For ski boots, finding the proper fit is essential.
Credit: Illustration by Larry Jost

For ski boots, finding the proper fit is essential.

Never overlook the importance of ski boots. They're the connective tissue between you and your skis that helps you move those two planks gracefully down the hill.

A poorly fitting pair leads to loss of control, discomfort, and injury. Finding a boot that fits correctly can require a few hours at your ski shop trying on several models, standing and flexing for at least 20 minutes until you know you've found the right one. It's a bit time-consuming but worth it. Here's what to look for to make sure you get it right.

  1. Tight is right.
    The biggest boot mistake? Buying one size too big. You want it to feel snug, like a good, firm handshake. It should feel tight, not comfortable. This provides more control; plus, after about 20 days of wear, the foam in the bladder will break down and the boot will become looser.
  2. Consider a custom bladder.
    A boot's bladder provides the cushion between your foot and the shell. If you have truly difficult feet that don't feel good in any boots, a foam-injected custom bladder can be your savior. The aftermarket liner is removed from the boot's shell and replaced with a deflated one. Foam is then injected into the new liners while you stand in them, shaping them perfectly to the contours of your feet. The process can cost around $400.
  3. Invest in your own footbed.
    A footbed props up the arch of your foot and keeps your ankle from pronating excessively or supinating. Toss the stock footbed, because it's not meant for your specific issues. The correct cushion (we recommend those from Surefoot Orthotics and Superfeet Custom Kork Vac) prevents your foot from splaying out each time you put pressure on your ski. This lessens foot fatigue and will help eliminate any painful rubbing.
  4. Give it an inch.
    You should be able to flex the boot comfortably without crushing it. That means about an inch of forward flex from the upright position. Any more and you'll lose control of the boot; any less and you'll have difficulty initiating turns. And watch out for pain while flexing: Ski boot – related shin pain is hard to alleviate.
  5. Beware of boot contact.
    If a boot hits any part of your foot awkwardly and causes even the slightest bit of pain, take it off. The problem is likely to get worse. That said, you might have a bulging ankle that bothers you in every boot you try on. Find the one that fits best and then let your boot fitter resolve the problem by grinding down the plastic shell.
  6. Toe the line.
    In a properly fitting boot, your toes should lightly hit the front of the toe box when you're standing upright and draw away when you're flexed forward. This locks your heel into the pocket. If that doesn't happen, your heel, ankle, and instep will be out of alignment, which can lead to pain and prevent you from having the correct amount of ski control.