Ski boot designs have stabilized somewhat for the present; improved biomechanical attributes have been well noted, as have current anatomical contouring in the shell molds. There is room for improvement in liner construction in general though there are really good after market alternatives.
The bottom line is that above a certain price point all boots are good.
The distinction between ski boots at each level is sometimes subtle and sometimes not. Some differences are obvious; width and internal volume for instance. The subtleties within a given class of boots generally won’t be noticeable until the boot’s been skied.
Manufacturers are helping some by providing boot widths and flexes. Though there are problems with that (see the next paragraph), it does provide guidance at the beginning of the boot buying process.
There is a need to address a couple things here; the width measurements and flex ratings given to ski boots.
Ski and ski boot manufacturers have created an interesting new twist by assigning certain dimensions to products; waist widths for skis and forefoot width measurements for ski boots.
Ski widths have been around a while and have validity; they are measured across the waist (the narrowest section) of the ski. Length is generally measured from tip to tail. These calibrations are useful as a guide in determining the appropriate geometry once we’ve had a discussion with the skier.
Ski boot width dimensions are different and somewhat flawed. It’s really surprising how different 98mm or 100mm boots feel from one manufacturer to the next.
Where do the measurements come from? Are they taken from side to side with no regard for the anatomy of the feet (perpendicular to the longitudinal center line of the shell) or are they taken across the shell from where it is assumed the first and fifth metatarsals will lie in the boot?
Width tells only a small part of the story with ski boots.
Internal volume tells the greater part.
As an example: the Atomic BiTech series were 104mm wide. While that measurement was probably accurate, the internal volume wasn’t commensurate to what the width implied. The instep was low; the toe box was well shaped but had very little vertical space. The mid-foot was more plumb than many wide boots of that era-a good thing-and the heel cup was really good. Wide, low volume feet (contradictory? Not really) with a low instep, narrow heel…no problem. But a classic high volume foot wasn’t going to fit.
Because of the specific environment of ski boots and the nature of the sport, when speaking of ski boot fit we refer to soft tissue compression.
To exercise control over the skis, the ski boot must solidly and evenly contain the feet, no pressure points, circulation cutoff, pain, etc (we’ll assume there are good footbeds inside). There is ample latitude within this depending on individual physiology and biomechanics but the reality is feet cannot slop around in ski boots.
Everyone has different tolerances for soft tissue compression but unless the feet are properly contained in ski boots a litany of problems will arise.
For those coming in with their width measurements…stop it!
Flex ratings muddle up boot world. As a guide they have some use but for the most part they are all over the place-one boots’ 120 is another’s 100…or 130!
Ski boot flex is dependent on lots of things: the manufacturers notion of flex, shell construction and materials, cuff height, the interface between the cuff and lower shell, liner materials, ramp angle, forward lean, fixed cuff/hinged cuff and more. The skiers’ particulars play into the equation; weight, height, technical prowess, ski days, the list goes on.
A skier weighing 135 lbs and one at 210 are going to flex the same boot in the same size differently. This is to be expected. But logically a skier trying boots at a 120 flex from one manufacturer should be able to try boots at the same flex from other brands and experience similar sensations. Not the way it works-we now must know which is the stiffer or softer ski boot at a given flex. Rather absurd as numbers should represent the same thing throughout the industry.
The disparities in flex between manufacturers and at times even within a manufacturers’ line-up is startling.
There are abundant examples of flex ratings that seem to be arbitrary. There must be a method of standardization.
During the past couple of ski seasons many if not all ski boot manufacturers have introduced boot models with Walk/Ski devices. They often come with replaceable DIN soles that are interchangeable with hiking style soles and “Tech” soles that can be used with certain Alpine Touring bindings. For example-the Lange XT or Tecnica Cochise-both good ski boots.
These are not-I repeat, NOT-Alpine Touring boots. Anyone selling these boots as Alpine Touring boots are wrong and doing the skiing public and the industry in general a disservice.
It is difficult at best to reconcile the differences between Alpine Touring and Alpine skiing.
