How to Tell if Ski Boots Are Too Stiff

Your ski boot’s stiffness plays an important role in your ability to properly control your skis. Even so, if your boots are too stiff, it can lead to a lot of pain and can cause you to ski with poor form. That can then lead to long-term issues and hinder your progress.

By following some of the tips here and informing yourself of proper fitness, you should be able to tell if your boots are too stiff.

If they are, try to adjust or exchange them for a different pair that’s better suited to your preferences and abilities. If you need more help, it’s always a good idea to talk to a boot fitter at your local ski shop.

ski boots hard

Why Your Ski Boots Should Be Stiff

Before we get into how to tell if your ski boots are too stiff, it’s important to understand why you want boots to be tight and stiff in the first place.

Boots can definitely be too stiff, and that can cause problems for any skier. However, ones that are too loose can lead to a range of problems as well.

Ski boots exist to transfer power from your legs into your skis. The movement you generate while skiing from your hips down to your toes allows you to control how you turn.

Without that transfer of power, even experienced skiers would struggle to make a single turn on the mountain. Your boots almost act like a key that unlocks your ski’s potential.

Your fit largely depends on your skiing ability. Beginners want a less stiff (and less tight) boot. That allows for more comfort and makes it easier to get your foot into and out of the boot.

In contrast, Intermediate and advanced skiers want a stiffer boot because it leads to higher performance. The tighter the boot, the more precise control and power you’ll have while on the mountain.

Even though a stiffer boot might be a little less comfortable, the way that stiffness affects your control and abilities while skiing makes it more than worth it.

Modern ski boot design and technology has enabled high-performance boots to be both stiff and also relatively comfortable. Don’t think you have to deal with serious discomfort or pain to get the best power and control out of your boots.

The Difference Between Tight and Stiff

When it comes to the actual fit and feel of your ski boots, you need to take both tightness and stiffness into consideration.

Tightness refers to the overall fit of your fit inside the boot. As described above, you want to shoot for a tighter boot to get the best possible performance. Stiffness, in the realm of ski boots, is also commonly referred to as “flex” and each boot has its own flex rating.

A ski boot’s flex rating describes how much flexibility exists in the boot at the ankle area. When looking at ski boots you’ll see a flex rating described as a number usually somewhere between 60 and 140. A lower number is a more flexible boot, while a higher number indicates a stiffer one.

This stiffness comes into play with ability, just as tightness does. For example, if you are new to skiing, a boot with 120 flex will be too stiff for you.

Beginners skiers will typically want a lower flex rating, as it is more forgiving and requires less effort to control your skis. Advanced skiers will want a higher flex (a stiffer boot) because it creates more precise power and control.

How to Tell if Your Ski Boots Are Too Stiff

Even though the general rule is that the more advanced your abilities are on skis, the stiffer the ski boot, there are some easy signs to look out for to know if your boots are too stiff.

It’s also important to know that the flex rating on a ski boot can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer. That is because there are no universal guidelines for deciding upon the flex number.

The only real way to get a good sense of a boot’s stiffness is to try it on and see if it matches your preferences.

1. Pain

One of the most obvious indicators that your boots are too stiff is if you experience any serious pain or discomfort while you wear them. Whenever you get a new pair of boots, there’s almost always a break-in period where the boots need to form around your feet.

A little pain and discomfort is natural during this process, but if it continues for longer than around five days of skiing, your boots are probably too tight.

Pain is a common sign that your boots are too small, but it is not always an indicator that they are too stiff. There are some other indicators that help with that.

2. Form

If your ski boots are too stiff, it can affect your form. An easy way to know if your boots are too stiff is to have a friend watch you make a few turns down a ski run.

If you’re sitting back and your knees are not engaged and in action when skiing, your boots are too stiff. Look for a slight lean towards your rear.

Beginner skiers especially need to pay attention to this because they’re still learning their form and boots that are too stiff will slow down their progress.

That leaned-back form is often called “skiing in the back seat” by those familiar with the sport. It can happen to beginners regardless of their boot’s stiffness.

If you have experience skiing and just got a new pair of boots, you should not ski in the back seat. If you notice yourself (or another friend notices you) doing it, there’s a good chance your boots are too stiff.

How to Adjust the Stiffness of Your Ski Boots

There are a few ways to adjust your ski boot’s stiffness, but sometimes you might need to exchange them for a pair with a lower flex rating.

Some boots will become less stiff as you begin to break them in. If you notice that you’re skiing in the back seat on the first day of owning new boots, give it another day and see if it improves. They may get more flexible as you break in the plastic.

