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How to find the right ski boots

How to find the right ski boots when you have weird feet

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I have feet shaped like those of a duck. Or, maybe more accurately, my feet are shaped like those of a duck, if ducks had a high arch/instep. Finding the right pair of ski boots, therefore, has been a nightmare.

I finally found peace with some custom made ski boots. I’ll get back to that later. But having tried all kinds of different ski boots through the years – some rented, some bought, I thought I’d share some of my experiences with different brands and fittings.

Hopefully, then you won’t have to go through the same cumbersome, sore process and mistakes as I did, and you’ll be able to enjoy your skiing experience much sooner.

How do I choose the right ski boots?

Maybe you’re about to purchase your first pair of ski boots? Or are you maybe you’re about to go on your first ski trip and want to rent your first pair of ski boots? If you’re like me, you’re probably at a loss, and wondering, “how do I choose the right ski boot size?”.

There are a couple of things to take into account when you’re about to pick the correct ski boots. When it comes to the boots those things are the: 1) Size, 2) Last, 3) Flex, 4) Cuff shape, 5) Liner, and 6) other features. But you should also take into consideration: 6) Your experience level, 7) Your preferred skiing terrain, and 8) Your weight/body type. The last thing you should look at (if at all) is the color of the boots. Let’s have a look at each of these parameters and more so that you can feel comfortable when choosing your next ski boots.

Choosing the right ski boots is important

A ski boot is a link between your feet and your skis. Ski boots transfer your movements to your skis.

If you’re a beginner or intermediate skier, you’ll want a softer, more flexible boot, which doesn’t transfer every little move you make into the skis.

As a beginner or intermediate skier, you’ll make a lot of bad choices when it comes to movement. In order to compensate for that, your boot should have room for making small mistakes. When your boot is softer, you can make a lot of insecure movements in the boot without having the skis react immediately. That leaves space and time for reassessing and correcting small mistakes before actually making the move to turn the skis.

Experienced, elite skiers usually wear much stiffer boots, because every move they make is crucial. Experienced skiers are much more in control of their movements and that needs to translate into the skis in order to optimize speed and performance. Also, at much higher speeds, the skis need to react immediately, in order to for the skier to adjust his or her run in a split second and to avoid accidents.

In short, elite skiers need stiff boots because they need to be able to take control of the mountain, and beginner and intermediate skiers need softer boots in order for the mountain not to take control of them.

Why are ski boots so uncomfortable?

As someone who’ve tried a lot of different ski boots through the years, I’ve often asked myself the question, “are ski boots supposed to hurt this much?”

The correct answer is NO! Ski boots are actually not supposed to hurt. And they are not supposed to be uncomfortable either. If they are, chances are that they are the wrong boots, you’re wearing.

Ok, let’s be totally honest for a moment. Ski boots aren’t meant for going grocery shopping or to be worn at the breakfast table Sunday morning like a pair of slippers.

Ski boots are built to give you control of the skis while keeping your feet, ankles, and shins safe at the same time.

So if you’re a beginner, you’ll probably find ski boots a bit uncomfortable and rather awkward at first.

And if you’ve just purchased a new pair of boots, they can be uncomfortable the first couple of days until the liner (the inner boot) has adapted to your feet. But after that, you shouldn’t really think more about them. If they’re still demanding your attention or hurting you, chances are you’ve bought the wrong pair of boots.

As a guideline your ski boots should have room for your toes to wiggle, but not for your feet to move around inside the boots. And your feet should not become numb or start to freeze. If that’s the case you’ve either got the wrong pair of boots or you’ve tightened the boots way too much.

Should you rent or buy ski boots?

Rental boots can be very uncomfortable. The thing is, that the liner of ski boots are designed to adapt to your feet once over a period of a couple of days and then settle into that shape. The liner gets heated from your body heat and molds itself to the shape of your feet.

Now, if you’re skiing at the very beginning of the season, you might get lucky and rent a totally new pair of boots, which is nice. That’s just like buying your own new pair of boots. After a couple of days – if they were the right size etc. – they will have adjusted to your feet. Great!

Now imagine the same pair of boots 16 weeks later! Or just six weeks later during peak season. The inner boot has lost its ability to be molded and instead taken on some indefinable shape.

I remember one special ski trip in particular, where I swapped my rented ski boots six or seven times. And they were all horrible.

So my advice is always to invest in your own pair of ski boots, as soon as you know, that skiing is something, you want to do again on a regular basis.

If you have to decide between buying skis or boots, my answer will always be to buy ski boots first. I did the opposite, which was a huge mistake! Rent the skis, buy the boots.

