If there is one piece of gear that will keep first timers from sticking with the sport, it’s an uncomfortable ski boot. A cheap boot can pinch and freeze toes, turning potential fun into complete misery. Thankfully, there are quality options even in the entry-level market. Part of the reason is that most beginner boots are based on more expensive models but with a roomier fit and a softer forward flex. Our top picks for the 2020-2021 season cover boots for true beginners up to progressing intermediates that require greater stiffness and performance. For more information, see our comparison table and buying advice below the picks. And to complete your ski gear set-up, see our article on the best skis for beginners.
What we like: Nice mix of price, comfort, and performance for beginners.
What we don’t: Fast learners will want a little more stiffness.
Beginning skiers look for comfort, ease of use, and warmth for their first pair of boots, and the Nordica Sportmachine 80 provides all of those in spades. Coming from one of the most respected brands in the business, this popular model includes nice touches like a soft plastic along the front of the shell to make it easier to put on and take off the boot. Plus, its cozy liner and medium/wide last avoids common pinch points to maximize warmth and comfort for most foot types. Finally, the Sportmachine is priced right at $250 for the moderate 80-flex version.
What are the downsides of the Sportmachine 80? Its 102-millimeter last isn’t the widest on the market, but the fit is pretty generous all around, which can be a problem for those with narrow calves and feet. Moreover, we think fast learners should invest in a boot with a stiffer flex (Nordica does offer the Sportmachine in a 90 flex for men and an 85 flex for women). Overall, despite a few nitpicks, we think the Sportmachine is a great value and a fantastic starter boot.
See the Men's Nordica Sportmachine 80 See the Women's Nordica Sportmachine 75
What we like: Super easy to put on and take off.
What we don’t: Single buckle hinders fit customization and performance.
With a throwback look and rear-entry design, the Atomic Savor stands out in the ski boot market. But there’s a lot of logic behind the old-school styling: the single top buckle and wide opening make it among the simplest boots to use. Just undue the ratcheting strap up top, slide your foot in (hands free), buckle it up, and go. In addition, the Savor’s streamlined construction cuts down on weight, so the boot doesn’t feel overly bulky or a burden to walk with to and from the resort.
Where the Savor 80 comes up short is performance. The single buckle at the top is lacking in the fit customization of a three- or four-buckle design—a potential problem given its super-wide, 104-millimeter last—and it lacks the precision and power transfer that you’ll want as your skills improve. You’re also paying an additional $50 compared with the Sportmachine above, which has a more traditional layout that works better for intermediate riders. If you prioritize ease of use, however, the Savor certainly makes a lot of sense for first-timers.
See the Men's Atomic Savor 80 See the Women's Atomic Savor 75
What we like: Lange quality and a lower-volume fit.
What we don’t: Too stiff for the average beginner.
Typically, we wouldn’t recommend a boot with a 90-flex rating for a beginner, but not all first-timers progress in a slow and steady manner. If you think you’ll be carving on your edges in short order, then the LX 90 is where we’ll lead you. Lange doesn’t dabble much with introductory models—this is their softest-flexing on-piste boot—and as such, you don’t see the typical entry-level features. The stiffer mono-injected shell combined with four strong buckles and a power strap are a far cry from the boots above, and they add up to a fairly high level of power transmission.
The extra stiffness may be intimidating coming from soft rental boots, but we think advanced beginners and intermediates will find the LX 90 to be a good pairing. We would prefer a hike mode for easier walkability to and from the car, but at $300, that might be getting a little greedy. Finally, if you like the LX’s design but need a narrower fit, Lange’s RX line trims the last width from 102 to 100 millimeters (although the softest and cheapest RX is the 100-flex model for $500).
See the Men's Lange LX 90 See the Women's Lange LX 70
What we like: Heat-moldable liner at a budget price.
What we don’t: Super-soft flex is only for true beginners.
