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EpicSki › First Run Articles › Ski Boots--The Most Important Piece of Gear You Will Own

Ski Boots--The Most Important Piece of Gear You Will Own

by Tyler Wenzel


The fact that we call the sport “skiing” may mislead novice skiers into thinking the ski is the most important piece of gear we use. Yet any ski pro will tell you that their ski boots are without a doubt the most important piece of ski equipment they own. In fact, it's not unheard of for World Cup athletes who switch marketing partners to keep their old boots and do some creative artwork to make them look like they’re from the new company rather than changing to a new boot.  

Here's why. Let's say you have a high-end, finely tuned car that performs great, but there is one slight malfunction. Where the shaft for the steering wheel joins with the front wheels is not a tight fit so you can move the wheel back and forth a few degrees before it ever has any effect on the steering. That is what your boots are. They are the connection between the steering mechanism (your body) and the wheels (skis/bindings). And just like a car, a skier will perform much better with a great connection even with cheaper “tires” (skis) and a poor link up in the steering system. The fact is, while you can enjoy skiing most conditions with just about any all mountain ski, an ill-fitting boot will ruin your experience.


Let me illustrate it with an experience I went through a few seasons back.I effectively wasted my entire season trying to get good fitting boots. I had decided to get a new pair at the pre-season sale my local shop was having. Unfortunately I was gone the week they had it at my nearest shop where I knew the boot fitter and had to go to their sister store about fifty miles away. At that time I hadn’t yet discovered the tremendous resource that this site is and didn’t really know what to look for in boots. He measured my foot, put two boots on and I picked the one that fit more comfortably. Not too long into a weeklong ski trip I noticed the boot was flexing a lot and making it difficult to go through bumps. I ended up hitting a bump quite hard as a result and bruised my shin so badly at first I was worried I had fractured a bone in my leg.


I knew there was something wrong with the boots, and that’s how I ended up here on Epic Ski. I quickly learned two things about ski boots. How to do a shell fit to determine your proper boot size and what flex ratings mean. My boot was two sizes too big and way to soft a flex rating for someone my size and aggressiveness. Unfortunately the damage was done and it took a month until I could get a ski boot on without a lot of pain in my shin.


Things can be just as bad the other way as well. I took the boots to my shop to see what to do. My usual boot fitter looked at them and apologized for the job the guy from the other shop did. It was a horrible fit. They gave me basically what they were going to resell them for and helped me into a new pair of boots. I knew what happened when I went too big and ended up over-correcting too small. A tight fit is good—the tightness I had was not. I learned that about two hours in when I discovered I was going to lose my toenail on my big toe on my right foot. I ended up losing both big toe nails and doing some damage to my right big toe before I figured out what was wrong with the fit being too narrow. Another few months of skiing lost to poor fitting boots.


I learned some valuable lessons from that experience. The biggest is that when you get advice on here that it is worth it to take the time to go to a reputable boot fitter—go! However, a proper fitting boot doesn’t just prevent injury; it makes your skiing better. This was illustrated to me by a boot fitter with a little exercise demonstrating why a custom foot bed in a ski boot can dramatically help your skiing. Try it yourself and see what happens:


  • Get a friend and stand face to face with them. Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and then move each foot out about six inches further from your shoulders so you are standing with your feet wide apart. The stick your arms out so they parallel the ground. Try to keep them in that position while your friend pushes downwards on your wrists. Unless you are exceptionally strong they should be able to push your arms down with one or two fingers.
  • Now try the same exercise, but leave your feet shoulder width apart. You should be able to hold your arms out without your friend being able to push them down now.


What this demonstrates is the importance of having your feet properly supported. We may take it for granted, but standing upright is not “natural”. Think of a two legged table and how stable it is. We are able to balance on two feet by constantly making minute adjustments. When we go into the wide stance we are in an even more abnormal stance. As a result we are engaging more of our core muscles for balance and it diverts it away from supporting the rest of our body. The same happens with skiing; if the feet are not properly supported core strength is diverted from where it needs to be to help us excel into just keeping us upright.



There are so many little things that a master boot fitter can do to make boots fit just right, and advances in technology are helping as well. Two great places to start looking for information are the listing of boot fitters on EpicSki to find a great fitter in your area or the Ask the Boot Guys forum for questions as well as various gear pages and reviews. Ski boots are one piece of gear you definitely do not want to buy online, they are the most important piece of equipment you will own.

Comments (22)

I agree with you 100%---- great article
Right On. My wife and I struggled with boot fit until we worked with Sierra Jim at The Start Haus in Truckee. My wife is much happier...so I am much happier. Best decision ever!
Who makes the liner in the picture ?
I could not agree more. I struggled for years until I got smart and made the investment in a pair a well fitted boots.
Don't forget that the liners wear out after a period of time depending on how much you ski. you can keep the shell and replace the liner with ZipFit liners which are also molded to your feet. Taking time to get the right fit and maybe a bit more money to invest in Conformable liners or the such like ...
The right fitting boots is a key element to improving your skiing.
Good article, well said.
I feel that this is a good article in that it points out maybe the biggest negative/dysfunctional aspect of the ski industry. You have to wonder how many potential skiers the industry loses due to boot fit failure issues. My sister, who at 51 very athletic, in great physical condition, tried it once, the boots hurt so bad that she likely will never try it again.

The advice to go find a competent boot fitter is likely the best approach but is easier said than done. I'm a ski instructor at the third largest ski resort in Maine. The closest really good full service boot fitter that I have heard of is in NH, 3.5 hour drive from here. Given the nature of boot fitting you end up making at least two trips to get them right, this becomes a real pain.

