Ski Boots: How to Choose the Best Ski Boots for You

Published on 05/08/2023 · 21 min readThe right ski boots will save you a ton of pain and frustration on the hill! Check out this guide from Skiing Expert Kat Smith to ensure you choose the right boots!
By Ski Expert Kat Smith

Photo by Gustav Lundborg

TL;DR: In addition to your foot size and shape, your skier level, skier style, skier goals, and budget will all play a big role in determining the right ski boots for you.

When shopping for a new ski setup, many people put the majority of their focus and effort into finding the right pair of skis. But purchasing the right pair of skis with the wrong pair of ski boots can be detrimental to the skiing experience! It’s just as important to put time and effort into finding the right pair of ski boots as it is the right pair of skis, and a lot more than just size and fit goes into it. In addition to your foot size and shape, your skier level, skier style, skier goals, and budget will all play a big role in determining the right ski boots for you. And the right pair of ski boots will keep your feet comfortable for a full day out on the slopes and allow you to perform at your best, whether you are a beginner skier just learning the basics or an expert skier dropping cliffs and sending big lines.

My name is Kat Smith, and throughout my 32 years of skiing, I have purchased, rented, and borrowed equipment of all kinds, including ski boots. When I was younger, I didn’t really care what equipment I used as long as it got me out on the slopes! But when I grew out of my older brother’s hand-me-down ski boots and got my first pair that was truly my own, carefully fitted not only to my foot and ankle but also to my skier ability level and style, I realized what a difference the right boot makes. Not only have I not had foot or ankle pain while skiing for the last 15 years (I swear!), but I know my boots aren’t holding me back from reaching my maximum performance potential!

Aching feet and bruised shins shouldn’t be a part of skiing, and skis are not the only piece of equipment contributing to your performance. The guideline below describes the features to look for so you can feel good in your ski boots all day!

What Are Ski Boots?

Ski boots are exactly what they sound like—boots that you wear when you go skiing! More specifically, though, they are specialized footwear designed for skiing that connects the skier to their skis through bindings. Ski boots are very stiff and limit the skier’s ankle movement, which allows for power transmission from the skier's legs to the skis, which gives the skier control.

Ski boots consist of a rigid outer shell for protection, support, and stability and an inner liner for comfort and insulation. Features such as flex rating, last width, different closure systems, various sole types, and a slew of other special features make it so that different boots will cater better to a skier's foot size and shape, ability level, ski style, and personal preferences.

What to Consider When Buying Ski Boots

What Size and Fit Do I Need?

Proper ski boot fit is crucial for optimal performance on the slopes and comfort! A well-fitting ski boot will keep your heel securely in place and allow your toes to wiggle, but your big toe should not touch the front of the boot when in a skiing stance and not create any pressure points causing discomfort. While you can determine the appropriate size ski boot for yourself using standard sizing charts like the ones below, getting professionally fitted at a ski shop is highly recommended. The boot fitter can assess your foot shape, size, and determine any specific needs. They can also make adjustments to the boot or recommend customization options to improve the fit further.

Check out these Ski Boot Sizing Charts from Nordica, a popular ski boot company, below. Standard boot sizing charts like this one can assist you in determining the correct ski boot sole length, or “mondo size,” based on your regular shoe size.

For more information on boot fitting, check out this article written by Curated Ski Expert Matt B.: Do Your Ski Boots Fit? How to Tell if You’re Good to Go.

What Skier Ability Level Am I?

When choosing ski boots, it's essential to consider your skill level (beginner, intermediate, advanced/expert). Knowing your ability level will help determine the appropriate boot flex rating, which tells you how stiff the boot is. Boots with a softer flex are more forgiving and, therefore, suitable for beginners, while boots with a stiffer flex provide better control and responsiveness, which is necessary for advanced skiers tackling challenging terrain and high speeds. Having the incorrect flex rating can hinder your ability to perform at a high level and to learn and grow as a skier.

