How To Decide If You Need Custom Ski Boots
Ski expert Aidan Anderson overviews options to consider when customizing your ski boots.
Ski boots are pretty universally considered to be one of the more uncomfortable items of footwear out there, despite the fact that many of us spend countless hours with our feet jammed into those hard plastic shells. Occasionally you’ll find someone who says they love their boots, but most people you talk to complain about foot pain, shin pain, cramps, tingles, cold toes, the list goes on and on. So, if there’s that many people out there who don’t like the way their boots fit, what’s the solution? Well, dear skiers, I’ll tell you. If no boot you’ve tried has managed to satisfy your feet, it might be time to look in the direction of custom fitting some boots to fit your needs.
Now, don’t panic when you hear the word custom—it’s possible to go down this road without breaking the bank. In the past, custom ski boots were reserved for racers and those willing to shell out a pretty penny, but that’s not the case anymore. There’s tons of different options for various levels of customization, but they depend on what aspect of your boot you’re having trouble with. To break it down, let’s run through some of the options to look at for customizing your boots.
Before jumping into different boots themselves, let’s touch on the easiest and most important way to make your boots fit better: insoles. Aftermarket insoles are an absolute must for every single pair of boots out there, regardless of manufacturer, price, or fit. Stock ski boot insoles rarely, if ever, have any arch support, any lasting cushion, and really even any shape to them at all.
The position of your foot impacts the fit of your boot often more than anything else. If your arch is collapsing when you turn onto your inside edge, it throws off your ankle, your leg, your hip, and basically everything that matters for skiing. A good aftermarket insole will provide good arch support to fill out your boot and stabilize your foot, a good heel cup to hold your foot in place, and often some insulation as well to keep your foot warm and cozy. For a great grab-and-go insole, Superfeet makes some of the best ski boot specific insoles out there. Check out the RedHot for men, and the HotPink for women.
Next up, let’s talk liners. Just about every single inner liner in a ski boot these days is moldable, and there’s no reason not to have it done. The padding and cushion in ski boots is designed to mold to your foot over time from the heat generated by your foot itself. While that’s a great idea in theory, it does require spending those hours in your boots and waiting for them to start to pack out and mold. Additionally, when you’re skiing in cold conditions, it’s often difficult for your boots to warm up enough to really start to break in.
Instead, it’s worth it to heat mold your liners right when you get your boots. There’s a couple of ways to do this, but the easiest is to have a boot fitter at your local ski shop help you out. Shops will have special ovens for heating your liners, and then will help you get them back into your boots and onto your feet. It’s as simple as wearing your toasty warm boots around the shop for 20 minutes or so until they cool down, and you’re good to go. If you don’t have access to a ski shop, it is possible to mold your liners yourself at home, though it’s important to be cautious and follow specific directions. Check out this article for some good pointers, and reach out to one of our experts at Curated to help you through the process.
Another amazing option for custom liner fitting beyond heat molding comes from our friends at Head. In the last several years, Head has introduced their Liquid Fit system in most of their liners to combat a major problem area in many boots: the ankle pocket. Tons of people have issues with their ankles in ski boots, either being too loose or too tight, and it’s a tough thing to dial in with different boots. The Liquid Fit system does away with all of those issues by completely customizing how snug you want the ankle of your boot. A plastic bag is integrated into the liner, with an opening at the top of the cuff that leads down into an empty reservoir surrounding the ankle. With your foot in the boot, a liquid wax compound is injected into the ankle pocket slowly until you feel like it’s as tight as you’d like it. Then, the wax sits and firms up slightly.
The key features of this are twofold. First, the wax never completely hardens like many other custom fitting materials, which end up being like hard plastic. This lends itself to a more comfortable fit, because it retains some cushion around your ankle. Second, the process is reversible to accommodate any change necessary. If you ski on it and don’t like it or want to alter it, the wax can be taken out and the process repeated until you have the perfect fit. Check out the Head Nexo Lyt 100 for women, and the Nexo Lyt 120 for men.
Finally we arrive at the luxury route for custom boot fitting. If nothing you can find makes the cut, or if you have really specific needs from a boot stemming from things like injuries, bunions, bone spurs, or any other issues specific to your feet, ankles, or legs, a fully custom boot might be the right option. This involves molding not only the liner and footbed, but the shell of the boot as well. There are a number of different companies that make moldable shells for their boots, but by far and away the cream of the crop is Fischer. The vacuum fit molding process available to Fischer boots from their authorized ski shops is head and shoulders above most, if not all, other custom fitting processes out there.
It starts with identifying each and every area of your foot that you’d like to adjust the boot to fit, whether that’s applying pads to your feet to mold the shell outward, or selecting places where you’d like to compress the boot inward to fit more tightly. Then, the shell and liner are heated in separate ovens to get them soft and malleable, before being put back together and placed on your feet while they’re still hot. You then step onto Fischer’s patented vacuum fitting machine, which is adjusted to match your skier style and stance to mold the upper portion of the boot to the angle you’re most comfortable at. Ice packs are then wrapped around the boot to speed up the cooling process, and then the whole boot is placed in a vacuum bag and sealed at the back. The boot fitter can then adjust the settings on the machine to different pressures in the toe and the heel, so as to create a locked in heel pocket while leaving enough room in the toe so you don’t feel cramped. As the bag inflates around the boot, the shell will mold both inward and outward to the specifications you gave at the beginning, and will be held there until they cool enough to be taken off your feet.
At this point, you should be wearing the best fitting boots you’ve ever worn in your life. And as an added bonus, similar to Head’s Liquid Fit, the process can be reversed and repeated any time you like to accommodate changes in fit or preference. For a vacuum moldable boot option, check out the Ranger ONE 120 for men, and the My Ranger Free 90 for women.
All these options are amazing, but can still be a bit confusing and unique to certain boots. If you’re torn between options, or just want someone to guide you through all of this information, reach out to one of our experts! We have a ton of qualified boot fitters on our team, and we’d be happy to share what we know.