Get the perfect fit, stay on the slopes longer with the latest ski boot features
VAIL — You hear it all the time in the snowsports world — “Ski boots are supposed to be uncomfortable.”
“If they don’t hurt, they don’t fit.”
“I switched to snowboarding because the boots are so much more comfortable.”
OK, we’re not arguing with the last one, but with the latest innovations, and maybe more importantly, with ski boot manufacturers looking to sell to a broader audience, there are plenty of ways to make your ski boots work better for your needs.
Among the biggest changes in the boot industry is the surge in alpine touring. Increasingly, customers are looking to get into the backcountry or “sidecountry,” and they need lighter, more flexible boots to do so. As a result, manufacturers have created lighter, yet still stiff, materials and features that allow more movement.
In general, ski boots have become much more user-friendly, too, said Russ Shay, owner of Surefoot.
“Older boots used to have a very ramped angle so that your weight was forward to initiate turns on the ski,” he said. “With the introduction of shaped skis that do so much of the work for you, you no longer need that extreme angle. Now, we’re seeing much more relaxed angles, which are much more comfortable to ski and walk around in.”
We chatted with some Vail boot experts about the latest and greatest in ski boots, and they suggested some features to look for that could turn your ski day from painful to epic.
Anatomically correct boots
“Ski boots used to be a standard shape,” said Otto Andl, owner of The Boot Lab in Lionshead. “A number of companies now make boots that aim to look more like feet in the way they’re shaped. The key is to find a boot that’s shaped as closely to your foot as possible.”
Many boots will now have bump outs for the ankles, or soft areas inside the boot to accommodate for common hotspots.
Andl said not to worry as much about the brand when choosing a boot, as most manufacturers make comparable products. Instead, try on a variety until you find a boot that matches your foot.
For all shapes and sizes
Got narrow heels? Or big ol’ clown feet? Ski boot shopping used to be a nightmare for nontraditional foot types, but as of the past five years, skiers have been able to shop for boots that match their foot width.
“About 10 years ago, you had two choices as far as fit — you got a super narrow race boot, or the wider option. Now, they’re making widths for every type of foot,” Shay said. “That alone could turn someone who might ski only five times a year into someone who skis 10 to 15 times.”
The Atomic LiveShot even goes as far as replacing parts of the plastic shell with rubber where the big and little toe mounds might stick out (typically the widest part of the foot). The adjustment is designed to accommodate wide feet.
Got wider calves? Not a problem — some boots also now come with an adjustable cuff.
“Everything is adjustable these days,” Andl said.
Walk mode — or a feature on the back heel of the boot that enables the boot to bend when turned on — has been around for decades. However, it used to be found almost solely on beginner boots, as the bending mechanism compromised the stiffness of higher performance boots.
These days, especially with the popularity of alpine touring, walk modes are standard and don’t compromise stiffness.
“Even if you’re not going into the backcountry, it’s useful for walking around in the snow, to the lift line or even on cobbled streets,” Andl said.
Replaceable toes and heels
The rubber soles of ski boots used to be welded to the body of the boot and were not much more than smooth plastic. Now, the toes and heels of the soles are removable, replaceable and offer some tread, especially on alpine touring options.
“You don’t have to worry about falling on the way to and from the lifts,” Shay said. “I think that combined with softer boot materials that allow you to put on and take off the boots more easily, these are especially important features for older skiers.”
Terribly cold feet are among the top complaints when it comes to ski boots, and boot heater technology is improving to meet those needs. They’re pricey, ranging from a couple hundred to $450, but can make an enormous difference in cold conditions.
Shay sells several options at Surefoot, but some of the newer options include compact, ever-smaller battery packs (by Sidas), remote-controlled heaters (by Thermic) and even socks with built-in heaters. The downside to the sock heaters are that you have to buy another pair of specialized socks if you ski more than a day in a row.
Boot stores also offer an array of custom fitting options, all slightly different depending on the shop. You’ll find options that range from custom insoles to heat-molded liners to foam-injected liners made just for your foot.
At Surefoot, fitters use a number of computerized measurements to find your fit, and the staff uses different foams to create a molded liner in the store that they claim will pack out minimally.
“I like to say, ‘I bring the factory to you,’” Shay said.
At The Boot Lab, they specialize in custom insoles and heat-molded liners, and most places will grind out parts of the boot that are causing pain or hotspots.
“No matter what, ski boots will always be the most important piece of your equipment. You can have the best and greatest skis on the market, but they’re useless if you don’t have boots that fit,” Andl said.
Assistant Managing Editor Melanie Wong can be reached at 970-748-2927 or at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @mwongvail.