Shopping guide: Womens' Ski Boots
I know it's been a long road. Tears, pain, cramps, poor circulation and numbness, hours of shoving your feet into dozens of options and staring at your foot wondering "WHAT SIZE AM I?!" It's true that your boot is the most important part of your setup and it's true that your boot largely determines whether you have a good time or a bad time out there. It's also true that boot shopping is the part of the search that takes the longest and that can go extremely well, or horribly disappointing. It requires careful thought, some time, and an optimistic spirit. Being part of peoples' process each day provides the expertise I hope to pass along to all of you. I will be covering the women's specific boots that we carry at Cripple Creek Backcountry because that's what I know best.
Looking for a boot:
When looking for a boot it is important to first think about what you want to do in this boot. A lighter boot is often slightly softer, this is ideal for long tours, and slower skiing in softer snow i.e. backcountry. There are also heavier, stiffer boots, with a smaller range of motion, but that maneuver bigger skis at faster speeds with more stability. And there are boots all in-between too. You should think about where you want to ski, and how much you want to ski. You should think about how much you want to spend (usually related to how much you want to ski). And you should think about whether you can and will enjoy learning to ski on a boot that requires more balance and technique from you, or whether you want to buy the gear that works best for how you already ski.
Once you have reflected on these questions you are ready to head to a shop to talk with someone and try on boots. The shop will want to size you on a mondo sizer to figure out your ski boot size. Most of the time you want to start trying on boots that are your true size. Often in the alpine world we size down for performance and cram our toes into the end so we can turn on a dime at high speeds or on a very steep slope. With alpine touring boots you will be hiking in them, likely quite a bit. Going with a boot too small will cause pressure points and pain, bone growths, possibly nerve damage or other serious issues. Going with a boot too large will cause blisters, cramping and decreased control while skiing and lots of frustration. A boot-fitter will know which boots fit on the large side or small side and can also shell-fit you to be sure you end up in the appropriate size. When shell-fitting you will remove the liner from the boot shell, slip your foot in and scoot your foot to the front so your toes are barely touching the end. Then flex your shin forward and put your fingers behind your heel, you are looking for 1.5-2 fingers of room behind your heel. That being said some people desire a very tight fit and will size down and some desire a less-snug fit (mostly in the cases of painful bunions or bone spurs) and will size up. But for the most of you 1.5-2 fingers! If it feels snug that's good! We can heat mold the liners if it bothers you but you'll break them in on your own after a few weeks of skiing. Keep in mind as well, that spending a few minutes walking around in boots is the best way to get an idea if they will work for you. Demoing boots is an ok idea but they won't fit right since other people have toured and skied in them. Putting a brand new boot on and spending some time in it is the only way. Also, remember that your boot-fitter is very wise and you should listen carefully to him/her. They do this a lot, and they have your best interest at heart.
Now on to boots!
Light: Atomic Backland
Beside being the most attractive ladies boot we carry (in my opinion) it is certainly the most customizable. Out of the box it has a narrow 98mm last so its a great choice for skinny feet and narrow heels. More importantly in my opinion it has vertical room, so that means all you gals with arches you can fit a custom footbed in here without squeezing the life from your circulation. This is also a good choice for those with bunions. Now all that being said due to BOTH the liner and the shell being heat-moldable a wide forefoot and narrow heel also work in here, or really any sort of foot shape that is unusual or hard to fit. Starting to see what I mean? I have found this boot to work for many different types of feet as long as the person is willing to go through the fitting process. I have also found this boot to fit a little big, so often I size people down one size. It is light, 1040g in a 25.5. It has a 74% range of motion for hiking which is very very good. There is a removable tongue so you can take it out for your tour and snap it in for your skiing or simply leave it out if you prefer a softer boot. An internal gaiter attached to the liner will keep you dry while the tongue is off. The Ultralon foam liner is hand washable and wicks moisture from your sweaty feet and shins. This is a great boot for long hikes, and backcountry skiing. I have found it stiff enough to ski in-bounds as well, this opinion will differ from skier to skier.
Light: Dynafit TLT7
I have heard countless people describe this boot as a slipper. They always stare into space looking for the right word and pull that one out, it's uncanny. This boot features a revolutionary one buckle system. The ski to walk mode is one mechanism on the cuff with a lever for the forefoot buckle (walk mode) and a second lever for the cuff buckle (ski mode). It is elegant. The TLT7 is also the sleekest or smoothest Dynafit boot yet without anything to catch snow (or twigs, or brush, or your pants, or your backpack strap...). The rotation point has been moved back creating a shorter toe box and more efficient stride, but now requires a special bale in order to accommodate a boot crampon. At 920g for a size 24 and 60 degrees of motion in walk mode, this compares well to the Backland in the lightweight category. It starts out wider at a 102mm last. I can put most anyone in this boot, usually a snugger fit out of the box compared to the Backland and true to size. Rarely need to heat-mold liner. A great lightness to stiffness ratio, could prove too soft for fast on-piste skiing. Awesome in the backcountry.
