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How We Test Ski Boots

To get the best ski gear, start at the bottom and work up.

Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.

The question we get asked the most about boot testing (after, “Can I help you test?”) is: “Why are all the reviews so damn positive?” The answer is simple. We begin the test process with only boots we think are going to perform well.

Once we have our brackets set, the skiing starts. Boots that don’t measure up to testers’ standards are eliminated from further review. So what’s left? Just the best of the bunch—those we feature here on our site and in the magazine. In short, we want to help you sniff out the good stuff. So here’s a deeper look at what goes into our test:

As we have most years since SKI Magazine created the first on-hill boot testing program more than 25 years ago, we returned to Mt. Bachelor, Ore. to give winter 2016’s boots a workout. Bachelor’s long season and reliable snow make the Central Oregon volcano an ideal test site.

We bring in the world’s most knowledgeable boot pros—the master fitters who run America’s Best Bootfitters and Masterfit University—to coordinate the massive test.

The preliminaries >> The test is limited to high-performance boots—those that interest SKI readers. We divide them by intended use and separate them further by widths—the biggest criteria in finding the right boots.

Our test team >> Good boot testers are hard to find. It takes a lot of experience and knowledge to set aside personal fit issues and assess a boot strictly on how well it serves the type of skier for which it’s built. The core of our team is comprised of the Masterfit University instructors and master bootfitters from America’s Best Bootfitters, the international organization of ski shops that specialize in bootfitting. Masterfit University’s educational director, Mark Elling, acts as our test director, and he works closely with SKI’s gear editors as well as Steve Cohen and Jeff Rich, who co-founded Masterfit and helped create SKI’s on-hill testing program. To our bootfitter crew, we add experienced instructors and patrollers, former racers and other experienced skiers who have testing backgrounds and an understanding of how boots should fit and perform.

The venue>> Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort, a 9,065-foot volcano with nearly 4,000 acres, and up to 3,365 feet of vertical, has good coverage when we roll-up in early April. Our mid-mountain test headquarters at the Pine Marten lodge makes for quick turnaround between runs and maximum testing opportunities. And the fact that the rocking outdoor town of Bend is just a few minutes away makes for a happy test crew.

A typical test day >> Testers select a boot model, set up the basic adjustments, and throw in their personal custom insoles. They first evaluate the boot in 12 key fit zones before considering the flex, stance, entry/exit, hardware, adjustments, and other key features. After that, testers hit the hill, giving each boot two or three runs. They then rate the boot for dynamic balance, edge power, stability at speed, rearward support, agility, snow feel, ease of entry and exit, warmth, comfort, liner quality, and even aesthetics. A full day’s work finds our testers ticking off only six or seven boots. It’s why we need a lot of testers.

The results >> Despite the differences of individual fit, our testers invariably come to a consensus on which boots are worthy of your consideration. That’s what you see on this site: only the best, tester-certified boots.

We couldn’t do it without our partners >> The following companies provide our testers with premier products and services: Mt. Bachelor Ski Resort, Mount Bachelor Village Resort, Masterfit insoles, Fits socks, Leki poles and gloves, Pret helmets, Deschutes Brewery (beer and food), BlackStrap Industries face masks, Booster Strap, Transpack boot bags, DryGuy boot dryers and handwarmers, Hotronic boot warmers, Pistil hats, SkiSkootys rockered sole protectors, and Slide On boot entry spray.