Whether you've just started skiing or have been pummeling down mogul fields for years, arguably your most important equipment is a great pair ski boots that are matched to your skiing ability and snow conditions. The right pair of ski boots can help you learn faster and ski better. The wrong pair can leave you wishing you spent your vacation dollars in Hawaii.

While all ski boots are designed to cradle your feet and transfer leg movement to your skis, there are literally hundreds of different manufacturers, designs, and features to choose from. The best way to get started is to research the major manufacturers on the Internet. Visit the Web sites for Dalbello, Lange, Nordica, Head, Technica, Salomon, Atomic or Rossignol. All of the sites are broken down by men's and women's designs, and are rated by skiing ability a terrain. Be honest. Don't buy a racing boot if you're an intermediate skier.

Virtually all of the ski boots you buy will have one thing in common - a hard, plastic outer shell. Boot shells are designed to contain the inner liner and support your ankles and feet when clicked into your bindings. Some boots like Technica's Diablo series, offer dual construction densities that control the degree of flex over different areas of your feet. The density of the shell will determine how easy (or difficult) it will be to get in and out of your boots.

The ski boot cuffs are the parts of the boot shells that encompass your ankle. Boot cuffs are attached to the lower forefoot of the boot using a series of hinges and pivot screws. Many boots, like the Dalbello Pro series, allow you to adjust the degree of flex from 90 to 140 degrees. You ski boot technician can help you to determine the appropriate amount of flex. Some boots, like the Head S110 all mountain performance boot, allow you to "cant" your boots to control the alignment of your lower legs to your skis.

All ski boots use three or four adjustable buckles to control the amount of tension over your forefoot, arch and around your ankle. Be sure to buy a boot that uses "micro-adjustments" on its buckles. Micro-adjustments provide an infinite degree of control over how your boots fit. Surrounding the top of your ankle is the "power strap." The power strap is a 35 to 40mm velcro enclosure that provide upper ankle and lower leg support - one of the most important parts of the boot.

One nice feature to look for on the soles of ski boots are replaceable grip sole plates. Technica adds patented "Anti-Vibration System" plates to the toe and heel of some models of their boots, allowing you to adjust the height of the boot off the snow. They can be replaced after they're worn from walking on cement and pavement.

Ski boots come with a wide variety of liners - which one you choose depends on the manufacturer, model and individual needs. Boots that use a "high volume" liner are designed to accommodate narrow feet and are generally the most comfortable. "Low volume" liners are used for people with a wider foot. Many models of ski boots come with custom-fitted liners. After determining the proper shell size, the liners are injected with a liquid plastic that forms around the unique characteristics of your foot. Technica uses "HotForm" liners in some models of their boots. After super-heating the liner, you buckle the boot around your foot that results in a custom fit. You can re-heat the liner as many times as you like to "re-fit" your boots.

Since women's legs are anatomically different than men's, it's important for ladies to buy boots that are designed specifically for women instead of trying to accommodate a unisex boot to their unique leg shape. Women's boots typically have wider cuffs and have features that work with a lower center of gravity.

There's no reason why you should have to endure sore feet and poor fitting boots, with all of the different designs available. A quality pair of ski boots will help you to enjoy your next ski vacation and make you a better skier.