So let’s take a closer look at the different features of a ski boot.

How to find the right size ski boots

Ski boots are measured in so-called Mondo points, which refer to the size of the inner sole length in centimeters.

Mondo sizing is a way to get every manufacturer of ski boots across the world on the same page, and it actually works. If you buy a ski boot with a mondo size 25.5 in Austria it is the same size as a mondo size 25.5 boot in Canada or Japan.

At all costs, you should avoid using a conversion chart, which translates your normal shoe size to the Mondo sizing.

To get your correct mondo size, you should do this instead:

  1. Put your heel up against a wall
  2. Use a measuring tape or a ruler to measure the distance from the tip of your longest toe to the wall. You can lay down the measuring tape or ruler flat on the ground first and stand on it. Just make sure the tape doesn’t crease when you do.
  3. Measure both feet, as well as feet, vary in length. Size to the smaller foot in order to get the best result. It’s easier to stretch an insole to fit a larger foot than it is to make a boot, which is too big, fit a smaller foot.
  4. If your shortest foot measures 25.5 centimeters, you’ll have a mondo size of 25.5. If you’ve measured your feet in inches, you should multiply the number by 2.54 to get the right result.

Tip: You can also stand on a piece of paper and have your friend, spouse or kid draw a line behind your heel and another line in front of your longest toe. After that you just measure the distance between the two lines.

Mondo sizes are not the same as the sole length

There are some variations, you should be aware of though.

As is the case with everyday shoes, the sizes of ski boots aren’t uniform from one brand to the other. Sizing actually differs within the same brand too. And most of these differences come down to the type of boot, you’re buying.

If you’re buying a race boot, it should have a tighter fit than an all-terrain mountain boot for recreational skiing. Thus the length of the boot – defined as the sole length –  will vary depending on the boot type.

The sole length is always measured in millimeters. You should be able to find the exact sole length printed on the heel of the boot. If you can’t find it, you can measure the boot sole length of the boot, by measuring the bottom of the boot from toe to heel.

The ski boot last

The next fitting option to get right is the last. So what is the ski boot last?

The last refers to the width of the interior of the ski boot measured straight across at the forefoot of the shell. Ski boot lasts are divided into narrow (96mm-98mm), medium (99mm-101mm) and wide (102mm and above).

The size of the last is based on a measurement in millimeters of the inside of the shell of a reference size 26.0/26.5 boot of a given model. The size of the last doesn’t take into account the liner. So use the last as a way to get in the right ballpark, when you’re shopping for boots.

In other words, if you have feet like a duck (like I do), you should go for ski boots with a wide last. If you have slender feet like Cinderella, you should probably go for a narrow ski boot instead.

Keep in mind that a narrow ski boot might correspond to a medium boot in another brand and vice versa. So look at your feet and decide, which ballpark you’re in boot-wise.

The ski boot flex index

The next thing to consider, when buying or renting a ski boot, is the flex index.

“The what now? Will you please shut up! I just wanna go skiing!”

I know, I know. I’ll make this quick!

So how do you know the right flex rating for your ski boot?

A professional boot fitter will determine the right flex index while taking into account your foot size, skier level, body weight, and lever length.

The flex index is a measurement of how stiff the boots are when you flex forward in your boots in order to get into the right skiing position.

The flex index is just a number, which describes how stiff the boot is when you put forward pressure against the boot with your shin. The flex index is measured in numbers ranging from approximately 50 to 140. The higher the number, the stiffer the boot.

A racing boot is often very stiff in order to transmit the aggressive moves of the skier most efficiently. An all-terrain boot is often softer. Junior boots and boots for women tend to range a bit softer than boots for men.

Too stiff a boot can cause sore shins and too soft a boot can cause aches in the quadriceps.

Keep in mind, that the boot might feel very tight when you put it on in the morning, but it will soften a bit after your first couple of runs.

Be honest with yourself and don’t buy a very stiff boot if you’re a beginner or intermediate skier.

If you’re big and heavy, you’ll need a higher flex number.

Some boots come with flex adjusters. Flex adjusters are a switch which alters the flex of the boot to better suit the terrain type. For example, you might stiffen the boot for fast groomers and make the boot more flexible and soft for off-piste skiing.

The ski boot cuff shape

Next to consider is the cuff shape of the boots. The cuff is the upper part of the shell that wraps around your shin and calf. The cuff should match the size and shape of your calf and fit snugly around your lower leg.

If you are bowlegged or knock-kneed, the cuff should be equipped with a cuff cant adjuster. If not, you’ll have problems with getting the skis to glide flat on the snow. You might also want a shorter cuff for the best control.

