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The saying goes like this: "You date your skis, but you marry your boots." The meaning? Ski boots are the most crucial piece while outfitting your gear setup. The greatest ski and binding combo will not do you any good if your feet are uncomfortable and you spend your day in the lodge. It is essential to find a pair of boots that fit your feet. Consider a handful of specifics when shopping for new ski boots, like the size, flex, and last (width).
Note: We recommend working with a bootfitter when shopping for ski boots. If you're committed to buying online, these are the things you'll want to consider.
Ski boots are sized in Mondo Point sizing. This number is the length of your foot in centimeters (simplicity!). In general, beginners want a boot that corresponds to their street shoe size and measures about a size bigger than their mondo length. You can roughly translate mondo to street shoe size by adding the first two numbers of a mondo size (ie: a size 26.5 boot will provide a comfort fit for someone with a size 8 street size). With ski boots, you're trying to balance a snug fit (for performance) with comfort (to avoid misery). Note: Most of the customers we bootfit in-store, regardless of ability, end up in the boot size that matches their mondo measurement.There is no difference between men's and women's sizing when it comes to Mondo Point sizing. Most women's specific boots do feature shorter cuffs to accomodate lower calf muscles.
The higher the number on the flex index, the stiffer the boot. Keep in mind, though: Flex can vary brand-to-brand and boot type to boot type. Softer-flexing boots are more forgiving and comfortable, typically suited for more casual or newer skiers. Stiffer boots pack better performance and facilitate stronger skiing. Skier size also matters with flex. Heavier skiers need the support afforded by stiffer boots, while lighter skiers often get sufficient support out of softer boots.
Measured in millimeters, "last" refers to the width of the boot at its widest point, which is generally across the forefoot. Narrower boots are best for expert, aggressive skiers, who care more about performance than comfort. Foot width factors in as well, with narrow-footed skiers preferring boots with narrower lasts. Keep in mind that in general, the narrower the boot the less comfortable it will be, but the higher level of control you will have over your skis. Most people like to find a happy medium between a tight performance fit and a wider comfort fit.
This is the type of boot that most people think of when envisioning ski boots. There will be a firm toe and heel piece with little to no rubber on the base of the boot. If you have a traditional downhill setup, this is the style of boot you are looking for. These types of boots will work in any downhill binding as well as frame-style touring bindings.
Full AT boots are designed for ski touring, whether in the backcountry or uphill at a resort. These boots will have a lugged sole to provide more traction for hiking/climbing. This lugged sole (a touring sole rather than a GripWalk or alpine sole) works best with tech AT bindings, but it can be compatible with alpine bindings as long as they include adjustable toe heights (it sounds complicated, but most popular alpine bindings can accommodate this). Note: Certain touring boots with a "shark nose" profile or small/no toe welt will not work with alpine bindings.
The rise of alpine touring and many skiers' desire to have a single pair of boots and a single ski setup for everything has led to an entirely new category of products: Hybrid, also known as 50/50 or freeride. These boots will feature GripWalk soles (easier walking than alpine soles but not as cush as AT soles), plus walk mode, decent range of motion, and a sturdy upper conducive to the demands of resort skiing. These boots weigh in heavier than AT boots, but they give you extra versatility. If you only backcountry ski, you'll probably prefer a full-on AT option. If you only ski in-bounds, you don't need to pay the extra money for hybrid boots. But if you want to do both, these boots are the way.
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