fasten the buckles by your ankles first, then the buckles on your leg. Then stand up, flex the boot forward and fasten the buckles around your foot. A good rule to follow is the “one finger worth of pressure” rule. This means that you should not crank down on the buckles. The boot should be snug – like a firm handshake around your foot - with minimal pressure on the buckles.
Over-tightening the buckles can distort the plastic and thus the overall fit of the boot, and remember that the ski boot will only get bigger. The smallest it will ever be is the first time you try it on in the store. The longer you wear it and the more you ski in the boot, the more the liners will mold to your feet and “pack out” or compress, making the boots’ feet bigger. This is the reason the that so many people complain about their ski boots. 99% of ski boot related problems stem from the fact that the boots were too big to begin with.
If a boot is too big, your foot can move around, and this movement of the foot within the boot can result in rubbing, chaffing and even banging into the sides of the boot.
- Get into a "skiing position". When the boots are buckled properly, you should stand up and, keeping the boots flat on the floor, flex at the ankle and drive your knee forward into the boot. While doing this your heel should be snug inside the boot and not feel like it is lifting off the bottom of the boot. Keep in mind that if you try to lift your heel, you probably will be able to, but flexing your leg mimics the action of skiing and this is when the heel should be snug. If you are getting a lot of lift, you need to try a boot that has a narrower heel pocket.
- Assess how snug the ski boot feels. When a boot is right for your foot it should feel snug from the top of the boot moving down through the ankle and through the foot. If you can wiggle your toes, that’s fine as long as your foot feels locked into place. It should be comfortable – not a bedroom slipper but not painful. And you shouldn’t feel “hot-spots” (areas of rubbing or excessive pressure).
- Get a footbed for your boot. Finally, the last part of the fit – and possibly the most important – is the footbed. The footbed is essentially a layer of foam, cork or plastic that sits between your foot and the bottom of the ski boot liner. Off the shelf ski boots have nothing more than a thin layer of felt as the footbed because they know that a skilled bootfitter will replace this with a custom or (depending on you budget), semi-custom footbed.
A footbed is similar to an orthotic for shoes but instead is supportive, not corrective. The idea here is to mold the footbed to the bottom of your foot and, when shaped and trimmed to the boot itself, will keep your foot in a neutral and natural position (aka much more comfortable). A footbed will also increase the performance of your ski boots by transferring the movements of your legs and feet directly into the boots and, in turn, into your skis.
- Adjust your bindings! Lastly. Remember to have your bindings adjusted to your new boots. There is nothing more frustrating than getting to the hill, ready to take in the new snow underfoot or the blue skies above, and realizing that your new boots won’t fit into your bindings.