Boots are the most important pieces of ski equipment you will ever purchase. They need to provide a firm, warm, and comfortable platform that delivers that transition from brain command to ski function. It is through your boots that all of the energy from your body is communicated to your skis. If they do not fit correctly, it can negatively affect your whole ski experience.
The good news is that there are a number of really great ski boots on the market and there are boots out there that will fit your feet. The bad news is that they are all constructed differently. You need to understand that finding the right boot will take time. The best way to short-circuit the learning curve is to find a good boot fitter. It is a bit more expensive at the outset, but the benefits are enormous. There is a small list of great boot fitters at the end of this column.
Why are good boots important? When you watch great skiers flow down a mountain, you will see that they are almost always in a long, graceful turn. As they move from one turn to another, the transitions are smooth and easy. They do this by pressuring edge of the ski almost all of the time. This pressure is communicated from your body to the ski through your boot. Inside your boot, it is only part of your foot that is making most of that effort. So, you have all of this weight and energy flowing through a small part of your foot to make the ski turn. To do all of that, your boot must fit your foot correctly or you will be expending more effort than necessary and your foot will soon feel like someone is hitting it with a hammer.
Boots are composed of two essential elements. The hard outer shell and the interior foot casing. The outer shell of every boot is built from a mold called a last that is different for each manufacturer. The last is a three-dimensional, wooden or plastic mold upon which a boot is constructed. All lasts include the dimensions of the heel width, instep height, forefoot width, and other measurements. If you have a wide forefront measurement, you need one boot. If you have a narrow heel you need another. Good boot fitters know which boots have what dimensions and can help you narrow down your options.
Most people buy boots that are too big. They feel like you are driving a trailer truck with bald tires. You want to turn but your feet slide around in the boot, taking away all of that positive energy you are trying to transmit to the edge of your ski. Some folks have wide feet. To accommodate that they buy boots that are a size too big. This usually means their heels slide around or lift in the boot. Here the right last is critical. Try a different boot manufacturer.
Ski boots flex. The manufacturers offer boots in a variety of flexes, usually ranging from 70-150. Depending on your size, weight, and ability, your boot fitter should help you find the right flex for you. To compound the problem, the measurement is not uniform between manufacturers, so the equivalent number can vary from boot to boot. Stiff-flex boots are highly responsive and designed for those who ski with confidence, speed and aggressiveness on the steepest and most challenging terrain. Some boots offer features such as shock absorption for landing jumps or slamming bumps.
Do not pay too much attention to boot size labeling. Again, depending on the basic last, each manufacturer has their own sizing. Boots tend to be in mondo sizing, which refers to the boot’s inner sole length in centimeters. For example a mondo size-28 corresponds to a U.S. men’s 10 or U.S.women’s 11.5. Width at the ball of the foot can range from 97mm to 106mm, depending on the manufacturer.
The interior of the boot, or liner, comes in several options.
There is the non-moldable that is less pliable and provides a generic padding and stability for your feet. This is found in less expensive boots. This padding will eventual conform to your feet. The thermoformable liner uses the heat of your feet to quickly conform the liner to your feet. A third option is the custom moldable liner that uses an artificial heat source to mold the liner. This is usually done in a shop.
Of course the best way to treat your feet is with injectable foam liners. A boot technician takes computer generated scans of your feet and, with the use of a CAD-CAM milling machine, mills the exact dimensions of your foot to produce an insole specific to you. With the insole supporting your foot in the proper position, the custom ski boot liner is then injected with a Polyurethane foam that surrounds your foot and creates a soft, comfortable liner exactly to the shape of your foot. I did this two years ago and I kicked my self afterwards for not doing this years ago. Never have I had a pair of boots that fit me so well. It is expensive, but when you ski more than 30 days a year, you owe it to yourself to spend the extra cash.
Here are a few outstanding shops where you can find quality boot fitters. This is not an exhaustive list, but it is a place from which you can start. If in doubt, call the head of the ski school at your favorite mountain, ask your ski instructor, or query the head of the rental shop. Do not be afraid to visit several shops until you find someone with whom you are comfortable. Leave the kids at home and resign yourself to the fact that this may take time and effort. Call ahead and make a reservation so you do not waste your time. It also gets their attention and they know that you are serious. Believe me, it will be time well worth it in the end.