In 2017 I almost gave up skiing. The boots I’d loved for three solid years had failed me almost overnight. I’d hop off the chairlift and five minutes later, my feet would cramp, my toes would go numb, and pain would shoot up my arches. Blues felt like blacks. I was bailing after lunch. Embarrassment aside, the discomfort was excruciating. The longer I skied and the steeper the terrain, the worse it got.
So I sought out two of the best ski-boot fitters in New England: Lyndall Heyer and Carol Beale, two skiers with 50 combined years of experience fitting boots. They can shred—Heyer was on the U.S. Ski Team in the 1970s—and they can listen, which, in boot fitting, is half the battle. Having fitted at a dozen ski shops, Beale is now a medical athletic footwear specialist. They taught me that a boot out of the box is only a blank canvas for the perfect vacuum-seal fit, because every foot is different.
Ski boots are the most important component of your setup, so it’s worth taking the time to get it right. “Many people don’t even know boot fitting exists or how intricate it can be. They think you’re in a plastic cast so of course your feet will hurt. Not true,” says Beale. But getting fitted for the first time can be an intimidating experience. Here’s how to be sure you’ve found a good fitter and the questions you should keep in mind when you go so you can ski comfortably.
- There are a lot of factors that inform the ideal fit—talk with your boot fitter and give plenty of context.
- If you need help finding a good boot fitter, ask your community for leads.
If a boot fitter puts you in a measuring device the minute you walk through the door, pump the brakes and talk. “I need to figure out who my customer is, and make sure we have a solid, trusting relationship,” says Beale. She’ll always ask for your ski story. Your level, ski goals, size, previous injuries, other sports, and current skis and boots will all inform the ideal fit.
The customer should know the boot fitter too. The credible ones, like Beale and Heyer, have taken multiple courses from Masterfit University, which sets the standard for their profession. (It’s important to remember that a single certification is not proof you’re getting a caring and skilled boot fitter.) Beale takes it a step further: at BalanceWorks in Rutland, Vermont, she’s a pedorthist, trained to modify therapeutic footwear and orthotics to support your feet and lower limbs. In this field, experience is your friend. If you need help finding a reliable boot fitter in the first place, ask around and check in with your community for good leads.
Get All Your Measurements
- A boot fitter should take five measurements.
- Make sure the fitter measures both of your feet.
After five measurements—heel to toe, heel to the ball of the foot, instep, forefoot width, and calf—I learned that for six years I’d been wearing ski boots an entire size too big. According to Beale, this is not uncommon. It’s easy to talk yourself out of a tight fit when you’re trying on a boot in the store. But remember, as your liners pack out, your boots will only get bigger from the moment you first try them on.
Boots are sized from heel to big toe in centimeters via mondopoint. According to a standard conversion chart, a men’s size seven and a women’s size eight street shoe both convert to a size 25. But solely relying on this chart could easily get you in a too-big boot. (One Outside editor comfortably sizes down two mondo sizes from her recommended.) You should talk with your boot fitter—and try several boots on—to determine the right size. And don’t forget, despite what some will try to sell you, there are no half-size ski boots, only thicker liners.
Most of us have a dominant side, and therefore a stronger turn side on the hill. This can create varying muscle strength and shape, and many of us are just born with two different size feet, so make sure your boot fitter measures both feet. Beale and Heyer have accommodated mismatched bony protrusions, lengths, widths, hammertoes and curves, claw toes, injuries, and birth defects. “One woman was born with a 23 on one foot and a 25 on the other, so she buys two sets of boots for two different skis,” says Beale.
Ask to Be Liner Fit and Shell Fit
- Look for a half-inch gap between the shell and the back of your foot.
- If your liner is too tight, your boot fitter might be able to stretch it.
At Inner Bootworks in Stowe, Heyer removed the liner to “shell fit” me in three boots. Good boot fitters won’t need make you try on a dozen pairs: they should already have an idea of what boots to pull, based on your feet and ability. And if you try on too many, you might overthink the fit. I climbed in the shell and slid my toes to the front to ensure no more than a half-inch gap occurred between my heel and the back of the boot—a ski racer should have less. Generally, the more advanced the skier, the closer the fit. If expert skiers wear their boots too loose, their exact movements won’t transfer to their skis at aggressive speeds. They may overcompensate by buckling too tightly, putting unnecessary, painful pressure on their feet.
While boot fitters don’t always “liner fit” too, Beale is all for fitting both the shell and liner. When liner fitting, with the liner out of the shell, step in to ensure a snug but comfortable fit: the artery along your instep shouldn’t be too compressed, and the liner should securely grip the back of your heel. If the liner is too tight, the boot fitter can stretch it to prevent loss of circulation in your foot.
