Having good ski equipment can make or break your time on the slopes – I know this from experience.
This is especially true for your ski boots and I created this guide so everyone knows how to choose a ski boot with complete confidence.
You’ll learn everything you need to know here.
The Boots That Left Me In Agonizing Pain
I started skiing when I was around 5 and loved it right away; there’s something about cruising around and the vibe that suits me well.
One Christmas my parents surprised me with a new pair of ski boots and I was really excited. Until that point I’d just been using hand me downs and this was the first pair I owned.
The following weekend we went to one of my favorite mountains and I got to test out my new boots. Things didn’t go the way I wanted, though.
Right away there were problems. I tried to slide my foot in and wouldn’t go in. I had to stand up and stomp my foot as hard as I could and after a few minutes of doing that I finally got it in there.
Now I had to buckle the boots and things didn’t get any easier. Each buckle was harder to fasten than the last and again it took forever – AND THAT WAS JUST MY LEFT FOOT! I had to do it all over again with my right foot.
It got even worst when I started skiing. A piece of the boot dug into the top of foot and was extremely painful. When it was time for lunch I was ready to get them off my feet.. except it took twenties minutes to get them off.
Eventually I told my parents what was going and they returned the boots. We did our research this time and knew exactly what to look for. They bought me a new pair and they worked perfectly.
I learned then there’s a lot that goes into selecting a ski boot and the next few sections you’ll learn everything you need to know.
Knowing Your Ski Level And Flex Needed
All ski boots are rated based on their flex levels. The flex level of a boot indicates how easy or difficult it is to bend or move the boot, basically how flexible it is. All manufacturers assign flex rating numbers as well as categories to their boots. The categories range from soft to medium, stiff, and extra stiff/very stiff.
The numbering systems may differ from manufacturer to manufacturer, and a 50 flex rating of one manufacturer may not be equal to the 50 flex rating of another one. The constant amidst all this is the fact that lower numbers indicate softer flex and higher numbers indicate the stiffer flex options.
The suitability of flex rating to individuals depend on several factors. They include gender, age, experience level, height, and weight. All ski boot manufacturers have separate ski boot flex categories for men, women, and kids.
Typically, men’s flex levels start a couple of notches higher on the stiffness scale, while women and kid’s boots tend to have an overall softer baseline. For instance, if the “Soft” category of men’s ski boots start from 50-70, it would be 40-60 for women and 30-50 for kids.
The primary factor that determines the boot flex for a skier is his/her skill level. If you are a rank beginner on the slopes, you will need the softest flex levels for an enjoyable time out there. Soft flex ski boots are more forgiving and easier to manipulate with your feet and do not require higher levels of control and skills.
Likewise, the higher your skill level and aggression on the trail or piste, the stiffer your boot flex needs to be for improved control and technique execution.
Beyond skiing skills, you also need to factor in the correlation between the physical characteristics of the skier and his/her ideal boot flex. Shorter and lighter skiers will get a better response with softer flexed boots. This one of the reasons why kids and women have softer flex levels for their boots than men since they are lighter and shorter than grown men on average.
The taller and heavier you are, the stiffer the boots need to be. When looking at flex levels based on your skill, consider moving up a level if your weight is above, say 200lbs, and conversely, move one level down of your weight is below 115lbs.
And finally, the type of terrain and the kind of skiing you plan to do will also need to be considered when choosing the appropriate flex level. For straighter trails and race courses where you need less cuff movement, stiffer flex ratings are better while on more complicated and undulating terrain, softer boots will give you more control. Bottom line, stiffer is better for speed, while softer is better for dealing with twisties and those slaloming runs.
Here’s a quick video that explain flex:
Pretty simple, right?
Sizing Your Boot
Finding the correct boot size is critical in skiing. Ski boots are not like regular shoes when it comes to size and comfort levels. A loose ski boot can degrade your performance as well as enjoyment on the slopes.
The less tight the boot, the lesser your control on the skis. An ideal ski boot will put a slight amount of noticeable pressure on your long toes when you wear them for the first time, fully buckled up and with your leg held upright.
The size of a ski boot is measured on a scale called the Mondopoint. This scale is based on the metric system, and the length is measured in centimeters. Measure the length of your foot, from heel to toe, and convert it into centimeters to get the correct Mondopoint or “Mondo” size for you.
For instance, if your feet length in centimeters is 24.5, your Mondo size is 24.5. Most manufacturers provide ski boot sizes in 0.5 increments of the Mondopoint.
While you can always just order a pair of ski boots based solely on your mondo size, this is only recommended for beginners and recreational skiers. Their experience on the ski slopes is unlikely to be affected if the ski boot turns out to be slightly loose.
