You’re steady on your skis. You leave smooth arcs in your wake as you ski down the mountain. The word ‘pizza’ only conjures forth images of a hard-earned meal and you can't even remember the last time you stacked it getting off a chairlift.
You think you are ready to take the plunge and get some gear of your own. But where to from here?
The first piece of kit you should be considering is your very own pair of ski boots.
But choosing a pair of ski boots is daunting. What size do I need? The sizing isn't even the same! What flex rating should my boots be? What is all this talk about Last?
Choosing a ski boot is a demanding process, but the benefits of owning your own boots greatly outweigh the moguls you'll have to ride to get them.
No more smelly inners that have been worn a thousand times by a thousand pairs of feet. No more blisters and bruises from boots that don't fit correctly.
In this guide, we're going to break the process down and explain how to choose ski boots, helping you on your way to the perfect fitting pair.
Disclaimer: This guide is intended to help you understand the process of finding a comfortable, correct-fitting ski boot. It is not a step-by-step guide to finding the perfect pair without ever trying a boot on.
We’ll break things down and look at:
- Men’s, women’s and kid’s ski boots
- Ski boot size & feel
- Last (boot width)
- Skiing ability
- Boot flex
- Cuff shape and instep height
- Additional features
...And lastly, we'll offer some tips on how to get the most out of a professional boot fitting.
To kick things off, let’s talk about gender.
Women’s vs. men’s vs. youth ski boots
Once upon a time, ski boots were unisex. But (thankfully) the times have changed and ski boot manufacturers have developed women’s specific boots, designed to fit female body geometry as closely as men’s boots fit theirs.
Typically, women's calves sit lower on the leg, and are often wider than men’s. The cuffs on women’s ski boots are positioned lower and have more volume to account for this.
When it comes to the young ones in the family, choosing a ski boot is best done with the help of a certified boot fitter. It can be all too easy to either choose a boot that will be uncomfortable from the get-go, or that will become uncomfortable very quickly as the child grows.
Remember the golden rule when choosing ski boots: fit comes before fashion...
Boot size and feel
If you’ve worn rentals, you might have found that they were in fact quite comfortable the first time you put them on. This is one of the reasons why skiers find it so confusing when they put a brand new boot on for the first time and find that it's the complete opposite.
Shouldn't brand new boots be more comfortable than rentals?
In time they will be, yes! But a brand new ski boot should not feel comfortable; a brand new ski boot should feel tight, and perhaps even a bit too small.
This is because the ski boot liner is designed to mould to the unique shape of your foot over time, creating a very precise fit. But don’t worry, after a few days of good runs, you’ll find that your new boots fit so snug, you’ll never want to take them off.
One of the mistakes first time buyers make is to choose a boot based on their standard UK, EU, or U.S. shoe size. And while we have provided size conversions charts to give you a rough idea of what your ski boot size could be, we don't recommend this approach.
The correct way to determine your boot size is by measuring your foot.
What is Mondopoint sizing?
Ski boot manufacturers use a precise scale called Mondopoint. Mondopoint is simply the length of your foot from your heel to your longest toe in centimetres.
Before you start shopping, the first thing you should do is measure your feet from heel to toe to determine your Mondopoint sizing. Bear in mind that one foot might be slightly longer than the other.
This chart is intended as a guide only. Measuring your foot is the most accurate way to determine Mondopoint sizing.
Note: If your feet differ significantly in size, a professional boot fitter can help customise your new boots to fit both feet perfectly.
Unless you have owned ski boots before and know what size you are, the next step is to visit a store and try on a number of different boots, ideally with the help of a professional boot fitter.
Mondopoint is a much more accurate measurement than shoe size, but your Mondo size might not be the size you eventually go with. A number of other factors can influence the boot size that is right for you, such as foot width (or Last), your ability level, and the type of terrain you like to ski the most.
What is Last?
Last is an old boot fitting term that stuck, but basically, it refers to the width of your forefoot at its widest point.
Skiers feet vary almost as much in width as they do in length, so it’s vital that you ensure you choose a pair of boots that are the correct width to ensure a comfortable, precise fit.
Last is typically characterised by manufacturers as either narrow, medium, or wide and ranges from around 95mm up to 106mm.
Narrow boots sit around the 95mm - 98mm mark and are for skiers with either very low volume feet, or for competitive racers.
Medium width boots are targeted towards intermediate and advanced skiers with average width feet around 100mm - 103mm wide.
Wide boots (104mm - 106mm) are for skiers with very wide feet or for recreational skiers that prefer a comfort fit.
How to choose ski boots based on your ability level
Ski boots are targeted at skiers of differing levels of ability from beginners, right up to expert level skier.
How skilled you are on your skis will play a large part in which pair of boots you eventually choose. Interestingly, a boot fitter may suggest you go up or down a boot size depending on your level of experience.
Beginner skiers often prefer to have a bit more room in their boots. Beginners make bigger, slower movement than skilled skiers (think pizza) and usually favour comfort over performance. When you are still working on the fundamentals, an uncomfortable boot can mean the difference between giving up for the day, and having one last go.
As a general rule, the more experienced skier will wear a closer fitting boot. Competitive skiers often going one and a half to two sizes smaller than their Mondopoint size suggests.
A close fitting boot allows for more precise turns on the slopes, but can feel uncomfortable over prolonged periods on the slopes. At the pointy end of the spectrum, competitive racers wear very close fitting, very stiff boots to give them as much feedback from their skis as possible.
