For many of my years spent skiing (we don’t talk about that brief stint where I thought I was the best snowboarder on the mountain- it ended badly), I have been plagued with problems with my ski boots. Shin bang, numb toes, sodden socks and constantly fiddling with the straps still ruin my memories of beautiful blue skied powder days to this day. And every keen snowsports person will always tell you- the fit of your ski boots is absolutely crucial to your comfort and enjoyment on the mountain.
But the whole finding yourself a new pair of boots for the first time malarkey can be intimidating, right? And I sympathise, I truly do. All the jargon can be, at the lowest level, extremely overwhelming and then of course there’s the obvious worry of not knowing the right questions to ask, or the right answers to questions, or where to look! But fear not, my friends, for help (in the form of me) is here at hand!
Try before you buy
Ever heard of the saying ‘all the gear, but no idea?’
It’s quite tempting to buy all the equipment, gear, clothing and accessories before you head out for your first skiing/snowboarding trip, but professionals in the industry will advise you against doing this.
Consider it this way: if you’ve never tried something before or have only done it a few times, how do you know whether you prefer skiing park, powder or piste? How do you know what your stance is? How do you know if you’re not secretly a snowboarder deep down inside?
Find a trusted retailer (do NOT buy online if this is your first time)
Anyone who owns their own gear will stress this point. No matter how much research you do, or how many ‘pros’ you chat to (your mate's ex-seasonaire brother doesn’t count), or how many sick edits you can watch in one sitting - you are not better than the trained professional down at the store.
They are equipped with the latest cutting edge technology for fitting your boots (heat moulders, for example. Have you got a heat moulder? Thought not.), can tell from your gait, stance, and foot shape what kind of boot you’d be best suited for, and have stockrooms of the latest stuff on the market. Trust in them!
Boot sizing is weird
Ski boots are measured in the Mondopoint Sizing System. What a crazy world we live in. You’ve probably guessed the Mondopoint sizing is quite different from the regular shoe sizing system here in the UK. And sadly, it’s not really something that can be worked out from your desk at home with a ruler and a calculator.
Trust your fitter
In a world where it’s becoming increasingly normal to get away with avoiding human interaction, you do actually need to talk to a ski boot fitter. They will ask the simple questions like ‘what are you looking for today?’ (A: A pair of ski boots), ‘what level are you at skiing?’ (A: better than you, mate), ‘what kind of skiing do you enjoy the most?’ (A: I ski the biggest, gnarliest lines on the mountain)
Useful fact: Someone who is trained to fit boots can save you from spending ridiculous amounts of money on a pair that are not suitable for you.
Give it some time
Getting your boots fitted properly can take time. There is simply no way that you can casually pop into your local Ellis Brigham on your lunch break, get some boots fitted, and then be on your way again within 45 minutes. Put aside at least and hour and be prepared for maybe an hour and a half.
No, we don’t mean give a soaring operatic rendition of your thoughts and feelings during the boot fitting process (well, I mean, you can…), but speak up.
The fitter will ask questions like ‘can your toes touch the front?’ and will do up the straps for you. If at any point something doesn’t feel right, say it. The fitter will either reassure you that this is meant to be, or they will find you another, better fitting pair of boots.
Be realistic about the $$
A good pair of ski boots cost bare cash dollar, y’all. You could be looking at about £150+ for a lower tier pair (shop fitting factored in too), reaching through to around £500 or more for a technical pair. So, make sure you’ve got your funds together before you head to the shop and be open about how much you want to spend in your visit.
You might have to try several pairs before finding your dream match
Much alike the modern day dating phenomenon of Tinder, you will find that it helps to try several (or many…) before you decide which one is the one for you. Which is why it’s crucial to go with an open mind; you may have your heart set on a particular ski boot but if your fitter says that it is not offering you the best fit, then you may need to try other brands, sizes and colours.
The shell fit
At one point during the fitting process the fitter might suddenly tear the boot to pieces and ask you to put your foot into the cold, hard, empty shell of the boot. Don’t worry, he hasn’t lost his/ her mind. What they’re about to ask you to do is a shell fit! The shell fit is another method of figuring out if you’re about to try on the right pair of boots, if you insert your foot into the empty shell, the fitter and use their expertise to figure out if it’s the right (or wrong) one for you.
Don’t forget your socks
Don’t be that guy who, somehow, conveniently forgets to wear socks and disregards the rules of hygiene when he goes along to get his boots fitted. It’s pretty grim. In fact, be super practical and bring along your ski socks you’d usually wear to the fitting! The fitter will love you.
Be prepared to do a couple of squats
Once you’re all booted up and have mutually agreed with your fitter that your new boots are looking good, your fitter may ask you to stand up and bend into a few ski-like positions. This could mean bending your knees whilst your feet are in parallel position and imagining yourself whooshing down a powdery chute (whooshing noises optional), and rocking backwards/sideways on your heels to detect any pressure points in your boots.
Once again, be vocal. The point of these exercises is not only for the boot fitter to try and make detections with their naked eye but also for you to suddenly realise if there are any unwelcome pinches or squeezes. If you don't say anything, they might never know.
Not everyone needs heat moulded boots
Not to be mixed up with moulding the linings of your boots, sometimes to relieve a pinch or pressure point, the hard plastic shell of the boot might be tweaked a little to create the perfect fit.
If you’ve chatted to fellow ski boot owners, you’ll find some have had their boots shells heat moulded to their feet, but not all. But if you’re vocal and honest during your fitting process, your fitter will determine whether a little heat moulding of the shell will give the optimal results. No two feet are the same (not even your own!) so don’t be surprised if only one boot needs heat moulding, or neither at all.
Moulded footbeds, though?
For some, especially those who might not realise if they’re bow legged or knock kneed (like me), having moulded footbeds in your boots are an absolute lifesaver. Seems too simple to be true but these footbeds will adjust your posture from within your boot to help realign you for the perfect stance. And moulded footbeds can aid a whole variety of ailments from shinbang, backseat skiing, through to overexertion.
You and your ski boots will become best friends forever
If you walk away from the shop happy with your new boots, don’t forget to say thanks to the store workers who helped you. Throw a couple of high-fives on your way out and get ready to slip into your new role as the best skier on the mountain!