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Can’t Get Out of the Backseat? Check Your Ski Boots

If you're having a hard time driving your skis, you may be in a ski boot with the wrong flex.

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Q: I’m a 31-year-old guy who has been skiing for 15 years. I’m an expert skier with strong legs, so I bought a pair of Lange ski boots with a 130 flex at the start of last season. After skiing 35 days in them, I feel like I’m always in the backseat. Does this mean the boots are too stiff for me? – Richard in Boulder, Colo. 

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. Let’s talk about ski boot flex and what it means in terms of your ability to ski.

What Is Ski Boot ‘Flex’?

  • Ski boots come in a variety of flex points, from 60-130
  • Ski boot flex ratings vary across ski boot brands
  • The higher the flex rating, the stiffer the boot; the lower the flex rating, the softer the boot

Flex refers to how easily you can distort the ski boot—how much force it takes to drive your shin forward. That’s based on what type of skier you are (beginner, intermediate, or expert) as well as your physical stature. Ski boots come in a variety of flex points, generally along a spectrum of 60 to 130, where 60 is considered soft and 130 considered very stiff.

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

On the beginner side, men’s ski boots usually start at an 80 flex and go up to 100. Generally speaking, men who are beginner skiers should stick to 80-110 flex; intermediates should look to a ski boot with a 100-120 flex point; experts may want to consider a ski boot with 120 flex or up.

Women’s ski boots start with a 60-80 flex range for beginners; 80-90 flex for intermediates; and 90-120 flex for advanced and experts.

It’s worth noting at this point that flex ratings vary from ski boot brand to ski boot brand, and even within boot manufacturers depending on the types of plastics they use.

How to Choose Ski Boot Flex

  • Be honest about your skiing ability. Ski boots with a softer flex are better for beginners; a stiffer flex point is better for experts.
  • Consider your physical stature. If you’re big and strong, you may need a ski boot with a stiffer flex even if you’re more intermediate; if you’re petite, you may want a softer flex boot even if you’re an advanced skier.

To find the right ski boot flex for you, make sure you’re being honest about your skiing ability. If you ski with a more upright stance, chances are a ski boot with a more intermediate flex point is best for you. If you are an aggressive skier who tends to actively drive your skis, you need a boot with a stiffer flex designed for expert skiers.

Related: To strengthen your skiing next season, identify your weaknesses now

But you also need to take into consideration your body stature. Do you have broad shoulders and strong legs? A slight frame? What is the force you are putting behind the boot? What is your ankle range of motion?

Although flex is definitely dependent on the type of skier you are and how aggressive you are, if you are not physically able to flex the boot, you’re going to have a hard time skiing. You’ll either have too much or not enough boot for your ability. Either way, you’ll have difficulty driving your skis as a result.

Boot Adjustments to Correct Flex

A bootfitter can help you determine what flex is best for you. They may also be able to make adjustments to your current ski boots if you think they are too stiff or too soft for you, so you might not necessarily have to start from scratch and lose the investment you made on your current boots.

If you find your ski boots are too soft, a bootfitter (or you) could add some Booster Straps to your boots to provide extra stiffness and give you more responsiveness. A bootfitter could also put a couple of extra bolts on the back of the ski boot to stiffen up the spine where most of the flex comes from. If your boot is too stiff, a bootfitter might be able to remove the upper cuff and cut down the lower clog to create a little more flexibility.

But the best way to really get the most out of your ski boots and skis on the hill is to ensure you’re in ski boots with the right flex for you from the start.

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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