[Editor’s Note: We posted this article by Charlie Bradley last winter, and if you missed it back then, you don’t want to miss it now.]
Why Do Ski Boots Suck?
The ski boot is the number one reason that recreational skiers do not become passionate, diehard skiers, and the rental boot is the main culprit behind the dwindling number of return participants to our sport.
I constantly hear customers complain about how bad their feet hurt, only to find that they have been traumatized by a cheap rental boot that was improperly sized. How many times can a person go through the tedium of the rental process—let alone the pain and suffering of skiing a whole day in a pair of boots that have been skied by hundreds of other “skiers”—before they either decide to quit skiing or go buy a pair of boots that actually fit? But if you decide to purchase a boot rather than give up the sport, you might want to think twice before buying boots at a big-box sporting goods store from some kid who was selling a tennis racket or camping gear ten minutes ago. Furthermore, I spend a lot of time replacing brand new boots that were bought online because they are too big or the wrong shape, so caveat emptor on that front, too.
A good fitting boot is a skier’s most important piece of gear, and can make or (more likely) break your vacation, even your season. How, then, does a person go about getting a ski boot that fits? What should the aspiring skier know not just about ski boots, but themselves, to make the process easier?
This guide is going to go through just that. By the time we’re done, you will know some of the fundamentals for getting yourself into a great fitting pair of ski boots.
There are a number of factors that will determine how well a boot will fit and perform:
➢ Size (length / width)
➢ Foot shape / shell shape (volume)
➢ Lower leg shape / cuff shape
➢ Flex and Biomechanics
➢ Skier experience / ability
Feet come in all sizes and shapes, just like the bodies they are attached to. So it is with ski boots. Each brand of ski boot has a particular shape, volume, and geometry that resembles the idea of the foot that resides in the brain of the developer of that brand. Hence, a Tecnica fits different than a Lange, which fits different than a Salomon, which fits different than a Fischer, and so on.
The Fit: Getting the Right Size
When determining your correct size, a measuring tool made specifically for ski boot sizing should be used. If you walk into a shop and tell the boot fitter / salesperson that you are looking for ski boots, and he / she does not ask you to remove your shoes and socks in order to measure your feet, run—don’t walk—out of that place!
There are basically three different sizing schemes used when measuring feet: U.S. size, Euro size and Mondo size. Mondo size is the current default scheme. This is simply a metric measurement in centimeters of the inside of the boot from heel to toe. A size 27.0 for example is 27 centimeters long from the heel to the toe inside the boot.
A Dirty Little Secret: The Truth about Half Sizes
There is no such thing as a half size. A 27.0 and 27.5 are the same size shell. (SCARPA’s boots are a little different: they size their shells so that the whole size and the half size smaller are the same. For example: a 26.5 and 27 are the same shell.)
Even those who know the truth about half sizes often assume that the boot liners used in a 27.0 and a 27.5 are different, and some manufactures will try to tell you that their liners are sewn in half sizes. Don’t believe it.
The only difference between the whole and half size is the thickness of the removable insole upon which you are standing.
A thicker insole is used for the whole size (27.0) and a thinner insole for the half size larger (27.5). Why is that, you ask? The injection mold used for making ski boots cost upward of $100,000. There are currently 8-9 shells each in men’s and ladies’ sizes. That’s $800,000 – $900,000 per size run per model. There are usually 7-8 different models of boots in any given brand line up. Since the difference between a whole and half size is 5 millimeters, boot manufacturers regard it as financially infeasible to produce an additional 8 or 9 half size shells.
The measuring device that was mentioned above should be used as a guide, not a rule. To confirm that the size of the boot you are trying on is correct, you can do a simple test.
Shell sizing is probably the best way to determine your correct size. Simply pull the liner out of the shell and place your foot in the shell. Move your foot to the front of the boot so that your toes are touching. Bend your knee to see how much room there is behind your heel. An easy way to judge this is to use a 1”, ¾”, and ½” dowel.
1” / 25.4mm behind the heel would be considered a tourist fit. This skier only skis on green and blue groomed runs on sunny, warm days at very slow speeds and probably has never felt the edge of the ski. This person is perfectly happy to slide around with no thought for performance.
3/4” / 19.05mm of room behind the heel is for the more avid skier. This skier has some experience. He or she will ski on most trails, and sometimes the most difficult trails. These skiers are intent on improving, and they probably ski between 10 and 20 days a year.
1/2” / 12.7mm behind the heel is for the expert skier. These skiers are aggressive and demand instant reaction from their skis. They ski fast on all terrain, but mainly stay in the very steepest chutes and choked trees their mountain has to offer. The only time you see them on a groomed run is on the way back to the lift, the bar, or back to work.
Most new skiers and many experienced skiers have no clue what a “good” fitting boot feels like. Out of the box, a new boot should be suspiciously snug, like a firm hand shake. If you have ever offered your hand upon an introduction only to receive a loose, wet noodle from the other person, well, this is not the type of fit you want from your ski boot. On the other hand, if you have ever had the misfortune of having your hand crushed by some Neanderthal trying to exert his (or her) masculinity, then you can appreciate why this would not make for a “good” fit either.
“Suspiciously snug” means a firm, even pressure around the whole foot, from the metatarsals back to the heel, and up the lower leg. Movement should be limited to the toes only. If the boot feels like a bedroom slipper it is too big! (Have you ever golfed or played tennis or rock climbed in bedroom slippers?)
When you first put the boot on it should feel short. The toes will feel a little claustrophobic at first. This is OK. The biggest mistake a new boot buyer makes is judging the size of the boot before buckling it up and bending the ankle joint by driving the knee forward. This simple act will drive the foot rearward into the heel pocket, thereby giving the toes room to breathe. It is my opinion that anyone skiing in their measured size is in a size too big. This is not to say that everyone should down size their boots, but everyone should at least try on one size smaller to see if this is a viable option for the skiing they intend do. If you do decide to try on a size smaller boot, leave it on for 10 to 15 minutes, flexing and making skiing movements before you decide that it is not for you. You may be surprised.
That’s all for now.
In the next article, Boot Fitting 201, we delve a little deeper and discuss boot sole lengths, why boots have gotten bigger over the years, and how to “make the boot your own” via custom foot beds and the stance balance alignment process. Check it out.
Is It New? No. Is It Perfect? Definitely not. Is It The Best? Quite Possibly.
WARNING: THIS REVIEW MAY CAUSE WHIPLASH. (It also might change your life.)
Welcome to the future.