If you are a beginner skier, find a ski boot with a mondo size close to your feet length in centimeters. It is always better to go for the exact size or even one size smaller when it comes to ski boots.
When you wear a brand new ski boot, it should feel as though the boot is lightly squeezing your feet, but not tight enough to cut off circulation, of course! Ski boots will stretch within a few days of use anyway, so do not worry if they feel a little tight on the first day.
Intermediate skiers should choose a ski boot with the snuggest possible fit, and a stiffer flex. Expert skiers tend to go for very tight ski boots that are at least one or even two sizes smaller than their feet length. Since ski boots perform better when they are tighter, for best results it is essential to get them custom fitted.
What Is The Last Of A Ski Boot?
The “last” of a ski boot is the amount of width or space it has on the inside. This is usually measured in millimeters and is linked to the width of your forefoot, the area where you have the balls of the feet, just below your toes.
To find out your ideal last level, you will need to measure your forefoot width at the widest point, usually at a slight diagonal angle in line with the shape of your foot. The “last” of a ski boot matters because excess space inside the boot can severely affect overall performance and control. Most manufacturers provide three different Last levels:
- Wide Last: These are ideal for skiers with larger feet and insteps. If your forefoot width is typically between 102-106mm, this is the last you need. And below the forefoot, you also get a lot of room for the area between your heels and the midfoot. See my top picks for wide ski boots here.
- Intermediate/Average Last: This last is suitable for everyone who has a forefoot width somewhere in between 98-102mm. This last offers less volume than wide last, but still, has ample room between the midfoot and heels.
- Narrow Last: These are the tightest fitting options, with a forefoot width restricted to between 97-98mm on average. The shape of the boot is also very narrow as you leave the forefoot area and move towards the heel. This is best suited for people with smaller and narrower feet (See the best narrow ski boots here).
In a pinch, you can use the forefoot width of your regular shoes to find your ideal last level. For US size shoes, “A” (or “AA”) is the narrowest, while “E” is the widest option. If you have an “A” or “B” width shoes, you need a ski boot with narrow last. For “C” and “D” width, the average/intermediate last level is appropriate. If you have the wide “E” width shoes, look for a ski boot with wide last.
Other Common Ski Boot Features
- Adjustable Cuff Options: These are not usually found on inexpensive beginner models. But some manufacturers provide single and dual adjustment options on their higher end models. These can be tweaked to change the angle of the boot cuffs slightly either to the inside or outside, depending on how your ankles are positioned naturally.
- Heat Moldable Shells: Certain modern ski boot models have this special plastic shell that can be heated and then molded to your feet to give the best fit possible. The process should be carried out at a qualified boot shop or by an expert boot fitter.
- Adjustable Flex: available on select models, this option allows you to fine tune the flex level to your liking, or for better performance on specific terrain types and slopes. The mechanism usually involves using an Allen wrench, or moving a rivet, or even swapping a part of the boot.
- Ski/Hike Feature: a switch located on the spine of the boot allows you to unlock the top of the cuff from the lower base. This provides improved rearward mobility, which makes walking and hiking all the easier.
The Do’s And Don’t Of Buying A Ski Boot
- Wear a thin pair of socks when trying on ski boots. You don’t need thicker socks for warmth since all boots offer excellent insulation. Having thinner socks makes finding the snuggest fit easier.
- Never select a boot based on its color or style. Ski boots are not just for show. They decide how much control you have on the slopes. So find one that fits your size, flex and last requirements, before looking at color options.
- You need to find the appropriate size as well as last level. People with very narrow or very wide feet may have trouble finding the correct last for their size of ski boots. If you face that issue, don’t look for a bigger sized boot. Get the proper size and get it looked at by a boot fitter for customization.
- It at all possible, get a good boot fitter to help you out in selecting and customizing your ski boots. They are easy to find, just ask your ski instructor, or other skiers, or find one online.
It’s Not That Hard, Right?
I’ve been skiing for a really long time and can say with complete confidence your ski boots are really important to the type of day you’re going to have.
Having the right product on your feet makes all the difference in the world; choose the wrong pair and you’ll be in discomfort all day.
Now that you know exactly what to look for you should be ready to look at some boots now. If you want to see my top 20 choices for the year, for both men and women, click below:
If you’re looking for kids ski boots, click below:
You’ll find a ski boot for all skill levels and budgets there.
If you have any more questions comment below and I’ll make sure to respond as quickly as possible. You can search around the ski section up top for more helpful tips too.
Are you ready to ski your best with your new boots?