Ski boot debugging
I grew up skiing in rental boots and skis, and always assumed that ski boots were supposed to hurt. However, I recently bought Nice™ ski boots, which were a total game changer! I was no longer limping in agony after a day on the slopes, and felt way more in control of my movement while skiing. However, to my dismay, after a few weeks in the new boots, my left shin started hurting intensely while skiing. I tried desperately to figure out why, in the process trying many things and talking to almost a dozen ski boot fitters. I learned some tricks for debugging ski boot pain, and am writing them down here to hopefully save others time and pain!
If your boot doesn’t fit right to begin with, that’s the place to start. When you lean forward and press your weight onto your shins (pushing your heels backwards into the heel cup), your toes should be close to the front of the boot but not touching it. Your top two buckles should be as tight as possible (without cutting off circulation), whereas your lower two buckles don’t have to be as tight. To make sure your socks don’t bunch up, you should wear one pair of tight-fitting thin ski socks — they should come up to above your boots.
Debugging — upper shin pain
This is a super common complaint, especially for skiers who take jumps or moguls. This is called “shin bang”, and is caused by your shins banging into the front of your boots when you hit bumps. This can be reduced by buckling your top two buckles tighter, so your shins are more tightly coupled with your boot. If this doesn’t solve it, or if your shins are already bruised up and sensitive, you can add extra padding to the shin area by placing a folded up long sock (or any fabric that is thick enough for padding, and free of creases/wrinkles) behind the tongue of your boot. Some people permanently sew extra padding into the tongues of their boots for this purpose. And maybe take it easy on the jumps and moguls for a bit while your shins recover.
Debugging — lower shin pain or shin muscle soreness
If you finish your skiing day with your shin muscles on fire, or the tendons attached to your shin muscles in extreme pain, it may be because you are leaning back too much while skiing. This forces your shin muscles to engage to keep yourself upright, causing the muscles to get overworked or for the corresponding tendons to be engaged and pushed up against the top of the boot all day. The best way to fix this is by fixing your form, focusing on leaning forward and keeping your shins pressed into the front of your boots. Another way to address this is by using wedges to make your boot more aggressive, thereby forcing you to lean forward more. You can ask most boot shops for wedges to put under your heels (under the insole of your boot) to give you a small boost. You can also add wedges to your boot liner behind your calves, to push your stance to be a bit more forward.
Debugging — sore arches
In my conversations with boot fitters, I learned that the insoles that ski boots come with are really not supposed to be skied on. They rarely have any arch support or cushioning, and are only for fitting and aesthetic purposes. Therefore, if you are skiing on the standard insole, it is very likely that you will have sore arches by the end of the day! You can address this by getting a more supportive insole. There are athletic insoles (e.g. Superfeet) that you can buy in your boot size, cut to the same shape as your existing insole, and swap into your boots. If you’re feeling fancy, you can even get custom insoles that are heat-shaped to your feet. If you want to save money, you could reuse supportive insoles from your running shoes or hiking boots (just don’t forget to put them back in your shoes/boots after ski season!) Not only should this help your arches be in less pain, but they will also make your ski setup more responsive and your turns feel easier!
Debugging — point pressure, e.g. ankle / bunion pain
Oftentimes, your foot just isn’t the same shape as the boot and there will be a spot that gets a lot of painful pressure. An easy stopgap solution is to add padding to the area around the pressure spot, for example by using these foam donuts:
A more long-term solution is to get the boot reshaped to fit around the pressure spot. If your boot was made within the last ~5 years, it can probably be heat-molded to better fit your foot! They can heat up and reshape the boot to be looser at the painful spot — this is often called an “ankle punch” or “bunion punch”. Most boot fitters can do this in-shop.
Debugging — over or under buckling
Once your buckle your boots such that the top buckles are as tight as they can get, and the lower two buckles are snug, you should check which notch your buckles are engaged on. The buckles should be engaged at about halfway down the notch line. If the buckles are on the very first notch (under buckled) or very last notch (over buckled), this can be a problem for your boot fit because it will warp the shape of your boot, potentially causing it to put undue pressure on parts of your foot or shin. You can move the notches — most boots have multiple locations the notches can be screwed into, and all it takes is a hex bit to move them. Some boots even have the ability to adjust the notches without unscrewing — it just depends how fancy your boots are.
When putting your boots on, if you pull the liner tongue up and forward, it is easier to get your foot into the boot. Buckle your boots with the top two buckles first. Make sure those are very tight, and then buckle the lower two buckles (those don’t need to be as tight). I like pulling the liner tongue upwards while buckling my top buckles, so it is more snug with my shin.
Always put your pole wrist straps on with your fingers on top of the wrist straps instead of under. This is a safety concern — if your ski pole gets caught, you don’t want the wrist strap to catch on and sprain your thumb (this is called “skier’s thumb”, and is surprisingly common). This also lets you put more pushing pressure on your wrist strap, instead of just from gripping the pole.
I’m sure there are many more tips out there, feel free to share more with me! I hope this helped — I wish I found a writeup like this when I was trying to debug my boot pain!
For me, the things that helped were: adding a heel wedge to make my stance a bit more aggressive, adding supportive custom insoles, and fixing the over buckling by moving the buckle notches on my boots. Now that I’m no longer in pain, I have to actually get better at skiing!