How do you choose ski boots if you have no boot fitting experience? What are the pitfalls and how to avoid them? Is it a task so daunting that it requires thorough research and preparation? I know I had hard time finding the right ski boots. It took me 3 pairs, 5 years, and some 1500 euro before I realized how to choose wisely.
Some 8 years ago I decided to return to skiing after a long absence from the slopes. I did ski actively until I was 15, and then went into a long recess. Upon my return, I went through a period of renting boots and then decided it was time to buy my own. At the time, I was very much interested in trying ski touring (you know, placing skins under your skis that allow you to walk uphill). I was searching for a good touring boot. But since going uphill was just part of the fun, I also wanted to get the most of my new boots in terms of downhill performance. I intended to use the same pair on- and off-piste and anywhere in between. In short: I wanted Jack-of-all-trades-boots (they are called “all-mountain” nowadays). But we all know the saying “Jack of all trades, Master of none”…
Initial research and selection
At the time, selecting my new boots on the internet seemed like a good idea. I did a research based on the genius “best ski touring boot” query. This narrowed my selection to a few models. In addition, I decided to back up my research with an “expert” opinion. I called the best skier I knew and trusted him with the task of helping me with the selection. Trusting a friend to help you with choosing ski boots might be a good idea, given that your friend is a professional boot fitter, or a ski-aficionado-podiatrist at the least. My friend was neither.
It was 2008 and Scarpa had just released their F3 model. The F3 was promising the best of both worlds – extra light flexible touring boot, and good downhill performance. Even the God of backcountry ski blogging – Mr. Lou Dawson – was saying good words about the F3 at the time: https://www.wildsnow.com/1042/scarpa-f3-is-the-meow-of-the-cat-for-big-tours/.
So I was all covered: good internet reviews backed up by the expert opinion of my skiing guru friend.
We showed up at the Scarpa dealer with the F3 firmly engraved in my mind. I was not even considering looking at other boots. Why should I bother? The price was right, the color was awesome (you might argue that about the F3s), and my friend confirmed this was the boot for me. There was nothing left for the poor sales person at the shop but to place me in the right size.
Common mistakes to avoid when doing initial research:
- Don’t narrow your choice before you see a boot fitter
- Try not to select a boot based on color, features, or any other criteria not related to your individual biomechanics and skiing habits
- If you are browsing the internet for reviews, keep in mind that these are someone else’s feet providing the feedback.
There are as many ways to size a customer as there are boot fitters around. One thing worth remembering: a ski boot should fit as snug as possible without causing pain! Skiing is a static foot sport (just as are cycling and skating). In ski boots, your feet are stationery. They are not spreading at each step as they do while walking or running. The less movement (or God forbid “swimming”) you get inside the boot, the better the fit. The only footwear that might require a tighter fit than a ski boot is a rock climbing shoe.
I am not going to cover all the details of comprehensive size measuring and fitting in this article, since this is a job for the professional boot fitter. If you are interested, there are tons of good reads on the matter around. Here is one I find very practical from a boot fitting shop in Boston: Ski boot fitting: how are boots supposed to fit
Back to the Scarpa F3s I was about to purchase. The sales guy asked me what size ski boot I was previously skiing in. I was not sure. The last ski boots I owned were dating back to my teens. Determined to start somewhere, he asked me what my street shoe size was.
Beware of any boot fitter who asks about your size rather than getting down on his fours to measure!
I’m usually ending up in 41 European size, which translates into 27 Mondopoint (the system in which ski boots are most commonly labelled). Info and conversion tables on different foot size systems can be found here.
Unfortunately, the shop didn’t have 27 available. Close enough, they had 275. I figured: “Ok, having a bit more room for my fingers would not hurt. I’ll even feel warm and cozy on those very cold ridges”.
The sales guy brought the pair and let me try it on.
Double-beware of any boot fitter who let’s you try on ski boots yourself!!!
There are many reasons why a boot fitter should control the process of getting his customer into new boots. The most important: one should never stand tall in the boot before the heel is secured in the heel pocket with the buckles done. This will affect ones perception of length – the boot will feel too short. Hence, prompting an unnecessary shift to a larger size.
In my case, the boot felt a bit roomy even when standing in the boots with buckles undone. I made a verbal note of this, but I was told not to worry, since salvation laid in the magic thermo-formable liner this boot was equipped with. Once the foam inside the liner was to be heated, it would eventually expand and fill the gaps around my foot. Great! Let’s go for it!
Not long after, I was all set – liners thermoformed and boots ready to drop sick lines.
Couple of weeks later, the snow fell, and I was on my way to an exciting adventure strapped in my new shiny Scarpas. We were headed for Zavrachitsa, a small hut in the hearth of the Rila mountains. Walking and touring in my “slippers” felt great. I was more confident than ever I’ve made the right choice. But it wasn’t until I tried skiing down when I realized something was wrong.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out what the problem was. Today, I know my actual ski boot size is 255 (small foot, I know). Skiing back from Zavrachitsa, I was swimming in boots 2 sizes larger than my foot. What a fool!
