With so many models of ski boot out there, the choice can be slightly overwhelming. However, hopefully this handy guide will point you in the right direction when it comes to buying the perfect pair.
Proper fit, appropriate level of stiffness, and comfort are essential for a great day of skiing. If you've been renting ski equipment, at least consider buying ski boots. Although the initial purchase price can be high, they last for years and provide a consistent foundation for improving your skills. Spending the time to find a skilled ski boot fitter will pay off.
Don’t forget Ski Club members are entitled to discounts with many top ski retailers and boot shops. If you're looking to buy some new boots this season check out Ski Club discounts.
Reviews of the 2017-18 ski boots from the major manufacturers will be online later this year.
Alpine Ski Boots
Alpine (downhill) ski boots have a stiff plastic shell designed to hold your foot and ankle firmly in place. For the best performance, buy the smallest ski boot you can comfortably wear and use only one thin synthetic sock. All ski boots expand in size slightly after you have worn them several times, as the material in the liner is compressed. This process is known as 'packing out'.
Plan on spending at least an hour with a skilled ski boot fitter, and try on many different ski boots. A bargain boot that doesn't fit is no bargain. As you move up in ability, you generally want a stiffer (and more expensive) ski boot designed for faster, more aggressive skiing. If you're a beginner or an intermediate, you don't need this stiffness unless you're of above-average size.
If your foot is very difficult to fit or you simply want the best fit possible, inquire about custom ski boot fitting. Some manufacturers recommend special moulding systems that make the ski boot conform exactly to your foot. All alpine ski boots are compatible with all conventional alpine ski bindings.
Touring Ski Boots
Touring boots are primarily differentiated from downhill boots in having a mechanism/switch on them to change from a skiing mode to a touring mode. In touring mode the cuff of the boot can move forward and backwards with a greater range of movement, allowing you a more natural stride motion when touring. Dedicated touring boots are lightweight, and have a large range of motion in the cuff making skinning uphill far more efficient. Touring boots have often had the uphill advantage but with a distinct loss in downhill ability. However, boots have developed a lot in recent seasons and now there's a wide variety of boots available with a walk mode (the name for the touring mode on a ski boot). This means that whatever your skiing you can get a boot to match with a walk mode (apart from super-stiff downhill race boots), although boots with higher downhill performance are typically heavier.
Dedicated touring boots have a curved rubber sole, which is not standardised for use in normal downhill bindings, so make sure the boots you get work with your bindings and vice versa.
A touring binding will allow you to free your heel on the uphill, but secure it again for the down - either with a frame touring bindings or a pin touring binding. The really lightweight touring boots tend to have inserts so they can be used with pin touring bindings but not all will work with step-in touring bindings, so it is essential to check boot/binding compatibility.
Be honest with yourself as to the true intentions of your skiing. Whilst many of us aspire to the ideals of touring, it is likely that we actually spend more time on piste or freeriding, and therefore a slightly heavier boot with a 'hike/ride' mode is often more suitable and offer a far better skiing experience.
Cross-country Ski Boots
Cross-country ski boots need to provide ankle and heel support but still allow your toes some freedom of movement. In terms of weight and support they are really more similar to hiking boots. Because you will be lifting your heel as you ski, the ski boot needs to be comfortable as you bend your foot. Check to see that the sole is laterally stiff, meaning that you can't wring the boot like a dishrag. Plan on wearing one pair of medium-weight socks. For racing, weight matters, and lightweight boots cost more.
If you already own cross-country skis, check that new ski boots are compatible with your current ski bindings, as there are some variations between manufacturers.
Telemark Ski Boots
A telemark ski boot used to be just a heavy-duty cross-country ski boot. Now it looks more like a downhill ski boot, with some important differences. Telemark skiers mostly skiing lift-accessed areas will now most likely opt for a tall, stiff boot. Those who also use their telemark equipment for touring will typically choose a lighter weight set-up. As with alpine ski boots, spend time with a qualified ski boot fitter and experiment with different ski boots. A properly fitting ski boot holds your heel firmly yet allows your toes to move around even with the sole flexed (telemark boots feature a area of folded plastic around the toes known as the 'bellows' which allows the sole of the boot to flex). It should fit snugly around your calf without crushing your foot. All telemark ski boots expand in size slightly after you wear them several times. Your toes should never hit the front of the boot. A standard telemark ski boot measures 75mm across the front of the sole, and all 75mm boots fit all 75mm bindings.