The right boots can make or break a ski experience, and a pair purchased ten years ago is not going to cut it. If you’ve got bad boots, it’s going to show, and not just because you’re liable to work up some impressive blisters from ill-fitting equipment. So how do you know if your beloved boots are terribly retro or just plain terrible?
Just how long do ski boots last? You should use your ski boots for no more than 200 days on snow. Due to industry innovations and safety issues, not to mention the state of your liners and shells over time, plan on replacing your ski boots at least every five to ten seasons, and even more frequently if you’re looking for high performance out of your boots.
It can be hard to part with that favorite pair of ski boots, but your boots are crucial in transferring force from your body to your ski, thus allowing you to turn. If they’re not doing their job well, you’re going to have a much more difficult time turning and controlling your speed down the slope, which is dangerous as well as generally frustrating.
So let’s talk about how to know when your boots just aren’t doing it for you anymore.
How Long Do Ski Boots Last
The exact answer is a matter of debate, but most experts agree that your boots shouldn’t be used for more than 200 ski days (and most people claim the true answer is much less than that, say 100-150 days max).
If you only ski five days a year, you might be rejoicing: 200 days means you have FORTY YEARS of use in your boots…right? Unfortunately, it’s not quite that simple. The real answer has more to do with industry innovations and safety issues and the state of your liners and shells over time.
When to Replace Ski Boots
I distinctly remember when my dad bought his first pair of new boots. He only did it because he blew out of the bindings of his (non-shaped) skis and found out that the local shop didn’t sell bindings that were compatible with his well-worn rear-entry boots.
This was in the early ‘00s. As a ski instructor now, I’ve seen people show up in every type of ski gear imaginable, and plenty of things that aren’t ski gear, but your feet are the closest thing to your ski and thus the most important thing when it comes to turning, and if your feet are in boots that don’t fit right or can’t perform well, you’re not getting the best performance out of your skis
As my dad found out, one of the easiest ways to know if your boots are at the end of their life is if they’re no longer compatible with the bindings on your skis.
Just like the quest for the perfect ski boot is still ongoing, there’s still plenty of innovation being done in binding design as well. Since many of these changes in design have to do with safety, it might be time to upgrade.
There are a few problems with keeping ski boots past a certain amount of use. First of all, ski gear is always evolving. Are you still using a phone or computer running 2009’s latest and greatest OS? Of course not! There’s a ton of science that goes into designing ski boots, and every year, things get better and better.
From ‘walk modes’ to flex profiles to buckle design to lightweight materials and more, there’s been plenty of innovation done to design the perfect boot – and it’s still a work in progress.
A hard plastic boot may never be 100% comfortable, but why make your time in ski boots any more uncomfortable than it needs to be?
Speaking of comfort, if you’ve had your boots for a while, you’ve probably started to notice that things don’t fit quite the way that they used to. Maybe your toes are swimming around in open space, or maybe your heel lifts up each time you turn.
That’s because liners pack out the more you use them, just like with any other pair of shoes. Not only is this a prime way to give yourself blisters over the course of a long day out, but it also means you have to make a much bigger movement to get the boot to respond and thus get your ski to turn.
The closer the fit of your ski boot to your foot, the more reactive it’s going to be.
The liner isn’t the only thing that’ll go, though. That plastic shell may still feel hard and unyielding, but over time, ski boot shells do soften up. The softer your boot gets, the less force you can transfer from your body to the ski.
Again, that’s going to make it more difficult for you to rip turns down any kind of terrain or snowpack.
Worn out soles
Another way to tell if your boots are at the end of their life is to flip them over and check out the soles. Are they worn out to the point where the heel and the toe are rounded off rather than flat?
Just like with any other pair of shoes, this wear is a sign that the boot is getting old. With ski boots, this can cause problems with how your boots fit into your bindings. No one wants their ski to release too easily as they’re flying down a slippery slope!
The best way to tell if your pair of boots is at the end of its life is just to ski in it and see what it feel like.
As mentioned above, when your liners start to pack out, you’ll probably notice extra space around your toes or the ability to lift your heel up off the footbed. Your footbed itself may have packed out, leaving your arches aching at the end of a day of standing on what basically amounts to a flat piece of plastic.
Now, it’s possible on most boots to replace the soles and liners, but what about the shell?
After a certain amount of use, you’ll probably start to feel like your boots are suddenly ridiculously easy to get on and off compared to how they used to be. Not only that, but once they’re on, they’ll feel soft as butter, like those old rental boots that you used to wear. No great skier wants their boots to feel like the equivalent of rental boots, so do yourself a favor and start looking at a new pair. Your turns will thank you.
How to Take Care and Improve the Longevity of Ski Boots
Good ski boots can be a pretty substantial investment, and especially if you’ve put in the time and effort to have the liners hot-molded to your feet or the shells punched out to custom fit you, you probably don’t want to let them go too soon. Here are a couple of tricks:
Replace the soles
As long as you don’t leave it until too late, those worn out soles can probably be replaced on most modern ski boots. Many companies attach heel and toe plates using a few screws; your local ski shop should be able to hook you up with replacement parts as long as you haven’t started to wear down the actual boot itself.
You could also look into wearing Yaktrax to protect the plastic as you’re clumping around the base area or après bar.
Replace the liners
As for those packed out liners, there are a couple of companies who make replacement liners made to fit into any boot. The most well-known of these brands, Intuition, offers a number of different types of liners depending on how much performance you’re looking to get out of them – most models can be heat-molded to your foot, and many of them lace up or otherwise form-fit to your foot to give you the best possible snugness.
Unfortunately, there’s no real fix for the shell of your boot. Once that starts to soften up, the only real fix is to buy a new pair of boots.
How should I store my boots between ski trips or seasons
If you want your ski boots to last, I cannot stress enough how important it is to care for them properly. One of the easiest ways to make the shell of your boot soften up quicker than necessary is to leave them unbuckled when you store them, or to store them in an overly-warm place (or both at once – I cringe at that!).
Leaving your boots unbuckled will make it lose that nice, rounded shape that it’s meant to have around your calf and foot. And a warm storage area will make that plastic more and more malleable over time.
Can I wash my boot liners
Absolutely – and you should! Salt buildup from sweat will actually make your toes freeze quicker than normal over time, and anyway, no one likes the smell of 100 hard days of skiing in the same pair of boots.
Pull your liners out of your boots and hand wash them in soapy water at least at the end of each season (even just a soak will do wonders for them). Just make sure you dry them completely before putting them back in your shells to minimize the risk of mold or bacteria growing in them through the off-season.
What is ski boot stiffness
Every pair of ski boots comes with a specific flex index number assigned to it (usually somewhere between 70 and 150). The actual meaning of the number depends on the company (i.e. a 90 flex from one brand might be stiffer than a 90 flex from another brand), but basically the higher the number, the stiffer the boot.
A stiff boot will require more force to flex but will allow the skier to apply more bend to the ski during a turn. The stiffness of your preferred boot will vary depending on skier ability level, which terrain you plan to ski, your height/weight, etc.