Two skiers putting on ski boots in a parking lot

How to choose and fit ski boots

Your ski boots may be the single most important piece of gear for comfortable downhill or backcountry runs. When you’re buying ski boots, it’s crucial to find the right fit.

For your first pair of boots, you’ll probably want a versatile, or all-mountain option that balances warmth, comfort and performance. Many boots now have grippy soles or even a walk mode (also called walk-to-ride or hike mode) to make it easier to get to the lift from the parking lot. As boots get more specialized, they offer a tighter performance fit for carving hard, shock absorption for landing jumps, and alpine touring features that allow you to hike or skin up.

When you’re choosing ski boots, here are some things to consider:

  • Your ski bindings: Before you choose boots, make sure they’re compatible with your bindings.
  • Finding your ski boot size: The width, length and shape your feet are all important.
  • Getting the right fit: Spend the time to find ski boots that fit – this is essential.
  • Boot stiffness: Beginners will likely want a different boot flex than advanced skiers.
  • Where you’ll be skiing: If you plan to be backcountry skiing, you have options.

Ski boot and binding compatibility

Beginner skiers or skiers getting into a new kind of skiing can be surprised to learn that not all ski boots and bindings fit together. If you’re not sure what type of ski bindings you have or what ski boots will work with your bindings, check out our page on how to choose ski bindings. You can also stop by an MEC ski shop or contact our Service Centre.

Skier in ski boots stepping into skis

A ski/walk sole with a rockered profile at the toe for easier walking, and compatible GripWalk bindings – just one of the many boot and binding combos to choose from.

Ski boot size chart

Ski boots are sized in mondopoint, which is the length of your foot in centimetres. The mondopoint conversion guide below is a good place to start, but it’s a very general guide. Keep in mind that many times the right size for street shoes is not the same for ski boots. Also, sizes can vary from brand to brand (or even within brands).

Mondopoint conversion chart
Mondo point US (men’s) US (women’s) European
23 5 6 36.5
23.5 5.5 6.5 37
24 6 7 38
24.5 6.5 7.5 38.5
25 7 8 39
25.5 7.5 8.5 40
26 8 9 40.5
26.5 8.5 9.5 41
27 9 10 42
27.5 9.5 10.5 42.5
28 10 11 43
28.5 10.5 11.5 44
29 11 44.5
29.5 11.5 45
30 12 46
30.5 12.5 46.5

 

If you need ski boots for wide feet or for narrow feet, pay extra attention to the “last width” (found on the specs tab for ski boots on mec.ca). This is the width of the inside of the boot shell across the widest part of the forefoot.

Skiers putting on ski boots sitting in the back of a car

How to find ski boots that fit

Ski boots that are too tight, too loose or pinch you in certain spots can cut your ski day short and prevent you from handling the terrain in a way that’s safe and fun. Think of your boot fitting as a dry run for actually being on the hill. Wear your ski socks and spend time in the boots – this isn’t a process you want to rush. Wearing them in the store helps you get a better idea of how they’ll feel when you’re actually skiing.

See a ski boot fitter

Everyone’s feet are different. Some people will be looking for ski boots for wide feet, others want ski boots for narrow feet or boots that fit large calves. The best way to fit ski boots is to come to your local MEC and get sized by an experienced ski boot fitter. They will assess your feet and help you find the right pair using the fitting steps below.

Start with a shell fit

Ski boots are made up of an outer shell, a footbed and an inner liner (heat-mouldable liners are great options). A shell fitting is the first step to sizing ski boots. It makes sure you have the right size shell – measured in mondopoint – and shows how much room there is to be filled by the inner liner.

To do a shell fit, wear thin ski socks and slip your foot inside the outer shell (without the liner or footbed). Don’t do up the buckles or strap. With your toes just touching the front of the boot, flex forward, bend your knees, and use your fingers to check the amount of room between your heel and the back of the boot:

  • For skiers that want more of a comfortable fit, you should be able to slide about one and a half or two finger widths behind your heel.
  • For more of a performance fit, you’ll want about one finger width instead.
  • If you can fit three finger widths, it’s too loose and a bad fit.

