“To ski your best, what you need from your ski boots this season is different than what you needed a decade ago,” says Nathan Grothe, REI Category Merchandising Manager for skis, boots, bindings and more. “Thanks to sidecut, rocker and other innovations, skiers no longer have to drive from a dramatic forward lean. Now you turn your skis by leaning side to side. New boots are built to be compatible with new skis. Upgrade, so you can be sure you’re skiing your best.”
Here are Grothe’s top 10 tips for buying new boots:
1. Find a boot that’s compatible with your feet. Boots, like feet, come in many shapes and sizes. Have a trained boot fitter determine your proper shell size, then try on several models to find the one that best matches the shape of your foot.
2. Find a boot that’s user friendly. More and more boots have features like walk mode and grippy rubber on the sole perimeter and instep to keep you from wiping out on the walk through the parking lot. Some boots now come with a rockered sole to make walking easier. More alpine boots have a walk mode that releases a rotating cuff to take pressure off your calves and quads when you’re riding the lift or just hanging out.
3. Get in the right boot shell size. To correctly size a ski boot shell, a boot fitter will first measure the width and length of each of your feet, then he or she will evaluate your instep height, heel and forefoot width, and your shin diameter. The fitter will pull the liner from your boot and measure your foot in the liner-free shell with your toes lightly brushing the front. Proper fit is ¾ inch to 1 inch of space between your heel and the boot.
4. Mold the shell to your foot: If you’re getting odd pressure points, or you have ankle spurs, heel spurs, bunions, extra-wide feet or other special foot physiology, a boot fitter can modify your existing shell using heat guns, dyes and grinders. New heat-moldable shells can be heated in the shop, and they’ll expand as needed to accommodate your foot, without going through the full custom shell fitting described above.
5. Accelerate your liner’s break in time: Backcountry boots come with a thermo-moldable liner—it should be heated by the shop and molded to your foot before you ski. Most alpine boots don’t have a thermo-moldable liner. However, your shop may be able to warm your liner to accelerate the break-in process.
6. Buy a supportive footbed. “A good boot fitter won’t do anything to your boot or liner until he has your foot stabilized,” says Steve Cohen, founder of America’s Best Boot Fitters and CEO of Masterfit University. “Ninety percent of fit issues can be solved with a supportive insole—the foundation matters.” Off-the-shelf ski-specific semi-custom insoles support the foot and help your brain process what’s happening underneath you. With your arch supported, your foot has more contact area, which provides more information to your brain as to where you are in space, and what you need to do to manipulate your skis. If you’re looking for the most affordable way to improve your performance, this is it.
7. Ask about the NEW performance fit. It used to be that tighter was better. Now, fitters know that to ski best, your joints, muscles and bones should be able to flex and move. A properly fit boot won’t constrain your foot’s natural function and it will put you in a neutral position on the snow, a position that lets you feel and respond to what’s going on underneath your skis. “Your boot should be snug in the ankle and the instep,” says Grothe. “But the toe box should be comfortable.”
8. Get boots that fit your goals: New boots mean no sacrifices. In general, they’re lighter and more supportive. Some are even suited for freeride style descents, and many are able inbounds as well as out of bounds. If you want to be backcountry ready, consider buying alpine touring (AT) boots instead of a straight alpine boot. The up-front investment is more, because you’ll also need compatible bindings, but many setups will give you enough stability and power to ski everywhere. And think of the money you’ll save on lift tickets!
9. Cold feet? Get warm boots. “More and more brands are focusing on warmth—especially in women’s product,” says Grothe. Boots manufacturers are now using name brand insulation, like PrimaLoft®, as well as fleece in their liners.
10. Be willing to come back to the shop: You’re not just buying boots, you’re buying the service that goes along with those boots. “If your feet hurt, bring your boots back to the shop, and get help making them feel better,” says Grothe.