Human beings have devised many objects of torture over the years. The iron maiden, the rack, and the Boy Band were just a few of the devices that sadists pumped out in order to cause suffering to their fellow man. While these were vicious and brutal, few things were as heinous or as cruel as ski boots. These comical apparatuses were made so that your shins would ache, your toes would freeze, and they would be impossible to walk in. The agony you put your feet through was the price you paid for enjoyment on the slopes.
Well no longer! Now these boots are made with comfort and style in mind, no matter what skill level you are. They come with toe warmers that can be plugged in, thermal insulation, and frames you can step right out of to go strolling around the lodge. All that being said, you’ll still be uncomfortable if you choose the wrong boot for your purposes. Just keep in mind when buying that the narrower the boot, the better the performance while the wider boots are reserved for rookies just getting their mogul legs. Whether you plan on carving up the powder or plodding down the bunny hill, using one of the 6 best ski boots will aid your success.
Salomon Quest Access 70
Pro: Very wide
Con: Limited performance
Best for Beginners: The assumption among many of the best ski boot manufacturers seems to be that if you haven’t already been skiing for years, then you not only don’t deserve boots, you should be put down like a sick horse. Thankfully Salomon realizes that there are still amateurs out there. While we generally recommend you go from seasonal rentals right into a very good pair of permanent boots, if you are looking to buy something to learn on, the Access 70 is probably your best bet. The 70 flex rating means they have a lot of give and play that won’t offer incredible performance, but also won’t leave you unable to move. The “Last” (meaning width) is 104mm making them ideal for those with big feet or anyone not used to the close quarters of a standard ski boot. The price is very respectable, though don’t expect to be able to resell these and recoup any expenses. With Salomon’s Metalwool insulation you’ll stay warm, though a pair of thermal socks shouldn’t be out of the question. [Purchase: $239]
SCARPA Freedom SL
Pro: Can switch between backcountry and alpine modes
Con: Work better for touring
Changeling: When it comes to boots, backcountry touring skiers and traditional alpine skiers are the Capulets and the Montagues (or the Hatfields and the McCoys if you ain’t into book learnin’.) They are constantly at odds. Alpine skiers can enjoy extreme performance while backcountry folks get comfort and flexibility. The Freedom SL combines the best of both worlds by allowing the boots to switch from walking mode into skiing mode. While in walking mode you won’t stumble around like a fool, slipping on every patch of ice while in skiing mode you can strap in and hang on for the ride of your life. The design is partly the brainchild of downhill maven Chris Davenport. When in touring mode you’ll have a full 27 degrees of ankle rotation that allow you to take on tough terrain. As with most Scarpa products, these lean more toward backcountry work than resort downhill, so if you’re strictly a lift rider, they won’t have quite the performance you need. [Purchase: $534+]
Atomic Waymaker Carbon 130
Pro: Large toebox
Switcheroo: The Waymaker shares a lot of similarities with the Freedom SL, though they come at it from the other side. Rather than being a great touring boot that also works on alpine slopes, these are great alpine boots that can go off the beaten path. When set for touring they offer 35 degree range of motion, but they have a stiffness ranking of 130, meaning they aren’t going to let you do a little dance or make a little love, but when they’re locked in, you can damn sure get down tonight. The heel pocket snaps in like a vice and prevents any wiggle for enhanced control through the core. Despite the rigidity, the toe pocket is very forgiving thanks to a piece of stretchable material that accommodate those with “sixth toe” issues or freaks with monkey feet. The Last is 101mm but feels roomy despite that. You can walk in these, though they’re pretty bulky, so better bulk up those quads, son. [Purchase: $700]
Tecnica Inferno Blaze
Pro: Improved control at higher speeds
Con: Very narrow
Most for the Money: With a Last of just 98mm you’re going to need to squeeze your feet into these bad boys, but once you do they’re going to give you professional grade performance at a pauper’s price. The flex rating shifts between 100 and 110 and is built for those who long for speed. If you’re the kind of cat who will race someone to the top of a mountain, the furthest buoy, the bottom of a glass, or right into the grave, the Blaze was built for you. It uses two different plastic compositions to work better at high speeds and give you enhanced performance as you hit the increased mph.
The instep catch on the Blaze uses a hinge that will give you improved response on the slope and greater control when at a breakneck pace. Invest in some good ski pants if you go with these because the wind is going to be whipping around your chitterlings and trying to freeze them off. These work very well for skiers who have passed the beginner phase and are looking for an intermediate boot that can last them well into their advanced years offering new abilities and a capacity to reach for the stars. [Purchase: $315]
Lange RX 120
Pro: True medium width
Con: Upright design
Perfect Performance: Forget boots that let you switch from backcountry touring to slipping down a slalom, you want something that will offer supreme performance. The RX 120 from Lange is made for hill hoppers and nothing else. Though the rigidity is only 120, it feels plenty stiff and is totally unforgiving. While this is bad news for the newbie it means that downhillers will get the incomparable implementation they need in a form made for fast twitch movement. The 100mm Last offers medium width that won’t throttle most feet, but leaves little room for error either. If you somehow need it to fit even more snugly, slap in an aftermarket footbed.
The RX 120 has a 4 buckle design that is completely traditional, as befitting a ski boot meant for a single purpose. The lining is thin and the overall profile of the boot is very low which gives you more control, shifts your center of gravity down slightly, and puts you closer to the mountain so you can more easily feel your way along. There are rubber soles to help dampen vibrations so that your teeth don’t rattle. The only flaw is in the cuff which could be higher and tighter. The upright build also makes it hard to feel like you are low enough over your skis. [Purchase: $600]
Nordica Hell and Back H1
Con: Do not improve turning
Combat Ready: When you get sick and tired of all these candy-ass “skiers” who think they can come onto your hill with their hello kitty ski goggles and meander their sad little way to the bottom, then you’re ready to strap into the Hell and Back for some aggressive downhill work. They have a 100mm Last which is best for the most people and requires only minimal adjustment for those with very large or very small feet. The stiffness can be adjusted from 110 flex to 120 depending on conditions so while it won’t switch from full alpine mode into a backcountry brawler, it will allow you to change slightly depending on whether you are hitting powder or hard pack. At 4.5 lbs. these are one of the lightest boots you can buy which will give you an edge when it comes to building up speed, though they won’t turn as hard or carve as deep as heavier boots. They use the classic 3-piece construction for easy insertion and removal. The large toe box and tight shin cuff work almost like a compression sock to increase blood flow to your extremities so that they stay warm. [Purchase: $450]