Monday 13 March 2023

Thoughts On When To Replace Plastic Ski Boots (And On Checking Gear)

My Nordic skiing gear is pretty ancient, the newest items dating from over twenty years ago, the oldest from nearly forty. It’s also been well-used. How long should it last? At what point would anything become unsafe?

Now before any trip I do give gear a quick once-over to check it’s okay and there’s no damage or anything missing like tent pegs. Items like crampons I check more closely. I’d rather not have them fail on an icy slope. A fleece jacket with a hole or two (I have several) is hardly a problem. A broken crampon strap would be a different matter.

But ski gear? How crucial is that? It depends, I guess, on where and when it’s being used. I’ve skied in remote places abroad where the snow was so deep that walking was very difficult and slow. A broken ski could have meant a very long exhausting multi-day trek. In the UK hills such deep snow is rare and distances are much shorter. Walking out is always possible. The biggest risk here is boot failure.

I thought about this after reading a piece sent me by an outdoor writing acquaintance describing a recent ski tour in deep snow and stormy weather on which the sole fell off one of his boots and had to be roughly kept in place with duct tape. He had companions to help out by carrying his pack and supplying repair items. Solo it would have been really difficult and probably hazardous.

Now you can’t always tell when boots are going to fail but careful examination can show potential problems. After reading about the boot sole delamination I checked my ski boots very carefully. I have two pairs, one leather, one plastic. The first are thirty years old and still in good condition with the welt-sewn soles firmly in place. The second are just over twenty years old and also look fine – at a glance. A close examination reveals cracks – some are just visible in the picture above. Now in leather these wouldn’t be a problem, but plastic can fail and fall apart. Looking at advice on various ski sites online I found that plastic ski boots should last for 150-200 days use or 6-7 years, whichever comes first. My boots have had well over 200 days use and are three times that age. I’m probably lucky they haven’t fallen apart out in the hills.

After reading about how long they should last and noting the cracks in the plastic I decided it was wise to retire the boots, which is how I ended up with mismatched skis and boots on the ski tour described in my last post

The plastic boots in use in 2009 with the skis doing duty as tent pegs

My leather ski boots are basically heavy-duty walking boots with a sole that fits Nordic ski bindings. I bought them in the early 1990s when I was leading ski tours, mostly in Norway. I used them with fairly narrow Nordic touring skis and the combination worked well on undulating terrain. Steep downhills could be difficult but there weren’t many of those on the trips I was doing. I still have several pairs of the narrow skis but all are battered and in poor condition. I use them for skiing in the local woods and fields where it would only be a short walk home if they failed but I wouldn’t trust them for longer trips high in the hills.

My only decent skis are a wider pair, described as light telemark ones, that need a stiffer boot with good ankle support to turn them easily. The leather boots don’t fit this description as I found on the descent on the recent trip. Trying to force the boots to turn the skis led to sore feet and ankles and a few clumsy turns plus one fall before I resorted to long traverses and kick turns done while stationary. I admit my lack of ski fitness and rusty skills probably didn’t help but I knew in advance these were the wrong boots for the skis. But as the combination was all I had in half-decent condition I used them. This isn’t a setup I want to use again though. I’ll have to get some new boots.

I’ll look for something between the leather and plastic ones. I’d like some that are stiffer and more suitable for the skis than the first but more comfortable and easier to walk in than the second.

In the plastic boots on Ben Macdui in 2012

Despite all the years I used them I never really liked the plastic boots. For downhill control they are great. For the rest of the time they are heavy and uncomfortable. For walking they’re diabolical, so bad in fact that I took to carrying them to the snow rather than wearing them. 

I can feel affectionate towards some gear, especially if it’s been on many trips and brings back good memories. Not these boots though. I’m happy to never wear them again.




  1. Interesting analysis Chris. My problem is that my ankles are wearing out before my boots! I have both types of almost identical boots to yours. Black leather absorbs wet from snow crystals in an amazing way and feet soon got damp. However my Asolo leather were double and originally had a felt lining which I exchanged for the closed cell foam boots from my Asoll climbing boots to give me step up in level of comfort and insulation.

    1. The leather boots with foam inners sounds a good combination. My leather boots have Terra Nova Terrgaiters which cover the whole boot on them all the time. I took them off for the first time in years for the photograph. I've never had wet feet in them.

  2. This has made me think. I bought brand new alpine skis and boots in 1996 (both Rossignol). I still have the boots. The bindings on one of the skis shattered on the first day of the skiing season back around 2007 as soon as I tried to clip my boot in for the first time, much to my surprise. Cue a lengthy wait in the ski hire queue. Ultimately I ended up buying new skis, as buying new ones with bindings already fitted was barely any more expensive than getting new bindings alone. But I still have the original boots. Dunno why, I figured as long as none of the fastenings etc broke the boots themselves would last forever. I ski only very occasionally now, due to work and family life getting in the way. But I close inspection of the boots is clearly called for.