When it comes to owning your own equipment, one of the first purchases I recommend is a pair of ski boots. However, if you have taken the time to look into buying your own boots then you know that it can be a big investment, in both time and money! With so many options out there as far as companies selling boots, brands and types of boots, not to mention lingo such as boot flex and last (which means width, btw), the whole thing can get a bit complicated. I have tried to answer a few of those questions to give you a bit of an idea of the benefits and maybe what questions to ask as you go along.
Boots can be one of the best purchases you can make when it comes to owning your own equipment. Even if you only ski 5 days a year, if you own your own boots you they will last you 7-10 years if you look after them properly. If you do the math and take into account you spend $60-$70 a year on boots rentals each time, once you ski 8 to 10 times that is the equivalent of spending $500-$700. While it might be a large initial outlay, if you consider what you spend on rentals, over time the cost becomes a little easier to take. If you are looking to save on buying boots then buying boots on clearance at the beginning or the end of the season can be a good way to go. Just be sure you don’t sacrifice overall fit and comfort for a good deal.
A big benefit to owning your own boots is you will always know that the boots are going to fit. There is nothing worse then having boot troubles throughout your vacation because the rental shop only has a small selection of boots that don’t fit the shape of your foot. In most cases you have no other option than just to grin and bare it, which is probably why ski boots have such a bad rap. There are lots of different techniques that are available to help mould the boot to your foot that include;
- Punching – This includes heating a particular part of the boot and then pushing the plastic out to give your foot more room
- Grinding – Like it sounds, they use a small grinder to grind the plastic down. Again this gives your foot more room.
- Wedges – Pieces of foam placed on the outside of the liner to help fill space. Used a lot for those who have small ankles.
- Heat Moulded Liners – Most boots will have this option: the liner of the boot is heated up and moulded to your foot.
- Foam Injected liners – This is different from the above example because they actually inject foam into the liner while you are wearing the boots. This is more expensive, but definitely more effective then the factory heat moulding liners.
New techniques and new boot technologies are being created all the time. This is just a basic list of some of the techniques that are used to help shape your boot and make it fit like a glove and less like a medieval torture chamber.
You may also hear the term “last” when it comes to buying boots. This refers to the width of the boot, which on average is around 100 – 102mm. Although some race boots are around 95-98mm and some boots can run as wide as 106mm. It all depends on your foot.
Foot beds, also called orthotics, go it the bottom of your boots and help support your foot. There is quite a bit involved in a foot bed, and each shop will have a different system. Essentially you stand on a machine, the technician will make sure you are standing in a neutral stance, then they take a mould of your foot. Foot beds are optional and you can ski with the standard factory one. However, a properly designed custom foot bed will help to support your foot inside your ski boot and should improve the overall comfort of the boot. It will set you back approximately $150 – $200, and it is well worth the expense. If the initial cost is to much to afford a foot bed to begin with, it is definitely worth investing in after a season or two of wear.
When you buy your own boots you want to make sure that you choose a boot that fits your ability level. Every boot is given a “flex” rating, which tells you how easy or hard it is to flex the boot forward. The more more advanced of a skier you are the stiffer you are going to want your boot. The boot flex, in adult boots, ranges from around 60 – 160. To give you an idea, a 60 flex is about the flex of most rental boots, and a 160 flex boot is what a lot of world cup racers wear to help them feel stable going 100+mph down a black diamond run.
A boot that is stiffer will hold up better at speed and responds better under extreme force, so is better suited for the more advanced skier. While a softer boot is easier to flex and will work better for someone who is on the lighter side or someone just beginning skiing.
Each brand shapes their boots from a different mould. So if you decide to buy boots then be sure to try on as many different brands as you can to see which one fits your foot the best. While boot technicians can work wonders with tailoring a boot to your foot, it is best to find a boot that gets as close as possible so you are only shaping it a small amount.
Sizing a Boot
When you size a boot they are a few ways to fit a boot to your foot. First the boot tech will measure the length and width of your foot. Then once you have a rough idea of the size of your feet, they will do a “shell fit”. A shell fit is when you put your foot inside the boot without the liner in the outer plastic shell. This step should hopefully save you from putting on a boot that will be to tight and not the right fit. Once you have a found a shell or two that fit, you can put the liners in the boot and see how they fit with the liners in the outer shell.
How Tight is Too Tight?
If you are used to old rental boots, when you first put on a ski boot that has been properly fitted to your foot, you are likely going to think that the boot is too tight! Having that tight feeling is a good thing, after you wear the boot for 10-15 minutes that feeling will fade. The more you wear the boot, the more the foam in the liner will compact and the more room you will get in your boot. If the boot is loose when you first buy it, after wearing it for a few times your foot will end up having to much room to move. Movement in your boot will create discomfort and performance issues.
Alternatively, if after 15-20 minutes of wear you are in a good deal of pain or your feet have gone to sleep due to lack of blood flow, it might be time to try a different boot. The analogy I always use it that is should feel like a firm hand shake.
When the Boot is on
When you try the boot on, bend your ankle and push your knee forward over your toes. This will force your ankle to slide back into the heel of the boot. If that doesn’t work well enough, you can bang the heel of the boot against the ground before you buckle the boot.
The top buckles around your shin and ankle should be tight, without causing you pain. The buckles across the top of you foot can be looser, or else you’ll restrict the blood flow and your foot will go to sleep. Once you have the boots on and buckled, walk around the store and see how it feels.
After 15-20 minutes you may start to feel a pressure points along the side of your foot, or perhaps on the heel. These pressure points can be painful, so if it starts to hurt after only a few minutes the boot may not be the right size/shape for you. If the pain is bearable and you feel it after wearing the boot for 15 minutes or more, in most cases that can be fixed. If you can feel your foot moving around as you walk, then the boot is either not buckled tight enough, or is too big.
The Final Fit
Once you have gone through the fitting process you should have a boot that is comfortable, tight fitting and pain free. However, you never know how a boot will feel and fit until you ski it. So head out on the slopes and make a few turns. If you begin feeling pressure points or pain, head back to the shop and have them adjusted. Don’t let the nagging pain or discomfort go on for too long. With a good fitting boot you can now get out there and make a few well earned turns in your very own boots!