Photo Credit: Megan Banker @pdxoutdoorchiro upset about her ski boot pain
@lifeoflexcreativeco stoked on skis
Have you ever walked into a ski store or rental department, looking for ski boots, only to be told they didn’t have anything that would fit you? Or perhaps you’ve sat there while a well-meaning associate tries to wrench a boot closed around your calf, and you’re not sure whether the physical pain is worse than the pain of feeling like an outsider like you don’t belong here.
If you’re a plus-size person who has ever tried to purchase ski boots, you know what a painful experience it can be. Literally, and metaphorically. While women’s boot design is adjusted slightly to account for our generally lower calves and narrower feet, models are still very much based on the stereotype of the slender athlete with Scandinavian genetics and correspondingly petite calves.
Of course, the reality is much different. Women generally have wider calves than men, and if you have an athletic build, or have done a lot of lower-body sports, or you’re simply not built like a pixie, you’ve likely found it very difficult to get ski boots that work for you.
In addition to the painful pinching that anyone with a calf circumference greater than 16” is likely to experience (that can lead to chronic injuries if not addressed), the process of purchasing a boot can be just as agonizing. Many skiers report challenges convincing retail staff of their skiing ability, or of being dismissed altogether due to fat-phobic assumptions based on their body shape. The feelings of shame, frustration, hurt, and anger can be overwhelming and have pushed more than one person away from a sport that should be available to everyone.
If this is you, you’re not alone.
Here is just a small sample of some of the comments we’ve had from customers and on social media when we asked about experiences with ski boots.
What we’re hearing: Finding ski boots for wide calves is HARD!
“My biggest barrier to skiing is the boots- they are so painful around my very wide calves. It’s literally the only reason I don’t ski anymore.” – Laura C.
“I recall many times when my lower legs looked very misshapen after a day’s skiing.” – Nici D.
“I basically had to roll out my family pedigree to prove that I was an expert skier and needed an expert boot.” – Kerry G.
“For me, it's the tongue that's narrow & cuts into my calf. The boot fitter heated & flattened it so it's no longer narrow.” – Susan C.
“It's not solely exclusive to women. I have very large calves and have had this issue in the past where it pinches and bruise on the sides of my legs. Even resulting in blistering as well.” – Stuart B.
Photo credit: @thebumbumqueen trying to find ski boots that don't pinch
Plus size skiers CAN find ski boots to fit
Don’t let a bad experience with the wrong boots put you off a sport that can (and should) bring you so much joy.
While it’s true that few boot-makers are developing products for plus-size calves, that doesn’t mean you don’t have options. You can improve your boot fit and purchasing experience by being well informed, and knowing what to ask for. Here’s our top advice for getting the best-fitting ski boots for wide calves.
Find an experienced boot fitter
Finding an experienced and welcoming boot fitter that you trust, is the biggest key to improving your days on the hill.
After all, a ski boot isn’t a shoe – it’s a vitally important piece of equipment, the interface between your feet and your skis, and the quality of the fit will make a huge difference to your skiing experience and your safety.
When it comes to finding the right boot fitter, there are two things you need to consider: the store, and the person. The store is a decent starting place because they’re not all created equal. Lots of sports stores sell ski boots, but the kid working part-time hours on minimum wage is probably not going to be a trained boot-fitter. Look for a store that specializes in winter sports. If they sell basketballs too, they’re probably not experts.
More important than the bricks and mortar, though, is the person doing the fitting. They should be well trained, experienced, and should make you as a customer feel welcome and comfortable. After all, you’re about to spend a lot of time and money with your boot fitter, so it’s got to feel right.
You’re going to want to be prepared to do some research here, because a great boot fitter, especially someone with the knowledge to fit plus size skiers, is not always easy to find. If you have friends who are keen skiers, ask them. Google ‘best ski boot fitter’ in your area and read the reviews. Facebook and other online forums can prove especially useful, or you can ask people at your local ski area – instructors and ski patrol often have good inside information and contacts.
Once you’ve found a likely candidate, it’s a great idea to call ahead and speak to the fitter in person. Explain what you’re looking for and ask if they will be able to help you. Boot fitting can take several hours over multiple visits, so by calling ahead and arranging a time to come in, you’re also likely to have a more relaxed experience.
Should you buy ski boots online?
Nope, nope, nope, nope, nope. Did we say nope?! While end-of-season online bargains can be super tempting (trust us, we get it!) ski boots are a highly technical piece of equipment that must be fitted properly. Often, if you buy a boot online and it requires modifications, boot fitters won’t touch the boot, or if they do, you could be looking at hundreds of dollars for the changes you need to get the right fit. So, nope.
Know how to find the best ski boots for you
While most boots on the market are still designed for smaller bodies, knowing your stuff and asking the right questions can make a really big difference when it comes to getting a fit that’s a lot closer to meeting your needs. Added bonus: you’ll also come across as a confident consumer who is not to be messed with.
First, know your skiing style and ability. Boots come with different ‘flex’ ratings, which measure how much they move with you when you lean into them. Generally, beginners or less aggressive/energetic skiers will be steered towards a softer flex, while stronger skiers will go for a stiffer boot to allow them to really push through a turn. However, many of our customers tell us that as a plus-size person, a stiffer boot gives them greater security, because it’s better able to support them in the correct forward stance. If this is your experience, don’t be afraid to speak up and tell your boot fitter, as the physics may not be something that has occurred to them. Remember that the best fit comes from dialogue. Be open to advise, but if your boot fitter isn’t listening to you, they may not be the right person to work with.
You can go online and look up ‘best ski boots for wide calves and the year, to see what models may work for you. However, it’s no guarantee the store will stock them and it’s generally best to go with the advice of your boot fitter, as they’ll be able to tell from the shape of your foot which boot will likely work best for you.