The next thing to consider when buying ski boots is their stiffness or flex rating.
Competitive skiers choose close-fitting, stiff boots that enable them to make quick adjustments to their turns.
Ski boot flex explained
How much your ski boots flex has a huge impact on how they will perform on the snow. A boot’s flex rating refers to how hard it is to flex the boot forwards while in a standing position.
In simple terms, the stiffer the boot's hard outer shell, the more responsive it is to your commands. That’s why advanced skiers and alpine racers opt for very stiff boots that enable them to transmit very precise commands through their feet to their skis.
Unfortunately, there is no industry standard for boot flex: a boot with a flex rating of 100 might feel completely different to another boot with the same rating from a different manufacturer.
Flex ratings are expressed either numerically, or simply labelled as soft, medium, or stiff. Numerical ratings run from 60 for beginner boots, right up to 130+ for expert level / race boots.
When it comes to boot flex, the best thing you can do is try on a number of ski boots in-store and compare the way they feel. Remember, it’s probably a lot warmer in the store than it will be on the mountain, so they might feel softer now than they will up the top of the chairlift.
The chart below should give you a rough idea of how flex ratings relate to skier ability.
Cuff shape and instep height
The outer shell of a ski boot is made from hard plastic, so it’s important that you get the right fit, not only in terms of the length of the boot but in the width of the cuff, and the height of the boot’s instep as well.
In the same way that women’s calves typically differ to men's, there are boots available with wider or narrower cuff shapes to accommodate skiers who have particularly wide or narrow legs.
If your ski boot cuffs are too narrow, you run the risk of cutting off circulation to your toes, and might even struggle to do the buckles up. If they are two wide, your leg can float around causing rubbing and even bruising across the shins. Make sure you try a range of boots with different cuff shapes to find one that fits just right.
It’s important that your ski boot fits the height of your instep as well. Your instep is the area directly above the arch of your foot. Skiers with pronounced arches most often have a high instep as well. If the boot is too spacious, the foot can slip and slide around during turns. If the boot fits too tight across the instep it can cut off circulation leading to discomfort and numbing or tingling sensations in your toes.
Additional features & things to look for in a ski boot
Fit is king, you’ve probably gathered that by now. When choosing a ski boot, features, style, colour, number of buckles, etc. should all be considered after you’ve established a good fit.
But there are a number of features to look out for which could mean the difference between boot A and boot B.
Boot liner: the liners that come stock standard with ski boots sometimes don't allow for the most precise fit. If you see a professional boot fitter, you’ll often find they remove them and install aftermarket liners that can be moulded to the shape of your feet.
Buckles: do the boots come with two, three, or four buckles? This mostly comes down to personal preference these days, but boots with four buckles sometimes allow for a greater range of adjustability. Take your ski gloves with you to the shop to check whether you can comfortably adjust your boots with gloves on. Some high-end models come with micro-adjusters on the buckles which enable you to find that sweet spot between steps on the buckle ladders.
Footbeds: like liners, stock footbeds don't always allow for a true custom fit. For a more precise fit, go for a set of aftermarket heat-moldable footbeds and see a technician to get fitted.
The power strap: most ski boots use some type of strap to secure the top of the cuff to your leg. The power strap – whether it be a simple velcro strap or a micro-adjustable boa system – allows for additional adjustment throughout the day on the slopes. Look for a system that you can work easily, even with gloves on.
Hiking / walking mode: some boots feature a switch that enables you to walk more easily between runs. The switch allows the cuff to move independently from the lower shell providing a greater range of heel movement making it less exhausting to get from the car to the chair.
Adjustable flex settings: for skiers who require a precision fit, it can be useful to opt for models that enable you to adjust boot flex by minute degrees. This is best done off-mountain, either by removing and changing rivets or by using an Allen key.
Shock absorbers: a feature typically used by freestyle skiers, shock absorbers are located in the shin, the toe, and the heel to help reduce impact during heavy landings.
Boot fitting tips
If you’re at this point and you’re feeling like it’s all a bit too hard, don’t worry, you’re not the first person to feel that way.
Choosing a pair of ski boots can, and should be an involved process. The best way to speed up that process is by going to see a boot fitter. All of the stuff we’ve talked about: size, Last, flex, cuff shape etc. – they know exactly how to find you a boot that fits, feels great, and helps you progress as a skier.
To help you get the most out of your boot fitting, make sure:
You wear specially made ski socks or a thin pair of socks during your fitting. Insulation should mostly come from the boot, not from wearing thick woollen socks
Those socks are clean (the technician will thank you for it)
You ask questions the whole time. Take what you’ve learned by reading this guide and get the boot fitter to help you understand why a particular boot is right for you
You are honest about your level of ability. Exaggerating your skill level will only lead to an uncomfortable experience and could hinder your growth as a skier
You take your gloves to see how it feels making adjustments on the fly.
To Sum Up
Finding the perfect fitting ski boot requires careful consideration of a number of factors related to both the boot and you as a skier. It's not just about getting the right size boot! You'll need to take width into consideration, along with the boots flex and how that affects your performance on the slopes.
We've said it before and we'll say it again. Unless you've been through this process before and know your ski boots like you know your own name, we strongly suggest visiting a store that offers professional boot fitting to ensure you get the most out of your new ski boots.
Once you've got your boots sorted, you'll want to start looking at a pair of skis and poles. Check out our ski buying guide and size chart for more helpful advice.