If your perfect day of skiing involves casual sweeping turns and plenty of time socializing, the Nordica Cruise 70 is a great pairing. With a very soft flex and surprisingly comfortable liner, the Cruise checks the right boxes for a serviceable cheap boot. What sticks out at the $200 price point is the heat-moldable liner, which helps expedite the break-in process. Plus, its aluminum buckles are a nice touch and help boost longevity (some entry-level designs use plastic).
The Cruise's classic four-buckle layout is unexpected given the very soft build—most manufacturers opt for two or three for simplicity and ease of entry and exit—but it does allow for micro adjustments to the fit. From a performance standpoint, there’s little to compliment, and we recommend avoiding the Cruise if you have aspirations for turning quickly on edge or exploring off trail. But if you prioritize comfort above all else, the 70-flex model is all the beginning or casual skier needs.
See the Men's Nordica Cruise 70 See the Women's Nordica Cruise 65
Flex: 4/12 (equivalent to 70)
What we like: Versatile design allows you to swap in a stiffer tongue as you progress.
What we don’t: A bit spendy for a soft, entry-level boot.
Full Tilt is best known for their freestyle boots that are popular among park riders, but we like what they’ve come up with for the beginner-focused Kicker. Like other entry-level models, the boot has a soft flex—the brand doesn’t use a traditional flex number, but the “4” is their most forgiving design (it’s similar to a 70 rating). But with the ability to swap out tongues, you don’t need to ditch the boots as you progress to intermediate terrain (at the time of publishing, the “6” tongue goes for $50).
We like the versatility of the Full Tilt Kicker, but it is fairly spendy at $350 all-in. That said, it is well-built, and for $100 more than the Nordica above, you get an upgraded Intuition liner and the ability to potentially keep it longer by increasing the flex. In the end, the combination of a bigger price tag and soft build pushes it a little down our list, but it’s nonetheless a solid beginner option.
See the Full Tilt Kicker
What we like: A nice option for ambitious beginners.
What we don’t: Big investment for those just starting out.
Stepping up in strength and comfort is the Salomon S/Pro 100, which replaced the uber-popular X Pro line that had been a favorite among intermediate riders (earning it a consistent spot in our best downhill ski boot article). With the latest model, they’ve stuck to the winning formula: medium-width last, mid-range stiffness, and premium liner. All-around performance is excellent with a smooth flex that works well for both lightweight and powerful skiers, and the build quality is exactly what we expect from the venerable French brand. Moreover, for dialing in fit, the S/Pro is a standout with its heat-moldable liner and shell.
The S/Pro’s increased flex over the Lange LX above and plush liner pushes the price to a hefty $550, which is a significant investment for a beginner. As with the Lange, this is not the boot we’d recommend for those still debating whether they want to stick with the sport. But with one of the most foot-friendly designs on the market, as well as the performance and durability to last you for many years, the extra cost may be worth it.
See the Men's Salomon S/Pro 100 See the Women's Salomon S/Pro 100
What we like: Decent flex at a value price.
What we don’t: Pretty basic liner.
The Rossignol Evo 70 is the entry-level offering from the respected ski brand, featuring their softest flex, widest last, and cheapest price. The setup mirrors most other beginner boots in specs, but nearly all of the extras have been stripped away. You don’t get a heat-moldable liner (not a huge loss) or ski/walk mode, but Rossi got the basics right with a smooth flex, nicely shaped shell, and easy-to-use aluminum buckles and power strap.
Sharing a $200 retail price with the Nordica Cruise 70 above, the Evo is a solid deal for those that want a true starter boot (it’s worth noting that at the time of publishing, we’ve seen the MSRP range from $180 to $220 depending on the retailer). Overall, we think it’s a great match for a lightweight advancing beginner—perhaps a teenager that hasn’t hit that major growth spurt. However, the plastic shell is quite basic and has a generic shape, which knocks it down a few spots in our rankings.
See the Men's Rossignol Evo 70 See the Women's Rossignol Kelia 50
What we like: Predictable flex and a wide fit.
What we don’t: Middling overall performance.
