As with skis there’s a bewildering choice of ski boots nowadays. From superlight carbon 'Ski Rando' uphill carpet slipper racing boots to a 140 flex, stiff freeride clog.
The first thing you need to decide is where you'll do most of your skiing – on piste, off piste or touring. Many boots are a compromise of all three of these disciplines, but some are very type specific. I have split boots into Freeride Ski Boots, Performance Touring Boots and Lightweight Touring Boots.
This is how bendy the boot is and ranges from 70 (soft recreational boot) to 140 (world cup race boot). This rating is not scientific or comparable across brands, so 100 in one brand might be 110 in another. Heavier, more advanced skiers will need a stiffer boot, whilst light intermediate skiers would benefit from a softer boot. Off piste skiers usually need a mid-range stiffness boot, too stiff and it doesn't allow you to utilise the boot flex, throwing you back on the boot and ski.
Ski boots are based on the Mondo scale. Not all boots come in all sizes and there is no such thing as a half size – gone are the days where different half-sized liners filled out the boot. Nowadays all boots come with thermo-fit liners which fill the boot volume and encapsulate your foot. Custom supportive arch foot beds will also improve comfort and stop your toes bashing on the ski boot toe box in every turn! A word of caution, most people who don't go to a ski touring/freeride boot specialist get boots too big. Boots should feel tight, especially in the heel, and if you can wiggle your toes a lot they are probably too big.
Ski boot advice from a shop should include help with choosing the correct shape and model of boot for your foot not the all too common “that’s the only one we've got” scenario. The shop should take time heat moulding the boot liners with appropriate 'foam toe boxes' and 'slippy cover socks'. If you have an odd foot shape, the shop should offer to stretch the plastic shells, grind plastic and modify inner boots with foam sheets, transforming them into carpet slippers. Don't expect boots to be comfy out of the box. I ski around with a permanent marker for a week and put a spot on where my new boots need blowing out or liners need thickening. However, I don't rush in and get them modified unless they are really bad, as boots do take a week or so to further micro modify to your foot shape.
Women’s Specific Boots
All manufacturers now produce most of the boots outlined below in a women's specific version. Essentially they are the same boots with a few key tweaks. A lower height ski boot cuff reduces leverage on the lower leg and calf. Some have a narrower heel cup or a specific female liner to accommodate this. The boot sizes go down smaller and the flex range will be less, allowing for lighter skiers. They come in 'other' colours and have awful names like La Sportiva - Sparkle! I was given a first generation TLT boot from Dynafit years ago and because I have small feet (mondo 24.5) they sent me a nice pair of cream and purple boots, I loved them! If you’re a really small light bloke (me) there is no reason why you shouldn't ski in women's boots with a Sparkle?
Freeride Ski Boots
Freeride ski boots are all about the downhill and now form the biggest selling sector of off-piste footwear. Freeride skiers usually want a boot that can do a bit of uphill either on foot or skins. They all have a walk mode and some sort of grippy sole.
Freeride boots are compatible with ski touring bindings and alpine bindings, and some have pin tech fittings. To allow these compatibilities some boots have interchangeable sole units. These boots are usually heavier and stiffer than touring boots and have a restrictive range of movement when skinning or walking.
Freeride ski boots are ideal for skiers who want performance with day touring ability. These boots are ideal for all our Off Piste Adventure Courses. Whilst learning on our Off Piste Introductory or Development Coaching, its important skiers use a supportive boot like these or a soft flex downhill boot. Having said this if they are comfortable and your aerobically fit plenty of people do hut to hut tours in freeride boots.
Technica – Zero G TS / Cochise 120 Technica boots are becoming increasingly popular in the cross over market. The Cochise is a more downhill focused Freeride boot which you can buy in 120 or 130 flex. A word of warning, stiff boots are fairly unforgiving to ski in poor snow conditions. Personally I think a 130 flex will shake your fillings out and work your legs harder than a Turkish massage. If you’re 190cm and 100 Kg go for it! The Zero G is a lighter ski touring version new for this year; they both have a mid-volume fit.
Scarpa - Freedom SL / RS I used these for a while and really liked their progressive flex and great control. However, they now have a lot of competition. At 3.5kg they are ok for longer tours but the Technica Zero G is 2.7kg! The Scarpa Freedom RS is the stiffer version of the boot.
Salomon QST – Pro 120 / 130 A boot designed to fit a wide range of low and high-volume feet due to their overlapping construction. These top-end boots come in either 120 or 130 flex and two sole units with pin and AT binding compatibility.
Lange - XT Free Well known for their downhill race boots, Lange are offering the XT range in 120 – 140 flex. The 140 pro model I would imagine is rather stiff unless you’re a top end freerider. Lange boots tend to have a narrower fitting and low volume.
Dalbello – Lupo AX 120 A high-volume boot with pin binding fittings and plenty of downhill control.
Nordica – Strider Pro 120 / 130 Another wider fitting boot with either 120 or 130 flex and pin binding compatible.
Performance Touring Boots
This is the all-rounder boot that does most things well and used to be classified as the 4 buckle type touring boot. Most have equal up and downhill performance, are around 3kg per pair and have a nice grippy rockered rubber sole to walk on. Modern touring boots now ski nearly as well as the freeride models so you can choose a single boot for most jobs. I ski on the Scarpa Maestrale RS2 for all my off-piste as it iis light and nearly as supportive as the freeride Scarpa Freedom SL in which I skied for a while. The RS is lighter, comfy and warm but the flex isn't quite as good as the SL, which is not a problem for the more advanced skier.
