How Important Is A Good Ski Boot Fit?
I’ve had my share of boot challenges. My friends in the industry have had many more. Any boot challenge is aggravated by 100 plus days a year on the slopes. You don’t get any relief if your teaching 6 hours a day or racing all week. To address some of these issues, the industry has developed novel techniques for boot fitting that include foam injections, custom liners, and custom footbeds.
There are many retail shops that advertise themselves as “boot fitters.” Some are good, some not so good. Even the not so good ones can get a decent fit after a few refits. But what does that fit really mean in terms of performance? Do the fitters understand the kinematics of skiing? Do they understand the kinetics? Heck, do they know the difference? Does it matter? The short answer is yes. But few know the difference.
GNASA quick tip: See Harold Harb. Learn more here.
How Do I Pick A Great Ski Boot?
Ski boots offer a variety of features. These features offer key benefits. For example, the boot “flex” and “stiffness” determine the ease with which you can bend, or flex, forward. Aggressive skiers and racers use very stiff boots with high flex ratings. Skiers of this ability can flex stiff boots and want this stiffness for better control. Its kinetics and kinematics. Stiffness allows for greater torque which allows the skier to create very precise moves needed for racing and extreme terrain.
Common ski boot features.
Ski Boot Flex
The flex (bend) of a ski boot is the way the industry measures how hard or easy it is to flex your ankle while in your boot. The industry uses ratings between 50 and 140. The lower the measure, the softer or easier it is to flex. The higher the number, the harder it is to flex.
Soft Flex. Measurements are 50 – 80. This level of flex supports beginners. It supports s slow and cautious skiing. Soft flexes make it easier for manufacturers to create comfortable boots.
Medium Flex. Measurements are 90 – 110. This level of flex supports intermediates. It supports a bit faster skiing. Think skiing groomers at average speeds. Manufacturers create fits they call performance.
Hard & Very Hard Flex. Measurements are 120 – 140+. This level of flex supports experts and racers. It supports fast racing and off-piste skiing. Manufacturers create fits they call high performance or race.
Many boots offer a way to adjust the flex of the boot. It may be done through a bolt or switch at the back of the boot. How much this adjustment impact flex varies.
Many boots will offer a switch for skiing and walking. In a walk position, the boot’s flex gets very soft. This is a great feature when walking or hiking, on or off the slopes. This is not actually a flex adjustment. The switch frees up the cuff, allowing it to move forward.
Boots can be entered through the fornt or rear. Front entry boots are most common. Howver there are still a few rear enrty boots available. In the 1980’s rear entry boots were the rage. Their actual performance characteristics are questioned, However, they tend to much easier to boot to put on. As the baby boomer population grows, maybe we’ll see more rear entry boots offered. Shells come in different shapes to support different levels of comfort and performance. There are also heat moldable shells where plastic portions of the boot can be custom fitted to a foot.
The liner is like the socks you wear: it’s the soft boot layer. It sits inside your shell. Liners come in various thicknesses to support things like performance, warmness, and comfort. There are heat moldable and foam injection liners available. There are custom liners available from third parties.
At the top of a ski boot is a strap. It wraps around the boot and locks in place using velcro. The strap is used to tighten the top of your boot around your leg.
Canting or Cuff Alignment
Canting allows the boot to be aligned to the shape of your leg. Generally, the goal of canting is to adjust the leg shape to support your skis ability to lay flat when you’re in a neutral stance.
Insole or Footbed
This is the platform that sits under your foot. It’s used as support. Custom footbeds, when designed properly, are used to realign the foot to correct alignment issues. This allows the foot and boot to work better together. Even footbeds that aren’t designed to realign the foot may make your fit more comfortable.
Ski Boot Buckles
Historically, traditional ski boots have had 4 buckles: 2 buckles around the foot and 2 buckles around the shin. Buckle designs are usually arm and hook. An arm reaches over and is clamped down on one of several hook. Arms can often be shortened or lengthened via a twist adjustment. Boot fitters can work magic on buckles by repositioning them. Manufacturers are offering 3 and 2 buckle ski boots. These are offered for comfort, backcountry skiing, and freestyle skiing.
This is the angle that the boot leans you forward. Manufacturers generally create lean angles of 14 degrees. TYhere are lean adjustments that can increase this by a couple of degrees.
Toe and Heel Section Replacement
Ski boots have hard plastic toe and heel pieces. When you walk in your boots, these areas can quickly wear down. Some ski boots have replaceable toe and heel pieces. This can extend the life of your ski boots.
How Are Ski Boots Sized
Ski boot manufacturers use a specialized sizing system called Mondopoint. Your Mondopoiunt is the length of your foot in centimeters (cm). Mondopoint is measured in half sizes: 27.0, 27.5, 28.0, etc.
Women and men usually have different shapes feet. Manufacturers make boots for men and women. The boots reflect these differences.
Questions Skiers Have About Boot Fitting
Ask an expert skier about their boots and you’ll hear a story. Every skier has a story about their boots: the good, the bad and the ugly. From the time it takes to “break in” a new pair of boots to the loss of toenails from cranked down boots. The most experienced skiers can spend weeks dialing in a boot. Bad fitting boots make skiers feel like a baby in unchanged diapers. Skiers with good fitting boots coo like a happy baby.
The most basic boot fitting questions involve the following:
Question: When I’m in a skiers position, flexed forward, what should I feel?
Answer (basic): Your heel will slide back and you’ll have some freedom in your toes.
Question: When first trying on a pair of boots, should my toes feel crushed, or curled up?
Answer (basic): You’ll need your heel proper;y positioned in the boot. Kick the heel of your boot on the floor. This will set your heel.
Question: When I’m standing or flexed, and buckled in, should I be able to lift my heel up.
Answer (basic): Some heel movement is generally
Question: Should I feel pressure points or pain when I’m buckled in the boot?
Answer (basic): If it hurts in the shop, it’s likely to be worse on the slope.
Question: Is it wise to try and fit my own boots?
Answer (basic): No.
Question: What are the symptoms of a bad boot fit?
Answer (basic): See below.
Symptoms of a Bad Boot Fit
- Black toenails from boots cranked down to try and maximize performance
- Stabbing pressure points from improperly fitted boots
- Shin bang
- Ankle rub
- Tailor’s bunion (aka sixth toe)
- Squeezed styloid process
- Heel spur
- Loose boots inhibiting ski control
The issues above immediately manifest into a poor skiing experience. If the issue is severe, it impacts a skier’s performance. Poor performance only diminishes what you can do at ski resorts. Limiting what you can do detracts from your Great North American Ski Adventure (GNASA). A great ski adventure demands great boots. Boots are not like skis when it comes to performance and comfort. You can’t just put on ski boots and expect to have a great fit and better ski performance.
What Do Ski Boot Fitters Do?
Good boot fitting generally starts with an hour of a boot fitter’s work. They’ll ask you about your abilities and objectives, they’ll take measurements. Then they’ll recommend some boot options. You’ll try them on. They will often give you an opportunity to demo the boot you like on the hill.
GNASA Ski Boot Tip
I can’t imagine a GNASA without a great ski boot. Boots are that important. Dialing in your boots can take weeks and sometimes a season. That means you should select, purchase, fit and dial in your boots before you embark on your GNASA.
I can’t fit your boots, and I can’t really tell you how to either. But Harold Harb can. Click here to learn more about one of America’s best ski boot fitters. Many would say America’s best.