Other boots allow you to adjust the flex as you ride. While this won’t correct a boot that’s far too stiff, it will allow for minor adjustments that will get you closer to an ideal flex.

If your boot has an adjustable flex, you should follow the instructions from your manufacturer on how to adjust them. Often, there are a few small screws that can be removed from the cuff so you can loosen your boots. If they are adjustable, it’s easy to do yourself.

Also, note that your ski boots will naturally feel stiffer if they’ve been in the cold. Cold weather causes plastics to become harder, as anyone who’s ever left their ski boots outside overnight knows.

If you want to loosen your boots up again, simply place them by a heat source. Just don’t put them too close to something really hot (like a fire!) as they might melt.


Your ski boots are a key piece of skiing equipment. They transfer power and movement generated by your legs into your skis, which then allows you to control your skis.

Ideally, you want your boots to be pretty tight and stiff in a way that encourages the best power transfer. However, that’s not a strict rule.

While many of you know that boots should fit tightly on your feet, there is some wiggle room. I hope the article above has covered the things you need to know to tell if your ski boots are too stiff.

What is the flex rating of your ski boots? Do you know how to adjust them? Let me know in the comments below.

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  • Stan Clauson

    This article could have been more help if actual stiffness numbers were cited. For example, is a stiffness rating of 75 too stiff for a 12-year-old girl racer?

    • Christine

      Hi Stan,

      Appreciate the feedback here, and I’ll keep that in mind for any updates to the article. For a 12-year-old racer, the best stiffness will most likely come down to her weight and ability, so it’s hard to make an exact guess until knowing those factors. But 75 could work just fine for her. Hope that helps!

  • Hiroshi

    Thank you very much for the very informative article. I have been using Salomon XPro 130 for the last few years. While they are very stiff and not easy to get in and out, I love the fit (custom-molded). But I realize that it is difficult to get in front while I ski and tend to be rather on the back seat. The boots seem to be too stiff to flex enough.

    A well-known expert skier whom I admire said in his blog that he uses 150+ ski boots and does not tighten the top buckle (and the booster straps) of his boots so that his lower legs flex fore-aft.

    I didn’t ski the 2020-2021 season due to the pandemic but am thinking of trying what he suggests to see how I feel.

    Do you think giving the upper part of the boots a little room can create the same effect as more flex? I like the fit of my boots, which gives me a great lateral support. I just need a little more give to lean my lower foot forward.

    I would appreciate if you could give me your thoughts on this.

    • Edu

      The problem with this is that it will definitely end in a lot of shin bang.

    • Christine

      Hi Hiroshi,

      Getting the perfect fit with your boots can sometimes be a struggle, so I’m happy to hear you are close, despite having issues sitting in the back seat. I think you could definitely try loosening the top buckle/strap to see if that helps solve the problem. I’d suggest skiing on a gentle slope for the first few times doing this so that you can get used to how it feels before attempting anything too advanced. I think much of that forward lean/increased flex from doing this relates to your body weight too, so I’m not entirely sure it will be your solution. But it’s worth trying out for sure!

  • Lisa

    That’s a very informative article. Thanks for educating on boot flex. One question for you: does a high flex boot on an intermediate skier lead to relatively bad falls?
    My husband is working on his balance shift and perfecting parallel turns which makes him a beginner-intermediate skier, I guess. He just got his new boots (Nordica Sports machine 120 flex) and the boot fitter recommended it because it felt fine and (he didn’t have anything else that day in stock). Husband skied in them for a few hours and felt great; I could see his turns getting better too. No pains at all!
    But then suddenly after doing a few runs one day, he had a really bad fall face down (shoulder bruised, eye hurt, unable to ski till he recovers) on a familiar green slope. Now, he has fallen a lot over the years but never was his fall this bad. According to him, the visibility was poor due to overcast and his skis *might* have crossed.
    Do you think high boot flex at his level could have anything to do with the violent fall or there could be other reasons. Just trying to figure out what might have happened.

    • Sean

      I would imagine the harder fall likely is due to the poor visibility, coupled with the increased speed he was probably attaining through better form and confidence. I cannot imagine a stiffer boot having any impact on how hard a fall will be.

    • Christine

      Hi Lisa,

      I don’t think a higher boot flex has much to do with falls at all. Falling is a part of skiing, and it can happen to anyone at any ability level. If your husband saw improved turning and control with a higher flex boot, those were improvements over a softer boot. It’s pretty difficult to say what caused a bad fall because so many factors are at play on the slopes. But the fit of your boots is not really a contributing factor. Hope that helps!