Before you try on the whole setup, a good boot fitter will tell you what to expect: a ramp pushing your toes forward that makes the boot feel short until it’s buckled. When you flex forward, the instep buckle and ramp will push your toes back and your heels should reach the back of the boot. In my new Nordica Promachine 95—the first boot Heyer instinctively pulled for me—my narrow foot felt snug, as it should, especially after my old clunky boots. Perfect for skiing on my Black Pearls again when I’m finally out of pain.
Get Fit Right
- A custom footbed enhances performance and comfort.
- If you have balance troubles, you may need canting.
Ski boots are some of the tightest footwear you’ll ever step into. The right fit will feel painted on. “Everything should feel like it’s an extension of your leg and your foot,” says Beale.
Your boot fitter has a big bag of tricks to help dial in your fit. It’s worth it to spring for a custom footbed, which will help neutralize any imbalances from the shape of your foot or your range of motion. Mine eliminates the gap between my arch and the boot, providing great support.
Canting can help align your boot with the natural side-to-side angle of your lower leg. In some cases, this can be accomplished with cuff alignment by simply adjusting the screws on either side of your boot at the ankle. This is especially helpful if you’re bowlegged or knock-kneed. Other solutions include adding foam or plastic pieces to help fill space in your boot and neutralize the position of your foot.
Understand Your Range of Motion
- Your boot fitter should test your range of motion.
- Your leg and foot shapes matter.
We’re born with varying foot mobility on three planes of motion, and our boots should accommodate all of them so we can ski in a neutral stance without a fight. Limited mobility in your frontal plane, which allows your foot to move from side to side, can cause pain in your knees on the hill. If you can’t fully rotate your foot toward and away from the center of the body, along what’s known as the transverse plane, you may have balance problems while skiing. But the most important one for boot fitting is the sagittal plane: the forward flexion of your ankle joint. “If your joint can’t flex, it locks up at a certain point, so when you bend your knee, your heels come up,” says Beale.
Ski boots have varying degrees of forward lean, and you should buy one that aligns with your range of motion. If you are an intermediate skier who lacks dorsiflexion, you’ll likely be happier in a more upright boot. As boots get higher-performance, that forward angle gets more aggressive. If you prefer expert-level equipment but have limited range of motion, your boot fitter can adjust the ramp at the base of your foot to better match your natural mobility.
Consider Height—and Flex
- If you’re a woman with long legs, you may need a men’s boot.
- For newer high-quality plastics, go for a flex rating of 80 or 90 or above.
There’s a sweet spot where boots should hit on the shin and calf. Men’s boots typically have taller cuffs than women’s boots. The thinking behind this is that women’s legs are typically shorter, and they also tend to have a greater curve in their lower leg due to their calf muscles. A shorter cuff may help if you find your calf muscles are being squeezed uncomfortably, and a taller one might be ideal if you’re long-legged and want more control while you ski. Beale wears a men’s boot and encourages similarly long-legged women to consider the option. “So many women come in with bloody shins because they’re in a women’s boot and they’re taller than me,” says Beale. Typically, though, women benefit from the lower cuff and snugger heel of women’s boots.
Flex rating, which inconveniently isn’t standard across boot brands, ranges for recreational boots from 60 to 130 and higher for racing boots. “The truest flex ratings for high-quality boots with good plastics should start at 80 for women and 90 for men,” says Beale. “Avoid boots under those numbers.” If your flex rating is too low, your knees will fall forward. The boot won’t bounce back coming out of one turn to prepare you for the next, causing your midfoot to bow or the tail of your skis to skid out. If your flex rating is too high, the stiffness will force your backside to drop behind your feet, into the “backseat” position. You’ll see your skis chatter, or vibrate off the snow, and you’ll lose your edge and ski out of control. “Exceptions aside, the more aggressive the skier, the higher the flex, the thicker the shell, and the denser the liner,” says Beale. When you’re trying on boots in the shop, bend your knees deeply a few times and get a sense for how much support and resistance feels right for you.
If you’re in pain after you’ve gotten your new boots, speak up, but before you get all Princess and the Pea, ski in your boots for three days in the thinnest, longest ski socks you can find, and graduate to thicker socks as your liner packs out over time. Since the process involves some trial and error, work with a boot fitter near you who can continue to modify the boot later if necessary. (Some ski shops include the fitting with the cost of your boots.) In the end, if something still doesn’t feel right, go back and ask about it. After all, as Beal likes to say: “Boot fitting is an art, it’s a science, and a little voodoo.”