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What’s the Deal with Cabrio Ski Boots Like Dalbello and Full Tilt?

Three-piece boots could be a great fit for some, but they're not for everyone.

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Professional ski bootfitter Sam Tischendorf knows pretty much everything there is to know about ski boots and feet. In SKI’s “Ask the Boot Doctor” column, Tischendorf helps Active Pass members diagnose their specific ski boot issues. Join Active Pass to read Tischendorf’s expert advice. To submit your ski boot questions to the Boot Doctor, email her at editor@skimag.com.

Q: Do cabrio boots offer the same performance as boots with a traditional two-piece shell? I need new ski boots for next season and I’m looking for something slightly more forgiving than my Tecnica Mach 1 130 boots when skiing technical terrain. But I don’t want to sacrifice performance too much. —Matt A.

Here in Telluride, we’re seeing a lot of younger skiers look towards three-piece ski boots, or cabrio boots, like Dalbello and Full Tilt. Skiers on the mogul team seem to gravitate towards Full Tilt boots, likely because a three-piece boot like that offers more of a bounce-back and smoother flex through the tongue, while still staying laterally stable. And those are the biomechanics you need for doing those crazy bump runs.

On that topic: 5 Causes of Shin Bang

There are some great things about three-piece boots, but they’re also not for everyone. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of a cabrio ski boot.

Pro: Three-piece ski boots can be great for skiers with a high instep

Taking Dalbello as an example, the three-piece boot works really well to accommodate a foot with a higher instep. There’s a little bit more floor-to-ceiling height in this style boot, and when you close the buckle down on top of the foot, the plastic doesn’t close down on itself like in a traditional two-piece (or overlap) boot; instead, it just reaches a point where it won’t compress down too much more.

Con: Cabrio boots may not be the best option for skiers with flat feet or shapely calves

Most three-piece boots do come in all three last options (low-volume, mid-volume, and high-volume) to accommodate different shapes of feet, but skiers who don’t have high insteps might feel like they’re really swimming around in this style boot because there’s more room in the midfoot of the shell. Skiers with bigger calves should also steer clear of the three-piece boot. As a bootfitter, I can say that these boots can be just slightly more difficult to open up to accommodate more shapely calves.

Related: Everything you need to know about ski boot volume 

Pro: Cabrio style boots can be easier to get on

Three-piece boots are generally a little easier to get your foot into, especially for someone who is a little more rigid through the ankle, or has a higher instep, or doesn’t have the flexibility to get into a more traditional boot. Something like the Dalbello Panterra, which has a hike-mode, you can just pop open a little bit more, which makes it so much easier to get the foot into. That in and of itself can be a gravitational pull toward a three-piece boot.

Pro or Con: The fore/aft flex profile of three-piece boots is generally softer

Laterally you might be more stable and locked in, but you’ll have more play in the fore/aft flex department of a three-piece boot. You’ll get a softer end feel to the flex in a three-piece boot, but you also lose some of the high-performance flex characteristics because the tongue in this style of boot has more forgiveness to it. Because of that fold through the instep in the design of the three-piece boot, you lose some of that immediate responsiveness from the spine of the boot. And that’s where the stiffness and the drive of the boot come from.

Related: The best high-performance ski boots of the year

Pro: Three-piece boots often come with a stock wrap liner

A wrap liner generally provides a little more cushion on the shin through that fold in the three-piece boot. It also makes the boot easier to put on. And you’re getting a little more rigidity and stiffness out of a wrap liner as opposed to a liner with a traditional tongue. So, you get a little more fore/aft give from the plastic three-piece shell, but then you have that wrap liner to give you a little more stiffness.

At the end of the day, people who are on the Dalbello or Full Tilt bandwagon really enjoy those ski boots. But the same advice holds true whether you’re shopping for a traditional two-piece boot or a cabrio boot: Seek out a ski boot based on your foot shape as well as your skiing ability. A professional bootfitter will be able to work with you to determine if a three-piece ski boot might be the right fit for your foot.

Sam Tischendorf is one of the very few professional female ski bootfitters—or as she likes to say, professional feet ticklers—in the industry. She currently works at Bootdoctors in Telluride, Colo., is a member of the Masterfit University teaching team, and collaborates with Blizzard/Tecnica on the Women To Women gear project.

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More Advice from the Boot Doctor

How old is too old when it comes to ski boots?

Ski boot technology may not change as fast as ski technology, but ski boots do have a shelf life. Manufacturers say that boots should last about 200 skier days, though ski boot liners tend to pack out well before then, even before the shell begins to lose its integrity.

Run through this checklist to see if it’s time to start shopping for new ski boots

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If you can’t get out of the backseat, check your ski boot flex

If you feel like you can’t get on top of your skis or you’re struggling to engage the front of your skis, it may very well be because you’re in a boot that’s too stiff and you don’t have the force to drive your ski boots—and therefore, your skis.

Learn more about ski boot flex and how it impacts your skiing ability

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Narrow feet? Here’s how to shop for ski boots

Anyone with a narrow foot should look for a ski boot advertised as a “low volume” fit (often shortened to LV in the ski boot model name). A low-volume ski boot will have a 98mm or lower last measurement. A low-volume boot is a good place to start, but another factor skiers with narrow feet should consider is their instep height. This measurement determines how much height you need from floor to ceiling in the midfoot of the ski boot.

Learn more about special bootfitting considerations for narrow feet

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How to correctly measure for ski boot size

To determine your ski boot size and get the best ski boot fit, go see a bootfitter. A professional will be able to take all kinds of foot measurements to find the right ski boot size for your foot and your style of skiing. If you’re not going to visit a bootfitter to help you find the right ski boot size, then the next best way to find your ski boot size is to measure your own foot versus going off your regular shoe size.

Here’s how to correctly measure your own foot to determine your ski boot size