Alpine Ski Boot Fitting Guide
Boot fitting…few unregulated institutions inspire more fear, anxiety, and confusion. How long have you been rocking those duct-taped plastic coffins? Too afraid of the dreaded new-boot torture process to look into some new brick slippers? We understand, and we’re here to help. Finding the right boot is similar to choosing a significant other—long-term commitment, complete trust, and learning all the secrets are a must. Check out our ski boot fitting guide, look for a foot profile that matches your own, and shop with the confidence of a golden-parachute-equipped tycoon.
Proper fit in a ski boot is crucial. To control the long, heavy sticks under your feet, you need the strength of your upper legs and motion control far more precise than any street shoe can provide. Boots are the key to great skiing, and should fit you like an extension of your bone structure—as close to your foot and leg as you can manage. That doesn’t mean you should be in pain, but ask any ski racer and they will tell you: tighter is better. You might be thinking ‘but I’m never going to race in my boots.’ Well, we know that. Want to cruise groomers in your Bogner one-piece before you hit the hot tub at 2pm? This ain’t your guide. This guide is geared toward demanding freeride and freestyle skiers like ourselves, who normally go to a shop to get fitted but want to learn the secrets of professional bootfitters.
When you first fit a boot, take out the liners and put in your own insoles or footbeds (more on this in the Tips section) by themselves. Put your larger foot in the appropriate shell so your toes barely touch the front, and lean forward as shown in the picture. Stick a capped Hi-Liter (or your finger) down the back of each calf to your heel. If you can rattle it around, that’s a ‘performance fit.’ If it fits but you can barely rattle it, that’s a ‘high-performance/race fit.’ If you can’t even get it down there, that is called ‘too small’—but you probably can’t get your foot in there to begin with. Any more room than about two fingers/Hi-Liters and you are sacrificing response. The reasoning behind shell fitting is simple: the shell drives the ski, while the liner (no matter what kind) packs out over time.
Standing in your ski stance in both boots, and using a mirror (or a friend), examine how your calf lines up in the cuff. Ideally, in a neutral stance, it should be equidistant from both sides. Most high-performance boots have ‘canting adjustments’ (upper cuff alignment) on the sides to take care of knock knees or bowed legs and forward lean angle adjustments to put you further out front, and some have grindable boot boards to change your ramp angle or add more room in the heel. Properly adjusted, with the liners in the boots, your soles should be flat on the ground.
Once you’ve dialed the shell fit and the cuff adjustment, spend some QT in your boots to get a feel for any other sizing inconsistencies or hot spots. Buckle into your boots and spend some time (at least ten minutes) in a proper stance to get a real feel for how the boots will fit. This will indicate whether or not you need to take some more fitting measures.
Almost any high-performance boot can be made bigger through punching (heating with a heat gun and pressing out from inside) or grinding (removing actual shell material from the inside with a Dremel or similar tool), and made softer by removing bolts or cutting the shell, but you can’t make a boot smaller or stiffer without detracting from performance. Spend time on improving your boots’ fit, and the reward will be better, more comfortable skiing for years to come. Many liners are heat moldable and offer a somewhat custom fit, but the fact is, all liners will pack out after a season or so, leaving you with the shell you bought (remember shell fitting?). A boot shell that fits properly will last far longer than the liner, so consider purchasing an aftermarket liner when your stock liner packs out.
Footbeds, orthotics, insoles…whatever you want to call them, they are one of the most crucial aspects of boot fitting and they can make a huge difference in your skiing. When your foot bones are properly aligned and supported by a footbed, your edging, balance, and comfort level will improve dramatically. Whether you have custom footbeds made, or you just buy an inexpensive aftermarket insole like Superfeet or Yaktrax, you should absolutely replace the ones that came in the boot. Most boot insoles are intentionally cheap and flimsy, because manufacturers actually expect them to be thrown out. We recommend starting with an aftermarket insole and moving to a heat-molded or full-custom footbed as your skiing improves. You’ll thank us.