How to find the right ski boots for kids
So parents have for years had a love/hate relationship with kids’ ski boots. Yes it is the vehicle that helps keep their kids out on the hill and exercising every weekend, all winter long, but the downside is of course, those pesky growing feet.
There are several options modern parents have to get the right boot on their kids feet to keep them happy, healthy, warm and tearing up the mountain.
Types of Ski Boots Available
First let me explain the types of boots you need to know about. There are two major types, rear entry and front entry boots.
What Are Rear Entry Ski Boots?
Rear entry boots are what they sound like, boots you enter from the rear. They fold forward and then once your child has placed his foot in the boot, he leans back and you crank the binding until it’s tight enough. The plus to rear entry is that it’s easy to get in, so great for little kids that need some help getting their boots on. This is easier on moms and dads’ backs as they spend less time hunched over trying to get a boot on a little kid’s foot. The downside is that as kids advance, there are less points to fit the boot against the foot leaving some play inside the boot, which can make it harder for kids to stay in control of their turns and edging.
What Are Front Entry Ski Boots?
These are boots that will give your child a better fit overall, the more buckles, the more fit. Buckles help you fit the boot to your child’s foot by adding multiple points to close the gap between the boot and your child’s foot. This means there’s less leeway when making turns. The better the fit the more responsive the ski will be to your child’s foot and leg.
But remember, every buckle you have on your child’s boot, means, one more buckle…to buckle..and unbuckle…every time you go in and out of the warming hut. So usually three or four buckles should be the max.
Where to find ski boots for your kids
Rent at the ski area
You have a number of options when renting skis and boots. Here’s my breakdown of how to get them:
You can rent boots at the ski area where you are going, usually. If you are renting boots you’ll really need to rent the skis there as well. Not sure how many places just rent boots and if they do, don’t expect them to fit the ski bindings to your boots. Many ski resort rental areas won’t touch someone else’s skis. Bring your own screwdriver to set your bindings, and that’s only if you are sure you know how to do it.
The downsides to renting at the area you are skiing at? Well, it’s usually a zoo and lines can be long, especially on weekends. There’s a chance your size might not be available when you get there, screwing up your whole day. It also eats up time on the hill that you are paying a lot of money for.
If you have friends with you who have their own skis, they will kind of hate you if they have to stare at the mountain and wait for you while you get your kids’ skis. It’s an icky way to start the day off at a mountain. It’s infinitely better to walk up, get your ticket and hit the hill. Or better yet, have your tickets sent to you in advance. Then with skis in hand, you simply walk onto the hill. It’s like the feeling you get with TSA PreCheck at the airport, only times a thousand because you are standing on a ski mountain instead of staring at a security line. But you get the point.
Renting boots and skis at a local ski area near the mountain
This is far more civilized than trying to rent at the mountain. Call ahead, reserve your boots and/or skis at a shop on the way to the mountain. Tell them your child’s size and they’ll have your skis waiting for you. They will likely be a better price, and can probably sell you discounted ski area tickets. Not always, but make sure to ask. You get more one on one attention and you know they’ve reserved what you need. It still eats into your time on the snow as you’ll need to spend a little time making sure the skis fit. But it’s worth it, especially if you are skiing for a few days. This way you only have to do this once and it’s like you have your own skis for the stay. If you can, time it so you are picking up your skis the night before you’ll need them so you can spend your whole day on the hill without stopping to fit your skis. Use the morning to eat a longer breakfast if you like.
Renting boots and skis at a place near home
This is a nice option if you have a place near you at home that rents skis. If you are flying or spending a day just driving, make sure to compare what it will cost you to what it would cost you near or at the mountain. Even if you are not skiing, if you are spending a few days to get there and back, you’ll still have to pay for those days. You’ll also need to schlep them, either in the car or on the plane. The nice part is you can pick them up at your leisure early enough before your trip so that you are not eating into snow time.
Renting boots and skis for the season
This is my personal favorite and what I do every year. For about $100, I get my daughter fitted at Miller Ski and Sports in Warwick, New York in August. I get an early bird discount, and as soon as the first snowfall, they’ll have her skis ready and I’ll have them for the whole season. Bring them back at the end of the season and you are good. If you are going to ski more than three or four times in the year then it’s definitely worth it to have this option.
Now, you do have to schlep them the same as you do when you own your skis, so that is a consideration. And if your kids can carry their own skis, or you don’t mind, that’s not a problem, but if you are a single mom like me, I used to have to make sure I could carry my skis as well as my daughters. A double ski bag solved that problem for me. But the benefits to renting skis for the season from a local shop are you get one-on-one attention, you get your own skis for the season as if you owned them, and you can get fitted at your leisure.
The only time I’d say this really wouldn’t work for you is if your child is such a high performance skier, or in the racing program that he needs his own, top of the line skis. Now when I was a ski instructor, we had racing teams come after school and about half of them had season rentals and they seemed fine enough. But again, if your kid is racing and needs the best of the best and you can afford it, then ski swaps or buying new might be a better bet.
Finding gear at ski swaps
Every ski area and community usually has some local ski swap, usually in the late summer or early Fall. Parents of kids who belong to the local ski programs often run these ski swaps hoping to make better use of the short lived fitting of perfectly good ski boots and skis. Aside from that there are also online places to try. Ski swaps or used gear sites take a little more effort to find just what you want, but you can get some awesome deals on ski products. They also often have other things like pants, gloves and jackets, also expensive gear that children grow out of. Here are some sites to try. Many of the big, local ski swaps can offer both used and new gear.
Purchasing your child’s boots and skis
This is the easiest one of course. You have several options. In person or online. If you have ski shops near you, by all means check in, and do so in the Fall when the boots first come in, or end of season to see if you can get lucky on next years. I’d be a little careful with boots though for end of season deals, as kids feet do grow. So end of season is good for skis and clothes, but boots for children, you don’t want to have a growth spurt over the summer that will ruin your new boot purchase. Don’t wait too long past Christmas though to purchase as pickins get slim.
There are of course, ski shops on the mountain itself but if you wait until then, plan on paying top dollar–and getting what you get. You really want to do your research if you are buying new, so picking out of whatever’s in the shop doesn’t seem smart to me. Unless you shatter your boots on the mountain (which I have done once in my life–it was amazing to see your boots just shatter around your feet–they were old) I can’t imagine a reason for something like boots or skis right on the mountain. Maybe I’m wrong but someone will have to convince me why that makes total sense.
Here are some links to some very decent sources of gear. A lot of little local shops also carry gear so I recommend doing your homework.
How to Choose the Right Ski Boot Video Gallery
Here are some good videos to help show you how to get a good fit for ski boots.