Being able to ski successfully involves more than just repeating a downhill run until you stop stumbling. You must have proper equipment, and choosing this equipment is an intimidating task when you realize just how many aspects you have to evaluate and fit, especially when it comes to boots. One of these obscure cogs in the ski boot machine is called flex index. This sounds like a very scientific, precise measurement, but in reality it may be one of the more minor aspects to consider.
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The flex index of a ski boot supposedly indicates how flexible the outer shell of the boot is. The material that the boot is made from can be range from relatively flexible to very stiff and unbending. A stiffer boot has a higher flex index number. The response of the boot improves as the flex index gets higher, and higher numbers are generally preferred by more advanced skiers. REI notes that the stiffest boots are meant for racing and professional use.
Flex index is not based on any scientific standard or standardized across manufacturers. It indicates flexibility within only that brand of boots. Mechanical engineer Dwyer C. Haney notes on Spadout.com that the fact that the flex index numbers have no units of measurement associated with them is a tip-off that they might not be based on any actual measurement. REI advises that the only way to compare the flexibility of boots from different manufacturers is to actually wear the boots and try moving around.
Not everyone treats flex index as a necessary factor in choosing ski boots. While it can give you an idea about how the boot will respond and transfer your movements to the skis, there are too many other variables that could completely invalidate the flex index number. The website Wild Snow goes so far as to call flex index numbers possibly “misleading,” as anything from how tight you make the buckles on your boot to the thickness of the interior lining affects the overall flexibility of the boot.
Note that when you try on boots, the ambient temperature is going to affect how flexible the boots are. This means that you’ll get greater flexibility from a pair of boots inside a heated sports store than you will outside on the below-freezing slopes, and a completely different feel outside in a warmer, but still cool, environment. Check the store’s return policy for boots worn outside and possibly used in case the difference in flexibility is so great that the boots are no longer appropriate for you.