The seven most common mistakes skiers make when buying new boots
For some skiers, buying new ski boots is a cherished, annual rite of fall. For others, it’s something to postpone for as long as possible. To complicate matters, we now have the greatest selection of ski boots in history to choose from. Should we buy racing or all mountain, freeride or freestyle boots? Should they be conventional two-piece overlaps or three-piece models with external tongues? Does anyone still make rear-entry?
Mistake No. 1: Not investing in a good boot fitter
Buying ski boots is easy. Pick a make and model. Hand over your money. Bear the consequences. Or, you can invest in a good boot fitter. Choosing the latter buys you a wealth of expert advice, a lifetime of personalized service, a trusted, spare parts and maintenance resource and boots that fit, feel and ski as they should. That’s quite a bargain.
You can usually find a good fitter through your coach, trainer, instructor or other skiers whose opinions you value. You’ll know you’ve struck pay dirt when the fitter starts by asking you questions: May I see your old boots? Why are you replacing them? What do you like or dislike about them? What kind of skier are you? Where do you usually ski? How often do you ski? Do you ski all day or mostly half days? They’ll keep asking you questions as they examine your stance, measure your feet (length, width, instep and arches) and whittle down their staggering in-store selection to just one or two ski boots.
A good boot fitter will then tell you how the boot should feel when you first put it on. Your foot should feel snug, like it’s being squeezed. The boot should feel a little short and tight. That’s normal. The liners will start packing down the minute you start skiing in them. The expert and racing boots usually have the thinnest, firmest liners that also pack down the slowest and the least. As a general rule, they demand shorter boots with a tighter, snugger fit. If the boots feel perfectly comfortable in the shop, with ample room to wiggle your toes, it means they’re way too big. (See Mistake No. 3)
Mistake No. 2: Buying boots that are too big
Industry experts estimate that over 75% of Alpine skiers buy ski boots that are between one and two full sizes too big for their feet. Too big, too wide or too loose boots compromise whatever control we may have over our skis. For novices and beginners, they can make skiing feel like driving a tractor-trailer with bald tires and no power steering. For intermediates and advanced skiers, oversized boots can lead to pressure points, cold feet, skier’s toe, shin bang, and the loss of pleasure, or even interest, in skiing. Not to mention the added cost of having to replace otherwise great boots.
If you must err on size, buy a boot that’s a bit small. A good boot fitter can stretch, grind, punch or otherwise enlarge a good quality boot by up to one full size. It’s almost impossible to make an oversized ski boot smaller.
Mistake No. 3: Buying the wrong last or width
In ski boots, ‘last size’ refers to the boots’ width at its widest point, the forefoot or ball of your foot. Until recently, high-performance and racing boots had narrow (95 – 98mm) lasts, while beginner and intermediate boots typically had wide (102 -106mm) lasts. As a result, expert skiers with wide feet had to buy boots that were too big in order to accommodate their wide feet.
Manufacturers now build high-performance and racing boots in a variety of lasts (93 to 105mm) and some custom boot makers offer models that are even wider. A good boot fitter will ensure the boots’ last size matches the width of your foot. Going up a size is no solution. Getting the right last size is.
Mistake No. 4: Buying the wrong flex of ski boot…
In the past, skiers with narrow feet often ended up in soft, oversized boots or stiff, narrow racing boots regardless of their skiing ability. Once again, manufacturers responded by offering boots in a variety of flexes (usually from 90 to 150), the higher the number, the stiffer the boot. Like shoe sizes, flex numbers or indices vary from manufacturer to manufacturer.
A good boot fitter will match the boots’ flex to your size, weight, ability and skiing style. As a general rule, heavier, stronger speedsters need stiffer, beefier boots.
Mistake No. 5: Keeping up appearances…
Today, ski boots come in so many different styles, shapes and colours it’s easy to find one you’ll like. But if they don’t fit your feet, needs, ability or budget they’re not for you. That said, many men and women buy boots that match their skis or ski outfits, regardless of how they actually fit.
If matching is a must, then start with properly fitted boots and go from there.
Mistake Number 6: My friend, spouse, whatever swears by their…
Just because so-and-so swears by their SPYZ 297s, that doesn’t mean they’re right for you. Good ski shops carry a variety of brands. Each brand has its own fit, lasts, flexes and characteristics. Today, it’s safe to say that they’re all good. Trust the boot fitter, not your friends, to find the best make and model for you.
Mistake Number 7: Stretching the truth...
In skiing two things never lie. The tracks our skis make in the snow. The signs the snow leaves on our skis. Just because you ski a run marked ‘expert’ doesn’t mean you’re an expert. Honestly is always the best policy. The last thing a good boot fitter wants is to sell you the wrong boots.
Special thanks to Marc-André Fournier of UBAC Ski Vélo in Bromont, Québec for his invaluable assistance in compiling this article. – df