Before you go into any ski shop, know a few things. What type of skier are you? How much are you willing to spend? And what boots have worked well in the past?
Often, sales reps may try to sell you a boot if there is an incentive for them. Sure, they may not be working on direct commission, per se, but it is not uncommon for associates to be offered incentives for selling a specific brand and model over others.
They might get a $50 gift card if they sell Brand A vs. Brand B. Or a free lift ticket for clearing out Model Z.
Keep this in mind when it comes to sizing (lower down).
Determine your needs
Figure out what kind of boot you’re in the market for. Do you want a backcountry boot for hiking to off-piste routes, or a tight racing boot to shoot down steep double backs?
There are three main categories: All mountain, Backcountry, Piste, Race. Some manufacturers even have more specific boots, for freestyle skiers, etc.
If you enjoy the glades as much as the groomers, an all mountain boot is your best bet. Likewise, if you never venture off bounds and just stay on the designated runs, stick with piste (or on-piste) boots.
All mountain boots tend to be versatile at almost everything you throw their way. Piste boots are pretty straight forward, and can be more comfortable. Backcountry boots tend to be more flexible, and should really include a mechanism that lets you switch them into ‘hike’ mode. Race boots are going to be stiffer and narrower than most boots.
How much are you willing to spend?
After determining the type of skier you are, set a price ceiling, with $50 of “buffer” either way. Don’t be surprised if $499 boots feel way better than $699 boots. Everybody’s feet are different, and you’ll need to go with what fits and feels best.
It’s all about fit
Finally, we arrive at the most important point. If it doesn’t fit well when you first try on a pair of boots, they’re never going to fit well.
Example: I bought a pair of Atomic Speedmachine boots a few years ago. After consulting with the sales rep, he was convinced Atomic boots suit my wide feet, with a high midfoot. So I tried on two separate Atomic boots. I went with the pair that was least painful of the two.
He said the liner will expand, they could always heat/punch out/mold some more space later on. Despite getting all that work done (later on) plus the addition of custom foot beds, it never, ever worked. I would always be in pain by the end of the day.
Try different brands
Going back to my point earlier about sales reps receiving incentives – make sure they’re not just having you try Salomon or just Rossignol boots. Ask to try on an equivalent boot from other companies, ask for the Lange, ask for the K2 pair.
Different companies tend to make things differently. The toebox (area around your toes) could be roomier in Lange boots. Meanwhile, the instep (area on top of your feet, just ahead of the ankle) might be higher with Rossignols. Don’t just settle for the weekly special.
Obviously, spend a few minutes in the store wearing the boots (you’re wearing ski socks, right?). Walk, flex, flex, walk, flex some more. Let your feet get a little warm.
You may have some slight pressure points – this is fine and a good shop should be able to fix it with some customization. But if the boot is painful off the bat, no amount of aftermarket punching, heating or stretching will make it better.
Get cheap ski boots
Honestly, boots aren’t cheap. But if you find a pair that fits great, ask if there’s anything they can do on the price. Maybe they’ll toss in free foot beds? And always, shop around. Check at least one other store for the exact brand and model.
Don’t buy on your first visit, also check out reviews for specific boots you’ve tried on, online. Ski magazine tends to post a good roundup of ski boot reviews, such as this one for the Rossignol Alltrack Pro 130.
For the best prices online, it seems Backcountry.com offers competitive prices and free shipping for orders over $50.