The first item on your skiing shopping list should be a quality pair of ski boots. Your ski boots, more than any other piece of equipment, will make or break your skiing style and can help you to become a better skier, literally overnight. But, before you clomp out the door of the ski shop, there are a few things you need to know.

Fitting someone for the proper ski boot is a tricky business, so be sure to work with a professional boot fitter, someone who knows ski boots inside and out. Avoid buying your boots from department stores or other retailers who promise great deals. One of the best places to find an expert boot fitter is at a ski resort. An experienced boot fitter will fit hundreds of pairs of boots during the season and be familiar with all of the popular brands, understand their differences, and be able to suggest the most appropriate models for you.

Tell your boot technician what type of skier you are and the type of terrain you enjoy skiing most before you begin the fitting process. Be honest. If you enjoy cruising on groomers while your friends attack the bumps, speak out. It could dramatically change the type of boots recommended for you.

Have a budget in mind. Good boots range from about $250 to more than $1,000. Your boots should last a number of seasons if you ski 15 or 20 days a year. They may seem a bit pricey, but when you average the cost over the life of your boots and how much they'll help your skiing, they're one of the best purchases you can make.

The secret to a good fitting boot is selection of its proper shell size. Too large and your feet will slosh around inside the boot. Too small and your feet will hurt and get cold easily. Many expert boot fitters recommend that you get fitted late in the day. Feet often swell toward the afternoon, so a boot that fits perfectly in the morning could be excruciating on your last run.

Begin the fitting by removing the liner of the boot and insert your foot into the shell. Slide your foot all the way to the front of the boot until your toes hit the front of the toe box. You should be able to put a finger or two between the back of your heel and the inside of the boot shell if the shell is the correct size.

Slip on a pair of ski socks after re-inserting the liner into the shell. Quality ski socks are made of a wool/synthetic blend that will keep your feet warm without adding bulk to your foot. Fasten the buckles on the lower part of the boot, taking care not to over-tighten them. Press your knees forward to force your heel into the heel cup of the boot. Fasten the upper boot buckles.

The only way to really tell if you have a proper fit is to ski with your new boots. Many ski shops allow you to 'try before you buy.' Spend a few minutes walking around the shop, flexing your ankles and your knees, if they don't. You probably have a boot that is too big if you feel your heel lift while flexing your ankles. Try going down one shell size.

Some models of boots come with a custom fitted liner, or 'bladder,' that is heat activated or injected with liquid foam to produce the perfect fitting boot. With heat activated liners, the technician heats the bladder and allows it to cool around your foot while in the boot. Foam injected liners are injected with liquid plastic to accommodate the shape of your foot. Both types of liners offer a superior fit over other types of boots.

The final and, possibly most important part of your ski boot, is the orthotic or food bed. Foot beds are exact, negative impressions of the bottom of your foot. Using a custom-made orthotic will improve the fit of your boot, keep your feet from getting cold, and directly transfer movements from your ankles, knees, and hips directly to your skis. The results can be dramatic.

Check back with your boot fitter if your ski boots are still uncomfortable after a few days on the hill. Generally speaking, you should never have to 'break in' a pair of ski boots like you would a pair of leather shoes. They should fit well and feel comfortable the first time you go skiing.