With a stiffer 90 flex rating, the Tecnica Mach Sport HV is a boot that can serve skiers ranging from beginner to intermediate. Functionally, the four-buckle design is easy to use, and Tecnica aided the chore of getting a proper fit with an anatomical shell (it still can't beat going through the fit process at a ski shop, however). On the slopes, the boot has a natural flex, which is something you’ll appreciate while connecting turns, but it's not as responsive as the Lange LX or Salomon S/Pro above.
Tecnica's lineup includes both the high-volume Mach Sport here as well as an Extra High Volume (EHV) variation. At 106 millimeters, the Mach Sport EHV is the widest on the market and a great choice for those that need the maximum amount of space around the forefoot (unfortunately, it’s only currently available in a stiff 120 flex). And rounding out the collection, a MV (mid-volume) model with a 100-millimeter last is also offered with a 90-stiffness rating.
See the Men's Tecnica Mach Sport HV 90 See the Women's Tecnica Mach Sport HV 75
What we like: Good price for an all-mountain design.
What we don’t: Most beginners don’t need the sidecountry features.
In contrast to Rossignol’s simple Evo above, the Alltrack 90 is a feature-rich all-mountain boot. Sitting at the bottom of the Alltrack line that reaches as far as $700 Pro and Elite models, the “90” retains most of the good stuff at half the price. And among the beginner-friendly options on the market, it’s our favorite for sidecountry use. The hike mode and compatibility with GripWalk soles (sold separately) work well for quick treks off trail. And on the downhill, the smooth medium flex and strong four-buckle design give you confidence to lean into a turn.
The 90 flex rating makes it a solid option for advancing beginners, but the Alltrack falls mid-pack on our list for a couple reasons. First, most beginners don’t want or need the hiking features, and we think the Lange LX 90 is more comfortable overall (and saves you $50). And the Salomon S/Pro has a better liner and more precise fit. But the Alltrack 90 can be a great all-rounder for those skiing at resorts with easy off-piste access. For a simplified alternative from Rossi, check out their Track line (104mm last), which is one of only a few beginner boots to feature a walk lever.
See the Men's Rossignol Alltrack 90 See the Women's Rossignol Alltrack 80
What we like: Adjustable last and quality fit.
What we don’t: Not very forgiving for the beginner.
With GripWalk soles, quality hike mode, and adjustable fit, the Dalbello Panterra 90 GW is a performance-minded all-mountain option. What immediately stands out in the design is the middle buckle that cinches right over the ankle. Traditional boot construction places that buckle farther up the leg, but its long reach and central location do a great job of locking the foot into place. For those with a narrow heel, this is a great feature.
The fit can be fine-tuned even further with the Panterra’s adjustable last. And unlike the Salomon S/Pro 100 above, it doesn’t require a bootfitter—you simply tighten or loosen the buckle that closes over the toes. At the tightest setting, the Panterra has a semi-snug 100-millimeter width (among the narrowest on this list). And at its loosest setting, you get a 102-millimeter last, which is about average for an entry-level model. Overall, we prefer the even more customizable and comfortable Salomon above, but the Panterra gets high marks for ease of use.
See the Men's Dalbello Panterra 90 GW See the Women's Dalbello Panterra 85 GW
What we like: Heated liner can make even the coldest days tolerable.
What we don’t: Average build quality and performance.
The wide fits and comfortable liners of the options above do their best to help keep your feet cozy and warm, but those that are chronically cold or just want the luxury of a heated boot should consider K2’s B.F.C. 100 Heat. Controlled by buttons along the cuff, you can swap between three settings to tune it to your desired temperature (or turn it down to extend the battery life). Importantly, the design is nicely integrated into the liner and doesn’t add much in the way of bulk or weight.
Looking beyond the heating system, the K2 B.F.C. is a fairly basic build. Its 100 flex puts it head-to-head with the Salomon S/Pro above, but it can’t touch that boot’s fit customization or premium materials. That said, the two cost the same while the K2 includes the nifty heated liner. Depending on your priorities, that feature could give it the edge in the end. And if you like the B.F.C.’s wide fit but don’t need the added tech, K2 offers a standard non-heated B.F.C. 100 for $400.
