We’ve updated this buying guide with new selections for 2016. Our picks from previous years can still be found on the next pages.
The ski boot is one of the most overlooked pieces of gear in the kit of an alpine skier. After all, the best part about your boots is taking them off at the end of the day. Realistically, they are just a couple of plastic molds with some light insulation thrown in. How much difference could there really be between pairs? If you’ve skied before, you have likely experienced tight fits, awkward bunching and cold feet firsthand — that is unless you’ve sought out a boot that not only fits your skiing style, but actually fits your feet.
Boot manufacturers go to great lengths to engineer a diverse range of boots that fit different-width feet and calf sizes, and have a wide spectrum of flex patterns. It’s important to match those attributes with your riding style accordingly. Off the shelf, even the most ideal boot might not fit without some modifications to accommodate your genetically inherited sixth toe or your awkwardly sized calves. An $800 boot may seem to be the answer to all of your pain, — but unless you get a boot that fits your style and foot shape, that will be a worse investment than buying up VW stock on the eve of the diesel scandal.
More skiers are venturing out into the backcountry then ever before. With that comes the demand for lighter gear and innovative designs that help skiers access terrain far beyond the reaches of the lift. Over the past few seasons, this trend has lead to innovations in ski boot design, including quick-release buckles, hike mode, leaner shells and rubberized soles. These six boots are frontrunners in their respective disciplines, utilizing some of these technologies, and are a good place to start when shopping for your next pair of ski boots.
Additional contributions by Tucker Nixon.
Atomic Hawx Ultra Series
Flexes Available: 100/110/120/130
Best All-Mountain Boot: Atomic took what it learned in making a backcountry boot and applied to the already popular Hawx. The result: the lightest ski boot the company has ever made by nearly 25 percent. Atomic thinned out the plastic shell where it didn’t need extra material and added the Energy Backbone for reinforcement where it does. There’s also a heat-moldable Memory Fit 3D Liner for a heel-locking form fit without pressure points. With a wide range of flex ratings, the Hawx Ultra accommodates intermediates looking for more boot performance and experts who want to lighten their feet without losing power.
Flexes Available: 110/130
Best Park Boot: All skiers are familiar with foot pain — but perhaps those who frequent the terrain park especially so. (Landing on the backside of a 60 foot wedge often means shin impact and smashed toes.) Head addressed those problems in the Hammer. The moldable liner has a shock-absorbing footbed, a gel-injected shin piece and extra padding around the toes. The shell itself provides a progressive flex aligned with the natural position of the fibula to keep every motion of the foot smooth and in sync with the boot.
Fischer RC4 Pro Vacuum Full Fit
Flexes Available: 130/150
Best Race Boot: The only way to achieve perfect control through high-speed turns is to seamlessly connect skier and ski. That connection happens where foot meets boot, and any gaps or problems with the fit can translate to the skis. Fischer’s RC4 Pro Vacuum Full Fit features a heat-moldable shell that fully conforms to the shape of the foot and lower leg for an unrivaled fit. A lace-up liner and an extra-wide velcro shin strap are some of the other features constructed to lock in your foot for breakneck rides down the hill.
Boot Flexes, Explained
Boot flex is a numerical rating system that allows boot manufacturers to label how easy or challenging it is to flex the cuff of a ski boot. Although one would expect this rating to be inherently normalized, it’s not; in fact, it differs widely among boot manufacturers, who may have variability between two different “100 flex” models. However, that doesn’t mean that you should ignore them. These numbers can be beneficial when acting as a benchmark to begin your search. Typically, the softest-rated boots will have a flex rating of 50 and the stiffest (usually reserved for racers) will have a flex rating up to 170. An aggressive skier will enjoy a stiffer-flexing boot, which will help transfer their energy; the reverse is true for softer boots.
When looking at different boot flexes it’s important to keep in mind how aggressively you ski, how much you weigh and how tall you are. The heavier you are, the easier it will be for you to flex the boot. Similarly, someone who is on the taller side will have more leverage over the boot than someone who is shorter. It is also important to note that a boot will feel softer in the store than it will when you’re out in below-freezing temperatures.
Salomon QST Pro
Flexes Available: 90/100/120/130
Best Freeride Boot: The QST Pro is a fully customizable boot — both liner and shell — intended for use where resort groomers dare not go. The sole is rubberized and grippy for hikes beyond liftlines and a waterproof gusset keeps the boot interior snow-free (which means more warmth for those little piggies). Salomon has also added Oversized Pivot to the boot’s ankle, which helps keep it rigid when making turns on fatter skis.