This leads us to fit.
How to find a ski boot that fits right, first time:
- Instep. This is the part that’s least able to be adjusted on a boot, so finding the correct fit around the sensitive top part of your foot is super important.
- Toe length. When you’re standing upright in the boot, your toes should just touch the end, so you can feel it but your toes aren’t squished. When you flex forward into a ski stance, your toes should pull back slightly.
- Heel. You should feel firmly cradled at the heel, with little to no ability to lift your heel inside the boot.
- Width. Inexperienced fitters will try to put folks with larger calves into a wider boot. Unless you do have a wide foot, this is not necessary. Make sure your whole foot feels snug in the boot – if your feet are sloshing around, guess what? Your skis will slosh around too.
- Calf. This is the part of the boot to which adjustments can most easily be made. If the calf is tight, or won’t do up, but the fit around the foot feels comfortable, ask your fitter about what modifications they would recommend improving fit here (remembering that stability is essential to your safety).
Ski boot fit adjustments for wide calves
There are a surprising number of modifications an experienced boot fitter will be able to make to improve the comfort of your ski boot. These can be done at the time of purchase, but a reputable fitter will also welcome you back after you’ve spent a few days in your boots and gotten to know any pressure points or tight spots.
Here’s what to talk to your boot fitter about:
- Bell out the top of the cuff: Just as it sounds like, this involves heating and stretching out the cuff into more of a bell shape, to better accommodate the point where the calf widens.
- Flatten the tongue: Boot tongues come pre-curved, and may not always fit the shape of your shin. Heating and flattening the tongue can eliminate pressure on the front of your leg and create more space.
- Move buckles and bales: This is an easy and effective adjustment, which involves setting the buckles and bales (the bit that clicks into the buckle) further back on the boot. A bit like creating a new hole in a belt, it allows a wider fit in the cuff.
- Buckle extenders: These add-ons replace the existing catch to extend the range of the buckle with just a simple tilt and slide motion.
- Stretch the shell: Boot fitters can use a tool like a hairdryer to stretch out the whole boot shell, or particular places in the shell that might be creating uncomfortable pressure. This takes some skill so make sure your fitter is experienced if this is the solution you opt for.
- Cut-outs: Ski boot liners pack down over time, but if the liner is overly tight, to begin with, it’s possible to cut out sections causing discomfort.
- Add a heel lift: Sometimes it’s not so much the boot itself, but your foot’s position in the boot that can create discomfort. By using a foam wedge to lift your heel, it’s possible to reposition your foot so the cuff closes around the narrower part of your calf.
Finally, when you’re in the snow, a couple of tips can help your comfort as well. Remember to wear the thinnest socks you own – good quality merino ski socks will keep your feet warm without adding bulk or making you sweat. And keep your thermals and ski pants on the outside
of your boot, so you’ve got maximum contact between your leg and the boot interior, and there’s no rubbing.
What about rental boots for plus-size skiers?
If you’re new to skiing, chances are you’ve been spinning the roulette wheel of comfort that is the rental boot. Don’t get us wrong – rentals are a great way to try out skiing, which, let’s face it, isn’t exactly a cheap hobby. We’re all for welcoming more people into skiing, and if you’re not quite ready to invest in your own gear, here are a few tips for getting the best out of your rentals, so you can have a great day on the hill:
- Larger resorts and towns will have a few rental options, so do your research, and call around to ask whether they have the right equipment for you;
- Try to get your rental fitting at a quiet time, and preferably the day before you ski. The middle of the day is normally good, once the morning rush has died down, and before the bedlam of returns begins. This will lessen the likelihood that you feel pressured to accept a boot that doesn’t fit well;
- Remember to bring your own long, thin ski socks and wear pants that roll up above the height of the boot. It can also be good to wear a t-shirt – stores can be overheated and trying on boots can be hot work!
- Make sure the boot fits really snugly around your foot. Many new skiers are shocked by how uncomfortable ski boots can feel at first, but firmness is an important part of their performance. Any movement is going to impact how well you ski, and that’s going to impact how much fun you have.
Having said all that, as soon as you think that this skiing thing might be rather good and you’d like to keep going with it, you should consider investing in your own boots. If budget is an issue and you can’t afford a full setup right away, boots are the ONE thing that you should absolutely prioritize spending your money on. We promise you’ll be shocked by the difference a boot custom fitted to you will make, and you’ll be shredding the whole mountain in no time.
Why aren’t there more ski boots for plus-size bodies?
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, the industry needs to do better. With the average American woman wearing a size 16-18, and recent data showing 40% of skiers are now women, the numbers are undeniable: There is real, commercially viable demand for equipment that’s made for all bodies.
A big part of the problem is a poor upward flow of communication. Ski shop owners are aware that boots aren’t fitting real customers, but they don’t demand different sizing from manufacturers, so manufacturers don’t change anything. Of course, this doesn’t let the boot makers off the hook: they should be speaking not only to their retailers but directly to consumers, rather than just hitting Ctrl+C on designs each season.
It’s not easy to change a ski boot mould and can cost millions of dollars in re-tooling factory equipment. However, we encourage boot makers to look at the data and recognize that there is a real and growing demand for ski boots with an extended sizing range. And not just with a beginner flex!
Getting out there
If you’ve read this far, it’s pretty clear you’ve caught the skiing bug, and that you’re dreaming of that feeling of gliding downhill, hooting, and hollering as the cold air kisses your cheek and all of life’s demands fade into the background. Get out there and have all the fun you deserve…
boots and all! (See what we did there?)
Have you had any experience, good or bad, with finding ski boots for plus-size skiers? Have you got tips for others looking to find boots for wide calves? Let us know in the comments – every bit of advice helps!
Guest blogger: Ali Wines