How Much Do I Weigh?

My 2-year-old niece is enjoying a cookie during her ski break! Even toddlers and kids need well-fitting ski boots! Photo by Brendan Denihan

In addition to your skier ability level, your ideal ski boot flex rating will also be determined by your weight. A lower flex rating (i.e., softer boot) is appropriate for someone lighter, while a higher flex rating, or a stiffer boot, is better for a heavier skier. For example, my husband and I have very similar skier levels (I’m a little bit better!), but he has a stiffer flex rating than me because he weighs 75lbs more than I do.

What Are My Skier Style and Goals?

In addition to considering your skill level, it’s important to consider your skier style. For example, do you like to ski hard and fast on groomed trails? Do you hunt for powder in the backcountry? Do you spend a lot of time in the terrain park? Are you just barely linking turns on the bunny slope? Or perhaps a little bit of everything? Knowing your skier style will guide you towards boots with features tailored to specific activities, such as impact absorption for freestyle skiers or a walk mode for touring the backcountry.

In addition to considering your skier style, take a minute to think about your goals as a skier. For example, suppose you are a beginner who gets out on the slopes one weekend per year and spends more time in the lodge enjoying apres-ski than out on the slopes. In that case, your ski boot needs will be different than someone who is at the same skier level (beginner) who is getting out on the slopes every weekend and wants to be skiing double black diamonds by the end of the year.

What Is My Budget?

Ski boots can range in price from about $200 to over $1,000, depending on the brand, features, and performance level (usually indicated by the flex rating). Beginners can usually find decent ski boots for $200-$400 that provides a comfortable fit and adequate support for learning. More advanced skiers who demand higher performance and more features may want to invest more money in a pair of boots. It's essential to balance cost with quality and remember that the best ski boot is the one that fits you properly, regardless of price!

What Customization Options and Special Features Should I Consider?

While some lucky skiers may be able to put their foot in a ski boot off the shelf and find comfort, that’s not the case for many of us. Luckily, many ski boots have plenty of customization options that can significantly enhance the fit, comfort, and performance of your ski boots. Custom footbeds, heat-moldable liners, and shell modifications are just a few of the customizations a professional boot fitter can do to accommodate specific foot shapes and maximize comfort!

Ski boots also have many special features, including different sole types, buckle/closure systems, and “walk mode.” For more information about these special features, see the “Features to Look for When Buying Ski Boots” section below!

What Are the Different Types of Ski Boots?

This is a cross-country ski boot, which we don’t discuss in this article, but it is another ski boot “type” you may come across. Photo by Aaron Doucett

Several ski boots are designed specifically for different skiing styles and types. Here are some of the main types:

Alpine or “All-Mountain” Ski Boots

These boots are the most common and are what you will see most skiers wearing at any ski resort. Alpine boots vary in features, so they are suitable for both beginner and expert skiers and can hold their own on many different types of terrain. They offer a balance of comfort, performance, and versatility.

  • Benefits:
    • Versatile for many ability levels and ski styles
    • Available in many different flex ratings, last widths, and with various features
    • Available at a wide price range
  • Be Aware:
    • May not be the best choice for specialized skiing styles such as racing, touring, or freestyle
    • Not compatible will all alpine bindings

Freestyle Ski Boots

Freestyle ski boots are designed for skiers who spend most of their time in the park or pipe. A softer flex allows for more mobility, better shock absorption provides comfort on landings from jumps, and a more upright stance allows for better balance when performing tricks. While a freestyle skier can likely get away with using an alpine boot, a freestyle boot will improve their performance!

  • Benefits:
    • Will maximize freestyle performance
    • Provides comfort and safety when performing jumps and tricks
  • Be Aware:
    • Less power transmission and support may hinder performance when skiing outside the park.

Race Ski Boots

Built for competitive ski racing, these boots have a stiffer flex and narrower fit for maximum power transfer and precise control at high speeds. In addition, they often feature a more aggressive forward lean for a better racing stance.