For the most part people selling boots get paid to sell boots, the boot fitting is secondary in most cases. The incentive is to only do what is necessary to sell the boot. Consumers drive this by using shops as testing centers and then buying on line.

My experience is that buying the boot and getting it fitted should be a separate process. Sure if you have that full service competent boot fitter close at hand and your budget can handle the cost then this is the best option. If not consider buying used. Sure you need to do your own research, draw a outline of your feet, measure to get your size, but my experience is buying from the average ski shop or buying online you have about equal odds of getting a boot that fits/works for you, in my case it was boot number 4. So 1 in 4 chance.

The boot that finally worked, an almost new used boot I bought on ebay for about 25% of normal retail proves to me that this approach has merit. Sure I paid separate for my foot beds and getting the liner remolded but I think that is a better/cleaner way of doing it.

The other advice I would offer is to strongly consider a 3 piece boot. Unless you are wanting to become a ski racer I see few advantages vs many disadvantages in buying the standard overlap boot. Of course the boot that finally worked for me is a 3 piece boot after trying 3 overlap ones.
my right toenail is still 75% black from three months ago. I don't think my boot is to small though. when I first used my new boots I put the bottom buckles on to tight, that made it very painful going up the chairlift. they fit very well and I won't be switching them for a long time. the boot is so important because if it's wrong, it ruins everything.
I have always got wrong on buying shoes and then it had made me pay very badly. So i become extra cautious to shop for them.
sisal stair treads
So well written.
So true.
Problem is,,,most skiers do not know what to "feel" in a correct boot.
Problem is,,,,most skiers do not know how to "clamp or use those buckles". Typical male "cranks up" boots to max thus cutting blood off to toes. You have 7,000 sensory neurons IN ONE foot. They need blood.
As important as the other gear, yes. But it all forms a functional system TOGETHER.
So for me, not the most important. Just a link in the chain.
There's one key piece missing from this article: alignment.  Even a perfectly-fitting boot will hurt your skiing if it's not properly aligned.
Very well written... would be nice to also add some of the areas that boot fitters would help with (e.g. alignment, foot bed, ...) to make the article even more educational.
Realizing my true foot size/shape was the crux for me, much of my experience follows the same adventure as the author's. Can't cheat flex either, I've tried and the performance goes down quickly.
Years ago I had a pair of boots that I got on sale, they were a great buy, except for one thing they made my feet hurt. I skied in the for 4 years until one day, the last run of the day I could not put weight on my right foot, they hurt so much. I made the last run on my left foot only. When I got back to the condo, I left them at the door with a note "PLEASE TAKE" ! Then I went and bought a new pair $650, and had them fitted. After 3 trips to the shop, he finally got them right, "I'm in Heaven" ! Since then I have skied so much better and faster then ever in my life, carving hard with no pain. It was worth every penny. Make sure you have the fitter to get them perfect. A good fitter can do whatever you need. Don't settle for less.
I bought my first pair at a deep discount online. My skiing was going backwards and I didn't feel confident. I took advantage of a demo days special rental and saw the light. I wouldn't say I got a boot fitting, but I went to a real shop and sat down with a guy that has skiied for decades and owned the shop. I was wearing a soft boot two sizes too big! With all that slop gone I feel much more confident and I started skiing better because I felt more in control. 
I had problems with boots fitting correctly in the 90's. I discovered a shop that did foam injected liners that were molded to my feet with custom foot beds at every purchase( your feet do change as you age) and since then have never purchased a boot that would not accommodate a foam liner. They do alignment as well. It takes a good 2 hours to complete, but I know when I get on the hill, my boots are never an issue. I buy new boots about every 4-5 seasons as I ski about 40 days per season. Highly recommend them you can get them.
Here is my two cents on boot fit. I've skied since college about 41 years ago since graduating. My knees always hurt after a day of skiing. Most weekends it was just two days in a row. I was pretty athletic and attributed it to pounding the hills. Then I started the kids skiing and attributed it to the rope tow hauling the kids up the hill. This year I was able to ski over 30 days this year, not an easy feat in Michigan this year with late snow and it looks like an early spring. I again had the knee pain and had been working on technique all year. A local ski patroller and ski instructor wanted to video me for my own critique. He pointed out something I knew from 25 years ago. I ski with what instructors call a frame. I had previously read a web page and was told by a former high school ski coach to pad the inside of my boots to flatten my ski soles. I am apparently a slow learner. I added about 3/4 of an inch on the inside of the shell until standing on hardwood floors my boots were flat. No more outside edges. I skied them last Sunday.. Much easier to turn, no more sore knees the next day. If you watch beginners, with rental boots, skiing and their difficulties I can guarantee it's because their skies are not flat. I compensated over the years, but most people aren't as stubborn as I am and just give up. Someone needs to come up with an easily adjustable cuff angle that will compensate for bow legged males. I wearing Techica Cochise 100s and the "can't" adjustment is full outside and I needed 3/4 of an inch of foam to flatten my boots. Try it you'll like it and you can always remove the foam. I would go into why I wouldn't add cants to the bindings, shave the boot soles or change the insoles or foot beds, but that would be longer than this two cents.
If you can keep you legs in skiing shape year round, you can get big discounts,  and lots of time with the fitter during off season sales....and that 30% you just saved can go into buying you better boots.
By spending a good hour and a bit  trying different boot/bed combinations, I managed to find  a pair with practically perfect fit off the shelf, without needing to go to custom fit boots.
Great info! Working my way towards my first own boots in 25 years.
EpicSki › First Run Articles › Ski Boots--The Most Important Piece of Gear You Will Own