After a day on the nursery slopes, the first thing any new skier will notice when they remove their boots is the fact that their feet, numb for most of the day, are now starting to ache as they thaw out. Are these instruments of torture actually necessary, they wonder, as they hobble off to the evening meal, or is there some way to ski without ski boots? The basic answer is simpler than the question, but there is a caveat…

You cannot ski without ski boots when skiing downhill. This will result in a painful or even dangerous injury out on the slopes. However, skiing on flat ground or slightly sloping ground is possible without ski boots. In this scenario, you can use hiking boots with specially adapted skis.

Every skier has faced this issue along with the resultant blisters. There are also sore shins that are suddenly facing stresses they have never faced before, but there is a way to lessen the impact on your body.

Always Use The Correct Equipment When Skiing

There is simply no way to ensure your feet and skis can remain in contact with one another unless you have the correct equipment for the task.

The bindings on snow-skis are specially designed to interact with the specialized cleats on ski boots, creating a bond that is supportive yet still able to spring free in the event of a fall, thus reducing the chances of broken limbs and torn cartilages. None of this is possible if hiking boots or other forms of footwear are used in descent – downhill – skiing.

In order to turn skis, pressure and balance are vital, but so are manipulation and leverage, which can only be generated by the rigidity of a well-fitted ski boot which, like a medical cast, allows no freedom of movement of the limb – in this case your foot. Riding fairly high on your shin, this rigidity allows you to use gravity to drive the ski, impossible with a normal boot.

Never DIY Your Ski Boots

The cost of ski boots may be a factor in considering skiing without boots, and in fact, people have taken many kinds of boots and bound them and their feet to skis, using a multitude of methods and materials, but it must be stressed that this is highly dangerous since there is no quick-release mechanism to save you in the event of a fall and broken bones are very likely to occur, usually a snapped ankle.

Consider the cost of hospitalization and perhaps even a casevac (casualty evacuation, often by air)  when you balk at the price of ski boots, which, if correctly fitted, will last you for many years.

How To Find The Right Ski Boot For You

Great news for all skiers – and I highly recommend this – is the fact that most ski resorts offer both ski boots and skis for rent. This lets you try them out before deciding to buy, and you can change them daily if necessary in order to find a pair that you are comfortable with. That said, I suggest that you approach the shop the day before you are due to ski and spend an hour or two getting fitted correctly. It may save you hours and several toenails later on…

Thick socks are a must, but I’d go a step further and wear a pair of thin socks or even ladies hose under the thick pair. This will further reduce rubbing. Your feet should stay dry if you are wearing a well-fitted pair of ski boots, but crashing into snowdrifts has a way of guaranteeing snow finds its way in everywhere, and woolen socks will be comfortable and keep your feet dry and warm even if skiing in slush.

Tie your boots very tight indeed. Those skis must become an extension of your leg, and a loose foot in even a well-measured ski boot is a recipe for a fall. Do not over-tighten, or your feet will start to ache. If this occurs, take a break, loosen the clips and start over. Remember, skiing is meant to be pleasant, not a punishment.

Other Options On The Slopes

On gently rolling hills and in backwoods situations, it is indeed possible to ski without ski boots, using hiking boots and specially adapted skis the size of snowblades (75cm – 135cm / 30 – 53″) – called skinned skis, which are growing in popularity but which are still very controversial. Normal – or downhill – skis are about as long as the skier is tall.

Skiing with this ‘Fast Shoe’ system is not very easy, and the pace is closer to walking than anything else, but they are a fun way to get around, provided you respect their limitations. The shorter ski length is good for tight turns in the woods.

A binding goes around the ankle and another over the foot, so there is no rigidity whatsoever, and there is very little control when going downhill on anything other than a gentle slope. They are certainly not a real alternative to cross-country skiing options but easier than snowshoeing.

If you have a medium to large ranch to traverse, for example, skinned skis may be the way to go, provided there are no steep declines. Inclines are not an issue, as the shorter skis allow good maneuverability, and walking up short hills is very possible.

As you see, it is possible to ski without ski boots, but only if you are going to use the specific skis intended for the task in a fun and informal way, perhaps in a backwoods area, and certainly never on an established ski slope. If you are going to be hitting the downhill slopes, then boots are essential, as discussed, and for added comfort, particularly as a beginner, consider getting the shortest skis that the consultant suggests for your height.

This will limit the stress on your body, including your feet, and give you a more comfortable skiing experience.

When Considering Buying Ski Boots

Moving from beginner to decent or even competent skier is sometimes far quicker than one might anticipate, particularly if you sign up for a week, or even better, two of ski school, available at most resorts at reasonable rates. If you are keen and in fairly good health, you might well find yourself doing black runs after a week or ten days or zipping through the powder as you venture off-piste.

Losing sight of your feet as you enter powder is a challenging experience, and you will definitely want to be sure of your boots. Here’s what you might look at when considering this purchase:


  • Length – The Mondopoint Sizing System is the one used for ski boots and measures your foot in centimeters for more accuracy. In order to measure your foot accurately, place your foot on a piece of paper, flex your knee slightly and draw around the foot with a pencil. Repeat this sizing procedure for the other foot, and measure both from the heel to the furthest point in centimeters. The longest measurement is your Mondo size. (Feet are seldom exactly the same length) Ski boots are generally available in half sizes, so round up if your measurement falls between two numbers.
  • Width – A lot depends on your skiing level here, but around 10cm is good for most skiers. Add 2cm if you have particularly wide feet.

Flex Index

As with width, the flexibility of a boot is directly related to their intended skill level, with competitive skiers at around 140 to 150 on a flex index scale of 60 to 150. It stands to reason then that beginners will start with a flex of around 60 to 90 for men and 60 to 70 for women.

Intermediate level men would choose 90 to 110, and women would choose 70 to 90.

This is another good reason to hire boots until you feel more competent on the slopes as you might soon find out that the flex index of your boot is too low as your skill level improves, and as a good pair of boots will last many years with the correct care, you don’t want to buy the wrong one…


If you are doing mostly downhill skiing that involves a fair amount of speed and maneuverability, then it is always best to use the appropriate gear. In this case, ski boots would be a requirement, both to be able to successfully handle the terrain and speed and also for your own safety.

For flat ground or gently undulating terrain, you do not need to have ski boots. You can use normal hiking boots with skis that are adapted to secure your hiking boots to the skis.

The right equipment on the slopes can make all the difference for an outing on the snow being a fun activity or a painful experience!