In this article we want to help you become more informed about what you should be looking for when you are shopping for a ski boot, to help you sort through the flashy marketing slogans to find the important features that will make a difference for you. Read on to get you started on your epic boot buying journey. If you're ready to hear about what we thought about the boots we tested, check out our full Women's Boot Review.
Types of Ski Boots
The first task is sorting out what kind of skiing you will be doing. Are you going to be jibbing at the park all day, or just cruising down the corduroy? Do you want a boot that is lightweight with a walk mode for side-country skiing, or are you an aspiring racer? Here is a break-down of some of the different types of boots on the market.
Alpine Touring Boots
This category of boots is specifically for people who want to get out into the backcountry, climbing up and skiing down mountains on an alpine touring setup. These boots are meant to be lightweight and have very flexible walk modes. Often performance takes a back seat with these boots because they have been stripped-down for greater mobility and weight savings. There are sub-categories of boots within the alpine touring category, including randonee racing and ski mountaineering styles. We did not test any alpine touring boots in this review.
This category has many sub-categories but they are all meant for going exclusively downhill on lift-accessed ski resorts. There are three main categories that all manufacturers have some incarnation of: race, all-mountain, and freestyle. Race boots are specifically designed for performance. They are stiffer, have an aggressive forward stance, and have a narrower fit for extreme responsiveness. They are not meant for all day cruising on the mountain.
All-mountain boots, however, are meant for the average all-day downhill skier. All of the boots we tested in our women's review fall into this category. These boots are for anyone from beginner to expert ability and of all ages and foot types. There are boots that lean more towards the race spectrum, like the Lange RX 110 - Women's and boots that have features meant to make them better for side-country" adventures, such as the Dalbello Kyra 95 ID that include a walk mode.
If you are more interested in skiing in the park all day, hucking your meat off of big jumps or sliding rails, you should look into freestyle boots. These boots often have cabrio construction and extra features for shock absorption. Manufacturers have categories like freeride or big mountain for boots with specialty sport specific features.
Sizing and Fitting Boots for Skiing
Fit is arguably the most important factor when deciding on a boot for skiing. If your boots don't fit properly, then they won't perform properly — and you won't want to have them on your feet for long. Depending on your level of ability and what type of terrain you ski, you may want a more relaxed, all-day cruiser fit, or a more snug, aggressive, performance-oriented fit. Below we address some things to consider when fitting your all-mountain boots.
Mondo Point System
Ski boot sizing is measured on the mondo point scale. Basically, mondo point is the length of your foot in centimeters. If your foot is 24.5 cms long, your mondo size is probably 24.5. Shops and boot fitters use a Brannock device to measure your feet accurately. If at home, you can also trace your foot on a piece of cardboard, keeping the pen vertical against your foot to leave a slight border. Then, measure the length from the heel to the longest part of your foot and round off to the nearest half centimeter. If you are an advanced to expert skier you may want to size down for a performance fit. Most manufacturers make their boots available in half sizes like 27.5 and 28.5. If you fall in between these sizes, remember that it is much easier to make your boot bigger than smaller - it is easy to make modifications to your liner to accommodate your foot, so rounding down is recommended.
The widest part of your foot (the forefoot) is also important to determine. Ski boots generally come in narrow or (low volume), medium, and wide lasts. Narrow last boots are typically 97-98 mm, medium are usually 100 mm, and wide range anywhere from 102-106 mm. We found in our testing that this number is somewhat arbitrary, because some boots that claimed to have a narrow last felt wide and sloppy. These last numbers are generally a representation of the volume of the boot around the ankle and forefoot as well — but not always. Manufacturers do not quantify the volume of their boots, so you can use the last width as a general guide — but the best thing to do if you're not sure about the volume of a boot is to try it on.
