Difference Between Ski Boots & Snowboard Boots

young woman shopping for ski boots
A woman trying on ski boots. (Image: funstock/iStock/Getty Images)

Skiing and snowboarding are both snow sports but use different types of foot and ankle movements. The boots worn for these sports have only one thing in common: both attach to the bindings of snow sport equipment. Otherwise, the two types of snow-sliding boots look and feel completely different.

Outer Shell

You can easily distinguish a skier from a snowboarder -- even if they are not holding their equipment -- by watching them walk through the resort base area. Skiers wear a boot with a hard plastic or composite shell, designed for foot and ankle protection. Although ski boots function well on the slopes, walking on a sidewalk is difficult due to the boots’ rigidity. When it is time for apres-ski, skiers rush to their lockers to change into their street shoes, but snowboarders remain in their comfortable boots. The flexible leather synthetic shells on snowboarding boots give them a comfortable fit, similar to a sneaker.

Laces vs. Buckles

Ski boots have a four-buckle system, with a power strap at the top of the boot. Snowboard boots use any of three types of lacing systems. The traditional lacing system requires the rider to manually lace up the boots. The quick-pull lacing system bears some similarity to ski-boot buckles, because it facilitates zonal tightening at different parts of the boot. Snowboarders simply pull on the part of the laces that need tightening. The boa lacing system uses a dial to adjust the tightness of the laces.

Outsoles

Some skiers use a flexible rubber boot sole guard, called a cat track, to protect their ski boot soles when walking around the village. These outsoles, made from a synthetic plastic similar to that in the boot shells, are easily damaged when the skier is walking on hard surfaces. Snowboarding boots use a rubber or synthetic outsole, which has a waffle construction similar to that of athletic shoes. Freestyle snowboard boots, used for tricks in the terrain park, have extra cushioning for landing from jumps.

Exceptions

Some ski and snowboard boots bear similarities in their beginner and expert models. Snowboard boot design inspired some ski manufacturers to create a softer boot for beginners. Likewise, snowboard racers use a ski-boot-inspired, hard-plastic, buckled boot, which offers precision and control to ride at high speed. Because hard plastic boots are too inflexible for performing tricks, they are rarely seen on recreational slopes.

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