In my opinion, boots are the most important part of your kid’s gear. Bad boots=more difficult skiing=unhappy kid. You want to ski as one big happy family? Everybody’s boots had better fit and everybody’s feet had better be warm (or at least close to warm).
Let’s start with warm. (And once again, thanks to Kent Foster of the Board and Buckle Company in Grand Junction, Colorado and my models, Kate and Jack.)
There are six keys to warm feet and boots:
- Dry them out. Chronically wet boots are the primary cause of cold feet. You may not even think your boots are wet or damp, but deep inside, they probably are. Invest in a boot dryer. We have both hot sticks and fan dryers. They are cheap, have seen a lot of use and are still going strong.
- Keep ‘em fueled (the kids, not the boots). Kids, especially little kids, expend a ton of energy skiing and learning to ski. Keep snacks (including juice boxes) in your pockets to share on the lift. Don’t go overboard on the sugar, or you’ll end up with a sugar crash half-way down the mountain (which I admit is better than a skiing crash, but still, the goal is a happy kid, not a hyper kid).
- One pair does it all. One pair of wool socks is all you need. Don’t ever, ever layer.
- Wiggle room. Kids need a bit more room in their boots than adults do. You don’t want the boots to be loose, but just by the nature of their bodies and low center of gravity, younger kids may naturally sit back a little, especially when learning to ski. They need a bit more room in the toe to accommodate this different center of gravity. Make sure they can wiggle their toes.
- Buckle Up. But don’t buckle tight. The toe buckle should be snug, the buckle over the top of the foot should not. There is an artery that runs across the top of the foot. Smash it down with a tight buckle and circulation to the toes is cut off. Brrr…..!
- Heat ‘Em Up. If you are driving to ski, put the ski boots in the back seat with the kids (or under the passenger side dashboard), preferably near a floor heating vent. Raise the temperature of the boots to just above body temp.
So, now that our feet are warm, here’s how to check to see if last year’s boots will work again this year.
- Check the sole length. Center your child’s bare foot against the sole of the boot. There should be about an inch of sole remaining on each end.
- Check the shell size. Take out the liner. Put the child’s foot, now encased in one ski sock and one ski sock only in the shell. Have the child stand up and move her toes forward to the tip of the boot. Have her flex her ankles and bend her knees and move forward into a skiing position.
Get a flashlight and look down into the boot behind the child’s heel. There should be 5/8” – 1” of room between her heel and the back of the boot. You may have seen boot fitters use dowels to measure this. If you want, get a piece of 5/8” and ¾” dowel. Put a dowel into the boot between the heel and rear shell to measure how much space is there.
- Check the whole package. Put the boot liner back into the boot. Using both hands, pull the tongue out-of-the-way and separate the overlapping fronts of the boots as wide apart as you can. Your child now has a clear entryway for his foot into the boot. Buckle the boots and have your child walk around a bit. If your child complains that the boot is too tight, but the shell measured as if it still fits, don’t give up on the boot. Boot liners can be stretched to get another season out of them. Take them to your ski shop for stretching. If your child has a “high-volume” (nice way to say chubby) foot, you may need to go up a size.
- Flex, flex, flex. If everything checks out, but your child complains that the boot is too short, make sure he is flexing his ankle and driving his knees forward into an athletic skiing position. This moves his heel to the back of the boot and should provide room for wiggling his toes. In a front entry boot, you can tell if he is flexing the boot by watching the boot hinge forward at the ankle. Push down on the top of the boot while it is on the floor and without a foot in it to see what you are looking for in flex.
Rear entry kids boots are sometimes easier to flex for a small, young skier. Front entry boots provide more stability because they fit more snuggly and I think they keep the heel down and hold the foot in place better. But if your child can’t flex his or her ankle inside the boot, he or she will not be able to center their weight on the ski properly. Some kids have feet that are large enough to fit into an adult boot, but they don’t have the strength to flex an adult boot. Before you hand your old boots down to your pre-teen, make sure they can flex them.
A quick word about those numbers on the boots….
The mm marking along the side of the boot tells the exterior length of the boot sole. The number on the bottom (usually something like 23.5) is known as Mondopoint or World Sizing and tells the size of the boot on the inside. Click here for a conversion chart that will help you find your size.
A quick word about bindings…
Like poles, this is easy. Junior boots go into junior bindings. Junior boots are more narrow across the sole than adult boots. Unless you really, really know what you are doing, have your bindings adjusted and maintained by your ski shop.
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