Why Rental Ski and Snowboard Boots Are the WorstPublished on 06/15/2023 · 6 min readDebating between renting or buying boots for your ski and snowboard adventures this season? Snowboard Expert Chuck T. highlights some of the downfalls of renting!
Photo by Ulvi Safari
“What’s that smell?” After working in and around rental shops for many years, this is one of the most common comments I hear when guests walk into a rental shop. And they’re not usually talking about the smell of freshly baked cookies or crisp mountain air. They’re talking about rental boots.
Rental boots lead a tough life. They can smell bad, fit even worse, and aren’t always the best-looking boots on the hill. Let’s explore the reasons rental boots are the worst and why owning your own boots will make a big difference in enjoying your time on the slopes.
First off is the smell. To the credit of rental manufacturers, most rental boots feature an antimicrobial treatment in the boot liners. This treatment is intended to eliminate or reduce microbial growth in fabric. The problem with rental boots is that the conditions they exist in are prime for these microbes to grow and thrive.
A typical rental boot can potentially be used by one or two people a day throughout a 90 to 150-day season. While on slow days at a resort, not every boot is used; busy days will see almost every boot get rented at least once. Resorts, manufacturers, and rental shops do their best to educate guests on proper socks and clothing, however, more often than not, a cotton sock and blue jeans are getting shoved inside that boot for the day.
If you’re taking the time to read this article I’m going to assume you also take the time to shower and change your socks each day. However, not everyone is on that program. I’ve witnessed some less-than-optimal foot hygiene slide right into a rental boot.
But don’t the rental shops spray the boots when they’re returned? If the shop is doing its job properly, the boots most definitely get sprayed with a disinfectant after being used. There are ski area suppliers that produce high-quality disinfectant products specifically for rental boots. However, the combo of the antimicrobial treatments and the disinfectant sprays can’t keep up with the main culprit of the smell: moisture.
Moisture and Bacteria
All boots are subject to internal and external moisture sources. Internal boot moisture comes from the user’s foot perspiration. A foot encased in a plastic shell exerting energy will perspire. Wool and synthetic socks help keep this sweat away from the foot and help wick it up and out of the ski boot. But, as we already know, many rental guests opt for cotton socks that perform zero of these functions.
External moisture comes from the snow itself and precipitation. On powder days, rain days, and slushy spring days, boots return to the rental shop soaked.
Most modern rental facilities are equipped with boot dryers and dehumidifiers to help manage wet boots. While these help, they are usually not enough to completely dry the boots overnight. The combination of questionable hygiene, outgunned antimicrobial treatments, and overworked drying systems create the smell found in rental shops and contribute to rental boots being your worst option.
Comfort and Fit
I can get over the smell. I’m outside anyway, but why do my feet hurt? And, I’m having trouble turning… Ski and snowboard boots should fit as closely to the foot as possible without causing pain or undue pressure. A properly fit boot will provide excellent power transfer to the ski/board and should not produce foot pain throughout the day.
People have a variety of foot shapes. Some are long and slender, some are wide and fat. In all but the highest-end shops, rental boots come in one last. The last is what the ski and snowboard industry calls the mold that the boot is created from. On retail boots, multiple last shapes might be offered to get a perfect fit for everyone. However, rental boots use a single last and it is always a high-volume fit.
Each boot needs to fit as many foot shapes as possible in each size. This means a guest with a size 8 narrow foot will get the same boot as a guest with a size 8 wide foot. The narrow foot will have plenty of room to move around in the boot (not ideal) and the wide foot will probably be cramped (also not ideal).
The next component to boot fit is the act of actually fitting the boot to the foot. In a retail shop, boot fitting can be a very intricate process. Professional boot fitters carefully measure foot length and width. They then select a few models that they know by experience and training that will best fit the customer’s foot. This process can take over one hour in some cases.
In the best rental shops, the foot is quickly measured and the guest is handed or assisted with the corresponding boot. For the sake of efficiency, this process is usually a one to two-minute interaction. High-volume rental shops can see 300-500 guests per hour. They simply don’t have time to make sure everyone has a perfect fit. Even smaller shops usually concentrate on selling boots and won’t spend nearly the same amount of time with a rental customer.
The final element of poor fit is the compression of the boot liners from the volume of use. Seeing that many feet throughout their lifespan, the foam used in the rental boot liners compresses and eventually does not rebound to its original thickness. This is referred to as “packing out.”
Packing out happens in all boots and is accounted for when fitting a retail boot. But, rental boots, which are already high volume, see exaggerated packing out and get progressively looser fitting with each use.
Between the high volume construction, minimal time for fitment, and packed-out liners, getting a great-fitting rental can be a challenge for even the best rental shops.
The final reason rental boots are the worst is how they look. While most will be black or gray to hide scuffs and scratches, there’s no mistaking them for rental boots. Most shops will write large numbers for inventory control on the boot. They will probably be plastered with barcodes and logos so the shop can easily identify their gear. Snowboard boots can look particularly rough with frayed, worn-out laces. If you want to look good on the slopes, rental boots aren’t the way to do it.
Investing in Your Own Boots
Now that we’ve explored why rental boots are the worst, what can you do to avoid renting boots on your next trip? Properly fitted boots are the most important piece of equipment in any ski or snowboard package.
A well-fitted boot will provide greater control and power transfer to your equipment. Good-fitting boots will also keep your feet warmer and pain-free throughout the day. Even if you’re on a budget, consider investing in a pair of boots as one of your first equipment purchases. Most rental shops will be able to fit a rental ski or snowboard into any boot that is within their norms. And, it’s much easier to pack and fly a pair of boots rather than an entire package.
A great way to avoid the worst part of renting and get a new pair of ski or snowboard boots from the comfort of your own living room is through Curated! The Ski and Snowboard Experts on Curated will get you in the right gear at the right price and help you avoid stinky, ugly, uncomfortable boots on your next winter adventure.