This just in: Ski boots shouldn’t be uncomfortable. Forget the days of pinched toes and shin bang. You can now get a boot that fits just right from day one. In addition to finding the right boot for your foot, you also need to make sure the boot offers the best features for your particular style of skiing. We called up Bob Gleason, a boot fitter for the last 37 years who owns Telluride, Colorado’s Bootdoctors, for 10 expert tips on finding just the right ski boot for you.
1. Focus on the foot
Boots are the most critical piece of gear you’ll buy. So make an effort to find the right one for you. Skip shopping online and instead, go to your local boot fitter and get a foot analysis. How big is your instep and calf? How wide or narrow is your foot? They’ll use those factors to determine which boots are worth trying on. “If the boot fits better, it lets you be a stronger skier, gives you more balance, more energy transfer to your skis, and more comfort,” says Gleason.
2. Get sized
Your foot will be measured in terms of length and width. The length—which in boot terminology will be called your “mondo size”—will be measured in centimeters. Boots also come in a variety of widths and that will be indicated as the “last” of the boot. Narrow boots will have a last rating of around 98 millimeters, average lasts are around 100, and wide-footed skiers should look for a last of over 102 millimeters.
3. Buy for your terrain
“A big divider these days is where you’re going to use the boots,” says Gleason. “Are you going to be mainly riding chairlifts or hiking in the backcountry?” If you’re sticking inbounds, go for an alpine boot without any of the touring add-ons, which will just increase the price for features you don’t need. If you’re spending most of your in the backcountry, you’ll want a lightweight alpine touring boot (and make sure it’s compatible with your touring binding). And if you plan to do both inbounds and out-of-bounds skiing? There’s a whole market of hybrid boots nowadays that offer top-notch downhill performance and touring capabilities, so you don’t have to sacrifice a thing.
4. Know your style
Next a boot-fitter will ask what kind of a skier you are and your attitude toward skiing—are you hard-charging or more reserved? “They’ll want to know how aggressively do you ski?” says Gleason. “They’ll also look at your body size and muscle mass.” The stronger and more aggressive you are, the stiffer boot you’ll want (see step 5).
5. Choose a flex
Boots come in a variety of stiffness levels, called the “flex” of the boot. The higher the flex, the stronger the performance of the boot, so more aggressive skiers will want higher flex ratings. If you stick to mellow terrain and slower speeds, there’s no need to get World Cup-level stiffness. Generally speaking, assertive, big-mountain skiers will want a flex rating of 120 to 140. Expert all-mountain skiers should look for something around 100 to 120, and more laid-back intermediates will be happy with a flex rating of 80 to 100.
6. Look for features
A lot of boots have gimmicky add-ons to lure buyers in, like fleecy lining, Recco reflectors, rear spoilers or added foam that claims to absorb impact. None of that stuff really matters. Instead, look for a few key features. You’ll want a heat-moldable liner to help customize your fit. If you’re planning on doing some boot packing, you’ll want a rubber sole for traction. And if you’re taking this boot into the backcountry, you may want a swappable sole for tech bindings and a walk mode for touring.
7. Check the scales
It’s not always advertised, but a good boot salesman should be able to tell you the approximate weight of a boot. If you’re going to be hiking in this boot, you’ll want to consider its heft and material. Four-buckle boots tend to be heavier and stiffer than those with just three buckles. Some boots are made with weight-saving materials like pebax or carbon fiber. Walk around in the boot—if it feels heavy and clunky in the store, it’ll be even more so out in the mountains.
8. Be open to new brands
Boot technology continues to morph, so just because you wore Langes five years ago, that doesn’t mean the current Lange boot is going to fit you perfectly. “The traditional Lange, for example, used to be low volume and nowadays it’s got more volume, whereas other boot brands are now thinner,” says Gleason. “The products have evolved, so just because an old iteration fit you, the new one may not.”
9. Make adjustments
You’ve found what feels like the right boot, but something is still missing. Know that most boots these days can be adapted and customized. In many boots, you can alter the forward lean to tweak your upright stance. You can upgrade to an Intuition liner, which offers more a precise fit and higher performance. Replace a weak power strap with a Booster Strap for added stiffness or micro adjust the buckles to get a tighter clamp.
10. Boot fitting is worth it
Once you find a boot that fits your foot shape and your style of skiing, spend the time and money to have the rest of it dialed. You can make alterations to the lining, the shell, and the footbed. “You’ll need a professional boot fitter for those adaptations, someone who really understands the biomechanics of the foot,” says Gleason. Custom footbeds cost around an additional $150, but they’re worth it. Trust us.