See the Men's K2 B.F.C. 100 Heat See the Women's K2 B.F.C. 90 Heat
|Nordica Sportmachine 80||$250||102mm||80||90, 100, 110, 120, 130||4 w/35mm strap||No|
|Atomic Savor 80||$300||104mm||80||100||1 w/o power strap||No|
|Lange LX 90||$300||102mm||90||100, 120, 130||4 w/40mm strap||No|
|Nordica Cruise 70||$200||104mm||70||50, 90, 120||4 w/35mm strap||No|
|Full Tilt Kicker||$350||102mm||4/12||None||3 w/40mm strap||No|
|Salomon S/Pro 100||$550||100mm||100||120, 130||4 w/35mm strap||No|
|Rossignol Evo 70||$200||104mm||70||None||3 w/40mm strap||No|
|Tecnica Mach Sport HV 90||$300||103mm||90||80, 100||4 w/35mm strap||No|
|Rossignol Alltrack 90||$350||102mm||90||110, 120||4 w/40mm strap||Yes|
|Dalbello Panterra 90 GW||$400||100-102mm||90||100, 120||4 w/40mm strap||Yes|
|K2 B.F.C.100 Heat||$550||103mm||100||None||4 w/40mm strap||No|
- What is a Beginner Ski Boot?
- Ideal Terrain
- Boot Flex
- Ski Boot Sizing: Mondo
- Boot Width (Last)
- Boot Liners
- Buckles and Strap Systems
- Boot Soles
- Choosing Skis and Bindings
While there isn’t a comprehensive definition in the market of a beginner boot, the picks above do share a number of common characteristics. To start, these boots are more value-oriented (but good ones aren’t the cheapest around), packing fewer features and a more basic liner than high-end options. They also offer the most flex and the roomiest fit, unlike performance boots which are stiff and low-volume to help transmit as much power as possible to the skis. Given their more generous fit, they’re also the most comfortable to slide into and are the least likely to cause foot or shin pain after a day on the slopes.
Of note: the limited performance potential of a beginner boot does mean it's best for the intermediate or advancing skier to avoid them altogether. Those skiers should instead read our article on the best downhill ski boots.
Because of the focus on the beginning skier, the best terrain for these boots is cruising your green circle or blue square runs at the resort. The boots on this list are often the detuned and softer version of dedicated downhill boots, and this is reflected in their performance. Steep and technical terrain requires fast inputs and changes of direction—both things that a soft and flexible boot will not provide. As a result, boots like our top-rated Nordica Sportmachine 80 perform best on groomed runs and at a more subdued pace. Stepping up to a boot like the Rossignol Alltrack 90 gets you more all-mountain versatility and stiffness.
In many ways, a beginner boot is defined by its flex rating. Every downhill boot on the market is given a flex index number ranging from approximately 60 to 130. Lower numbers are softer, have more give, and are more comfortable, making them ideal for beginner skiers. Moving up in stiffness to intermediate and advanced models gets you a boot that isn't as cushy but more efficiently transfers your inputs to the bindings and skis. Determining whether or not you want to upgrade to a high-end boot right off the bat is one of the considerations you need to make. Are you anticipating advancing quickly? If so, it may be worth getting a boot like the Lange LX 90 as opposed to purchasing new boots after only a season of use. A preferred stiffness also correlates with your body weight, so lighter skiers are often better off with a lower flex rating relative to performance. Below are general recommendations; there are ranges within ranges that we dig into later.
Within the beginner category, there can be a further breakdown of what’s considered a “true beginner” with a super-soft flex. This falls into the 50 to 70 flex range, and lightweight skiers desiring the cushiest setup should find a suitable boot here. Heavier skiers will be better off with a boot that is more substantial for improved support. Something with a flex of 80 to 90 is a great starting point. This second category is also suitable for lighter-weight advancing beginners or intermediates.
