Whether your preference is a few casual piste laps before lunch, tearing around the terrain park, or climbing up peaks deep in the backcountry, a poor fitting and uncomfortable ski boots can suck the joy out of any day in the mountains. Born with uncommonly shaped feet, I’ve struggled to find the right fit. I’ve heard boot-fitters describe my feet in the same way a doctor reads a dreary diagnosis. “You have narrow feet, a high arch, and low-volume ankles,” they sigh. “There is nothing we can do…”
I’ve always been consigned to a limited selection of boot designs while having to accept that there would be some degree of discomfort or compromise on performance. Frustratingly, the alpine ski boot has remained virtually unchanged across the past 30 years. While there has been a massive evolutionary shift in backcountry ski boots, where new technology and lightweight materials have been quickly adopted, a standard four buckles and a hunk of moulded plastic were about all you could expect in an alpine boot, regardless of brand.
I’ve heard boot-fitters describe my feet in the same way a doctor reads a dreary diagnosis.
Now, in 2023, we’re witnessing a radical new development - the BOA Alpine system. Like so many great innovations, you might wonder how nobody thought of this before. BOA is familiar to the outdoor industry. Since its inception in 2018, BOA has been utilised in hi-tech snowboarding and mountaineering boots, cycling shoes, and helmets. Recently BOA has beefed up the strength and durability of its design for use in ski boots.
It is essentially a lacing system that replaces the two front boot buckles atop your foot. BOA uses a high-tensile stainless-steel wire threaded through four anchor points. It’s connected to a dial which allows you to both tighten and loosen the wire in tiny increments, for a much more precise and adjustable fit. Where a buckle would crimp down on the top of the foot, leading to potentially painful pressure points, the BOA system wraps around, creating a uniform and snug hold.
According to BOA, the design reduces pressure points by 13% by evenly distributing the pressure around your foot. In addition to improved comfort, there are notable advances in performance. The design allows for greater responsiveness and power transfer during turns, generating a 10% improvement in the rate of force production at turn initiation. If this sounds very technical, it’s for good reason. The BOA system’s design team includes a PhD holder in neuromechanics, a mechanical engineer and a two-time Olympic Gold medallist ski racer.
Could this be the solution to my ski boot woes? With winter fast approaching, I arrange a boot fitting appointment at Ellis Brigham’s flagship store near Covent Garden. I am, admittedly, a bit of a ski snob and always sceptical of getting a boot fit so far away from an actual ski slope. I quiz my boot-fitter, Toby, on where he learnt his trade. It’s reassuring to hear he has amassed three continents' worth of boot-fitting acumen, having spent numerous winter seasons in Whistler, Courchevel, and Wanaka. After a few standard measurements, he’s off to grab a boot. No exasperated sighs, no foot-shape laments.
Toby returns with the Salomon S/Pro Supra BOA 120. The name is a mouthful, but it’s a handsome-looking boot at the forefront of technology and design. In addition to the integrated BOA system, the boot has a heat-mouldable liner incorporating an elastic belt on the forefoot, to guarantee there is no foot movement within the boot, and a reinforced plastic tongue – unlike any boot liner I’ve encountered previously.
The boots are easy to step into. I have a first go at the BOA. The clicking noise of the dial is oddly satisfying, and I feel the metal wire cinch the plastic shell around my foot. Rather than pushing down on the sensitive top of my arch, it feels as though my foot is being gently but firmly gripped in place. It’s easily the most comfortable boot I remember wearing – despite trying over a dozen varieties in the past season or two. Per Toby’s suggestion, I opt for custom SIDAS footbeds. In my case this is purely a luxury, but if you have pronating feet, it’s more of a necessity.
The clicking noise of the dial is oddly satisfying, and I feel the metal wire cinch the plastic shell around my foot.
We’re off to an expensive-looking machine with blue neon lights for the heat moulding of the footbeds. The backdrop of the machine reassuringly states WE KNOW FEET. It’s emblazoned in 2-foot-tall font. After squishing my feet in heated blue jelly for a few minutes, the footbeds are ready to mould. As a final touch, Toby grabs his heat gun and makes some final adjustments to the boot liner, pinching the area around my ankle to ensure my foot is locked in place.
As I step into the boots to test the final, customised product, I’m as confident as I’ve ever been in finding a boot that will elevate my skiing experience from both a performance and comfort perspective – not something that traditionally goes hand-in-hand. I leave the store imagining my first turns in the new boots - winter can’t come soon enough!