What are the key factors to take into account when investing in a pair of ski boots? OnTheSnow spoke to Phil Gordon, ski equipment and workshop buyer at Snow+Rock, to get the lowdown on how to ensure you purchase a quality pair.

How should we go about choosing a new pair of ski boots?

The best way to choose a ski boot is to have an open conversation with a boot fitter about their needs, their skiing preferences, their needs and what they want to do with their boots. Through a conversation with a boot fitter, and a good look at the foot shape, stance and needs of the foot – a boot fitter will come up with some boot options that suit the customer’s foot shape and needs. Remember that there are many tools and skills fitters can use to reduce pressure and make it fit; the key is to find the right shaped boot and the right flex for the customer – from there, personalization and customization can improve the fit even more. It is helpful for the boot fitter to understand any past experiences a customer may have had with skiing, a particular brand, or any anomalies or injuries that may have occurred with the foot & lower let. All these things help narrow down the boot options to select the best possible solution. Finally, it is always important to remember that it takes time to fit boots well and you should allow for at least an hour to 1.5 hours to have your boots fit. 

Should a person undertake any prep before going shopping? 

No formal preparation is needed though some good advice is to trim toe nails before trying on ski boots to ensure the fit is how it should be. It is also worth bringing the ski socks you plan to ski in while trying on and having your boots fit. If your socks are old then it is worth considering getting new ones, and if you make that known when you are buying your boots – you can choose the best socks for the boots you’re going to purchase for the ideal fit. Things like foot beds and technical socks are vital to the overall skiing experience and holiday and are worth investing, in but should also be factored into customer’s budget when they are planning a visit.

Should they feel comfortable? 

Ski boot initially will feel odd, not uncomfortable but different to your dress or running shoes. Yes they will feel comfortable, like any footwear once they are fitted to your foot and lower leg, and even better once worn for a bit of time, as the foot settles in. A ski boot should feel like a firm hand shake; confident and secure without crushing or pressure points. Bearing in mind that for the majority of the year we wear footwear that is cloth and leather, the more rigid structure of a ski boot will feel odd at first.  The best way to get your feet used to ski boots is to spend some time with your boots on before your trip to allow your feet to adapt to the differences.

Should they keep your feet warm?

 Ideally yes they should if they are fit well then there will be enough space to allow for adequate insulation from the liners. However, some people do suffer from poor circulation and cold feet; but there are solutions for this. Boot fitters can install small electronic heaters into the boots to keep feet warm, or look at the option of heated socks to help keep toes toasty! Of course one of the first things to do to keep feet warm is to always make sure your boots are thoroughly dry before using them. We suggest using a portable dryer to drive moisture out as in some cases, in some boots, chalet dryers can heat “heat moldable” shells too much and alter the custom shape. 

What are the most important considerations when buying ski boots for children? 

Buy the right size and flex for the child for that current season. For little ones to get the most out of their holiday, it is important that they have the correct size for the stage that they are at. Though it may be appealing to think that buying a size larger will allow for 2 seasons worth of use (by putting 2 pairs of socks on) it is not ideal.  Buying the wrong size can lead to uncomfortable feet as feet move around inside the boot and can cause rubbing. The wrong size can also lead to over tightening the boots to reduce volume and, in so doing, can change the shape of the boot or reduce circulation. Little people’s feet need to be warm and comfortable just like big people’s feet so it is best to make the investment in the right sized boot and proper children’s ski socks. Children’s boots are already made warmer with added insulation, and socks too have additional warm fibers & wicking properties. There is no real reason why with the right fitting boot, with the right socks, children shouldn’t have warm feet.

How long do they typically last (if, for example, you’re skiing twice a year)?

It of course depends on how aggressive the skier is, how they care for their product and what they are doing – but 4-5 years is probably about right. Some high end users such as instructors will go through a pair of boots a year. The main factors will be how secure your foot is within the boots (has the liner packed out) does it feel loose in the boot, and are you having to tighten the boot too much to keep the foot secure. This is a key indication that you should have your boots at the very least inspected.  From a safety perspective, it is worth having your boots checked in the heels and toes for excessive wear as this will affect how you boots and bindings interact. Walking across tarmac, and gravel to get to and from the slopes is tough on the soles of ski boots and may affect how easily boots release in an accident. Many heels and toes can be replaced but some cannot, which means that when toes and heels are warn or damaged the boot needs to be replaced.

How many different types of boots are there on the market? 

In general there are two types of boots: Traditional Alpine 4 buckle boots and Hike & Ride boots.  From these two areas there are then sub sections depending on what you are doing and looking for.

Alpine boots will have a fixed point that the boots flex forward and back from and the 4 buckles keep the foot and lower leg secure. These boots tend to have a set forward angle.

Hike & Ride boots offer the ability to unlock the rear of the boot and allow for greater range of motion in the ankle (compared to an alpine boot). This ability to pivot at the ankle makes locomotion much easier if you are walking to and from the lifts or exploring the back country.  Hike & Ride boots can then be even more lightweight and specialized for long touring trips or offer outstanding downhill performance for more Freeride skiing – it depends on the intended end use of the product. On the Alpine side, the pinnacle here are very stiff race boots used on the World cup or the Olympics – the stiffer boot helps cope with the forces racers encounter when travelling at speed through turns. All in all, there are many different boot options depending on what they are needed to do, from comfort and ease of walking through to high speed performance – and variations of all in between.

What’s the technology like? Do they get better year on year?

The technology in boots changes year on year.  Advances in plastics makes them lighter, stronger and heat moldable & liners become warmer and with better foot hold. Manufactures are able to now make different parts of the boot have unique characteristics; a race chassis on the bottom with heat moldable on top; dual plastic injected into the same area to give a soft area for pressure points; liners have areas that can be ground to shape the leg/ foot and many have neoprene toe boxes to keep feet warm and to allow for individual foot shape. They do get better year on year as designers are able to use new and better materials and advances in manufacturing. 3D printing has allowed brands to experiment quicker with concepts and bring production molds to market much quicker then even 2 years ago.  It is a very dynamic area.

What are the prices like? And what do the more expensive boots offer?  

For adult boots prices range from about £225 to £525. Again it depends on what the end use is for the boot and what sort of features people want from their products. Some boots are made of carbon fiber, while others have heaters and batteries already installed. Some have hike & ride features while others are made to be molded on specific vacuum machines.  The more expensive boots would offer lighter weight material, and more formed liners – but again, the most expensive boot may not be the boot for your foot & needs. 

 Boots are the physical link from the body to the ski and the finer points of contact through the foot bed and liner allow for the finesse and performance of the skier to shine. Taking the time to talk and work with a boot fitter will pay dividends to you skiing pleasure and your holiday experience.