  • Benefits:
    • Designed for high speeds
    • Provide great precision and control
  • Be Aware:
    • Not as comfortable as other boot types
    • Not suitable for beginner or intermediate skiers
    • Not ideal for casual or recreational skiers

Touring or Backcountry Ski Boots

A friend of mine is on the skin track. Lightweight ski boots with walk mode make the climb so much more enjoyable! Photo by Kat Smith

Alpine touring (AT) boots are designed for skiers exploring the backcountry and have very specific features. They are lightweight so that they don’t hinder a skier’s uphill performance, and they have features such as walk mode and/or a softer flex to allow greater ankle range of motion when on the skin track or boot pack.

  • Benefits:
    • Have features that allow for easier uphill travel
    • Hybrid models, which blend features from touring boots and alpine boots, are available for skiers who spend time in the backcountry and at the resort.
    • Options available for different backcountry ski styles—while some prioritize uphill performance, others don’t mind wearing a heavier and stiffer boot not to sacrifice the descent
  • Be Aware:
    • Lightweight design and a softer flex may sacrifice downhill skiing
    • Not compatible with alpine bindings, and even hybrid models often need a hybrid binding
    • Less versatility and fewer options available

Telemark Ski Boots

These boots are specifically designed for telemark skiing. The unique, flexible bellows at the forefoot allow the skier to bend their knee and lift their heel freely from the binding when turning.

  • Benefits:
    • Compatible with telemark bindings
    • Usually have a walk mode which is ideal for touring
  • Be Aware:
    • Limited to telemark skiing style
    • Fewer options for fit and flex compared with other types of boots

Features to Look for When Buying Ski Boots

Photo by Ulvi Safari

When starting your search for ski boots, you’ll notice the boot titles feature a lot of numbers and letters, which indicate specific features that the boot has. For example, AT stands for “alpine touring,” GW stands for “grip walk,” and LV, MV, and HV stand for “low volume,” “mid-volume,” and “high volume.” The number between 40 and 130 at the end of the boot title indicates its flex rating. Still with me? This can be confusing! So what’s important to take into consideration? Below is a list of the features to pay attention to when shopping for ski boots.

Mondopoint

The primary consideration when looking for the correct ski boot fit is its mondopoint. Ski boots use the mondopoint sizing system, but the mondopoint is equivalent to your foot’s length in centimeters. So, just like when shopping for sneakers, foot length will be the primary consideration for sizing and will, at the very least, give you a good starting point.

Last Width

After mondopoint, the boot’s last width is the most important feature to consider for fit. The last width refers to the internal width of the boot shell at the widest point of the forefoot. A narrow last, which is typically 97-100mm and referred to as “low volume” or “LV,” is ideal for people with narrow feet. A wide last, which typically measures somewhere between 100-106mm and is referred to as “high volume” or “HV” is more suitable for someone with wide feet. Some boot brands also have a “mid-volume” or “MV,” a last width around 100mm. Since you want your ski boots to fit snugly, having the correct last width for your specific feet will make a huge difference in fit and performance.

Flex Rating

The flex rating is a number between 40 and 130 which indicates the stiffness of the boot, with higher numbers being stiffer. The flex rating is often incorporated right into the “title” of the ski boot. For example, the “Tecnica Cochise 105” ski boots have a flex rating of 105.

The skier’s ability level, weight, and skiing goals should be taken into consideration when determining a skier’s appropriate flex rating. A more advanced or expert skier will want a stiffer flex to allow for excellent control and precision when skiing at high speeds and on challenging terrain. In comparison, a beginner skier will do well with a softer flex which will be more forgiving and comfortable. A lighter skier won’t need as much stiffness as a heavier skier of the same ability level, and usually, women’s boots don’t even offer ski boots at flex ratings as high as the men’s boot equivalent.

