Every manufacturer trickles down the features it feels are relevant to the lower-level and softer boots. Some manufacturers do offer canting capability via replaceable soles down to 80ish-flex boots. Proper canting to accommodate stance is very important to a skier's progression. Most manufacturers stop other features at much higher boot levels, and price points. These are such features as buckles attached with screws and t-nuts versus rivets. T-nuts allow a bootfitter to access an area of the shell to heat and punch without the risk that an attached buckle will hold the high heat and melt the shell. The same goes for attaching the upper cuff with a larger rivet, which makes it very difficult for a fitter to work in the ankle area of the lower shell, an area that commonly needs attention. This is more difficult because the lower shell is usually very thick in this area and requires more heat to penetrate to punch. What could using t-nuts and a removable cuff cost over riveting buckles and permanently attaching the cuff to the shell? Maybe $5, $10, $15 a pair?

The liner quality is the area that is sacrificed the most as you drop to a lower price point. I challenge anyone to go into a shop and pull the liners out of an 80, 100, and 130 and start playing with them. Flex them, put your hand in and feel the ankle pocket (if there even is one). Search for any contouring for the ankle bones, a very sensitive area. Look at the toe box, is there neoprene or just the same material as the rest of the liner? This is the part that actually touches your foot; see if it is even shaped like a foot.

Now look at the best liners: different-density foams and materials are strategically placed, there is more stitching, and everything is done at a higher level of attention. If the entry- and mid-level skiers are the future of the sport, we want them to stay in it, so why are we giving them an inferior product in what we all agree is the most important piece of equipment they will own?

The simple answer is price. But a lower-flex boot does not need to be a lower-quality boot, especially with a skier who probably won't replace gear as often as a high-performance skier. Lower-quality boots are generally replaced not when they are outperformed but when they are so worn that they won’t pass the visual test during binding adjustment. Meanwhile, the inferior liner had packed out years ago, and the skier had no idea that the reason he struggled to make that left turn was that his foot was moving around in a disintegrated liner. He might even have already decided that skiing just wasn't his thing.

So how do we address this? Do we really need a boot offered at every $50 or $100 increment? Any fitter worth his or her salt knows it is easier to soften a boot than to stiffen it. By streamlining and improving their offerings, manufacturers will be able to reduce inventories, which will then reduce costs. Let's take one 120-flex boot as an example: this manufacturer takes the shell from its 130 (a stiffer plastic) and the liner from the 110 (a softer, lower-quality liner), combines the two, and voilà! A 120-flex boot. Why not just soften the shell of the 130 that has the better liner? If you put the same quality of liners in all boots, you would reduce the number of molds necessary and therefore costs. All of this could make boots more affordable, more profitable, and, best of all, more better! A win-win-win for the industry.

A 130-flex boot is not worth $100 more than a 120 or $200 more than a 110; it probably doesn't use even $50 of extra material. The same quality boot can be designed and built for different skiers at a comparable price. It has been discussed over and over in the industry: dealing with boots is on par with going to the dentist, the most stressful part of the skiing process. Few things can spoil the skiing experience like a poorly fitting boot. The industry knows this but, I believe, is addressing it from the wrong angle. We are trying to fix the situation by offering features that make it easier to walk. We need to fix boots not from the outside in, but from the inside out. Let's make boots that fit feet! A properly fitting boot can and will turn people who ski into skiers.
Artwork: @Dave Petersen
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