Cross country ski boots come in many styles, constructions, and bindings to accommodate a range of activities. From backcountry touring on the Catamount Trail to skate skiing the Craftsbury Marathon, there is a boot designed to maximize the skier’s performance and enjoyment.
Weight, stiffness, and warmth are all important factors to take into consideration when you purchase a ski boot. The following breakdown briefly describes each type of boot, and should help guide the skier to the correct equipment.
Backcountry boots are the largest and heftiest of the Nordic boots, and offer the most support through the ankle. They are designed to help a skier maneuver a wide ski with a metal edge, and thus must be able to transfer more force than a touring or race boot. Backcountry boots fit like a traditional, high-ankled hiking boot, and often have a cuff around the ankle that fastens with velcro for extra support. They range in price from $150 to $250.
Skirack carries backcountry boots compatible with two different binding systems: NNN BC and Three Pin. NNN BC boots have a metal bar at the front of the sole which clips into the binding. Three Pin boots have a wide lip on the toe with three holes in the front of the sole.
The Three Pin binding is typically used for wider skis, because the three points of contact, distributed across the width of the ski, give the skier more control. Some three pin bindings have a wire around the heel that provides further stability and control.
The NNN BC binding is lighter and slimmer, which makes it a better choice for narrower skis, especially if the skier occasionally goes in groomed tracks. It also puts less stress on the boots, because when the heel lifts, the bar rotates in the binding, rather than stretching and straining the boot. Because of this, Three Pin boots are more likely to break down in the soles with time and use.
Touring boots are a simple, affordable, and comfortable Nordic boot option. While the backcountry boots feel like hiking boots, the touring boots feel more like running shoes, with a lightweight and flexible sole, and lower ankle cut. The simplest boots lace up the front, and some of the nicer options have a zippered cover to keep the snow out, and an ankle cuff for more support. They range in price from $80 to $130.
These boots are a great fit for recreational skiers looking for a mix of in and out of groomed trails, golf courses, or rolling, non-mountainous terrain. Touring boots have either one or two bars at the front of the sole that clips into the binding, and they are compatible with Skate and Classic Performance bindings. They are not compatible with any of the backcountry bindings.
Classic boots are designed to be paired with performance/race classic skis. They are light, often with carbon infused in the soles and heels of the boots to make them lighter and stiffer. The toe of the boot flexes so that the skier can lift their heel as they stride.
Classic boots have a narrower performance fit compared to touring boots, they do not have ankle cuffs, and they often have less insulation. They range in price from $150 to $600. These boots work well for skiers skiing exclusively in groomed areas. They are great for racing, training, and fast recreational skiing. Classic boots have one or two bars in the front of the sole, and are compatible with classic, touring, and skate bindings.
Skate Boots combine a lightweight, performance fit with a sturdy, supportive cuff. They are often made with carbon in the sole and cuff to provide the stiffest, most lightweight boot possible. Because of this, they are the most expensive of the nordic boots, and range from $200 to $800 depending on the construction.
These boots work well for skiing exclusively in groomed areas. They are great for racing, training, and fast recreational skate skiing. Skate boots have one or two bars at the front of the sole, and are compatible with skate, classic, and touring bindings.
Combination boots are a cross between classic and skate boots. They offer the support of a skate boot through the cuff, and the mobility of a classic boot in the sole.
Combi boots are a good option for skiers that both classic and skate ski, and would like a boot that can do both. They range in performance from a simple plastic cuff similar to those found in touring boots (about $150) to a stiffer, carbon reinforced sole and cuff (about $400).
FITTING CROSS COUNTRY SKI BOOTS
Perhaps the most important aspect of a boot to consider is fit and comfort. For this reason, we highly recommend trying on a pair of boots indoors before taking them out on a ski.
When you try on a pair of boots, bring along your ski socks. These are often thicker than regular socks, and can change the way the boot foots. As you slide your foot into the boot, note your initial response. It should be snug, but not constricting or uncomfortable. You should have enough room at the front to wiggle your toes without touching the end of the boot. Lace up the boot starting from the bottom of the laces and work your way to the top. Make sure you know how to work the straps or quick laces if there are any.
Then take a walk around to see how they feel. Does the boot fold in and put pressure on the toe when you lift your heel? Does it pinch or gap anywhere? Does the heel lift when you walk? A little movement is okay, but it’s best to keep any friction on the heel to a minimum. Keep in mind that often one foot is a different size than the other. You may need to adjust the lacing and the straps.
Some boots can be molded, or come with added inserts or heel pieces to further modify the fit. You can also purchase inserts such as Superfeet, to add more arch support to the boot. However, it is easier to select a boot that best fits your foot before any modifications are made before you start to work with inserts.