Both men’s and women’s ski boots are listed in unisex Mondo (or Mondopoint) sizing: the length of your foot measured in centimeters. You can measure your foot by tracing its outline on a piece of paper or marking the bottom of the heel and top of the toes. If your foot measures 30 centimeters in length, your Mondo size is 30. Getting measured in a ski shop is preferred, but this is a rough way to do it at home.
Every manufacturer or retailer provides a sizing chart that matches shoe sizes to ski boot sizes (here's Evo's chart), but your actual Mondo size may be a size or two smaller than what you see on the chart. This is because a tight fit is recommended with ski boots. Ski boot liners are made of foam and will pack out and mold to your feet over time, so it’s best to start with a very snug fit and wear them in.
After the flex rating, the most common specification listed for ski boots is last. This measurement is based on the width of the forefoot and listed in millimeters. Most manufacturers make ski boots with varying lasts to accommodate those with narrow, average, and wide feet. Additionally, the last is an indicator of performance, as a lower-volume fit serves as a responsive conduit between you and your skis. On the casual end, boots are going to fall in an average to wide width, which should fit all but the narrowest feet just fine.
Most beginner ski boots are made up of two independent pieces: a hard plastic outer shell that provides structure and strength and a removable liner that delivers comfort, support, and insulation. The liner is filled with varying amounts of foam, depending on the type of skiing the boot is intended for. Within the entry-level category, these liners are going to put a premium on cushion rather than performance, so they will have a soft and inviting feel. Intermediate and advanced models will be firmer, which brings the added benefit of improved energy transfer to your skis. The liner should be comfortable but reasonably tight around your foot. Your liner will conform to your feet, so don’t be too concerned if it feels snug at first. However, you’ll need to size up if your toes are pressing against the hard-sided shell.
Heat-moldable liners are found on a number of our favorite beginner boots, including Salomon S/Pro, and can be custom fit to your feet in a ski shop that has the necessary equipment. This is a nice way to get the liner to fit your feet right out of the box, but isn’t mandatory for most folks. You can get much of the same fitting accomplished just by wearing the liners around the house or in a few early-season ski days.
To start, it’s helpful to know that there aren’t a lot of revolutionary buckle and strap designs in the beginner-to-intermediate category. The biggest differences you’ll see are the number of buckles used. Some use the classic four-piece, which offers improved adjustability but are a bit more of a pain to get on and off. Others opt for two or three buckles for greater simplicity. Either option can work well for a beginner, and we’ve had success with both designs. We always recommend looking for buckles made mostly with aluminum for greater durability (plastic is cheaper but more prone to breaking).
The strap at the top of the boot near the cuff is another important piece of the design. Sometimes referred to as the power strap, it keeps that top portion nicely locked into place to help bring out the full performance potential of your boots—and at a lower weight and more comfort than adding another buckle. Having a full compliment of buckles as well as a quality power strap also helps in really dialing in the fit, which can make accommodating varying sizes of legs and calves that much easier.
Within the beginner ski boot category, you’ll see two different styles of boot soles: ISO 5355 models and GripWalk-equipped designs. Starting with the former, ISO 5355-compatible boots are mostly flat underfoot and sized to fit and release from the toe piece on a standard alpine binding. The main downside is walking and hiking comfort: their shape and simple outsoles lead to an awkward gait and can be quite slippery in anything from hardpack snow and ice to slick bathroom floors. Enter the newer GripWalk sole, which has a rockered shape for a more natural stride and softer plastic/rubber compound for improved traction. These are commonly found on higher-end boots, and only the $400 Dalbello Panterra and $550 K2 B.F.C include this feature from our list above. If you do opt for a GripWalk boot, you’ll want to make sure your bindings are compatible. A growing number are GW-ready, especially among mid-range and high-end designs, but many entry-level bindings are not.
A proper ski system is just that: a system that has all pieces working in concert. This is just as important for a hard-charging expert as it is for a beginner. As such, it’s best to pair your softer-flexing boots with binding and skis that are equally as forgiving. Entry-level skis and bindings often come as a single, integrated system, and we break down the best options in our best skis for beginners article.
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