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A guide to happy feet!

or ski boots for the uninitiated, by Judy Skeats

I am a ski instructor. I  teach people to ski and/or improve their skiing. But I spend a lot of time helping them get their boots right as they don’t get told everything they need in the rental stores and shops.

So here is my guide to getting your feet to feel happy in ski boots!

First, there are some things you need to do before trying on the boots.

1. Cut your toenails short

Why? Well, the boots fit best if your toes are almost at the end (not pressing but gently touching the end) when you are standing up. When you bend forward, flexing your ankle, the toes should come away from the end.

At times when you are fearful or apprehensive, or if you jump and land slightly back on your heels, your feet go into the forward position again and if you haven’t cut your toenails short, they bang against the front of the boot. Ouch!

2. Only one pair of socks inside the boot (I can’t stress this enough)

Use the socks that you’ll ski in (or socks of the same thickness) when you are trying on the boots. Two pairs of socks will rub against each other… and that rubs your feet. Also the socks should be long enough to come above the boots.

3. Only your feet and your socks should be inside the boot.

That means no leggings or thermals or inner ski pants. Pull them out! They shouldn’t even be slightly inside. Thermals, leggings and elasticated inner ski pants often have seams or poppers that will dig into your legs as you start skiing. You may think that the legging seams are insignificant but they often dig in and hurt after a while. That means no stirrup leggings too. Don’t do it, give your shins and feet a happy day!

So onto the boot fitting itself

The boot fitter will measure your feet and offer you (hopefully) a couple of alternatives. Different boots are designed for different shaped feet and the manufacturers often change the fitting each year. Some boots are designed for wide feet, some for narrow, and similarly some for wide calf muscles and some for narrow, some for men and some for women. Women’s boots typically tend to have more padding as we typically have colder feet. (We do! It’s physiological!)

Step 1

Push the foot in. Then bang the heel down. Hard. The boot will take it. That pushes your heel to the back so that your toes aren’t crunched against the front of the boot.

Step 2

Make sure that the tongue of the boot is right against your shin and that the flanges of the inner and outer boots go over the top of it, furthest from your foot. Then clip up the clips tightly enough that you can slip two fingers down the back of your boot, not your whole hand.

Step 3

Use the microadjusters if your boots have them. If they do, you’ll be able to twist the clip so that you can lengthen the part between the clip itself and the part holding it to the boot. Right for tight, left for loose. Then you don’t have to go a whole notch at a time. You can, as the term suggests, microadjust.

Step 4

Then do up the power strap and pull the elasticated inner ski pant over the boot. This will stop the snow going down the inside if you do fall over.

When done up, the boot design will push your lower leg forward. You should be able to bend your ankle easily so that you flex forward. This is a key movement when you are skiing so ensure that the boot isn’t so tight you can’t move it.

How should they feel?

The boots should fit like gloves and give support but not be so tight that they cut off your circulation. If your heel lifts more than a couple of centimetres inside the boot, they are too loose. Tighten the clip closest to the ankle or try another pair if that doesn’t work.

Walk mode

Many boots have a ‘walk mode’, usually on the back, for when you are going from A to B and not skiing. And/or you can half-unclip the clips. This is a really personal thing: for some people it gives ease of movement and much more comfort. For others, the foot moves around too much and it causes blisters. So see what your feet seem to need.

Keep them warm

Once you have chosen your boots and you know how to get the right adjustments, it’s not over! Make sure that you store them somewhere warm – I have known people put them in the back of the car, in the cold all night, only to find that the plastic had hardened so much by the morning that it was impossible to put them on. Ideally store them overnight on a boot drier which emits an air flow to dry the boots out.

Ha! Dry them out! Why? I hear you say again! I don’t know how accurate it is, but I’ve been told that feet can sweat as much as a cup of water a day. Whatever the amount, they certainly do emit some moisture and that can build up in your boot. Then when you’re out in the cold, it can freeze. Need I say more?

Go skiing!

And now on to when you’re actually skiing … If anything hurts or rubs, sort it out immediately. Blisters, sore spots etc will only get worse with more skiing. Often the problem can be resolved just by taking off the boot, pulling up the socks and putting it on again. If not, there are shin pads etc that you can buy and/or go back to the boot fitter for something that works better.

So here’s to you all having happy feet when you ski. After all, if your feet hurt you can’t concentrate on what you are doing, let alone enjoy it.

A note for those buying boots

If you are buying boots, make sure you have oodles of time. Two hours or more. It’s really important that this key purchase is right and your feet (and how they feel) can change as you wear them.

Top tip

Ideally buy a pair of boots from a shop at the ski area – then if there are any problems you can revisit them for adjustments. There are lots of things that boot fitters can do with bought boots that they won’t do with rented ones. They can heat parts and push them out, ‘blow them’, for instance to take the pressure off (say) your little toe. They can grind parts of the inside and much more. They will also look at the canting – making sure that your legs are straight in the boots so that the soles are flat on the floor when you stand. (If you have what I’ll impolitely call a cowboy stance), the outsides of your feet will press harder on the floor than the inners. And vice versa, for those with slightly knock-knees, the inner foot presses harder. Custom footbeds can help to correct this issue too.

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