If it’s too tight, even a heat-moulded liner won’t be able to remove pressure points. If there’s tightness around your ankle, take note: some liners are designed to be snug as first so that the heat-moulding fills all the gaps, while other times it means you may need to size up.

Add liners and buckle up

All ski boots have removable, soft inner liners that insulate your foot and protect them from the outer shell. If the shell fit is good, it’s time to try on boots with the liners:

  1. Insert the liners and step back into the boots.
  2. From a seated position, strike your heel on the ground to set your heel in the boot.
  3. Stand up and get into a ski position with your knees slightly bent.
  4. Do up the buckles; they should be able to go on with just a bit of pressure. If it takes a lot of effort to do them up, it might cut off your circulation (not good).
  5. Keep the boots on for about 15 minutes to see how they feel. Is your heel nicely in the pocket? Is the upper cuff and tongue snug but not crushing, numbing or pinching? Does the toe box feel too tight?

Boots in the mid-range and higher-end price points offer thermoformable inner boots (where heat moulds the liners to your feet) to help you get a comfortable fit. Boots that come with a thermoformable liner can be warmed and fit at MEC stores. Note: some people refer to these as “Intuition liners;” Intuition is a popular liner brand, but there are many different heat-mouldable liners available.

Custom fit liners are especially nice for new skiers getting used to wearing ski boots all day. Different boots also have different levels of insulation, with extra cushioning often added for less aggressive skiers.

Final fine-tuning

MEC ski boot fitters can use pads or supportive footbeds for extra comfort. If the boots fit well except for a small pressure point, a trained ski tech can stretch or punch out areas of the boot shell. This service is available at MEC Calgary, Toronto, Montreal and Ottawa stores; if you’re outside of those areas, check with local ski shops for punching out the shell.

Pick your ski boot stiffness

Ski boot stiffness is described in terms of flex, which indicates how stiff the boots are when you flex them forward. The higher the flex index number, the stiffer the boot; you’ll see numbers range from 50 (soft) to 130 (very stiff).

One thing to keep in mind with flex is that there’s currently no industry standardized test. That means that the same flex index number may feel different across brands. Boot construction, design, and materials offer different levels of stiffness and weight.

So why are some ski boots so stiff and tight? A stiffer, tighter boot will transfer weight and power directly to your skis (but they may not feel super-comfortable on long days when you’re skiing lots of runs). If you’re going to stick to resort slopes, look for a slightly stiff boot and a somewhat tight fit. This helps reduce foot fatigue so you can ski longer. In general:

  • Experienced skiers will likely prefer stiffer boots for higher performance.
  • Novice and intermediate skiers will generally prefer boots that aren’t quite as stiff.
  • Height and weight are also a factor in finding the right flex for you, as that often influences the amount of leverage a skier places on the boot.

Boots for backcountry skiing

Backcountry skier skinning up

If you’re about to invest in a new pair of ski boots and plan to get into backcountry skiing, look at alpine touring (AT) boot options. Other than weight, the biggest differences between boots for backcountry skiing and downhill skiing are binding compatibility and the ability to walk comfortably, since you’re both climbing up and descending.

AT boot fitting

If you’re expecting to spend most of your time touring, a more flexible foot with a slightly looser (but not loose) fit would work well. If descending or freeriding is your thing, you’ll likely want a stiffer boot and tighter fit, since that helps transfers more energy to the ski and can prevent foot fatigue.

AT soles and binding compatibility

Touring boots have soles with a tread pattern and rocker (upturned at the toe) to help you walk. This configuration doesn’t work with downhill bindings and impairs the release mechanism. Some boots offer swappable soles that work for both downhill and alpine touring, but you’ll need to make sure that your boot soles and bindings are compatible. For more info, see our page on how to choose ski bindings.

If you plan to ski tour, skin up or bootpack, definitely look for boots with more than one mode. You can also unbuckle the collar of the boot for added comfort when you’re climbing and touring.