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How to buy your ski boots

Ski boot fitting - how to get ski boots that fit!Among the misfortunes that can wreck a skiing holiday are those that you can't control: the wrong kind of snow, the wrong kind of weather, Darryl - your best mate's insufferable new boyfriend, a dodgy pizza on the chalet girl's night off… and those that are your own stupid fault: the agony of skiing in boots that don't fit.

Skiing holidays cost - let's be honest - a bunch of money. And you're in that heavenly little resort in the back of nowhere for what is supposed to be a seriously good time.

But your feet are screaming at you, and you've spent half of each day wearing a path from the lift back to the local ski shop (whose friendliness and grasp of English seems to decrease with every visit) for an endless series of 'adjustments' to 'fine-tune' your fit.

Ski boots really can be a hostile environment for your feet. In fact, just looking at a ski boot makes some people think: "that's going to hurt."

Foot disc insoles designed specifically for skiingBut, of all the equipment you need for skiing - from helmet to skis - your boots are the most vital thing to get right. Why? Boots affect everything. They are the platform for everything you do on the snow. And most importantly, they critically impact your comfort. Unhappy feet make unhappy skiers.

So what do you have to do in order to find ski boots that your feet will love?

It's actually pretty simple. All you need do is to choose the right shop, take your time and consider buying ski insoles.

Choose the right shop
Find a good boot fitting shop. Ask around for recommendations - from friends or family who ski, your ski instructor, ski or sports club members; anyone with comfy boots. Find a shop with skilled and experienced boot fitters who are skiers themselves, a wide range of brands, a good reputation and a workshop - so that they have the skills and equipment to craft and tailor your ski boots to your feet. Better yet, search out a store with trained and certified boot sales and service personnel.
Buy close to home
In all honestly, a ski boot fit is hard to get right first time. And your boots, and your body, will change over time. So it is likely that at some point, you will need to re-visit your boot fitter. And that is a lot easier to do when they are near your home than if they are in the resort you visited 3 years ago. The majority of skiers don't return to the same resort each year, but you'll always return home.

There are obviously some very good ski shops in ski towns, but the average resort shop isn't inclined to spend long on you. It's a short season in the Alps - as short as three months - so they need to sell (and rent) a lot of equipment. You might think the resort staff are experts; mountaineers who've lived their whole life in the Alps, but in reality the guy is just as likely to be from Marseille (or Southampton), doing a season job. Why spend your well-earned vacation shopping for ski boots, when you can do it before you go?

Don't make the mistake of just looking for the best price on ski boots. Look for a deal when you're buying stuff that's interchangeable like skis or clothes. But, when it comes to boots, shop where people know what they're doing. You're not buying a commodity. You're buying the expertise of experts who know how to look at your foot, can analyze your stance and foot physiology, and can customize the product for comfort and performance.
Take your time
People often don't give themselves enough time to get the right boots. Take your time - this isn't an impulse purchase.

Plan in advance. Give yourself a month before your vacation to do your research and arrange an appointment for your initial fitting. Make sure the shop has trained and accredited boot fitters with experience and a good level of skill. Ask about their after-sales service and fitting guarantees - you should be able to return the boots for a refit or a refund if they're not right.

Your boot fitter should also recommend that you try the boots out after your fitting, before you leave for your holiday. There are plenty of facilities in the UK: 5 ski resorts in Scotland (and 4 in England!), 6 real snow indoor centres and 60 dry slopes through England, Scotland and Wales. Spend a day taking your new boots through their paces.

You should allow approximately 2 hours for a full boot fitting (some retailers offer appointments). There's no getting away from it, even if you put your feet in the hands of the best people, it will still take a few hours to get your boots fitting perfectly.

The foot is an intricate and complicated mechanism. It contains 28 bones, 18 muscles, 30 joints, 31 tendons, and 107 ligaments. The alignment, performance and comfort of your whole body depends on your feet. It's amazing any footwear can be comfy.

If you or your boot fitter are in a hurry, or you go to someone that doesn't know what they are doing, all too often you'll end up with boots that are too big. It's easy to fit (and sell) boots that are a little too roomy. They will naturally feel comfortable in the shop, but in a few weeks the liners will bed down, your heel and forefoot will start swimming around, your ankles will rub and you'll be tightening the clips too much just to make them snug (restricting blood flow to your toes).