Women usually have calves that sit lower and are larger than men’s. Some men also have very big calves. Manufacturers have begun to take this into account and luckily now offers cuffs, which can be adjusted to fit different calf sizes.

When you first put on your boots, the buckle should at most be able to reach the middle of the ladder. After a couple of runs, you will probably be able to tighten it even further.

Most boots also allow you to move the position of the ladder to give you a better fit. Don’t tighten the boot too much though, as it can ruin the shell. If you feel that it is necessary to tighten your boots this much, you’ve probably got the wrong boot.

The ski boot liner

The ski boot liner is the soft inner boot, which is removable. The liner acts as insulation and protection from the hard outer shell. Intermediate boots usually have thicker more comfortable liners than racing boots.

Today most liners are very effective when it comes to keeping your feet warm. So luckily the days of wearing thick socks in the boots are over.

You average ski sock isn’t thicker than what you wear on a daily basis or for running. They’re just longer. I’ve actually worn my ski socks when I’ve been out running in minimalist shoes in the snow with great results.

The liner will mold – or “pack out” – to the skier’s foot with use. So while they might feel uncomfortable at first, notice that they will expand with time. A lot of skiers buy ski boots that are too big because they feel comfortable. That’s a big mistake, which usually ends up with the skier tightening the boots too much with the buckles. That can not only ruin the shape of the shell but also restrict the blood flow to your feet, which can lead to numb, cold feet.

If you’re getting shin bangs or shin splints because your boots are a little bit too big, don’t fit your calf, and the boots don’t come with a flex adjuster, I know people have had luck with buying a custom tongue. It’s a tongue shim made of foam for extra padding, that fits between your existing boot tongue and your shin. 

The four kinds of ski boot liners

There is four kind of liners to be aware of:

Off-the-shelf stock liners

The most common ski boot liners are heat moldable. Those are the kind of liners, which comes standard with any off-the-shelf boot.

When you’re in the shop, they’ll usually put the boots on a heating device in order to heat up the liners. Then you’ll put the boots on and walk around in the shop, with the boots in “walk-mode” and the liners will mold to your feet. It is just the beginning of the process though because it takes a couple of days of skiing to get the boots to fully adjust to your feet.

Tip: If you’ve just bought a pair of boots from home, you can put them on and walk around in them in your apartment or house. Or have them on while watching tv. That way they’ll already be more molded to your feet when you hit the slopes for the first time.

The good thing about liners is, that they can be easily replaced. So at any time, you can upgrade your liner to a custom liner.

Thermo-moldable liners

Thermofit liners are also heat-moldable. Ski boots with thermo-moldable liners are lighter, warmer and often more comfortable than stock liners too.

These are not liners, that you can just take off the shelf and put in your boots though. They need to be heated and fitted by a specialized boot-fitter. And the whole process takes some time.

A well-known brand of thermo-moldable liners is Intuition.

Flo liners

Flo liners are also molded to fit your feet with heat. The liner is malleable almost like silly putty, which moves around. Flo liner also needs to be fitted by an experienced boot-fitter.

The boot-fitter puts pressure on the material, which then moves around and fills in all the voids of your feet. The flo liners are known for doing an excellent job when it comes to locking your heel in place for better control.

Flo liners are often made of a mixture of cork, neoprene, and sometimes even lamb’s wool.

A well-known flo liner is the Zip-Fit liner.

Foam injection liners

Foam injection liners are like casting your foot in plaster.

It gets fitted by mixing two chemicals together, which become foam. You then inject the foam through tubes into the liner, where it expands and filling in all the nooks and crannies of your foot.

Foam-injected liners are probably the best fit you can get when it comes to locking your foot in place. For some people that is too much. A lot of skiers like to have a little bit of wiggle space in the boot e.g. around the ankle.

Needless to say, this kind of liner is only to be fitted by an experienced boot fitter. If you put to much foam into the liner it will be ruined. In other words, it’s not something you should try at home.

If you’re looking for a good ski boot dryer, I suggest you take a look at this article: Best ski boot dryers

Other features

There are a lot of other features available when it comes to ski boots. Some are more important than others, and some just come down to taste.

The insole or footbed

The insole or the footbed is where your feet rest in the boot. It is placed inside the liner.

A good footbed will help distribute the pressure from the weight of your body evenly over the entire length of the foot. A good footbed offers support in the right places, in order to relieve you of any pain and fatigue caused by a full day of skiing.

Common problems with bad footbeds are arch fatigue and pain in the heel or balls of your feet. The wrong insole can also cause a bad response from the skis in turns.

