The Best Ski Boots for RacingPublished on 05/22/2023 · 7 min readSki Expert Sara Beeken details what sets a race boot apart from other types of ski boots, and lists some of the best boots on the market for racing!
If you are looking at buying race boots for the first time, it's important to know what to expect. Race boots are not made for intermediate skiers, but rather, for advanced-to-expert skiers who prioritize performance over comfort. Not to say a race boot can't be comfortable, but if it feels cozy when you first put it on, it's probably too big for you. The unique fitting to be aware of with racing boots that differs them from other types of boots is because they are made with a thicker shell and a thinner liner for optimal power transfer.
As you can already see, the world of race boots can be a tricky place, especially for new racers to navigate. There are a lot of factors to consider when deciding which one is right for you in terms of ski wear. So in this article, I hope to lay out the basics as well as some insights into each brand!
Ski Boots Basics
Getting the right ski boots for racing includes knowing about sizing, boot mechanics, and the types of boots out there by brand and notoriety.
Having the right size ski boot is important for anyone, but especially for racers! When you add high speeds, sharp skis, and precise turns, there is NO room for your feet to be sliding around in your boots.
Ever wonder why ski racers unbuckle their boots on the lift? It's because when skiing, their boots are as tight as possible for the best precision and power transfer to the skis.
So, even if you think you know your boot size, measure your feet. If your foot measures exactly at 24 mondo point size, you should first try a 23.5 race boot. Some racers even size down a full size or more. Like other boots, race boots will only ever get larger, so while a 24.5 boot might feel great at first on a 24cm foot, it won't be long before that boot is a full size too large and you've lost a lot of performance from that boot.
It’s also worth noting that race boots are typically NOT gendered. While some women may prefer short cuff boots to accommodate lower calves, most race boots are unisex.
Unlike most ski boots, Race ski boots don't come in especially wide sizes. And as the boots get to be higher in flex (more on that ski lingo in a second) and performance, they also tend to get narrower. You are unlikely to find a race boot wider than 100mm. So if you're someone with wide feet, you'll want to either go for a high-performance boot rather than a race boot or rely on a boot fitter to modify your boot. There are some wider options out there, such as anything by Lange with 'MV' in the title, which has a 100mm last. Cuff Height
One other feature of race boots to consider is the cuff height. Women and racers with lower or wider calves might prefer Lange or Rossignol's Short Cuff (SC) boot. A short cuff boot is the same as other adult boots, but with a junior size cuff, or the upper piece of plastic around your shin and lower calf.
While no one major race ski boot brand is significantly more reputable than another, not every brand will fit everyone's foot. It's important to figure out which brand's race boots fit your particular foot shape best!
Different brands are known for different designs:
- Head and Atomic are typically narrower and work well for low-volume feet. It's also worth noting that Head's instep is a bit lower than some other brands like Lange.
- Dalbello is usually a good fit for folks with higher-volume feet.
- Nordica, Rossignol, Fischer, and Lange all tend to fit fairly average feet well.
It's not an exact science, but it's a good starting point.
The best person to ask about appropriate boot flexes for you or your child is your/their coach. 'Flex' rating measures how stiff or how much pressure it takes to 'flex' the boot. Flex ratings can range from 40 to 150+. Adults should typically have at least a 100 flex race boot.
Factors that are considered when choosing ski boot flex are athlete's weight, strength, and ability level. Stronger, heavier, and more aggressive skiers will need a boot with a stiff flex. Testing for the right flex can be done by putting on the ski boot with the buckles nice and tight, keeping the boots flat on the ground, and pushing forward with your shins on the front of the boots.
Keeping in mind that boots will flex more easily in warmer temperatures, it should be pretty easy to flex your boot indoors.
Plug boots are the highest level of ski race boots, used by high-level racers, including those competing in FIS, World Cup, and Collegiate racing.
They have lace-up liners and a very low-volume fit, meaning most people will need to have boot work done on them. If you do not know what plug boots are, chances are you do not need them! If you're thinking about buying a race boot that does not have a flex rating in the title, you could be looking at a plug boot.
Junior Race Boots
When buying shoes for their kids, parents often leave 'room to grow' and buy a size up. That's the biggest mistake that ski parents make when buying race boots for kids. If your child's boot is too big, even just for one season, it will negatively affect their progression all season long.
They will get used to their foot moving around in their boot and to compensate, they will develop bad habits in their skiing. It's also more difficult to keep your weight forward in a boot that's too big!
While you should consult either their coach or a ski expert to find the best flex for them, on average, athletes 10 and under will need a boot that is 65 flex or under. 11 to 15 year olds will typically need a 60 to 90 flex, and ages 16+ will generally need a 100+ flex boot.
The number of buckles is another consideration in kids' boots. You'll often see boots with one to three buckles rather than the traditional four-buckle boot. Less than four buckles is okay for young athletes who are still getting into racing, but by the time an athlete is a U12, they should really be in a four-buckle boot for the best control.
The best ski boots for small U8 or U10 racers are the Lange RSJ 50 or the Head Raptor 40 Jr (pictured above), both of which are three-buckle boots.
You may also be tempted to look into used boots for your growing athlete, but if you need to go this route, make absolutely sure that the boots are in good condition. Look at the bottom of the boots for excessive wear. If they've been used for several years, they are likely a larger size than indicated on the bottom of the boot, so keep that in mind as well.
Top Boots by Category
Top Three-Buckle Race Boot for Young U10 racers: Lange RSJ 50
This boot is made with higher-quality plastic than most kid’s boots! It’s softer and allows them to actually flex the boot and get in a better, more forward body position. The three buckles also offer better control and snug fit than a boot with one or two buckles.
Top Adult Race Boot for Wide Feet: Lange RS 110-130 MV
With a 100mm last, this is about as wide as race boots come. 100 is more of an average width for most recreational boots, but in racing everything comes a little narrower for better control. Lange makes MV (Medium Volume) models of their RS 110 and 130 boots.
Top Jr. Race Boot for Wide Feet: Lange RS 100 Short Cuff Wide
Also at 100mm last, this boot has a short cuff, which is great for junior racers or women. In the junior lineup, the wider boots are labeled as “Wide” rather than “MV.”
Most Customizable Race Boot: Head Raptor WCR
Many Head Race boots feature Liquid Fit, which is a very precise and quick way to customize a boot liner. It does need to be done at a bootfitter, but it is especially beneficial for the best ankle and heel fit. If the custom liner doesn’t do the trick, a bootfitter can also punch out the shell in problem areas.
In summary, race boots are a unique type of boot that aren’t for everyone. But if you’re a racer, or an expert skier who values performance, they are an incredible tool. If you’re thinking about getting some race boots, don’t do it alone! Reach out to a Curated Ski Expert to make sure you’re getting the right gear for you!