How Do I Buy My First Pair of Alpine Ski Boots?
It can be a lengthy process, but it's worth the time and effort to get right
Buying ski boots can be a pain. There are lots of brands and styles to choose from, but if you end up with the wrong pair, your feet will hate you. To make the process easier, I spoke with Eric Hatch, who tests boots for Outside’s Buyer’s Guide and is a former manager of Surefoot’s Vail store. Here are his top tips for landing the perfect pair of alpine boots.
Research Where, Not What, to Buy
Don’t go it alone when buying boots. Instead, Hatch recommends finding a ski shop with a specialty boot fitter who will help you find a boot that fits well and is designed for your type of skiing. Boot fitters can also heat-mold your liners and punch out spots in the boot where your feet rub, ensuring your dogs are always happy. If you don’t know which shop to visit, ask around at your local ski area. Word of mouth is often the best way to find talented fitters.
Decide on Flex
The flex number on a boot (that number that usually comes after the boot name) represents how stiff the boot feels, and the higher the number, the stiffer the boot. Stiffer boots provide more control, which is why racers usually prefer a flex around 130 or 160. Beginners should stick to something softer like a 90-100 flex because they're not skiing at Mach 2. Hatch says there's no perfect flex formula because your weight and height are also important, so talk to your fitter about starting low and maybe growing into a stiffer boot as you progress.
Pay Close Attention to Last and Boot Size
Ski boots come in narrow, average, and wide lasts, so this is another point to bring up with your fitter. If you have wide or narrow feet, let them know. General sizing is also different on ski boots. Manufacturers use the mondo point scale, which is based on centimeters and can be hard to convert from your regular shoe size. Hatch warns that if your fitter tries to give you a boot based solely on your sneaker size, you might want to switch shops.
Don't Worry About the Number of Buckles
People may tell you more buckles equals a stiffer and better boot, but that's not true. There are plenty of two- and three-buckle boots that are ultra-stiff. Hatch says buckle choice is more about the geometry of your foot. Some people prefer a three-buckle boots because it causes fewer pain points. Some people are fine with a four-buckle boot.
Consider a Boot With a Good Walk Mode
Boots are more upright these days, so they're easier to walk in. But if you hate getting from the car to the lift while carrying gear, think about a boot with a walk mode, which lets the boot flex forward so your have a more natural stride when you're not skiing. Just flip the boot back to ski mode when you're ready to shred.
“Don’t [buy boots] based on color,” Hatch says. Boots are a tool, not a fashion accessory, so buy the ones that feel good and are right for the job, not the ones that match your jacket. Save the fashion focus for après.
Buy From a Ski Shop with a Guarantee
You might be able to get boots cheaper online. But if you buy from a reputable ski store, you not only get a boot fitter, you’ll likely get a guarantee that they’ll keep fixing your boots down the road. It often takes a couple tweaks before your boot fits just right, so it’s great to be able to come back to your shop to get everything dialed.
An insole will often make a tricky ski boot much more comfortable. Insoles not only help with comfort, they also make the boot conform to your foot, improving performance. There are a lot of great off-the-shelf footbeds like those from Superfeet, or you can get specialty footbeds made just for you.
If You Run Cold, Buy Boot Heaters
“50 percent of my new buyers get heaters for their boots and the other 40 percent either already have some from their old boots or come back for them,” Hatch says. Boot heaters are paper thin and slip in under your foot so they won’t affect the fit. Hatch uses Sidas warmers because he likes how they fit in his boots, but Therm-ic heaters have the strongest battery.