Downhill ski boots are definitely some of the most important parts of your ski gear. Although the skis provide the connection between you and the snow, without the boots to accurately transmit your muscle movements the best pair of skis are no better than a piece of wood.
Ski boots have two basic functions translating body movements into ski movements and protecting your feet from injury. They need a stiff outer shell for the most efficient control of the skis and a firm inner padding to keep your feet comfortable. There are 3 basic styles of downhill ski boots rear-entry, front entry, and mid-entry. These terms refer to the way the boot closes around your foot and they each have their advantages.
This type of ski boot is the easiest to use. There are one or two flaps at the back of the boot which close with buckles. They are comfortable and uncomplicated, but don't provide the same kind of support as other styles. They are usually fairly inexpensive and are suitable for beginner and intermediate skiers.
Front-entry boots provide the best control and support. They have a higher support for the lower calf than either rear-entry or mid-entry boots, and this support can be used to shift your center of balance over the ski for various types of ski conditions. These boots are attached with 4 buckles which hold the foot firmly in place.
This boot combines the best of front and rear-entry boots. They are easier to put on than front-entry boots but offer more support than rear-entry boots. They are a good choice for intermediate level skiers but those with a lot of skiing experience will probably appreciate the performance advantages of front-entry boots.
As mentioned above, most ski boots have a stiff plastic outer shell. It allows the movements of the body to be transmitted to the ski in the most efficient manner. The interior of the boot is made from firm foam. It has a certain amount of 'give' in order to be comfortable, but can't allow the feet to have too much movement inside the boot. The foam (and the outer shell) also provides protection against impacts in case of collisions.
Some downhill ski boots have adjustment mechanisms that allow you to change the amount of support for various conditions. One of these adjustments is for flex the amount your ankle can bend. More flex equals more movement so for high performance conditions you want to set this to relatively little flex for more control. This adjustment can also be used to compensate for the flexibility of the boot in various temperatures.
The forward lean adjustment changes the angle of the boot cuff. This allows you to vary your center of gravity. Another adjustment which affects your center of gravity is the ramp angle the angle of the inner sole of the boot.
Latereral upper-cuff adjustments are useful for people with angled lower legs. This can be used to make the boots more comfortable for those who are bow-legged or knock-kneed.
Not all of these adjustments are available on every pair of boots. If you need special control over how the boot fits your feet and lower legs, look for a pair of boots with these features.
Be sure to try boots with the socks you normally use when skiing. Don't wear regular socks the feel and fit will be much different. When trying on boots, take care that they don't pinch or cause pain. The inner boot should provide even pressure over all areas of your foot.
Be sure to tell the salesperson how the boot feels. He or she is likely to be very familiar with the qualities of various brands and should be able to point you to a better pair if the ones you are trying are uncomfortable.
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