While skis are categorized by terrain and end use (such as all mountain, freeride and so on), ski boots are best shopped by your ability level. Be honest in your self-evaluation.
Not sure? Think about the other sports or activities you enjoy. How far and how quickly do you usually progress?
The hard plastic outer shell varies in stiffness from boot to boot. Soft plastics flex easily and are more comfortable and forgiving. Stiff plastics are more rigid but offer greater response and precision. The more rigid your boot, the more power transfers to your ski's inside edge.
Most advanced-level boots combine multi-density materials to make boots stiff in critical areas of energy transfer, but soft in other areas. Very stiff racing boots can be uncomfortably rigid for general use.
Manufacturers rate boots on a flex index. The higher the number, the stiffer the boot. REI.com product pages list the flex index under the "specs" tab.
Unfortunately, flex index ratings are comparable only within a manufacturer's line, so the best way to compare when shopping is to put a boot on each foot, lean forward and flex them.
Tip: Boots will have a softer flex at a warm indoor temperature than they will out on the ski hill.
Most boots come with some amount of heat-moldable material in the liners. Typically, more expensive boots will feature more heat-moldable material. Some liners have down-filled toe boxes for added warmth.
There are several liner types to choose from:
Do your ski days include hikes up sidecountry ridges to find untracked powder? Many medium- to high-end boots let you separate the upper shell from the lower boot for more comfortable walking. When you're ready to ski the descent, you can lock the upper and lower shell together to maximize power transmission.
Some ski boots have a switch so you can adjust the boots' stiffness to match a particular type of skiing, like powder, groomers or bumps. It is usually located on the back of the boot, around ankle height.
Downhill ski boots use mondo sizing, which refers to the boot’s inner sole length in centimeters. Sizes are not always uniform by brand or even from one model to another.
If at all possible, have yourself professionally fit by an REI ski boot specialist or other qualified person. This may be the most important advice in this article.
He or she will have you try on several boots to gauge what feels best to you. It’s generally best to size down from the conversion chart since linings eventually compress (“pack out”) over time. Unless you start out with snug boots, they may loosen enough to compromise control. Don't buy your boots too big!
Here are some boot try-on tips:
Most boots will likely need some modification to get the best possible fit. Also, your feet may not be the same size, so your boots may need to be adjusted to fit them. This is another reason you should always get a professional fitting.
Boots can be adjusted in various ways:
Women's boots: Women's calves are shaped differently from men's—the calf muscles are shorter, larger and lower on the leg—and women's heels tend to be narrower. Women's boots are designed to accommodate these differences.
Custom footbeds: As noted above, these insoles are a popular way to improve fit and support. Your options:
Canted cuffs: Boot cuffs should fit snugly when the buckles are latched to the middle rungs. A good calf fit means no painful pressure. Let your ski-boot specialist help you make adjustments as needed.
You may be one of the more than 75% of skiers who are knock-kneed or bowlegged. A cuff cant can help balance your stance. To check, stand with your feet aligned under your shoulders and look in a mirror. Bring your feet toward one another slowly.
Cuff canting aligns the boot cuff with bowed or knock-kneed skiers. Any adjustments with the cuff should complement your stance, not alter it.
Ski boot life expectancy varies. If you ski regularly and you’re hard on your boots, you may need to replace them every few seasons. Don’t wait too long; boot liners eventually tend to “pack out” which can compromise fit and performance.
To maximize the life of your ski boots, follow this advice:
Usage tip: On the way to the slopes, keep your boots inside the car, instead of the trunk, so they're warm when you put them on.
By Steve Tischler
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Last updated: 02/18/2014
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