Pay attention, be involved

It takes two to tango. Your boot fitter can only help you if they have the right information. Communicate with your boot fitter about your experience, the terrain and conditions you prefer, your current and future goals, plus any previous comfort or injury problems. Be honest about your ability; if you buy a boot too far above your ski level, it will inhibit your technique and slow down your learning.

Not too comfy. Like shoes, not all ski boots that are the same size will fit the same way. Each brand and model of boots has a unique shape and will vary in heel hold, foot width, instep height, flexibility etc. Try boots on with the socks that you will be wearing skiing. The boots should feel snug, but not uncomfortable on your foot - like a firm handshake. They should not feel like slippers. You need to try on several pairs to find the boots that fit correctly.

Invest in footbeds. Everyone should purchase ski specific insoles, such as Footdisc Hardboot insoles. Insoles are the first step in creating a proper fit inside your ski boots. When you build a house, you put it on a solid foundation, orthotic insoles create that platform specifically for your feet and everything builds from there. Insoles offer support for over pronation, they place your foot in a comfortable and biomechanically neutral position in the boot, increase proprioception & feedback, distribute pressure across the whole of your foot, improve blood circulation

Stable feet allow you to transmit force to the skis rapidly and efficiently. Thus, you turn with less effort. This makes skiing easier, more fun and less tiring. In a ski turn, the foot bears a load equivalent to 3 times your body weight.

Does the boot colour match your eyes? Only you have your foot and personal needs - do not take advice from friends past the knowledge that a boot they recommend may have worked for them, they do not have to ski in your boot, you do. Equally beware of desiring the latest well-marketed product that does not match your actual ski needs and goals.

The boot fitting process

Your boot fitting should follow the basic steps below:

1. The fitting starts with your boot fitter discussing your ski experience, ambitions, previous boots, and any issues or problems you may have had with ski boots in the past. Be honest and forthcoming - the more information, the better.

2. They should then perform a barefoot analysis of your feet, your posture and your ski stance. Your fitter will assess the shape of your feet, including length, width, volume, arch shape and instep height. They should also observe the mobility, function and range of motion of your feet, ankles and body.

3. Before being fitted for boots you should be recommended and fitted for an appropriate orthotic insole. Footbeds are crucial for support and make a big difference to your ability to ski in comfort and control. Footdisc insoles only add £30 to £40 onto the cost of the boots but are hugely important.

4. Boot selection is critical and based on the information you have furnished and the observations of the fitter when examining your feet and body (not on your friend's recommendation or the colour of your ski pants).

5. Shell, liner and boot sizing. They should start with a shell check - your bare foot in the empty plastic outer shell of the boot. This will give them an accurate guide to the size and fit of the boot. Your feedback here is critical. You should discuss how each boot feels and the specific pressure and niggles you are experiencing. S/he should be able to suggest possible adjustments to the fit of the boots.

6. Spend time in the boots, they will adapt to your feet. Stumble around the shop in the boots that are most suitable fit. The best boots must be snug, but not uncomfortable; with support, but not pressure. Only one pair of thin ski-specific socks should be worn.

7. Personalization and adjustment. The technician should be able to personalize the boots to your feet and legs. They should have a workshop to stretch, adapt and customize both the shell and the liner to your feet.

8. Cuff alignment and canting. Finally, your fitter should ensure that they boots are aligned in your ski stance so that your skis run flat and true.

What are the benefits of Ski Footbeds/Insoles?

Your boot fitting should follow the basic steps below:

  • A 360° wrapping fit around the foot.
  • Equal distribution of pressure under and around the foot - no more hot-spots!
  • Proper and effective position of the 'steering wheel' (ankle joint) within the ski boot for more precise pressure energy transfer.
  • Improved biomechanical feedback from increased foot contact, better joint and muscle alignment plus snugger wrap fit around the foot securing you into the last and profile of the shell and liner.
  • Better circulation through the foot.
  • Positioning into the sweet spot of the boot and thus the ski as you become dynamically and naturally placed over the arches of the foot.

Your properly fitted ski boots should fit like a glove. But remember: skiing is a high energy sport and your feet may change slightly each day depending on many factors, such as fluid retention, fatigue, altitude, metabolism and how much pinot rouge you drank the night before.

Your boots should offer you the correct level of both retention and support depending on your ability and skiing style. The retention comes from the liners, buckles and shape/profile of the shell where the support comes from the flex dynamics of the shell and also from your insole.

For the boots to work effectively the foot needs to be placed in the right position so the boot and ankle joint flexes in the correct way and the foot and liner are in snug contact with each other like a strong hand shake - firm and even.