6 boots on a shelf

On The Matter of Ski Boots

Many of us have a “Love/Hate” relationship with our ski boots… we “love” what they do for us on the slopes, but we may “hate” the fit. Let’s take a moment to look at ski boots, what they do for us, and how they can enhance our on-snow experiences. Some may recall the days of lace-up leather ski boots. These were stiff leather boots and some even had a lace-up inner boot as well. Fortunately, those boots gave way to boots made of plastics and other synthetic materials. Boots also got higher, especially in the back, which enabled skiers to more effectively use the boot against the ski. It was the Lange plastic boot that revolutionized the ski boot industry in the 1960’s and our skiing since.

Most boots today reflect the design principle pioneered by Lange – the two-piece boot and a four-buckle closure system. Over the years boot manufacturers have developed other designs, the rear-entry boot being one such concept. However, the simple two-piece design has shown its dominance in the market. The two pieces of the boot – the hinging cuff and lower shell – work together to maximize boot efficiency. This is further enhanced by manufacturers who use different compounds for their cuffs and shells to make boots stiffer or more flexible as the designer desires. The stiffer boot will more readily transfer the skier’s energy to the ski as opposed to the softer boot.

Jackson Hogen of realskiers.com has recently shared some design characteristics found in modern ski boots. To begin, the foot bed is not flat. Rather, the heel is raised about 40° from the toe. The shaft of the cuff is tilted forward 14° to facilitate the basic skiing stance of forward biased pressure on the front of the boot (pressure on the tongue of the boot). While static, this pressure on the front of the boot is a dynamic principle of skiing from day one, regardless if it were in the days of leather boots or our modern boots whose design greatly facilitate that position.

Buying new boots can be challenging but, a few simple guidelines can be of great assistance. First, when shopping for boots, take a pair of your ski socks with you as you’ll want to wear them to try on new boots. You want your feet to feel some of what they are going to experience while skiing. Don’t be in a hurry; give yourself plenty of time to experience new boots. Have them fitted by an experienced, knowledgeable boot fitter and relax. Walk around the shop, flex them repeatedly. What do you feel? Are there pressure points? In the foot stable in the boot when you flex the ankle or does the heel lift? Can you wiggle your toes while the rest of the foot remains firmly in place in the boot? Give the boot time to warm to your foot, at least 30 minutes, as this allows the lining material to conform to your foot. Then take it off and put it back on.

Try boots from different brands to find the ones whose last and design best fit your feet. Don’t be persuaded by what you see the racers wearing as they generally do not wear those boots all day like a recreational skier.

While testing boots on snow, actually skiing them, is the best, it is often times not an available option so don’t rush your decision. The question, “What’s the best boot?” is often raised. The answer is the one that fits you better than any other while providing all day comfort and the one that immediately transmits your movements to the ski.

Mark Searle, PSIA, Level II, 40 Year PSIA Member