Lastly, the skier’s goals should be taken into consideration. An adventurous beginner-intermediate skier dedicated to advancing their skills and exploring new terrain may want a stiffer flex than someone at the same ability level who gets out on the slopes just one or two days per year socially with friends and values comfort over performance.

Customization Options

While some may be lucky enough to find a good, comfortable fit with a boot right off the shelf, customization options ensure that the wearer can find that same perfect fit. Some boots offer customizations such as heat-moldable liners that will conform to your foot’s specific shape, canting adjustments for aligning the cuff to the shape of your calf, and forward lean adjustments for changing the boot's forward angle. Custom footbeds, replaceable soles, and pressure point punching/grinding adjustments are other customizations that skiers can look into as they search for that perfect boot fit.

Binding Compatibility

When purchasing new ski boots, it’s important to make sure they are compatible with your ski bindings unless you are also planning to purchase new ones. Newer technology features such as GripWalk soles (see below) may make a newer model of ski boots non-compatible with an older pair of bindings. The ski boot type will also play a big role in binding compatibility, as mentioned in the “What Are the Different Types of Ski Boots” section above. For example, touring boots typically do not work with alpine bindings.

Special Features

Just like any outdoor equipment, ski boots have evolved with the sport and with technology advancements and now offer many great features that make boots more comfortable, more functional, and higher performing.

  • Walk mode is a feature commonly seen in touring and hybrid touring boots but also on some alpine ski boots. When unlocked, walk mode gives the boot more flexibility, making it easier and more comfortable to walk or hike up a boot pack. While this feature is designed for skiers exploring the back and sidecountry, some people find it convenient to walk from the parking lot to the chairlift!
  • GripWalk soles are another feature that has become a new standard amongst ski boot manufacturers. As opposed to alpine soles, GripWalk soles make walking around in your ski boots easier and safer by providing a better grip on snow, ice, and uneven or sloped ground.
  • Micro-adjust buckles are a feature that allows you to fine-tune the fit of your ski boot by adjusting the length of the buckles, ensuring the perfect amount of snugness. In addition to micro-adjust buckles, such as a power strap, which is very common, or the newer BOA Fit System.

While ski boots come in many different color combinations, it’s important to prioritize proper fit, comfort, and features that cater to your specific needs on the slopes over style. Keep in mind that the best ski boots for you will depend on your skiing ability, ski style, and personal preferences, and the boots that are ideal for your friend may be different than what is recommended for you!

How to Choose the Right Boots for You

Photo by Visit Almaty

Now that you know how to sift through the many ski boot options out there, it’s time to determine which boots are right for you. Let’s break it down with a few scenarios to help you determine what specific features to look for.

Josh: The All-Around Skier

Josh is a 180lb advanced skier based in the Midwest. Josh skis regularly at Cascade Mountain in Wisconsin and typically takes one ski trip per year out West to resorts such as Snowbird, Jackson Hole, or Big Sky. He likes to ski all kinds of terrain, from groomed runs to bumps and trees to wide-open bowls, and he even dabbles in the park. Josh bought his current boots five years ago when he was an intermediate-level skier, and he wants to upgrade his boots to reflect the skier he is now to really maximize his performance. Josh wears a size 10.5 shoe and has narrow feet. In addition, his skis are equipped with newer alpine ski bindings.

Features Josh should look for:

  • A mondopoint appropriate for his foot length, likely about 27/27.5 based on his shoe size
  • A low volume (LV) last width
  • A stiffer flex rating of about 110-120
  • Compatible with newer models, standard alpine bindings

Why? Based on Nordica’s Ski Boot Sizing Chart, Josh should look for a boot with a mondopoint of 27/27.5. Since he says he has narrow feet, a low-volume boot with a last width between 97-100mm will be the best fit. Since Josh is an advanced-level skier who likes to ski challenging terrain and is also fairly heavy, he should look for a boot with a stiffer flex to offer the power transmission and control he needs. Because Josh already owns skis with bindings, he should make sure that the boots he buys are compatible with his existing bindings, but since he notes that they are a newer model, they likely will, as long as they are alpine bindings.

