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Gear Guy

What to Know When Buying Ski Boots

If the shoe fits, ski in it

When buying ski boots, Kelly Bastone recommends thinking about the skiing you actually do and the terrain you go on, instead of what you hope to do. (Sarah Jackson)
Photo: Sarah Jackson gear guy

If the shoe fits, ski in it

Your boots are arguably the most important part of your skiing setup. The most expensive powder sticks are worthless if your boots don’t fit correctly and therefore don’t transfer the movement of your feet to the skis.

With that in mind, I called on Outside’s tester of alpine ski boots, Kelly Bastone, to get her top tips for buying new boots for the upcoming season.

Be Realistic About Your Skiing

“People should think about the skiing that they actually do, versus the skiing they hope to do,” Bastone says. The stiffest and highest-performance boot might be perfect for an Olympic racer, but it will likely make a casual resort skier miserable. And the terrain you ski matters just as much as your skill level. If you spend the majority of your time on groomers, go with a boot with features to match. 

Stiffer Is Not Always Better

“In skiing, people often look for the stiffest, burliest boot they can find,” Bastone says. “But if you are a park skier or like hucking off everything, that won’t be comfortable and you risk banged-up shins and ankle injuries. You can be an expert skier and still like a softer boot.”

Be Wary of Flex Numbers

Flex numbers, which indicate how hard it is to bend a boot forward, aren’t hard and fast. While higher numbers mean a stiffer boot, one brand’s 130 flex doesn’t necessarily equal another brand’s 130. “A boot can really benefit from a fitting,” Bastone says. “If you have a retailer you trust and can talk to that knows their assortment of boots, they can use that information to suggest boots for you.” That’s a lot more valuable than a nonstandardized number.

The Store Is Not the Mountain

If a boot doesn’t feel stiff enough when you wear it in the store, ask the salesperson if the plastic hardens in the cold. “Don’t assume that a boot will feel exactly the same on snow as it does inside a heated store,” Bastone says. “Some plastics are more temperature-sensitive than others.” 

You Don’t Have to Suffer

“Designers have discovered that for the most part, you don’t need to have your toes pinched in order to ski well,” Bastone says. “All of the control that you exert over your skis through your boots comes from the ball of your foot backward. That old assumption about a ‘race fit’ still applies but not to your toes. People shouldn’t feel like they have to have their entire foot immobilized for a high-performance fit.”

Round Down on Size

“Another thing I have learned from talking to boot designers and boot fitters is that it is overwhelmingly easier to fix problems on boots that are a little too small than a little too big,” Bastone says. While a boot that is too large might seem more comfortable, it can lead to banged toes as your foot moves around, as well as ankle-bone soreness and blisters. Thanks to malleable materials around the toes of newer ski boots, making more room is no big deal.

Boots Do More than Ski

Yes, on-mountain performance is paramount, but keep your entire experience in mind. Don’t discount what it’ll be like getting the boots on and off, as well as walking through a ski-area parking lot. “More companies are thinking about how dangerous and awful ski boots are when you’re just getting to the snow,” Bastone says. “There are new options [like models with greater range of motion in the cuff] that make it easier to walk. That might actually be more of a daily payoff than getting lighter-weight boots.”

Filed To: Boots / Skiing / Ski Boots / Gear