Ski Boot Fitting: What to Expect
I am beyond excited about the fact that Adam and I just booked a ski trip to Zell am See, Austria. It's been a few years for me but I already can't wait to get back into skiing. The best part: it's already dumping snow in the Alps. Fingers crossed the trend will continue into the new year!
I did have a tiny problem: all of my equipment is locked away safe and sound in storage in Germany. I have come to appreciate good gear enough to not just rent it all so I narrowed down my list of priorities to the few things that I absolutely wanted to invest in. At the top of my list was ski boots. Getting fitted for ones specifically.
After a brief google search, we discovered the best local ski shop who specialise in top-quality boot fitting and customisation. We took the car and drove to Snowtrax in Hurn, near Christchurch in Dorset. It's a great shop with a good range of stock and some very knowledgeable staff.
I've never been fitted for ski boots before, let alone invested in custom moulded insoles. But, because I had the best experience, I really wanted to share it with you!
First Things First: My Profile
Before trying out boots we went through a few simple questions: How experienced am I? What are my ambitions? What boots did I previously ski in?
When you're starting out, getting an idea of the kind of skiing you're planning to do is very important. Unless you're looking to specialise in your skiing, consider a general purpose boot which will work for everything you want to do. I looked at boots which will allow me to enjoy myself on the piste, but will also let me perform to a higher level without having to replace them too soon!
I consider myself an intermediate skier comfortable on all pistes but a bit out of practice. Longer term and with more experience, I may want to explore the backcountry a bit, so it would be great if the boots I chose would get me there too.
The next thing to do was to figure out my size. This is the same procedure as you would go through if you were getting fitted for shoes or walking boots for example. I fit a size 25.5 with a slightly longer left foot and fairly wide feet as soon as I put pressure on them. I appreciate good heel support in any boot and a bit of arch support as well.
Boot Fitting: The Basics
While I slipped into a pair of merino wool ski socks (a good store should be able to lend you some) my boot fitter went off to collect a few pairs that he thought might work for me.
In general, there are two things to consider:
- Flex Index: Your flex index is a number indicating how much flex a boot has. In general, a higher flex boot will be stiffer but also more responsive. As a beginner you are looking at a soft and forgiving boot (60 or 70 for women is a good starting point), intermediate skiers can consider something in the range of 80 to 100 (for women, a bit more for men) and if you are more advanced you might even want to go higher than this to have even greater responsiveness. The flex index is usually printed onto the shell of your boot.
- Last: This value is essentially describing the width of your boot. It's based around the pretend foot that's used when the boot is being designed. I suggest you don't worry about this for now, as it will quickly become clear when you start trying on boots.
The boots I tried included a pair of Salomon ones, some from Rossignol and a couple of pairs of Lange ones. Each manufacturer will have different priorities but your fitter should be able to talk you through the key differences. I learned, for example, that the insoles in Salomon boots are basically meant to be replaced by custom ones while the Lange insoles are slightly more moulded out of the box.
First, we would remove the liners and I would slide my foot into the shell to figure out how much room the boot had in general. This step is important as it is usually not very adjustable. The liner, on the other hand, could get moulded or shaped to fit you better.
The next step was to put the boot on properly. After sliding into the boot you will adjust the buckles. I learned not to tighten the buckles over my foot too tight to ensure I would not press my arches down flat but instead focus on tightening the collar around my calf.
Next, you will be standing up straight. In this position, your toes can just touch the end of the liners and the fit should be snug. If you now lean forwards a bit from the ankles and flex your knees, your foot should slide backwards - giving you a bit of room in the toe box. Again, a tighter fit will be more responsive but it should never be painful.
Let your boot fitter know how the ski boots fit. Mine, for example, suggested using thicker insoles in a roomier boot and mentioned that we could glue foam wedges into the boot for increased ankle support should the rest fit perfectly.
The Nitty Gritty: Customisation
In the end, I had narrowed it down to two just the two pairs of Lange boots. One of them - the RX 90 - was nice and snug all over but offered fewer features that would take me off piste. The other - the XC 90 - had slightly more wiggle room in the front but did fit well throughout. At this point, it came down to personal preference.
