Despite the huge range of ski boot brands, models and sizes, buying ski boots – whether online or in Sierra Snowboard & Ski’s retail store – does not need to be complicated.
In this article, we’ll run you through everything you need to know to ensure you get ski boots that fit properly and perform as desired on the hill.
Finding ski boots that fit your feet properly is probably the single most important step you can take to make sure your time on skis is enjoyable. Poor-fitting boots cause foot pain, fatigue and poor performance, so make sure you find a pair of boots that fits.
Start by printing out the correct foot sizing chart (PDF) here:
Then measure the length of BOTH of your feet accurately. (Click here for a video detailing the measuring proceedure.) Measure both because many people have one foot that is slightly larger than the other – and you’ll want to purchase boots based on the larger foot, or else you’re going to be in some pain on the mountain.
DON’T just go by your shoe size! Ski boots are meant to fit more snugly than street shoes, thus most people need a smaller-sized ski boot – typically from a half to a full size smaller – than street shoe.
Once you’ve measured your feet, you’ll want to use the sizing chart to convert your true foot size to centimeters, which is the metric-based measurement system that ski boot manufacturers use when building their boot shells.
Note: While you’ll see ski boot sizes advertised in whole and half centimeter sized increments (i.e. you might see a Salomon boot in size 27 and 27.5), this is really just a confusing ploy. So a size 27 boot is actually exactly the same as a size 27.5, and both are actually made for a foot that is 27.5 cm long.
Practically, this means that if your foot measures 27.75 cm, you will probably want to go up to the next size boot (i.e. 28.5), unless you’re looking for a true performance fit.
Performance vs. Comfort fit:
Skiers looking to get the maximum amount of performance out of their ski boots (aggressive freeriders, racers and carvers) will want a boot that fits as snugly as possible, without causing foot pain.
Recreational skiers who are not as concerned with high performance will still want a snug boot – a boot that’s too loose will allow the foot to move around, which can lead to bruised toes and foot fatigue – but won’t need as snug a boot as higher-performance skiers.
To truly get a good judgment of how a boot fits, professional boot fitters will pull the liner out of a boot and have the skier stick their foot in just the boot shell, with their toes just brushing the front of the boot, and then will measure the amount of space between the skier’s heel and the back of the boot shell.
One finger’s worth of space is generally defined as a performance fit, while two fingers’ worth of space (index and middle fingers stacked on top of each other) is regarded as a comfort/recreational fit. (Note: the loosest you’d ever want a boot is two fingers’ worth of space, with just a bit of added wiggle room.)
Putting the liner back in the boot and putting it on, both of these fits should feel snug; however, when the boot is flexed forward, the toes will be pulled backward and feel more comfortable.
Now that you can find the right length ski boot, it’s time to decide what kind of width or volume you are looking for.
Every ski boot manufacturer provides at least three different fits based on the level of performance a skier is looking for in his or her boots – aggressive/race, medium, and relaxed – corresponding to low-volume, medium volume, and larger volume last widths inside the boot. (Note: the last width is the width of the forefoot, measured in millimieters.)
Higher performance skiers will want to consider lower-volume fits, as this will allow for the greatest energy transfer between a skier’s foot and boot. However the width of a skier’s foot should also be taken into consideration, as stuffing an extremely wide foot into a race boot might lead to considerable foot pain.
For example: Salomon ski boots
Race boot = 95 mm forefoot
High performance = 97-98 mm forefoot
Performance comfort = 100 mm forefoot
Comfort fit = 102 mm forefoot
Extreme wide foot = 104 mm forefoot
*Note: The boot at right is the Salomon Impact 7, a performance comfort boot with a flex of 90 and a forefoot last of 100 mm.
All the other aspects of the boot’s fit follow suit with the forefoot last, so a wide last will also come with a wider heel, higher arch, etc.
Tip: Remember that with the aid of a professional boot fitter, ski boots can always be made bigger (stretched, ground out, etc.), but there is no way to make them smaller if you end up buying boots that are too big. So consider sizing down and having the boot customized for your foot, especially if you are looking for higher performance out of your ski boots.
Boot manufacturers will all tell you what the flex rating – a measure of stiffness, with higher numbers corresponding to stiffer boots – for each of their boots is. The problem is, when comparing different brands of boots, the flex ratings don’t necessarily match up perfectly.
Thus, one company’s 110 might be as stiff as another company’s 120. But, in general, they are usually within +/- 10 of each other.
Check out our flex chart below, and match up your skiing with the flex range specified:
60-90 flex rating = soft = beginner boots, general recreational skiers
90-110 flex rating = mid-flex = freeride and freestyle boots, as well as intermediate all-mountain boots.
110-130 flex rating = stiff = majority of freeride boots, aggressive all-mountain boots, stiffer freestyle boots, and recreational racing boots
130+ flex rating = extremely stiff = pure race boots
The main difference between men’s and women’s ski boots is women’s boots will have shorter cuffs (the part that wraps the ankle and lower leg) than men’s boots to accommodate women’s longer calves. This modification cuts down on the likelihood of the boot putting too much pressure on a woman’s calf muscle, which could cause significant pain over the course of a day on the slopes.
Also, women’s boots are generally a bit softer compared to men’s boots of similar ability level, because women are typically lighter.
At this point, you should have narrowed your choices down significantly to only those that will fit your feet and performance needs. Now, in making your final choice, is when you will want to consider other options that might make one boot more attractive than another.
These days, freeride boots are often made of Polyether (which usually has a more translucent appearance) instead of Polyurethane, because Polyether is a more springy, softer-flexing plastic which makes for a more lively boot.
Racers and aggressive carvers may still prefer the stiffer, more rigid Polyurethane boots because they will drive energy more directly into the ski.
Another new feature on many boots is rubber Vibram-like soles, which have long been used on Alpine Touring style boots for easier hiking/walking. All of these new AT-style boot soles (such as that on the Tecnica Agent AT ski boot at right) will dampen skiing performance a little bit; however, some companies are making fairly stiff rubber soles focused on downhill performance, whereas other companies are using softer rubber soles focused on hikability and uphill performance.
Finally, two companies – Full Tilt and Dalbello – are making three-piece boots (as opposed to traditional two-piece boot shells) which are based off the old Raichle Flexon boots of years past. Featuring a floating tongue designed to enable the boot to flex without bulging/distorting in the lower shell, three-piece Dalbello and Full Tilt boots have become popular with some freeriders and freestyle skiers who appreciate the progressive flex in variable terrain.
More traditional racers and carving skiers will probably still prefer the traditional two-piece boot design that all other brands offer.
While there's no substitute for actually trying on a pair of ski boots in our Sacramento store before deciding what to purchase, let's face it, sometimes it’s just easier to buy online and try them on (using these fitting tips) when they arrive at your door.
Shoppers with Sierra Snowboard & Ski can buy boots with confidence because we offer a no-hassle Return Policy*, a Price Match Guarantee, as well as Price Adjustments if an item goes on sale within 30 days of your original purchase.
So get started shopping now with Sierra Snowboard & Ski's selection of this season's top ski boots.
*Note: We cannot accept returns after boots have been used. So please try boots on at home on a carpeted surface to ensure a good fit before taking them to the hill.