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.