Unlike Penfold’s Grange, plastics don’t age well. Ski boots are made from plastic and they don’t mature into a fine specimen worth more than the day they were bought. Instead, they have a limited lifetime in which they’re required to attach you to your skis and do their job, hopefully in comfort. Then it’s time to retire them as flowerpots in the garden.
After their expected life span, the plastics start to perish – both within the liner and the shell. Unfortunately, ski boots start to die over time, even if you haven’t skied in them that much. Retail shells and liners last 200 ski days or 5 years – but you feel them start dying at around 150 days – sooner if you’re a pro (instructor, ski patroller, racer, or expert ski bum).
HOW DO YOU KNOW THEY’RE DYING?
The liner: new issues start popping up that haven’t been there previously. When this happens it’s just a matter of time until the liner needs replacing, and any fixes tend to be short term. You might notice you get rubbing on the bony parts of your feet when you didn’t used to, heel lift increases, or cramps and aches that didn’t used to be there.
The shell: the shell starts out with a smooth movement from beginning to the end range of forward motion (the forward flex). As the plastic gets older and brittle, it loses its bounce and the flex pattern changes. It now starts to feel ‘empty’ until the end of travel and then it stops, like a bad clutch – it’s on/off.
A few things will impact how long your boots last. How hard you ski, how much you weigh, how well you look after your boots and whether you dry them out properly. The extra movement allowed by a boot that’s too big or by not having ski orthotics will also reduce how long your boots will last, as it puts excessive wear and tear on the liner.
You might wonder what’s wrong with skiing in an old boot? And to a degree, it’s not a major issue. You need to be aware that the niggles won’t be able to be fully resolved and will reoccur. The real problem comes when the plastics are at the point of exploding under force. Just like last year when a guy was skiing in a 20-year-old boot, the sole of the shell fell off mid-mogul and the ski kept going down the hill without him. He limped back into the shop with a very wet sock, lucky to not have skewered anyone with his runaway ski.
So how well do you know your boots? Do you know your ski day count? Do you scratch a mark in them for every day? Or do you note the subtle differences in flex as you drive the boot into another perfect turn?
Either way, a new boot should be a new beginning – a great chance to reassess your skiing, get a lesson and push things to the next level.