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Picking Ski Boots

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Ski Boots

Any skier worth their salt will tell you that a good fitting pair of boots is the absolute most essential piece of gear that money can buy. Both the performance and the comfort gained from a good pair of boots greatly offsets their cost.

Every foot is different. When you see a review raving about a certain boot, keep in mind that it isn't the technology that makes the boot, it's the fit. So when looking into a boot, be mindful of past problem areas. While it's definitely beneficial to try boots on in a shop, most online retailers have very generous return policies that take most of the risk out of buying online. Also, keep in mind that wearing a boot in a shop for 15-30 minutes doesn't guarantee a good fit either. After buying a new pair of boots, wear them around the house (on carpet, so you don't scuff them or wear the soles) over a weekend, watch a movie in them, or anything to get a good idea as to whether or not they'll be right for you.
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How Boots Should Fit
1) First of all, when you put them on, they should immediately feel too small. Your big toe should be hitting the end of the boot. When you buckle up the cuff of the boot, it should pull your foot slightly towards the back of the boot, which gives you a little bit more room, but your toe should still touch the front of the boot.

2) The next thing you need to do, is get into a skiing stance. Your knees should be slightly bent and your weight should rest on the front leg of the boot. You should feel your toes move slightly back from the front of the boot without too much slop (meaning you shouldn't be able to spread your toes out).

3) Now check for pressure points. Concentrate on the areas around the cuff, the front of your shin, around the ball of your foot, over your arch, and around your heel and ankle. All of these can be problem areas (and yes, that list does include most of your foot).

4) Check the rear of the boot for heel lift. You want to make sure that your foot isn't moving up or down too much inside your boot.

5) I would recommend buying your boots a couple weeks before your big trip, that way you can wear them around your house (try to stay on carpet so that you don't make wear marks on the soles of your boots) for a day or so. Give yourself enough time to figure out if they'll work for you (I recommend watching a movie in them). If a problem presents itself that wasn't noticeable at the store, then you still have a chance to return the boots.

6) Some boots have a heat molding foam inside them. This allows boots to form to your foot for a more "custom" fit. Heat mold them only after you have completed the above steps. Some shops won't take back a pair of boots that have already been heat molded (and for good reason, I wouldn't want a pair of boots molded to someone else's feet). This process is not a silver bullet for boot fitting. In fact, many people can't tell the difference between a heat molded boot and a non heat molded boot. This should only be used as a quick break in for your boots. You can get your boots about 80% broken in with these systems before you actually get onto the slopes (this is good news for flatlanders where it might take two or more vacations for them to get their boots broken in).

Factors to Consider When Buying a Boot
With that note about gimmicks, it's important to note that there are some things that definitely make some boots better then others.
Some boots are designed to flex more than others. Generally, a stiffer boot is preferred for stronger skiers because it helps them transfer energy to their skis more efficiently. Softer flexing boots are preferred by people learning how to ski because the boots are more forgiving. To see more info on boot flex see Ski Boot Flex.

Make sure to look at the hardware on the boot. Better boots have adjustable, metal hardware for buckles, whereas cheaper boots tend to have plastic buckles.

Shell Material
There are two types of materials a boot can be made from: polyolefine and polyether. It's easy to tell the difference between the two materials. You can see through polyether (it's slightly transparent) and polyefine is always opaque.

Polyolefine is a lighter material that is typically used in cheaper boots. Because of its light weight, it is not as stiff as polyether.

Polyether is heavier, denser, and is less brittle when it gets colder. Polyether also generally lasts longer.

Last, and probably the least noticed, is adjustability. Better boots have more adjustability than lesser models. Ideally, when you flex down on your boot, your knees should be centered over the boot. The top cuff's angle can sometimes be adjusted to lean to one side or the other (this is called "canting"). You can use a plumb bob to make sure your knees are centered up on your boots.

Watch out For Gimmicks
Every boot designer comes out with all kinds of technology to shock and awe prospective buyers, including everything from Recco Reflectors to integrated boot heaters. Don't be fooled, these products are cool, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to fit. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't use integrated boot heaters as a reason to not pick a boot, it's just that personalized fit trumps other technology every time.

As a ski boot salesman, my first line of defense is a heel lift. This can solve many seemingly unrelated problems. For example, if the top of the cuff is pinching the wearer's calf too much, often a heel lift can raise their leg up just enough to fit at a narrower part of the leg.

Another popular trick is the addition of an arch support. As people grow older, their feet tend to flatten and spread out. This can lead to an increase in pressure on the sides of the boot around the ball of the foot. Sometimes by adding an arch support, it is able to support their foot in a more natural position and alleviate the pressure from the sides of their boots.

If All Else Fails... Shell Fitting
Some people have feet that are so "unique" that they need the shell of their boots to be specially fitted. For example, I have strange calcium deposits near my ankles that make it very uncomfortable to ski, so I had to get my boots adjusted. Be careful and make sure you go to a reputable shop if you want consider this. There are only a handful of ski shops that are able to do this well.
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