By Dan Constantinescu
Whether you are a first timer or you’ve reached a high level of technical expertise in skiing, there is one problem we all have in common: how to choose the best equipment. Whether it’s socks, thermal underwear, ski suits, ski boots, skis, sticks, helmets, or any of the other accessories, all have to be chosen with great care so that we can best enjoy this sport.
A few years ago I was glad when a student of mine decided to give up on rental equipment and buy her own. I decided to help her and we met at the winter equipment store. After 15 minutes of technical explanations and arguments about the kind of equipment she needed, the lady turned to the seller and asked, “Do you have pink skis and boots?” In order to become a good skier you do not want to do that.
If you are a beginner you must first decide on the style you want to practice: alpine skiing, ski touring, telemark, cross-country, etc. because the ski boot types differ greatly from one style to another. In this article I will discuss alpine skiing boots and about how to choose the correct pair for you.
From the beginning it’s important to understand that the ski boots are the most important part of the skier’s equipment, they are basically the interface between the body and the skis, they provide the energy transfer between them, while supporting and protecting your feet, ankles, and lower legs. They also affect the comfort more than any other part of your ski equipment and if they are well chosen, they can be the skier’s best friends. Choosing ski boots is not really straightforward because you must pay attention to a range of details: height, weight, foot shape and size, the training level, the style, the terrain and the snow conditions, and, of course, comfort and budget. But when we are talking about budget, quality and performance don’t come cheap.
A few general words about the boots’ components – the outside layer, made of beautiful painted shiny plastic is the shell and on it are the buckles and the straps that hold your boots closed and determine how tight they are. Also the ski boots can come with various adjustment systems, cuff alignments, buckles adjustments, spoilers etc. Inside the plastic carcass is the liner, a soft layer directly connected to your foot and, depending on the thickness and the material, will tell you how responsive, comfortable and warm the boots are. Under the liner is the footbed, a platform to supports the foot precisely on the contours and provides comfort and power transmission to the skis.
The first thing you must do is evaluate yourself as a skier in the most realistic terms. In my opinion there are five categories of skiers: Initiate, beginner, intermediate, advanced and experts. Here is where we meet the “Flex”, a coefficient indicating to us the stiffness of the ski boots required – basically how hard you can flex your ankle while wearing the boot. This “flex” has a scale from 50 to 140+, from soft to very stiff. “By the books” for the first two categories of skiers, the boots need to be softer, with a lower flex 50-80, while the intermediate skiers can have a medium flex 80-100 and advanced goes for 100-130. Racers need to go for tougher boots, with thinner lines and strong shells with flex starting from 130 to 170+. As women tend to be smaller than men they require boots with a flex up to 20 less than those values previously indicated. The women’s legs are shaped differently to men’s legs with a greater variation in size and that’s why women specific boots take these differences into consideration and the materials used are softer and the liners warmer.
There is a sizing system specific to ski boots called Mondopoint and helps you to find the right size. It is very simple to determine your mondopoint because it’s the length of your foot in centimetres and most shops have a foot measuring device. It goes up in half sizes (26, 26.5, 27, 27.5, 28 etc.) and always you need to round down, meaning if you foot is 27.6 cm long your mondopoint is 27. The difference between the whole size and the half size it is not the length of the foot but it is about the width of the foot. If you have the mondopoint size 26 and a narrow foot, you’ll stay on 26, but if you have a wider foot, you will get a 26.5. I have personally always chosen the size on my boots one size lower because, in time, they tend to become larger (but this depends on the individual foot anatomy and it is another story).
Using a device to measure your foot does not guarantee the size of boot you need, it is just a guide, because another very important thing you need to consider is the shape of your foot. Most of the manufacturers make boots that are suited for most common foot shapes. In order to find the perfect size and form you need to try on a few different ski boots.
The height, the weight and the physical condition are also three very important factors you have to be aware of when you go seeking your new boots. For example, a person who is short and light doesn’t put as much leverage on a ski boot and a high flex will limit the natural movement of his or her body during the movement. An athletic person will prefer a moderate flexing boot or even a higher one so they can count on it.
The terrain, type of snow and speed you’ll go at play a role in your choosing your boots. They are pretty much related to your ski technique level, so you need to pay attention to it. The freestyle and big mountain skiers should choose softer boots because variable snow conditions and very steep terrain demand a bit more cuff movement. High speeds on an iced smooth surface require techniques that involves tip pressure, so a stiffer boot is needed so that the skis respond instantly.
The above mentioned are a few generalities because if we take all the factors that we need to consider, choosing ski boots can be a never ending story and we risk losing the ski season. Ski boots are a highly personal piece of equipment. Their performance, comfort, and warmth depend mostly on fit, your needs and personal taste, that’s why choosing the ski boots can be an involved process, but if you are successful your satisfaction will be great.
Let the ski boots be the first part of the equipment you go to buy. You can adjust the rest of the equipment after them… pink is overrated.
When you go for your boots, clear your schedule, it might take some time.
Go ski boot shopping in the afternoon or later, while wearing a thin pair of socks so you won’t get boots that are too small.
Remove the liners, put your feet inside the shells, stand up, move your feet forward inside, you shouldn’t have more than two fingers between the heels and the back of the shell.
Ski boots are meant to be snug, that means you should not be able to lift your heel easily or have lateral movement inside.
Don’t buy your boots from the internet unless you tried them in the store and you are 200% sure they fit perfectly.
Always use clean and dry socks so you can keep them in a good shape longer.
Put them on a dryer after you use them or take out the liners and dry them separately.
If you are the athletic type, unless you want to spend an eternity at beginners level, get yourself strong ski boots that can help you later in your journey up to the higher levels.
More insight about skiing resorts in Romania from Dan Constantinescu here.