Now is the time to realistically assess your skiing ability. The flex rating of a boot indicates how hard it is to push the front of the boot forward, and is usually an indication of how advanced or aggressive a skier is. Flex ratings range anywhere from 30 to 130, though unfortunately these numbers are not standardized across the market, and can vary by brand. If you choose a boot that is the right stiffness for you, you will have lots of fun on the slopes, instead of battling with your boots all day.
Beginners should choose a softer flex boot that will be more forgiving when they make errors, as well as more comfortable and easier to get on and off. Beginner boots' flex ratings range from 30-60. If you are an advanced skier or a little heavier, you may want to go with a boot that has a stiffer flex level and will be a little more responsive, anywhere from 70 to 110. Luckily, all the boots we tested come in a range of flexes for most abilities — although they probably start off at intermediate. Reference our chart below for a general gauge of your ability and where you might fall for stiffness.
Tips for Trying on Boots
Downhill boots are inherently difficult to get on. If you are a first-time buyer or are used to an alpine touring boot, do not be immediately discouraged if it feels like you can't get them on. It takes a bit of muscle to get your foot in there — open all the buckles - pull up on the tongue loop, and spread all the wraps of the plastic open — then shove your foot in there. Once the boot is on, tap your heel on the ground to move your foot to the back of the boot and secure your ankle into the heel pocket. Then buckle them up, starting with the lower cuff buckle to lock your heel down and doing up the power strap last.
Stand up — as counter-intuitive as this may seem - your toes should be touching the end of the boot. Once you lean forward and press your shins into the tongue, your feet should move back in the boot, pulling your toes slightly away from the front. It's ok for the toes to lightly brush the front, but they should not be pressing into it. You should also be noticing if your heels lift at all when you lean forward. Heel lift = bad performance. Your boot liners will pack out a little over time, but it is much more difficult to make them smaller. If your boots are too big already, you may need to size down or try a different style of boot.
Customizing Your Boots
We highly recommend working with a professional boot fitter when choosing or modifying your boots. Or if you order them online, go visit a boot fitter in your area to get your boots totally dialed in. As downhill skiing has become more popular to the general public, boots have become more adjustable and customizable. A professional boot fitter will know all the ins and outs of how to tweak them just right for you.
All of the boots in this review have heat-moldable liners. Some are made to provide a great fit right out of the box, and others may need a little more attention to fit your feet just right. We think heat molding capability is an essential feature to look for when buying a ski boot, it will help your boots be much more comfortable. There are a few aftermarket boot liners you can purchase for even more customization, such as SureFoot and Intuition liners.
It is now standard practice when working with a boot fitter to get a custom foot bed as well. Custom foot beds will change your boot for the better, providing more support and a snugger fit. They help with comfort, fit, and ultimately the performance of your boot. Manufacturers have started anticipating their customers buying aftermarket foot beds, and as a result, usually include flimsy place-saving foot beds that we don't recommend using.
Most boot shells have customizable features including different grommets to adjust the position of buckles, adjustable boot boards to change your ramp angle, and flex level adjustments for different skier abilities. If you have strangely shaped feet that are extra wide or have any type of bone spurs or other issues, a trained boot fitter may be able to "punch" out your boot's shells in problem areas. Some boots, like the Salomon X-Pro 90s and the Dalbello Kyra ID 95s already articulate problem areas like the navicular and ankle bones to save you a step at the boot fitters.
Other features that can come in handy to enhance comfort, fit, and performance include ways to tweak the fit of your boot such as micro-adjustable buckles and flex rating adjustment. Ski/hike modes also come in handy for those long walks across the parking lot, but don't forget to get back into ski mode before you start heading down! Cuff and spoiler adjustments can change the forward lean of your boot, making it more or less aggressive. Some boots also come with cuff alignment or "canting" adjustments meant to correct for either knock-kneed or bow-legged individuals. These are best tweaked by boot fitters for the most accurate adjustments. For a more beginner boot, the number of buckles and cuff height may be less and shorter. Less buckles generally equal less stiffness and more comfort, which is more conducive to learning.