Forget tackling Jackson Hole's Corbet's Couloir or making it smoothly through Killington's Superstar minefield. The toughest challenge most skiers face is finding a comfortable boot that also performs well. Boots have to match not only your skill level, but your foot and leg shape as well. Your pal's star performer may be your black hole of pain.
Unfortunately, buying ski boots is a time-consuming process that too many skiers rush through. Finding the right boot is only the start of the complete process, which may involve custom shell and liner modifications and performance adjustments. It's no wonder most pros who get their boots dialed in ski them until they're ready for the recycle box.
While on-slope boot testing opportunities are rare, you should visit a number of shops and try lots of brands, models and sizes so you can make direct comparisons. If you shop in the flatlands, try to go midweek at off-peak hours for the best service. At resorts, shopping is best when everybody else is on the slopes.
Here are some fit factors to keep in mind while you're boot shopping:
Many people buy boots too big, which is understandable since a good-fitting boot often feels tight initially. Be patient. Liners stretch after just a few hours of skiing. Boots that are too big can be painful, cause all sorts of injuries and prevent you from skiing your best.
Shell fit is what really counts. Remove the liner, put your foot into the shell, and slide it forward until your big toe is lightly touching. You should have a finger to a finger and a half of space between your heel and the shell (see photo, bottom left). Liners can always be stretched or ground to increase volume or height. If parts of your foot are touching the shell, however, your bootfitter may suggest a different model or custom work to fix these potential "hot spots."
Sizes are only relative within brand lines. Sole length (embossed into the outside heel sidewall of every boot) and inner cavities of similarly-sized models can vary significantly between brands.
Even great bootfitters aren't miracle workers, so it's best to start with a boot that closely matches your foot and calf dimensions. The chart at right details several common foot irregularities and symptoms that occur if you're in a poor ski boot that doesn't fit properly. If you match one of these profiles, check the chart for boot models that may better fit your foot shape.