Gear Made Clear: Ski Boots

Gear Made Clear: Ski Boots

The disparity between a perfectly tuned ski boot and one that’s, well, imperfect… is akin to the difference between being nestled in a cozy, plush sleeping bag on a cold, stormy night and a medieval Iron Maiden torture device. Your ski boots are the mission control center of your perfect ski day and a great deal of fine-tuning is required to ensure you’ll perform at your best. Everyone has different feet, so refining your boots’ fit is beyond essential. Below, you’ll find the vital information needed to take your ski boots from zeros to heroes.

Hike/Walk Mode

Boots with hike/wake mode allow the upper and lower cuff to release from one another, providing greater range of fore and aft motion. Extremely beneficial on the bootpack, skin track or the walk from the gondola to the bar. When it’s time to shred, simply flip the switch, lock ’er back down and rip.

Heat-Moldable Shells & Liners

Using a specially designed oven, liners and shells can be heated up and sculpted to the precise shape of your foot and lower leg. A few millimeters of adjustment can elevate your skiing by leaps and bounds. You can bake your liners and shells in your own oven, but trust us, your local fire department has better things to do than tend to your foul-up.

Shell Types

There are two major shell types: two-piece and three- piece. Two-piece construction (below left) entails an upper and lower cylinder wrapping the lower leg and foot. The two main portions of the shell overlap above the in-step, minimizing potentially painful pressure points. The two-piece shell caters to those with large-volume feet.

The three-piece shell (above right) consists of a base piece, spine and ribbed tongue. The ribbed tongue provides a progressive flex depending on the amount of force put out by the skier. Tongues can also be swapped out to customize stiffness even further. In a three-piece boot, the tongue sits on the instep, which caters to those with low-volume feet.

Power Straps

A power strap is the uppermost band on your boot that cinches the upper cuff closed to provide control in your skiing. Today’s power straps include a variety of velcro, cam buckles and other mechanisms for a snug fit. Aftermarket dynamic power straps have built-in stretch, allowing you to cinch ‘em to the moon.

Shell Sizing

In order to find your proper shell size, the liner must be removed from the boot, and your foot must be placed inside the shell. Your boot fitter will use a wooden dowel or similar tool to measure the gap between your heel and the back of the boot. Fit is categorized, in ascending order of tightness, as “comfort,” “performance” or “race” fit.

Forward Lean

Defined as: The forward angle of your boot’s upper shell, directly related to your preferred skiing stance. With wider, rockered skis being the norm for many skiers today—which allow for a relaxed, upright stance—many boot manufacturers have decreased forward lean, on average. If you’re ultra-aggressive, like The Rock or Vin Diesel, you may prefer a bit more forward lean.

Instep Height

The bony area above and slightly forward of your arch is the instep, and one of the most sensitive parts of the foot. You either have a high or low instep. An improper boot fit will cause debilitating discomfort in this area. Those with high insteps often choose two-piece shells, for reasons described over on the left, under Shell Types. Those with low insteps covet three-piece construction, as a flatter foot doesn’t generally rub up against the tongue when it’s cinched down tight.

Flex Rating

Flex rating is denoted by a somewhat arbitrary number that can fluctuate between brands. The term “true 130 flex” refers to the stiffest boots on the market. Something in the 80, 90 or 100-range would be much softer. Folks who often find themselves pinning it in the “no-fall zone,” where precision and control are key, likely prefer a 130 flex. Those who enjoy playful and relaxed skiing all around the mountain should go for something softer.


The width of a boot’s forefoot area is its last. Narrower lasts fall into the 97- to 98-millimeter range; average lasts in the 99- to 101-millimeter spectrum; and wider lasts generally register 102 millimeters and above. The measurement is a guideline for the boot’s width (see below right).


The adjustment of canting (seen above left), or lateral alignment of your boots, helps keep your skis flat on the ground when you’re in a regular stance for balanced skiing. Adjustment points around the ankles of the boots are used for adjustment.


Custom footbeds offer dreamy support for your feet. All ski boots come with a stock footbed, but they take a way-back seat to aftermarket and custom offerings. If you’re serious about upping your skiing game, we strongly encourage you to cough up the cash for a drop-in or totally unique-to-you, custom-made orthotic.

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