I waited to make my final choice after getting my custom insoles but leant towards the XC 90 for a few reasons:
- the larger toe box would be more comfortable to hike in while not compromising downhill comfort
- I could adjust this further with my insoles
- these boots are easier to put on due to the larger buckles
- they included a hike mode - not a must but a nice to have
- the colour: I simply preferred the white and pink over the black and pink colour scheme
Custom Moulded Insoles
There are a few degrees of personalisation: from getting Superfeet insoles or Sidas ones to shaping the entire liner. If you can afford it, custom insoles are an essential while custom moulded liners (usually depending on the boot manufacturer) are more of a luxury feature. I've had good experiences with Superfeet in general so decided to opt for these.
I had a choice between warmer merino wool insoles and more moldable EVOLyte ones. I decided to go for the EVOLyte, as I figured more moulding would get me further (and I don't tend to get cold feet when skiing).
The moulding of the insoles was probably the most fun part of the whole fitting experience. The idea is that a warm insole is vacuum-shaped to your foot in a neutral position. To achieve this neutral position you sit down and place your outstretched leg on a little foam rest in front of you. There is a laser light above the foot rest which points across your second toe and straight to your knee - this is the neutral position.
In the meantime, the carbon blend cups which sit below the insole are heated up in a raclette-like grill. After a few minutes, when the glue on top of the warmed cups is melted, they are stuck under the insoles. The insole gets strapped onto your foot, then stuck into a plastic bag. This bag, in turn, is strapped around your leg. Also in the bag goes a hose which sucks out the air to create a vacuum. This way, the sole is moulded. Not to worry, though, the heat never touches your feet! I joked that this is quite an outdoorsy kind of pedicure.
After another few minutes, all that is left is for the insoles to cool down and to be cut to size. You can then give your boots another try. One great thing about going with Superfeet is their 60-day warranty, even on moulded products. If you are not happy just bring them back! Mine have already made my boots that extra bit more comfortable.
Finally, my boot fitter recommended I "break in" my boots by warming up the liners before putting them on for a few more minutes. This is done by heating the liner up in an oven, then putting them back into the shells, putting the boots on and then tightening them up and allowing them to cool again. This will have the effect of a few days of skiing - similarly to wearing new leather shoes for a few days. Now I really am ready!
Fine-Tuning Your Fit
Boots have got a few ways of adjusting them to fit and work well for you. One simple way is the fine-tuning of the buckles, where you simply rotate them to add or subtract a millimetre or two of length with each rotation. In this way, you can get the tightness of the boot absolutely perfect for you. The buckle tightening hooks can sometimes be moved on the shell, meaning you can make the boots tighter (or looser) than they can be tightened out of the box.
Another adjustment is the canting, which is controlled by the circular bolt on the outside of the ankle of most boots. Canting is the amount of left-right lean that the boots have, and really can make all the difference to your comfort and performance in the boot. Getting this right is important, but if you get it wrong it can lead to pain and even injury. It's highly recommended that you don't adjust this too much yourself, unless you're really confident that you're going to get it right. If in doubt, talk to a professional!
My Personal Set Up
The boots I ended up settling on are the 2017 Lange XC 90 W which have a last of 102. My boots are a size 25.5 and the insoles that fit this size are the Superfeet Custom CARBON winter ones in a size C. I plan on wearing Smartwool ski socks with them because I swear by the brand but I have yet to pick some up.
The Bottom Line
After going through it, I cannot recommend getting a boot fit highly enough. I am sure my legs and feet will thank me after a long day on the mountain. My local ski shop Snowtrax has a few different boot fitting options various price points. A general consultation should be free while the customizations might have a cost.
You should expect to get an expert opinion from your boot fitter without having to pay a hefty price tag. If you can, do invest in some custom insoles which you should even be able to use in various boots. Snowtrax included a free pair of socks in the service that I got.
I will now have to see how my boots perform on the mountain, but if you are confident that skiing is for you and you want to get yourself some gear do consider starting here. Consider doing it professionally - your feet will thank you!