What's New in Ski Boots: How to Get a Good Fit

You want to go skiing but aren’t sure what to look for in a ski boot for your type of foot. Or, maybe you want to get some basics down while training during the off season. These concerns and others often plague beginner and advanced skiers alike.To begin with you must buy the proper ski boot. When buying ski boots make sure you wear the ski boots for at least 30 minutes at the ski shop. Wearing them for only a few minutes will not allow you to properly judge the fit of the boot, because it takes time to notice any areas of boot pressure that will begin hurting after skiing for extended periods.

If you have problems with your feet that are mildly discomforting, your boot fitter should be able to address them. If you have a small bony prominence on your foot, adjustments can be made by “blowing” out the boot where it rubs your foot. As a general rule of thumb, if your feet hurt only with ski boots, your boot fitter should be able to address the problem. If your symptoms are elicited with normal shoe gear and ski boots, then it would be a good idea to consult a trained sports medicine physician. If you have foot and ankle problems which have been diagnosed by your physician, your ski boots should be modified by a podiatric or orthopedic physician qualified in biomechanics of the lower extremity.

Problems of the foot that may be addressed by a physician include: excessive pronation, excessive supination and equinus. Excessive pronation, a tendency for the foot to flatten during ambulation, may require orthotics to control the excessive motion. The same applies to excessive supination, a tendency to maintain a high arch. This can be addressed by fitting the arch, allowing better contact with the platform of the boot in addition to a footbed or orthotic device.

Equinus deformity, an inability to fully pull the ankle past the 90-degree position with your knee locked, may require a heel lift to be added to the boot and/or a modification to the footbed or orthotic. Because these problems are intricate and require correction in three planes of motion (triplanar biomechanical motion), you need a physician who is knowledgeable in biomechanics (study of human motion) and orthotics.

There are some new boot designs that will allow better fitting of ski boots to individuals. In the past boots were much more difficult to get a good calf fit-especially in women. Ski boots had high cuffs & then later low cuffs (the upper part of the boot that goes around your calf). The high cuffs gave more stability but were difficult to fit to different calf sizes. The low cuff boots were more comfortable-but less stable. 

Now boots are made in different heights & cuff diameters to allow better calf fitting without loss of support. Another way boots are offering more support without adding more cuff to the boot is the fact that there are more four buckle boots versus three buckle boots. The extra buckle allows better boot fit and control Manufacturers are also paying more attention to the bone structure differences between men & women across the board, as opposed to one or two gender specific models.

One of the biggest changes in boots is the addition of a dual cuff cant adjustment. A cant adjustment is the movement of the boot cuff to a more outward position to compensate for the natural outward curve of the lower leg. Now some boots have an adjustment on both sides of the cuff to allow inward movement as well. Other adjustments or variations in boots are different ramp angles available in certain boots and bindings (the angle between the heel and ball of the foot parallel to the ground ). A higher ramp angle will lift your heel and have a tendency to move your ski position forward. 

A higher ramp angle may also help some skiers who have tight calves- especially women. If a boot has a high ramp angle then it needs to be balanced with a binding with less of a ramp angle. Ramp angles may also be introduced or reduced by a footbed or orthotic. Some boots can change the forward lean from an outside adjustment. This will not change the ramp angle.. Ramp angle and forward lean are separate adjustments from a flex control, which allows more or less flexion (stiffness control) mimicking a higher ramp angle. Flex control allows softer or harder transmission of the forces from your body down & the reactive ground up (the ski slope). Just about all boots now have heat moldable boot liners-which makes for a more comfortable fit and the ability to set the liner in the persons “skiing position.”

Don’t get hung up on all the ‘bells & whistles” available. All adjustments or features may or may not be necessary , and vary according to your skiing abilities and body type. These adjustments and recommendations should be made only by your boot fitter or sports medicine podiatrist because they affect balance & the dynamics of skiing-so let a pro identify your body shape & mechanics to make the best recommendation for you. Things to keep in mind while barreling down the slopes are the temperature of your feet and the tightness of your boot. 

If you find your feet feeling cold, you may need to insulate the lining of your ski boot. If your feet feel cold, numb, and have a pins-and-needles feeling or burning, you may have overexposure to the cold or the boot’s tightness may be cutting off circulation to your feet. If it is indeed due to overexposure to the cold weather, simply loosening the boot buckles will not relieve the symptoms. Therefore, it is imperative that you find your way to a first aid station immediately to prevent the possibility of frost bite. If the cold feeling is due to an ill-fitting boot, have your boot fitter lower the shellbed, remove extra padding, remove material from the tongue, or decrease the bulk of the footbed.

Now that you a few ideas on choosing ski boots and how to care for the feet in them, it is up to you to use what you know to get your best fit!

Dr. George Tsatsos is Board Certified by the American Board of Podiatric Medical Specialties, the American Board of Podiatric Orthopedics and the American Academy of Pain Management. He is a Clinic Advisor for the American Running and Fitness Association, a member of the American College of Sports Medicine and official podiatrist for the Viking Ski Shop. He and Dr Kurtz specialize in child and adult foot & ankle disorders, surgery and sports medicine in their practice in Chicago and Elmhurst.  The practice facilities offer digital x-rays, video biomechanics and gait analysis, and computerized digital orthotics.

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