Lastly, Josh should consider his personal budget when shopping for new boots, but since he skis frequently and his ski goal is to maximize his performance, it’s worth it for him to splurge on a pair of boots that will support his goals and be comfortable day in and day out and all day long.

Boot examples: Salomon S/Max 120 GW Ski Boots

Kate: The Advancing Beginner

Kate is a 150lb beginner-level skier shopping for her first pair of ski boots. She has been renting for the past few seasons while still learning the basics, and she is not feeling dedicated enough to the sport to invest in some gear of her own. Kate lives in the Northeast and takes one or two ski trips to resorts in Vermont each year. She is hoping to take a trip to Colorado with some friends this coming ski season. While she primarily skis groomed runs right now, she has aspirations to explore some steeper, more challenging terrain as she continues to advance her skills. Kate wears a size 8 shoe and describes her feet as “really wide,” saying she struggles to find sneakers that comfortably fit her feet. In addition, she is also shopping for skis and bindings.

Features Kate should look for:

  • A mondopoint appropriate for her foot length, likely about 25/25.5 based on her shoe size
  • A high volume (HV) last width at the highest end of the range (close to 106mm)
  • A flex rating of about 70
  • Compatible with the ski bindings she purchases
  • Customization options

Why? Based on Nordica’s Ski Boot Sizing Chart, a mondopoint of 25/25.5 should fit Kate’s foot. Since she has wide feet and notes her difficulties with sneakers, a high-volume boot with a last width at the widest end of the range will likely fit her best. Typically beginner skiers should use ski boots with a soft flex rating, but since Kate’s ski goals include advancing her skills and exploring more challenging terrain, a slightly stiffer flex rating than what would be ideal for a true beginner is appropriate so that the boots will last her a few years and help her reach her goals.

Since she is also purchasing new bindings, she should make sure that the boots and bindings she purchases are compatible, but if she purchases newer alpine models of each, there shouldn’t be an issue. Because Kate has had issues with shoe comfort in the past, she may want to look at options that offer customization options to ensure she finds the best fit. Finally, Kate should consider her budget, but since she is still advancing her skills, she may want to upgrade her boots down the road, so she shouldn’t splurge just yet.

Boot examples: Salomon QST Access 70 Ski Boots, Dalbello DS MX 70 W GW Ski Boots

Brian: The Resort Ripper Exploring the Backcountry

Brian is a 165lb advanced skier based in Colorado. He’s been skiing at the resort his entire life and skis all terrains and all ski conditions. He has decided this year that he wants to try backcountry touring. He doesn’t want to purchase a new, dedicated touring setup just yet, but he needs gear to try it. He purchased a pair of used frame bindings on Craigslist and had them mounted on an older pair of skis he has. It’s time for him to upgrade his ski boots anyway, as they are nearly eight years old, so he figures he might as well get boots that will cater to touring and his ski style at the resort. Brian wears a size 9.5 shoe and says he has neutral-width feet, and his current ski boots have a mondopoint of 26.5 and a last width of 100mm, which he says fit his feet well, and he has never had any issues.

Features Brian should look for:

  • A mondopoint of 26.5
  • A mid-volume (MV) last width (100mm)
  • A stiffer flex rating of about 110-120
  • Walk mode feature
  • Compatible with his frame bindings and with pin/hybrid alpine touring (AT) bindings

Why? Since Brian has been skiing his entire life, he should stick with the mondopoint and last width that he currently uses, especially since he has had no issues with the boots he is upgrading and doesn’t express interest in changing the size and fit. A stiffer flex rating is appropriate for Brian since he is an advanced skier who likes to explore challenging terrain. Since he wants to use these boots in the backcountry, it’s important that he look for boots with walk mode; it will make uphill travel on the skin track significantly easier. Since he purchased frame bindings instead of AT or pin bindings, he shouldn’t have any issues with binding compatibility. However, since his frame bindings were used and may be an older model, he should double-check the compatibility with his new boots since technology and features have changed.

