How to find women’s ski boots for bigger calves

    Got big calves? We know your ski boot fitting pain.

    If you’re a plus-size woman who has ever tried to purchase ski boots, you know what a painful experience it can be. While women’s boot design in particular 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. 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.

    How to find the right boot fitter for bigger calves

    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 specialises in winter sports.

    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.

    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.

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    Not all boot fitters are created equal

    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.

    How to find best boots for bigger calves

    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.

    How to find ski boots that fit correctly

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. Heel. You should feel firmly cradled at the heel, with little to no ability to lift your heel inside the boot.
    4. 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.
    5. 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).

    How to adjust ski boot fit 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:

    1. 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.
    2. 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.
    3. 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.
    4. Buckle extenders: These add-ons replace the existing catch to extend the range of the buckle with just a simple tilt and slide motion.
    5. 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.
    6. 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.
    7. 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.

    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.

    Why aren’t there more ski boots for bigger legs?

    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.

    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 recognise that there is a real and growing demand for ski boots with an extended sizing range. And not just with a beginner flex.

    This is an edited version of a longer feature piece written by Ali Wines for Plus Snow Plus Sized Snow Gear e-tailer and published with permission. You can read the full feature here

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    Rachael Oakes-Ash is the name behind @misssnowitall and the founder of SnowsBest.com. A long time travel and lifestyle journalist and ski writer, she's been published in ESPN, TIME, Wallpaper*, Action Asia, Inside Sport, Australian Financial Review, Emirates Open Skies, Conde Nast Traveler and more. She was the Fairfax snow blogger from 2007 to 2017 and the Southern Hemisphere editor for OnTheSnow. Rachael is also a documentary producer, author, radio announcer and humorist.