Common mistakes to avoid when measuring size:
- Don’t tell your size, get someone to actually measure it properly
- Don’t be surprised if the recommended boot feels tight – it should feel like a firm handshake
- Don’t worry about your feet getting cold in a tight shoe – there are ways to make your feet warm
Resist the low price tag. Even better, resist buying any ski boots online
I survived my Scarpa’s for 2 years by wearing 2 pairs of thick socks on top of each other. Still, too often, I was almost jumping out of my boots when ploughing through deep heavy snow. Don’t get me wrong. These were good boots. They were just not my size.
I retired the Scarpa F3s and went off to read all there was about measuring size for ski boots on the net. I was ready for my next excellent purchase: The Black Diamond Quadrant! Cool name, don’t you think? And guess what… I got a great deal on them on the internet. Excellent. I don’t need my friend’s advice anymore. I am a born-again-boot-fitting-expert ready to make a good choice on boots.
I circled my foot with a pen on a white piece of paper, just as it was explained in a youtube video, and measured the distance between the farthest points on my sketch. Voila! 26 Mondopoint. Remember, the Scarpa I owned was 275. Good! Sizing down is good! They had size 265 online. Now, I knew that there is no difference in shell size between 26 and 265, so this should have been just the right boot for me. Add to cart! Check-out! Confirm! Done! BD Quadrants in “go get them” green color were on their way.
What do you think? What went wrong this time? Yeap, I didn’t realize there are many other important factors about a ski boot apart from length in mm and looks. Instep volume, width (last), flex, just to name a few. The Quadrant was a 103mm last in size 26. I measure 95mm in width (very narrow foot). Also, my left foot (not the one I measured) is 0.5cm shorter than the right (not uncommon). I was “swimming” in my boots, AGAIN!
Needless to say, I was as miserable in my Quadrants as I was in my F3s, if not more. There went another perfect choice down the drain.
Common mistakes to avoid when buying boots online:
- Never buy ski boots online if you haven’t tried exactly the same model in exactly the same size you need
- Even if you think the size is right, there are many other ways a boot fitter would assess your foot to decide if a boot is right for you
- Do your homework and check prices at different dealers, but don’t forget there are many more important factors to be considered than just the price of the boot
How about that flex
“Third time’s a charm” they say. I was now getting smarter and closer to making a good choice with my boots. Or was I? This time I didn’t even do internet research. I was hearing a lot of good feedback about how comfortable Nordica boots are, and I went to the local dealer to make an informed choice. I tried 3 models, and narrowed my choice down to a 130 flexing boot and another rated at 110.
What is flex? In a nutshell, it is an imaginary scale of how stiff a boot is. I.e. how much power it takes to flex the boot when you lean forward. I asked the dealer which one would he recommend, the 130 or the 110. He didn’t hesitate – his choice would be the more expensive 130 flex model.
In the shop, at room temperature, I was hardly able to flex the 130 boot forward. Fine. Maybe that’s the way a boot should feel – stiff as a rock.
On the slopes, where temperature is usually below 0 Celsius, a stiff boot gets even stiffer. That is why good boot fitting shops keep a fridge to freeze boots in. Boots are cooled for people to try the true stiffness. I was hardly able to get inside my Nordica’s on cold days. Midday, I will be heading to the tea-house because my legs would not bear more punishment from the iron-casts I was wearing.
Other than that, the Nordica Girish Pro 130 was the best boot I had owned so far. It had a narrow last of 98mm, and in size 26 it was more or less a good fit for me. With time however, the liner of the boot packed-down a bit, and I was finding my foot moving inside again. I fixed the instability by inserting a moulded custom footbed, but the boot was still left with a bit more room than I would’ve liked.
Common mistakes to avoid when selecting the stiffness (flex) of the boots:
- Deciding on the flex of the boot takes a lot more than figuring out if the skier is a beginner or advanced
- The flex should be selected according to the flexibility of your joints, your weight, and finally, your skiing abilities
- Flexing boots at room temperature will not provide you with a true stiffness assessment. The boots will be stiffer on the mountain
The perfect ski boots
What is my choice of boot today? Well, it doesn’t matter. The perfect ski boot is not the one in the epic Teton Gravity production ski movie. It is not the one your best skiing friend is buying. Nor the one praised in this year’s “Gear of the Year” awards. The perfect ski boot is the one that doesn’t hinder your skiing experience in any way. It is the one that puts a smile on your face!
My sketchy experience with ski boots had a silver lining, of course: I became a boot fitter myself and learned from some of the best boot fitters in Europe and the US. I hope this article will help you find your perfect ski boots a lot faster than I did. Skisharki is there to support you in the process.
Tips for selecting ski boots:
- Talk to a boot fitter and get a professional assessment of your feet
- Enter the dealer’s shop open-minded and listen to the advise, as long as it makes sense to you
- Get a shell fit (remove the liner and check the space behind your heel when your toes are touching front)
- Measure both feet, you’ll be surprised by the difference
- Invest in a custom footbed. It will greatly aid your stability and efficiency in the boots
Have more questions on boot fitting? Agree or disagree with our tips and advice? Leave us a comment bellow.
Skisharki is about to open it’s first shop in Sofia this autumn.
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Next time we will discuss the pros and cons of using custom made footbeds in your ski boots.
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