How To Buy Ski Boots

Boots are the most impor­tant part of your ski set-up. They’re the con­nec­tion between your body and your edges, and when you have an ill-fit­ting boot, your legs don’t com­mu­ni­cate with your skis. Make sure you’re invest­ing in a boot that fits your foot per­fect­ly and is geared toward the kind of ski­ing you do.

Expe­ri­ence Lev­el: Your ski­ing abil­i­ty will dic­tate how stiff (and con­verse­ly how com­fort­able) a boot you need. New skiers should look for soft­er, more for­giv­ing boots with low­er cuffs for a more com­fort­able fit. Just keep in mind that if you’re plan­ning on being on the slopes often, you won’t be a new­bie forever.

Shell: Shell con­struc­tion will impact how boots flex and trans­fer pow­er and how they lock down around the foot. There are two main types:

Three-Piece: Three-piece boots, which have made a resur­gence in pop­u­lar­i­ty in the last few years, have a float­ing ribbed tongue, and a buck­le that latch­es at 45-degrees across the instep. Some peo­ple think that three-piece boots have a smoother flex, because there isn’t a break point between the low­er shell and the upper cuff, and are more com­fort­able. They’re also referred to as cabrio or three-buck­le boots.

Over­lap: Two-piece, or over­lap boots are made of two parts—the low­er shell and the upper cuff—and have a piv­ot point on the ankle that con­nects the two. Over­lap boots are con­sid­ered more pow­er­ful; high-end race boots, like the stiff plas­tic plug boots that rac­ers wear, are all over­lap construction.

Lin­ers: Lin­ers are what give the boot for­give­ness, warmth and com­fort. They con­form to feet to a degree and some are very mold­able using heat.

Mold­ed foam lin­ers: These come pre-shaped, and are made of foam that breaks down slow­ly over time, so they’ll change the least.

Ther­mo-formable lin­ers: These are made of foam that changes based on heat, so they’ll con­form to the shape of your feet over time.

Cus­tom ther­mo-formable lin­ers: These are designed to be heat­ed up, and then cool down around your feet, so they fit per­fect­ly. You can also buy cus­tom lin­ers from brands like Intu­ition, and swap them out with the lin­ers that came in the boots if you want a cus­tom fit.

Flex: Flex is the mea­sure­ment of how stiff the boot is. When you ski, you pres­sure the tongue of the boot, flex­ing it. Flex index mea­sure­ments gauge how hard it is to pres­sure that tongue. They range from 30, for a soft kid’s boot, to 150 for a Bode Miller-style race boot, with most falling in the 70–130 range. If you’re a new ski­er, or pre­dom­i­nant­ly ski in the park, you’re going to want a soft­er boot. If you ski hard, or usu­al­ly ski hard­pack, you’ll want a stiffer one. There’s no indus­try-wide stan­dard­iza­tion for flex mea­sure­ment, one company’s 100-flex boot can feel dif­fer­ent than another’s, so use those num­bers as a ball­park, and trust what you know feels good on your foot.

Last: The last is how wide the boot is across the fore­foot, mea­sured in mil­lime­ters. The last deter­mines the vol­ume in the boot, which is direct­ly relat­ed to com­fort. Lasts run from 95mm for a low vol­ume race boot to 106 for a more com­fort-ori­ent­ed boot. Some man­u­fac­tur­ers, like Lange, are now mak­ing low- and high-vol­ume ver­sions of the same boot, with wider lasts in the high-vol­ume boot.

Mon­do­point Siz­ing: Mon­do­point the length of your foot in cen­time­ters. Most boot man­u­fac­tur­ers are now using mon­do­point siz­ing, because it’s uni­ver­sal. Boots come in half sizes, for instance, 26.0 and 26.5.  To give a base­line, a 27.5 equates to about a men’s Amer­i­can size 10.

Get­ting Fit­ted: Because boots are such an impor­tant piece of ski­ing, and because they can vary wide­ly, it’s worth­while to see a pro­fes­sion­al boot fit­ter. They’ll shell fit your boot (put it on with­out the lin­er), to make sure you’re in the right size, and then tweak the lin­ers and poten­tial­ly the shell around your stance, the anato­my of your foot, and what kind of ski­ing you do. Boots are expen­sive, so it might feel hard to spend a lit­tle extra mon­ey up front on a boot fit­ter, but it will be worth it when you don’t have to buy a new pair of boots next year. And with the cash you’ll save buy­ing boots at The Clymb, you’ll have some extra mon­ey to invest in a fitter.