You can get custom-fitted footbeds. Some are trim-to-fit footbeds, which are first cut to fit the length of your foot. It then molds to your feet by the heat you produce while skiing.

If you have a very high arch or pronation problems, an experienced boot fitter can also make a custom footbed, which is molded to fit your feet perfectly. These are also called “posted” footbeds.

Walk mode

Many ski boots have a “walk mode”. This is essentially a way to lock/unlock your skis into a skiing mode and a walking mode. The latter allows you to stand more upright and move your ankle more freely.

If you plan on spending a lot of time at après ski in your boots or have a long walk back to your hotel, the walk mode is a very nice feature to have.

Ladders and buckles

The buckle ladders are the small “steps” attached to the front of your boot, in which you lock the buckles.

Some ski boots have ladders that can be moved in order to provide a better (tighter or loser) fit.

Some boots also come with micro-adjustable buckles that let you fine-tune how tight the buckles should be by shortening or lengthening the buckle.

Custom molded shells

Some boot manufacturers offer custom molded shells. These shells are heat molded to fit your feet perfectly.

These are not your off-the-shelf boots and should only be bought from an experienced boot fitter.

I actually ended up buying a pair of boots with custom molded shells. But I’ll get back to that later.

Heating systems

Don’t like cold feet? Well, some boots come ready fitted with a built-in heating system to keep your toes warm. The boots have wires build into them, which then attaches to a battery. Practical on very cold days, but not necessary for most skiers.

Buying ski boots and your experience level as a skier

I’ve hinted at this earlier in this article, but you should really try to be honest with yourself, when it comes to your experience level as a skier, when you buy your boots.

Don’t try to come of as an Olympic downhill skier, after five weeks of skiing. And don’t try to impress the other customers in the shop or the shop assistant either. Chances are, that you’ll just end up in boots which are much too tight and stiff for your skiing, which in turn will make your next ski trip suck! Unless of course the salesman sees through your bragging and gives you the right pair of boots anyway.

Instead of trying to label yourself as “beginner”, “intermediate”, “advanced” or “expert”, you could just say for how many weeks you’ve been skiing. That’ll probably give the sales assistant – as well as yourself – a good indication of where you fit in the ability spectrum.

Your preferred skiing terrain

This is also where you have to be honest with yourself and in the shop. Don’t come off as an expert pipe or off-piste skier if you’re most comfortable on the blue runs.

If you prefer the green, blue and occasionally red groomers look for a ski boot with a soft flex index between 65-85 (men) and 50-70 (women). And don’t buy a very tight boot.

If you’re a skier who prefers fast red and black groomers, you could look for a flex index of 85-100 (men) and 65-90 (women). You can go with a bit tighter fit also. Maybe even a custom liner for a more snug fit too.

If you’re an expert – well, then you’re probably not reading this.

Your weight and body type

This is where things can often get a bit sensitive in the shop. Good things sales assistants have eyes.

As a general rule of thumb, if you’re a big and heavily built, you should look for a ski boot, which is a bit stiffer, than if your average built.

Likewise, you should look for a softer boot with good support for your calves if you’re a skinny type. You might even need rear spoilers, which are removable wedges that sit behind your calves between the liner and the outer shell.

So what kind of ski boots did I end up with?

After years of trial and error, I finally caved in and ended up with a pair of custom ski boots made by a company called Daleboots.

For years I had rented boots, and in order for any of those hideous things to fit my weird feet, I had to rent boots that were too big. That resulted in a poor response from the skis and I had to buckle the boots as much as possible.

After I decided to buy my first pair of boots, I tried several pairs of boots from a shop here in Denmark. Most were either to narrow in the forefoot or didn’t have enough room for my very high arches.

At the time the pair of off-the-shelf ski boots that fit me best were from the manufacturer Rossignol. So I bought the pair and wore them at home while I watched a movie or two. And still, my feet went numb! The room for my arches wasn’t tall enough.

So I sold those and went back to the shop. Luckily, the owner of this shop was a Danish elite skier. And he had just graduated as a custom boot-fitter for the manufacturer Daleboot.

Almost everything on Daleboots is custom made to fit your feet. So he measured my feet and send the numbers to Austria, where Daleboot made the outer shell for me.

The boot comes with a custom footbed and Intuition liner. And it is a all-terrain boot, with a soft flex, which can be adjusted to fit my feet perfectly.

I must say, that I haven’t regretted my purchase on bit. But they did cost quite a pretty penny – approximately $1000,-

Got any comments?

What is your experience with ski boots? Do you prefer renting or buying them? Do you have a favorite brand of ski boots and why? Do you have any good advice to share, please let me know in the comments?

Happy skiing and stay safe 🙂

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