Originally Posted by Dane
"How can a skier identify when progression would be enhanced by:
Tighter or stiffer flex boots?
I agree that boots are the priority. But I wouldn't make the mistake of buying a "stiffer" boot. Flex isn't as big of deal as fit is. Get a shell that fits your needs first then have boith a custom liner (if required) and a custom foot bed made. I have used several over the years but nothing better than a Superfeet Custom Cork if it is made and fitted coirrectly to your boot. Expensive at $150 or so a pop but worth evey penny IMO. I have two pair. The first were made in 1985 and are still "like new" with hundreds of days on them. Just had the second pair made this summer. I have two different boots I use now and was tired of always pulling the insoles.
110 to 120 flex rating is a good place to be IMO.
Flex is a huge deal for skiers who base their skiing style on bending the ski. For those skiers, the boot must be stiff enough to support the body when the feet are pulled back behind the hips. If the OP aspires to be this type of skier, then a stiffer flex is better. Of course, stiffer boots tend to be more responsive and less forgiving of bad input. Additionally, flex ratings are not universal. They tend to be only useful within the same brands. So it isn't particularly meaningful to recommend a particular flex anyway (and a 110-120 is pretty stiff in most brands).
Custom foot beds are a complete waste of money unless you understand exactly what they are going to accomplish. There are only a handful of boot fitters in the country that I would even consider allowing to make foot beds for me, and none of them would try to post up my arches with cork. Foot beds are not about comfort. If that is what you need, buy an off-the-shelf insert for $20.00. Rather, foot beds should be about building a foundation underfoot to support the kind of movements that you need to make to do the skiing that you want to do. For my style of skiing, which involves putting the ski on edge and bending it, and my particular feet, my boot fitter uses soft material that optimizes my stance to maximize my ability to invert and evert my foot inside the boot. Most boot fitters do not build foot beds for this purpose. That may be fine for the OP's needs, but anyone shelling out $200 for foot beds should know why they need them and what exactly they will do for their skiing. Of course, if the boot fitter hasn't seen you ski and you haven't seen the boot fitter ski, how would you even know if you are even on the same page when it comes to skiing?
When it comes to asking "when have I progressed beyond my gear", the real answer is that if you have to ask the question, you probably haven't. In reality, to get to the level where you would need to change your gear, you would need a fairly high level of technical skill. Alternatively, you can "progress" beyond your gear when you decide that you want to ski some type of terrain or snow condition that you don't have the technical skills for on your current equipment, but a different ski could grant you access. For example, very few skiers can ski powder on a Head iSuperShape, but almost anyone can do it on a K2 Pontoon. It all depends on what kind of skier you want to be.
Assuming we're talking technique though, you progress beyond a pair of skis when you develop sufficient ability to put them high on edge, but when you try to do that on harder snow, they aren't torsionally stiff enough to hold. Or you develop the skills to ski at faster speeds, but the skis start to feel twitchy when you try to push them. Or you develop the ability to move forward enough to drive the tips, but when you do that, the ski crumples on you and washes instead of engaging and pulling into the turn.
You progress beyond a ski boot when you start feeling like there is a lag between your input and the desired output. Lower level boots are designed to lag a bit so you aren't punished immediately if you do the wrong thing. In your case, you are experiencing the lag, but it sounds like it is due to the boots being packed out. If you feel like the boots are still performing acceptably when they are buckled down tightly, then you haven't progressed to the point where you need a different boot. That said, given the lack of time you've had on snow with this pair, your boots are probably sized incorrectly and you probably need to replace them regardless, so it could be a good time to upgrade. If they were correctly sized, a less expensive option would be to just replace the liner. You'll also know you've progressed beyond the boot when you go to pull your feet back and you feel like it is too soft and you are going to fall on your face.
When it comes to upgrading boots and skis, you need to decide what you are really trying to accomplish. A great many skis today are designed to allow technically bad skiers access to terrain and snow conditions that were traditionally exclusively the domain of the skilled. That is fine, but if your priority is to become a better skier, buying one of those skis not only won't help you, it will likely make you worse. Be wary of skis wider than about 88mm underfoot (at the waist) if you are trying to develop into a technical skier. Most skis that are wider than that require extremely high skills to carve (which is different than just riding edges) in anything less than deep powder. Even on a deep powder day, if you spend a good deal of time on groomers getting back to the lift, they will be very hard on your knees if you try to put them on edge (which is why most skiers who try to do this just lean, park and ride).
In any event, when it comes to buying new skis, what you want to do is demo. If you can, attend a demo day at a local hill--this will give you the opportunity to try lots of different skis. Otherwise, do your research and then rent a pair from a local ski shop to try before you buy. Often ski shops will give you a credit on your rental if you end up buying after you demo, so be sure to ask. Until you acquire enough experience to have a good understanding of what works best for you, try to bring a more experienced friend along when you demo. This should be someone who is familiar with your skiing, who knows what you are trying to accomplish with your skiing, and who can give you good feedback on how the demo skis are affecting your skiing. If you are serious about developing your ski technique, have your friend take video during the process. That way you can see what your skiing looked like on the new equipment.
Boots are tougher. The best advice I can give to the OP is to get educated on basic boot fitting. Don't buy from anyone who doesn't at least start with a shell fit. Ask around for advice on good shops and good boot fitters, but be careful who you ask. Most "experienced" skiers probably own custom foot beds and have probably been to see a boot fitter and will probably tell you how great that boot fitter is, while at the same time having absolutely no idea what effect (if any) that fitter had on their skiing. Successful racers are usually the best bet for getting a bead on a good shop because they are most likely to be hyper-aware of performance.
In any event, asking gear questions on the internet can be fraught with peril. Unless you have actually seen the skiing of the person giving you advice, you really don't know where that person's advice is coming from. Conversely, unless the people giving you advice have seen you ski, you can't really trust that what they are saying applies to you. There are only a handful of people who I would personally take gear advice or technique advice from on Epic. That isn't because everyone else is necessarily giving bad or incorrect advice. Rather it is because the only advice that is actually personally useful to me comes from the people who share my same values when it comes to skiing. YMMV.