It may be worth it for Brian to check out hybrid touring bindings that have pin technology that he can use with his current frame bindings but can also be used with a pair of touring bindings or hybrid touring bindings since he may want to upgrade some of his touring gear if he finds that he likes it. Finally, Brian should consider his personal budget, but since he skis hard and often and prioritizes his performance, he shouldn’t hold back.

Boot examples: Tecnica Cochise 120 DYN Ski Boots, Lange XT3 Free 120 MV GW Ski Boots

Conclusion

With the right pair of ski boots, you will be out on the slopes from first chair to last chair, foot pain-free, and you’ll be able to reach the potential of your skier level, skier style, and ski goals. Of course, the right size and fit are of the utmost importance for maximum comfort and performance, but those aren’t the only factors that play a role. Boot flex, customizations, binding compatibility, and special features will all play a role in what makes a ski boot right for you, and you also have to make sure you’re getting the right type of boot for the skiing you plan on doing!

If this all still feels overwhelming, reach out to a Curated Skiing Expert for assistance in finding the best pair of ski boots for you!

Kat Smith, Ski Expert
5.0
Kat Smith
Ski Expert
Growing up skiing in Stowe, Vermont, I learned to high speed cruise on fresh cuordoroy, chase my older brother through the trees and glades, make my turns tight and quick on moguls, and drop into a steep and narrow double black diamond. When my Dad took me on a trip "out West" for the first time when I was 15, I got my first taste of deep powder and I never looked back. Now, I am lucky to call Salt Lake City, Utah my home, and ski resorts like Snowbird, Alta, Solitude, and Brighton are my backyard. Since living in Utah, I have expanded my ski skills and knowledge even further: I've taken avalanche safety classes and have added the Wasatch backcountry to my regularly visited ski spots, I've taken weekend trips to Jackson Hole, Big Sky, Steamboat, and other top class resorts that are just a stones throw away, and skied on the 4th of July. Through all of these experiences skiing at various locations and on every type of terrain out there, I've learned firsthand how having gear that is perfectly tailored to your specific, unique needs can make all the difference. Ski boots don't have to - and shouldn't - make your feet hurt! Just because you are the same weight and height as your friend, doesn't mean the ski type and length they use is what you should use. If you are interested in getting into backcountry touring, get the gear and the education! I understand that everyone enjoys the outdoors differently, and I want to hook you up with the right ski gear so that you love the winter as much as I do!
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Written by:
Kat Smith, Ski Expert
5.0
Kat Smith
Ski Expert
Growing up skiing in Stowe, Vermont, I learned to high speed cruise on fresh cuordoroy, chase my older brother through the trees and glades, make my turns tight and quick on moguls, and drop into a steep and narrow double black diamond. When my Dad took me on a trip "out West" for the first time when I was 15, I got my first taste of deep powder and I never looked back. Now, I am lucky to call Salt Lake City, Utah my home, and ski resorts like Snowbird, Alta, Solitude, and Brighton are my backyard. Since living in Utah, I have expanded my ski skills and knowledge even further: I've taken avalanche safety classes and have added the Wasatch backcountry to my regularly visited ski spots, I've taken weekend trips to Jackson Hole, Big Sky, Steamboat, and other top class resorts that are just a stones throw away, and skied on the 4th of July. Through all of these experiences skiing at various locations and on every type of terrain out there, I've learned firsthand how having gear that is perfectly tailored to your specific, unique needs can make all the difference. Ski boots don't have to - and shouldn't - make your feet hurt! Just because you are the same weight and height as your friend, doesn't mean the ski type and length they use is what you should use. If you are interested in getting into backcountry touring, get the gear and the education! I understand that everyone enjoys the outdoors differently, and I want to hook you up with the right ski gear so that you love the winter as much as I do!

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