Light: Scarpa F1
This boot comes in a 21.5 so it's a go-to for me when looking for a small adult or even a kid foot. Instead of traditional or new-fangled buckles there's a boa system on the forefoot and a big beefy velcro strap with a cam on the cuff. Simple and secure. The boa and the ski/walk lever are adopted from the Scarpa Alien race boot and both work really well. Personally I admire Intuition liners the most and Scarpa partners with them for all their boots. They fit snugly, keep a mold well and are slow to pack out and get sloppy. High quality stuff. 1080g at a size 25 and 62 degrees of motion in walk mode. 101mm last fits a medium to wide foot. The F1 is great and light for touring, fits true to size and is very laterally stable, making it feel stiffer than its flex rating, which is 95. This boot is a low volume boot so if you find that you get a good fit with Scarpa but need some or significant punching you should consider trying a Gea instead. A light mold on the liner will usually tell if you can go with a lower volume boot if you have your doubts about a pressure point or two. If it's still feeling uncomfortable in any key places (especially vertically around your forefoot) then moving to a Gea or Sparkle is the way. All around this boot is terrific and a good choice for anything except hard freeriding, although I've been happy to ski fast groomers at the resort on them.
Mid-Weight: La Sportiva Sparkle 2.0
The Sparkle is great for touring. It has 60 degrees of motion for walk mode yet rides well on the way down. The four buckles give a tight stiff fit yet can be a pain to buckle and unbuckle until you're used to them. (This is so you can leave the buckle levers open while you tour and snap them down with one motion to get into ski mode) I would call this a high volume boot and recommend it those with thicker or taller feet. 102mm last. Anyone with a bunion or bone spur will appreciate this boot as well as anyone who has a high arch or has recently had surgery. Easy walk/ski mode on the heel. If you experience trouble with switching back and forth you may need to shove a little white grease up onto the track to lubricate it. The 27.5 boot weighs in at 1245g. I've found it fits a bit big, often people can go down a size or half size. Good all mountain boot. Plenty stiff, light and comfy, and can drive a powder ski around easily.
Mid-Weight: Scarpa Gea
The Gea looks and fits the most like an alpine boot. If that's what you're looking for this is the boot for you. If you like a stiff boot the RS version is rated at a 120 flex compared to the Gea 100 flex. The boot is the same except for the extra carbon in the cuff and the paint job. A popular and greatly appreciated feature is the tongue's ability to completely hinge over to the side making getting in and out effortless. The last is 101mm and a size 25 is 1360g. This boot has won awards and come back year after year. I reach for this boot when someone tells me they want a boot they can skin up in and ride lifts afterwards. I grab it when someone tells me they want a light boot with good downhill performance. I grab it when someone tells me they want something comfortable. It's a perfect compromise in my book. Fits true to size. I have sold many new liners to gals who continue to use this boot year after year unwilling to let it go. It has three traditional buckles and a ladder ratcheting strap across the ankle plus a booster strap. Simple lever on the heel for walk/ski mode. Sturdy boot, seems to hold up well and is one of the best boots to make large punches on. Good for backcountry and resort skiing.
Mid-Weight: Salomon Mtn Lab
This boot is also extremely comfortable and good for skiing like the Gea. It tours well, is lightweight, and can be skied hard and fast with great performance. Looks and feels like an alpine boot. Can run a little large, I recommend sizing down and molding a bit of toe room if needed. Exceptionally stiff for a two buckle boot. It's simple and fast to get in and out. It's on the narrow side at a 98mm last but quite easy to widen it with a larger, general punch. Seems to be especially narrow in toes, not ideal for a wide forefoot. With an emphasis on freeriding, a 63 degree range of motion in walk mode and 1275g in a size 24.5 it's a boot that preforms beatifully in the backcountry or anywhere. It's two years on the market and I haven't seen one break yet. Remarkable.
Heavy Duty: Scarpa Freedom SL
The big seller on this lady is the interchangeable sole feature. The Freedom SL comes with the Mountain Plus sole (tech binding compatible) and the Mountain Piste sole (DIN compatible) is available for about $40. I recommend buying the Mountain Piste sole the day you buy the boot instead of waiting, this year all of North America was out of them after Christmas. Again we have an awesome Intuition liner and a classic, snug alpine feel inside the boot. 101mm last. The lightness and range of motion surprise, 1528g for a size 25 and 27 degrees of motion in walk mode! This is the boot for skiing hard and fast on the hill, for jumping off pillows and twisting down steep rocky terrain. This boot fits true to size and fits most people well. If you have alpine bindings and tech bindings this is a good choice. If you want a stiff boot but you already have an alpine setup you love go with the Gea RS. The added plus to the replaceable soles is being able to swap your tattered soles for nice new ones if you work in your boots ski patrolling or instructing. (or chewing your soles up on rocky peaks in the backcountry!)
So there's the lowdown on our most popular womens' boots! Remember to visualize your skiing and what you're looking for first. Then head into your local gear store and talk with someone about the best fit for you (in the philosophical sense) then put on some boots to find the best physical fit. And repeat after me..."My boot-fitter is wise. My boot-fitter cares about me."
If you can make it in to Cripple Creek for this experience we promise you the biggest smiles, the most patience, and a delicious cup of espresso or pint of beer to take the edge off the whole search. Heck we might even be more excited to find The One than you are, we love this stuff!
See you soon,
- Jewel Campbell