This growth sector has caused some issues with these rubber soled touring boots and alpine bindings. Just check as some bindings like the Marker ID and Look Dual might not fit your boots. Most Mountain Tracks customers will probably opt for a touring binding so there are less issues. Most Performance Touring Boots have pin tech fittings giving people the choice of going lightweight.
The following boots are perfect for all Mountain Tracks Ski Touring Courses or our Off Piste Adventure Courses. However, if you’re on an Off Piste Introductory or Development Coaching course it might be better to go for a Freeride boot as they give you more support.
Dynafit – Hoji Pro This is a medium to high volume boot so a departure from the old TLT range which were really low volume. To bring the weight down, Dynafit have removed the toe lug from the Hoji, so it’s only compatible with pin tech bindings and you have to buy a special adapter to fit step in crampons.
Salomon – S/LAB MTN This is a fairly lightweight touring boot with a simple two buckle design – although it is nearly as supportive as some 4 buckle models. It has a fairly narrow forefoot but can be easily stretched, just note that they have a deep instep so are not good for thin feet.
Atomic – Hawk Ultra XTD 120 This is a pretty light boot, but offers an excellent amount of support in comparisons to their lightweight Atomic Backland carbon boot. This boot is fitted by heating the whole shell as well as the liners so they will fit a large range of foot shapes. A great all-rounder!
Scott - Superguide Carbon & S1 A wide-fitting reinforced version of the Cosmos but still really light at 2.9kg. The new S1 is a more downhill orientated carbon version of the Superguide that falls in between the Freeride and Touring camp. Its stiff 130 flex gives great support and control on the downhills.
Scarpa – Maestrale & RS 2 A really good light boot, they ski really well for their weight, are quite low volume and really grip your heels. If you’re an intermediate, light or cruising skier these would be a great do it all touring orientated boot. The Maestrale is the ever-popular mid-range Scarpa touring boot, it’s good and solid, but doesn't ski as well as other boots of similar weight. However, the RS version is a little stiffer, with a flex 130 as opposed to 110, and is a fantastic all-round boot – I do most of my off-piste skiing in these.
La Sportiva – Synchro Another solid offering with good down hill performance and they look pretty cool!
Lightweight Touring Boots
These are the lightest touring boots, which sit between Ski Rando racing boots and Performance Touring Boots. They have fewer buckles, are less supportive and have a large range of motion in walk mode. They are softer due to weight saving so can be tricky to ski in descent. These boots are suited to advanced skiers with light skis and bindings or people who have two sets of boots alongside a freeride boot. Be aware some of these light boots are not compatible with Salomon Shift, Marker Kingpin or Fritschi Tecton 12 bindings due to their narrower toe profiles.
These lightweight boots are best suited to Mountain Tracks Advanced or Expert Level Ski Tours. If you’re not a really strong skier these are awful on the downhill so be warned, they are definitely a bad idea on our Off Piste Introductory or Development Coaching courses or any Off Piste Adventure course – unless you’re a Jedi!
Scarpa - F1 I do all my touring in these and love them, they are very comfy, light (1.1kg) and warmer than other low volume boots I have tried. They give a huge amount of movement when skinning uphill and are good enough on the downhill.
Scarpa - Alien RS Strictly speaking more of a race boot for the lycra brigade but it skis well for a 900g boot. If you’re going to race and tour these would be a good cross over boot. You need to be an expert skier to really get the most out of them on descents!
Scott Orbit Lightweight two buckle touring boot with mid/high volume fit, however I personally don't think they ski that well on the downhill and are a bit old school.
La Sportiva – Spitfire 2.1 Again lightweight (2.3kg) with a low volume fit and reasonable downhill performance. The La Sportiva Sideral is built on the same last but uses cheaper materials to make it entry level however it loses a lot of downhill performance.
Atomic – Backland Based on the old Dynafit TLT 6, it is still a really capable light touring boot. It's quite a narrow fit and the liner is ok, if a bit soft.
Salomon – S-Lab X-Alp One of the best light boots on the market but it has a hefty price tag. It's based on the Arc’tryx Procline below and is a joint venture between Arc’teryx and Salomon.
Arc’teryx – Procline AR Carbon A high-end light touring boot designed to appeal to ski mountaineers who want a boot that’s good for alpine and ice climbing in the winter.
Most importantly, remember to get professional advice on your foot shape and boots that might be suitable. Use this article as a guide so you are pre-warned and can test the shop out. Buying boots online without advice is a bad idea unless you know the exact size you want and know what boot works for your feet, but you will still have to get them thermo fitted in a shop.
I can recommend Backcountry UK in Otley (Yorkshire). They are real specialist boot fitters who also sell ski packages and bindings. Sole Boot Lab in Chamonix are a good outfit with a wide range of stock and friendly advice. Lockwoods in Leamington Spa also has a good reputation for boot fitting.
IFMGA / UIAGM / IVBV
The IFMGA / UIAGM / IVBV symbol is the logo of the International Federation of Mountain Guides Association.
Nick, Olly and Matt are all fully-qualified UIAGM Mountain Guides and members of the British Mountain Guides Association.
The International Ski Instructors Association is the world body for professional ski instructors.
The ISIA was formed in 1971 and there are currently 39 member nations representing the very best in ski instruction around the world.