How to pick the right ski boots for Adults and Children
As instructors at SnowPros, we take very seriously the issue of the equipment that the clients show up on and make sure that we consider this as part of our approach to the overall package of improving our client's skiing.
In an ideal world, we don't want our equipment to block the natural movements that each individual body can make. This is further complicated, but different individuals bodies, which all function in their unique way. For example, I have incredibly bendy ankles (so do a lot of ski instructors actually), and I can flex my ankles with my heels remaining on the floor so that my knees can go way out past the line of my toes. The knock-on effect of this is that I ski with quite an upright back because this is the only way the body can balance effectively with such extreme lower flex. Look out for this next time you ski with me.
This ankle flex, combined with my 90+ kilo weight, means that I create a massive lever effect at my ankle and therefore need a very stiff boot with an aggressive forward lean at the cuff. If I am in a boot that doesn't suit my body profile, I literally cannot ski, and no end of work around movements will solve this. This is often why you will see ski instructors in the same boot every season.
1. The number one issue that we often see when clients come to us for a session is that they are in a boot that is too stiff for them. This is often called being over booted. This means they struggle to flex the boot forward and their ankles cannot do what they naturally want to do. I have changed many clients skiing instantly by sending them to the hire shop to try a different boot with either a more modern material (mega old boots that you bought from the hire shop may have an old plastic that has hardened over time) or something with a softer flex. Flex is the number rating that is usually on most boots somewhere, for example, I ski a Head Raptor 130RS. This is a stiff boot. A typical ladies boot may be 70-90 flex.
2. Being in a boot that is too upright in the cuff. I see this problem maybe ten times a season. When a client turns up for a lesson in a boot that is keeping their lower leg too upright, it has a knock-on effect on their balance that means that there is more or less nothing constructive that we can do in that lesson because the equipment is blocking the clients ability to ski. In an ideal world, you would want a strong skeletal stack with muscles that are loose and ready to relax with a light flex in the ankle, knees and hip joints. If the ankle and lower legs are artificially upright, the thighs also end up upright, and all of your weight falls back over your heels.
3. When your weight falls back over your heels or further in some cases, there is no way apart from the odd lucky turn where you will be able to turn your skis parallel. You'll be stuck with the inside tail of the not releasing and blocking the ability of that inside ski to slide next to the other one. It's incredibly frustrating for clients (and instructors).Often you see kids make no progress one year and amazing jumps in their technique the following year, without any apparent reason why. Often it is down to a change in their equipment. One year they might be in a boot that doesn't work for their physiology that year and the next, they may be in a boot that balances them perfectly over the sweet spot where skis just turn on their own. You see this a lot in ski racing kids who are quick one year and not the next.
I've overlaid some boot pictures here with some 'x-ray' images of what the lower leg, ankle and foot might be doing in the boot, along with some really crude stick man diagrams of what effect that boot might have on the average skier.
ADULTS, MEN AND WOMEN
For adults, it is important to recognize the difference between men and women in terms of the bone structure in their pelvis. Women tend to carry more mass here because they can have children and this area tends to be more robust than that of a man who tend to be slimmer and slighter through the hips. Many of the women's groups that ski with me have had the differences in men and women diagram drawn in the snow for them :)
This means that women tend to carry their weight further back than the equivalent man and a really upright cuff is not good for most women. The main issue for men is that they tend to be over booted in a macho, 'big flex number' = expert skier, way. Many guys would benefit from being able to flex their ankles more.
In this example, the boot keeps the skier too upright, and you can see the plumb line drawn from the head downwards, that the weight falls at or near the heels.
In a boot that is more aggressively forward at the cuff, you can see how this would make a difference in the overall stance. The weight drops to around the turning sweet spot and makes general balance and turning the ski easier. Below is the instructor favourite the Raptor 120rs.
CHILDREN'S SKI BOOTS
Children are where things start to get slightly more complicated for a number of reasons:
1. Kids often have no idea or cannot describe to you 'where' their weight is balanced.
2. At different ages and different development stages, kids often have their main centre of weight (centre of mass) located in different places to adults.
To expand of this, up until the age of around 5, the centre of mass of a child is very high up in the body, near the back of the neck in slightly younger children and then somewhere around the shoulders as they grow. The head is a heavy part of the body at this point.
As children get older it eventually moves down and into the normal area that we feel it as adults, somewhere around age 18.
So if you combine this slightly up and back weight distribution with boots that ALSO hold the child in an artificially rear leaning position, how will that child ever break out of that snowplough and ski parallel like he sees his friends doing (who has the lucky boots). Maybe we have all seen that 5 year old bombing around the mountain with his skis parallel all the time and then the kid doing the powerplough everywhere. Some of this is technique but imagine your are the kid who is in the right boots who réalisés that he just needs to point his ski where he wants to go. Easy to ski right?
At the really early stages, discovering snow and learning snowplough, just out enjoying the mountain, skiing a bit, making snowballs and drinking hot chocolate, a boot like this will be fine.
As kids get older and they need more performance out of their skis and want to explore more challenging places, we often see kids turn up with this kind of boot.
I see this boot often and it drives me crazy. That middle buckle and the tongue piece as a one-piece plastic unit means there is no chance of the child flexing their ankle in this boot, which will inhibit their movement. Add to that an upright cuff and a high and back centre of mass, and this will be a snowplough only boot unless the child has very specific physiology that fits it. If the hire shop offers you this boot, try to choose instead something that is more of a classic design like the following.
This kind of classic boot is is going to work for your child better than the previous one and it will allow them to express their natural movements and give them every chance to ski to their full potential.
As an aside to this, not all hire shops have the depth of knowledge and information that our instructors have, especially the ones that are mass catering to the public and this is why we only recommend one or two places where we know that our clients will be looked after. To this end, make sure you ENQUIRE about our ski equipment hire seminar and hire session. We are arranging for our clients to get access to all of the best hire equipment for the season before it is available to the general public as well as a personalized fitting service. This will all be done at a private afternoon event only open to SnowPros clients.
Well sorted boots and skis are a very large part of what makes instructors ski as well as they do. Trust me, and if you put many instructors in some of the rental stuff that goes out of the door in the lesser hire shops around, we would still be able to ski but not anywhere near as well as we can when we have our perfectly fitted boots and finely tuned skis.
If you would like to learn more about balance and the turning sweet spot, you can BOOK a lesson here.