Choosing an Off-Piste Ski or Ski Touring Boot
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 when 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 footbeds 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 / Performance Touring 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. I have only looked at boots with pin tech fittings as the binding market is now awash with good pin bindings.
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.
Roxa – R3 120 TI I.R.
A relative newcomer that seems to have flown under the radar. I think this is one of the best do-it-all boots on the market. It’s light enough to tour in (similar weight to a Scarpa Maestrali xt) yet its downhill performance is way better due to the cabrio wrap-around shell. It has a very reliable walk mode and simple forefoot single buckle and a supportive large Velcro power strap. The Grilamid shell is heat mouldable and suitable for a wider foot. It comes in 3 flexes 110, 120, 130 and a women’s fit.
Technica – Zero G / 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, they both have a mid-volume fit.
Scarpa – 4-Quattro SL / Maestrale XT
I like the progressive flex and great control of these boots. However, they now have a lot of competition. The 4- Quattro SL is slightly lighter but they are both very supportive touring boots.
Salomon Shift Pro AT 110 /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 110, 120 or 130 flex and are pin binding compatible. They’re a bit on the heavy side for mega-big touring days but do provide really good downhill performance for off-piste skiing.
Lange – XT3 Tour XT3 Hydrid
Well known for their downhill race boots, Lange is offering the XT3 range in 110, 120 and 130 flex. They do a 140 pro model but I would imagine is rather stiff unless you’re a top-end freerider. Lange boots tend to have a narrower fitting and low volume. The XT3 Tour is lighter and better suited to touring the Hybrid is more of an off-piste boot.
La Sportiva Vega
Another very supportive ski touring/freeride boot from a well-established brand. This has a neutral fit so good for narrow feet but terrible for wide feet. The liner is not as good as some of the other brands.
Atomic Hawk Ultra XTD
These are very supportive downhill-orientated boots with a nice progressive flex. They are very well made but at the heavier end of the boot market so not the best for long uphill days. Their range of motion isn’t great when skinning and they have a pretty smooth sole.
Lightweight Touring Boots
These are the lightest touring boots, which sit between Ski Rando racing boots and Freeride / 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 lighter skis and bindings or people who have two sets of boots alongside a freeride boot. Be aware some 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!
Roxa RX Tour
A light boot similar to the Scarpa F1. There a bit heavier but the liner is warmer and their downhill performance is marginally better.
Scarpa - F1
A really good boot they’re 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 Maestrale RS
This is a lot heavier than a light F1-style boot but has a really good downhill performance. It’s a solid ski if you want downhill control with some uphill weight saving and decent articulation for skinning. The cheaper and slightly softer standard Maestrale is also good but if you’re only getting one do anything touring orientated boot the RS would be better.
Scott Cosmos 3
A two-buckle touring boot with mid/high volume fit. They ski well downhill but aren’t particularly light compared to the Scarpa F1 or Roxa RX Tour. Old school design but good value for money.
La Sportiva Solar 2
Again lightweight (2.3kg) with a low volume fit and reasonable downhill performance. It sits with the Scarpa F1 and Roxa Rx Tour camp with great uphill articulation.
Atomic Backland XTD Carbon
A really capable light touring boot. It's great on the uphills but has great downhill control for its weight. It’s a neutral fit and a very good quality liner. They do lighter versions but this one is the miles better downhill.
Salomon S Lab Mountain
It’s been around for a while but still a very good touring boot. It’s not the lightest here but it is very supportive and little changed over the past few seasons so old models can be picked up cheaply.
A more supportive boot than the others here which falls in between camps. It’s similar in performance to the Tecnica Zero G, Roxa R3 or the Scarpa Maestrale RS. It’s worth mentioning avoiding the Dynafit TLT 7/8 as they are good boots but they have no toe welt so fitting standard crampons is a nightmare.
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.
As a rule, most people on Mountain Tracks trips need downhill performance and comfort over weight-saving uphill performance so unless you’re an accomplished Jedi avoid the F1 style boots.
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.