For Alpine Touring the feet need to function in more of a gait cycle much as they would in a stiff soled hiking boot. Thus an AT boot must be less restrictive in holding the feet to allow a certain range of motion internally for climbing. Touring boots will always be a compromise when asked to perform as an alpine ski boot.
For Alpine skiing the feet must be supported and stabilized in what amounts to a static position inside the ski boots. Any undue motion inside an alpine ski boot translates into problems both in fit and performance.
Alpine ski boots are not designed to allow the feet to function in any way resembling a gait cycle.
“Front country” bindings have become widespread: alpine bindings with an apparatus so the heel can lift off of the ski surface, hinging at the toe. They are alpine bindings with the appropriate release/retention values needed for that discipline. They are rigidly connected toe-to-heel and typically they are heavier than a true AT binding. These are good for short distance hiking in your alpine ski boots however they are not true AT bindings.
The ski industry and the skiing public have embraced them so boot makers have entered the skirmish with these types of ski boots, but even they are careful not to call these boots “Alpine touring”.
Front country (“side country” from one manufacturer-probably more accurate) is accepted as hiking short distances from lift service to an in-bounds run or taking off from the lift to a local stash close to but outside an area boundary.
True alpine touring setups are meant for multi-day backcountry trips. Weight is a premium-everything put into the pack has a purpose and is as light as it can be. The same applies for skis and bindings and, yes, the boots.
The requirements between the two are quite different. If you are looking for a real AT setup the best bet is to get with a store devoted to that.
THE DEMO THING
All the ski boots on our display wall are available for you to Try Before You Buy. We carry a broad selection of ski boots for all levels of skier in different widths, flexes and styles.
Except for on-sale boots from last ski season or before (you may demo a pair of those also) all demo boots are new every ski season.
Trying Demo boots gives you the best opportunity to find boots to fit your feet and provide the skiing characteristics you want. You can ski on your own skis at your own pace on the terrain you like. There is no better way to help you make a crucial decision.
If necessary we can make alterations to demo boots to ensure that you have the best shot at really putting it through its paces.
There is a pair of Superfeet Trim-to-Fit footbeds in all of our demo boots. The stability provided by proper underfoot support provides assurance that the demo experience will give you the most accurate feedback.
Footloose has always been allied with Superfeet. The founder of Footloose was one of three founders of Superfeet.
Footloose was founded by Sven Coomer to explore the viability of orthoses in ski boots.
The first product offered by Superfeet was called the Insta-Ski-Thotic. This was one of the first custom footbeds that offered real solutions to problems endemic to all levels of skiers and established a practical, relatively inexpensive (to prescription devices-all that was available at the time), timely and durable device that would fit into any ski boot.
The Insta-Ski-Thotic has become the Kork and is the best ski specific footbed on the planet. They take 45 minutes to build, fit any ski boot and will outlast a couple pair. The Superfeet Kork is one of the best investments you will make in skiing.
Along with growing Superfeet, Sven created Footloose in order to promulgate the teaching of biomechanics and biophysics, the foundation of bootfitting.
Underfoot support is the key to comfortable ski boots. An inordinate number of common fitting problems simply don’t occur with properly made biomechanically sound custom insoles. It is worth getting a pair of Superfeet Korks before demoing ski boots-they fit into any ski boot and once installed you won’t have to deal with a majority of fit issues (is-shoes)
Superfeet makes insoles for all walks of life…good stuff!
ABOUT TESTING SKI BOOTS
We test ski boots not to find which is better but rather what differences there are.
We test boots in all the terrain and snow conditions Mammoth Mountain has to offer. We ski the boots for more than one or two runs and as much as possible on several ski widths.
We compare boots in their own category; race with race, high performance with high performance, etc.
There are no professional skiers testing boots for Footloose-experienced certainly and perhaps because of that and being in the business…semi-pro). In actuality there is one dedicated skier guy (occasionally joined by one other dedicated skier guy and a dedicated skier woman) whose feet fit into darn near anything and will use any excuse to go skiing. We don’t even call it skiing-it’s either slope evaluation or equipment evaluation-serious business!