Ski Boot Walk Mode Explained (Worth it?)

by Simon Knott | Updated: October 27th, 2022 |  Skiing Articles

The popularity of ski-in ski-out accommodation in resorts demonstrates just how many skiers don’t like walking in their ski boots. The prospect of skiing right to your front door and then a short walk inside counts for a lot when people are deciding on their vacations.

Some ski boots are manufactured with a walk mode. This is a manually activated feature, which loosens the cuffs, which hold the foot in place. When loosened the foot and ankle has more freedom and versatility making walking much more practical and comfortable. Ski boots with walk mode are useful for a variety of activities.

touring skis

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Ski boots with walk mode are gradually changing minds. But what is a ski boot with walk mode? And how do they work?

Although ski boots with walk mode have been around for some time now, take-up has been limited. Most people hire boots when visiting a resort, and as the competition between hire companies gets ever fiercer, costs are minimized, and you can bet your hire boots won’t have many bells and whistles.

Before the advent of walk mode, skiers usually undo the top straps on their boots and release the top two clasps. This allows enough movement in the boot for the lower leg to articulate more freely when walking. It’s not an ideal solution, as you can end up with blisters, but it is best if you don’t have walk mode on your boots.

How Does Walk Mode Work?

Different ski boot manufacturers have devised their own designs for walk mode. However, most often the boot is designed with a lever mechanism at the back of the heel, which can be set at two positions, ‘walk mode’ and ‘ski mode’.

When activated this lever releases the upper cuff on the boot from the lower one. The upper cuff of the boot is the removable upper part of the shell, which is attached at hinge points on either side of the ankle.

When skiing it’s important the foot, ankle, and lower leg are all securely held in the same position. This enables the skier to effectively transfer his leg movements directly down into the skis. However, this immobility makes it difficult to walk comfortably and easily in the boots - especially as they weigh so much.

With walk mode enabled the skier has more flexibility in the boot, allowing him to walk more naturally and have a better range of movement. Although most skiers associate injuries with accidents on the runs, it is common for minor injuries to occur in the foot and ankle as well.

The foot and ankle didn’t evolve to be used when immobilized, as in a ski boot, so any mechanism which gives more freedom to the ski boot must be beneficial.

Which Skiers can make best use of Walk Mode?

The main advantage of walk mode is the versatility it allows, and this isn’t just limited to walking to the runs and back, but also extends to other ski activities, where for part of the day you will be skiing and for the remainder either walking or climbing:

Ski touring and cross-country skiing are two pursuits, where the full flexibility of the foot and ankle is needed for climbing sections. Similarly, for downhill sections, ski mode can be engaged, to give the skier full control while on the snow.

Sometimes during a ski trip skiers want to combine some skiing with exploring villages or attractions. A walk mode ski boot is ideal for this sort of activity, where the boot can be switched to ski mode to make the most of the runs.

Similarly, in walk mode, the skier has flexibility and comfort when walking around. Additionally, you don’t need to have to carry around a spare pair of shoes, as walk mode boots will work fine for both activities.

If you don’t want to stay in ski-in ski-out accommodation, then having walk-mode boots can really open your choice of accommodation in the resort. You may be able to find something cheaper, a bit further out, that is easy to access with walk mode boots.

So, what’s the conclusion?

Skiers are often polarised about whether walk mode boots are a good or bad thing. Some skiers are more willing to put up with the discomfort of walking in ski boots without walk mode.  While others find having ski boots with a walk mode, that offer better comfort and flexibility, are a no-brainer.

Other skiers have a more negative view, concluding that any mechanism inside the boot is just another thing to go wrong. When it comes to deciding on walk mode ski boots it’s just a matter of personal choice.

Some of the most common skiing injuries and ailments occur on and around the feet and your tootsies will take a lot of battering when you’re out on the slopes.

Ski touring involves a considerable amount of walking from one part of the mountain to the next. If you attempt to do all of this walking with the boots in ski mode, you will find that the feet quickly become uncomfortable owing to the limited range of movement.