Dynafit TLT7 Performance
Flexes Available: N/A
Best Touring Boot: Enjoy a leisurely skin in the backcountry once a season? This isn’t the boot you’re looking for. The TLT7 Performance was designed for those who put a premium on uphill speed and getting in the most laps as possible. Weighing in at two and a quarter pounds, it’s light enough for speed touring and ski mountaineering and yet stiff enough for the way back down thanks to Dynafit’s Titanex material. Sixty degrees of cuff rotation makes walking in ski boots more natural and less clumsy. Speed doesn’t end on the hill though — a one-buckle fastening system makes getting your foot in and out of the boot quick and simple.
Dalbello Lupo Carbon T.I.
Flexes Available: 130
Best Freeride Touring Boot: Those who refuse to sacrifice downhill performance when touring have options these days. More and more brands are building crossover boots that, thanks to some interchangeable parts, are good to go on both sides of the resort boundary ropes. The Lupo Carbon T.I. is on the lighter side of this new category, weighing just under four pounds. The boots are equipped with tech inserts and a walk mode that provides more than 60 degrees of motion for touring, and a set of DIN-certified alpine soles for when you just want to step into a normal binding and let ‘er rip.
Flexes Available: 70/80/90/100/120
Best Entry-Level Boot: While sacrificing a secure fit undoubtedly compromises ski control and performance, it’s understood that some folks who are learning (or rarely ski) just want something comfortable to slip on a few days out of the season. The Ten.2 line provides a roomier space for your foot while maintaining control and hold in the heel, and a low enough flex range that’s more forgiving.
Lange RX Series
Flexes Available: 100/120/130
Best All-Mountain Boot: Lange, a heavy hitter in the race world, built a boot for skiers looking for the performance and control of a race boot, but with a more comfortable fit. Available in an average width and three different flex patterns, the RX series has a boot that will fit the bill for aggressive skiers who don’t want to sacrifice performance over comfort.
Tecnica Cochise Series
Flexes Available: 90/100/110/120
Best Freeride Boot: The Cochise Series provides a top-of-the-line freeride and sidecountry boot in several different flex/width options. The series caters to the skier who would like to venture out to the skin track without sacrificing downhill performance. A simple lever enables the skier to travel uphill with ease by allowing more flex, but quickly locks out to allow for absolute control on the descent.
Salomon MTN LAB
Flexes Available: 120
Best Touring Boot: Undoubtedly the most exciting touring boot that has surfaced this season, the MTN Lab is a sign that Salomon is invested in producing a line of high-quality backcountry gear. The MTN Lab is the answer for the skier who wants a lightweight touring boot but doesn’t want to forfeit downhill performance. The MTN Lab is a true touring boot and therefore is only compatible with most tech bindings and multi-norm certified bindings. If you are looking to do more resort skiing, you will likely be happier in the Cochise boots.
Dalbello Il Moro “T” ID
Flexes Available: 120
Best Park Boot: It’s rare to find a company in the ski industry that only focuses on making one piece of equipment. Dalbello does just that, and they choose to put all of their time and energy into producing a damn good lineup of boots. The Il Moro “T” ID has everything that a competition park and pipe skier demands: a stiff and responsive flex, shock-absorbing footboards and a moldable Intuition liner. There is a reason some of freestyle’s heaviest hitters choose Dalbello, and if you are looking to become the next X-Games gold medalist, the Il Moro is a great place to start.
Atomic Redster FIS
Flexes Available: 70/90/110/130/150/170
Best Race Boot: Available in every flex needed on your ride to the top of the podium, the Atomic Redster is the real deal and built only to the highest demands of World Cup athletes. Whether you are a junior racer looking for the same performance as the pros or a World Cup athlete looking to unseat Marcel Hirscher, the Redster will not disappoint. This boot is not for the faint of heart. It has the pedigree of a purebred, and will be an absolute blast if your objective is smashing gates all day long.
Atomic Hawx 1.0
Flexes Available: 80
Best Novice Boot: When your objective is to get on snow and enjoy it, the Hawx 1.0 is a great starting point. With a flex of 80, it’s an extremely forgiving boot that has a wide enough toe box to accommodate feet of all different shapes and sizes. Not only is it likely that this boot will fit, it will also keep you warm with a built-in Thinsulate liner. If you end up liking skiing and progress past the beginner/intermediate phase, the Hawx series has several higher-performance boots with a very similar fit and feel — so you won’t be left searching for what’s next.