Sensible ski boot shopping: It's all about comfort, fit and warmth

Sensible ski boot shopping: It's all about comfort, fit and warmth

Skis and poles are important, too, but it’s mostly about the boot

Women's boots are made and fit differently then men's taking into consideration, a lower and smaller calf. 
All photos by Lisa Monforton


This year, my pre-spring break shopping did not include buying a new bikini for a beach holiday, but rather a much-needed new pair of ski boots for a few days on the slopes.

I’d been depending on the comfort – but certainly not style – of my old beater boots which I’d bought for $50 at a ski swap more than 10 years ago. The idea of cramming my fussy feet into stiff new boots and going through the breaking-in process had put my purchase off for a long time.

But after a technician tried to fit my comfy, but well-loved boots with worn out toes and heels onto some brand-spanking new skis on a demo day, I was convinced it was time to invest in some new footwear. Frankly, he told me, my boots were dangerous because the fittings were too worn.

I needed someone who would give me guidance for getting the right ski boot for my intermediate-to-advanced ability, the shape of my foot and most importantly, comfort and warmth.

Stephen McLean knows a thing or two about getting the right boots for your foot; he trains staff across the country for Sport Chek.

Comfort and warmth

About 80 per cent of people are intermediate skiers who get out to ski about 10 to 12 times a year, McLean says. They need a good fit and want comfort and warmth. More advanced skiers want a performance boot, which means a much snugger fit to give them the support they need for more technical skiing on gnarlier terrain.

The number of brands on the shelves can be bewildering, but McLean says most labels offer a boot for just about every type of skier. The price range is vast, but you can still get a decent boot in the $300 range.

Women’s boots fit differently than men’s, taking into consideration lower calf muscle and a narrower heel, higher instep and the all-important fleece liner.

No matter where you go to buy your boots, McLean says fit is the No. 1 priority and starting from scratch with the fitting process. Generally, he says, your boot should fit “like a firm handshake.’’

Then, there are series of steps that will ensure you’re getting the right boot.

  • Measure up – To determine your foot size, socks should be removed to be officially sized up in a Brannock, that good-old standardized foot-measuring device. McLean notes that 90 per cent of people have one foot that is smaller than the other; it’s usually the opposite to your dominate side and that means it’s important to fit the smaller foot first, so you can make adjustments.

    The Brannock will help accurately measure your foot and the wooden dowel will determine if the boot is fitting your calf properly.
    • Next up, is choosing a foot bed. This stabilizes your foot and keeps it from “splaying.” If your boot is too big, your feet will become colder faster, says McLean. That’s why it’s so important to fit the person to the size they measure, rather than to the preconceived size they think they are.

A foot bed will keep your foot stabilized in the boot.

  • Stepping into the hard shell of the boot is the next step, without the liner. Walk around, wiggle your toes, do a little up and down knee flex, get in your ski stance. Then McLean takes a wooden dowel about 2 cm wide and inserts in down the back of the boot to ensure there isn’t excess space. It should be less than 2.5 cm.

  • Step 4 is trying the boot with the inner liner. If it’s all feeling snug and comfy, with your toes “just feathering the liner, it’s ready for the heat box to help mould it to your foot.

  • The warm liner is ready for your foot and envelops your foot shape as you stand for about 10 minutes or so.

  • Then it’s fitted back into the hard shell and you’re ready to rock it in comfort on your favourite ski hill.

    There's more to getting a good fitting ski boot than just choosing your size off the shelf.

McLean has a few other tips to keep your feet and gear in good shape:

  • Wait to don your ski socks (never cotton!) just before you hit the hill. They can get damp and your feet can get colder faster.

  • You should only have one layer between your boot and skin – a good quality sock. McLean recommends cutting off your long underwear to the knee if it’s ankle length, or buying knee-length base layer. The purpose is to reduce friction.

  • When you’re set to ski and putting your buckles on, McLean says the second and third are key to giving you the support you need. The tension can be lower on the top buckle to give you a bit of flex.

  • If you’re skiing two days or more in a row, take out the liners, but don’t dry them out with a heat source because it will ruin the heat fit. Just let them dry naturally.

    Stephen McLean knows a thing or two about getting the right boots for your foot; he trains staff across the country for Sport Chek.

  • When you take your boots off, always store your boots with the buckles done up to keep their shape.

  • Signs of a poor fit include: cold toes or numb toes; excessive movement inside the boot, including heel lift, which can make you more prone to a sprain; curled toes (too small); ‘toe bang’ or sore toes, indicate your boot is too big. 

  • Bonus tip: This is the time of year you can find some really good deals on ski gear. 

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