Ski Instructors are notoriously tight, and love a deal on a bit of equipment. I was no different and jumped on a smoking deal on a pair of boots one day. They were a reputable brand, the same as the skis that I was loving at the time, so I just grabbed my size and shoehorned my way into them.
They skied like shit, they made me ski like shit, and they fit so badly they gave me chilblains on the soles of my feet. As if it is not hard enough, I passed my full cert exam in excruciating pain – in the days leading up to it, instead of training I took time off to let me feet recover a little so I could make it through the exam.
The forward lean and ramp angle in these boots was enormous, I was constantly pitched over the front of my skis, which was a totally redundant concept, as at the time it was during the evolution of Slalom skis and I was on a 155cm ski with an 11m radius. Due to the enormous shovel and shape, you didn’t need to press forward to engage the tip of the ski, all you had to do was put it on its edge.
One day I was walking through a building and stood on a 1cm high join in the flooring, and had an epiphany – that piece of wood that made my toes 1cm higher than my heels guided me back to that mythical place I had not occupied during the tenure of these ski boots – The Middle.
The Middle is the holy grail of skiing. We generally start out our careers in the back seat, then as we fight through the barriers of psychology and technique we begin to see more fleeting moments of being centred, to the point when the most masterful of skiers is centred for much of their time on skis, and when circumstances shift them fore or aft, they have all the tools in the bag to get back to centre for the next turn. The middle of the ski, just like a golf club, tennis racquet or cricket bat, is the sweet spot. Not only will standing in the middle of the ski allow you to make the most of its construction and technology, you will also be in a position where you are held up my your bone structure instead of your muscles, which is far stronger and less tiring.
It was through the shoddy craftmanship of this dodgy building at Buller that I started a quest for a boot with a much more neutral ramp angle, and an upright cuff. A slightly softer forward flex allowed me to create the angles I required instead of being held in place.
When I was in at Footpro recently having my Touring boots fitted I asked Simon what was new in the world of ski boots, and he mentioned that a lot of manufacturers that have traditionally had very forward biased boots have gone much more neutral, and being the smartarse that I am, I mentioned that I worked this out for myself in 2002. I asked Simon to do a write up to post on the site, which he has very kindly forwarded through:
Ski boot geometry is changing – its about time!
In previous years, a new season of ski boots would generally mean colour updates and name changes but nothing radically different to the previous year. This season is different whereby an important change is occurring in ski boot manufacturing which demonstrates a movement away from the traditional ski boot design. So how will this impact on you, the skier? All skiers have experienced the same excruciating quad burning feeling from a day on the slopes. What if simply updating your boots meant that you could ski harder for longer and it didn’t hurt as much.
Traditionally the stance position and forward lean angles of a ski boot were designed to compliment an old school skiing technique and ski type. As the modern carve ski has evolved so have our ski boots, but not as rapidly as you might think. In the last decade the materials used to build the boots has changed the way a ski boot will fit and flex but the boot geometry has more or less stayed the same. This season we are seeing a new design innovation in boots that is all about angles and degrees. These important updates allow you ski in a more upright stance resulting in less strain on the quadriceps muscles and less pressure on the knees.The degree of change may look minimal but the effect on our posture is great. The body is extremely sensitive to fore-aft movement. The steeper the ramp angle, the more the skier is artificially tipped forward where the body can be rapidly forced out of balance. The body compensates by leaning back and this causes muscles tension and reduces muscle power. This excessive forward lean angle also causes added strain on the knee joint, requires more muscle activation through our quadriceps and places additional pressure on the front of our feet. The solution is to reduce ramp angle. This reduces back strain and reduces the need to flex your knees as much.
(Quote from ski boot manufacturer) “Our all-mountain boots have dramatically improved performance through better balance, quickness and responsiveness by introducing the efficient and modern designs that are used on the World Cup. These World Cup ski boot designs have a more centered, balanced and upright stance” – Lange Technical Department.
The aggressive forward lean angles of a traditional ski boot is made even more problematic by our lifestyles and occupations that often revolve around desk job environments and lots of sitting down. Sitting more than standing leads to muscle tightness in our calves, Achilles tendons, hamstrings and quadriceps. Tightness in these areas will limit the range of movement through the ankles and hips and ultimately creates a biomechanical disagreement with the geometry of your boots. Yoga, Pilates and regular stretching can help improve your flexibility but only so much. The recent adaptations to ski boot geometry are reducing the degree of required flexibility and more closely accommodating modern human biomechanics.
Footpro takes the ski boot fitting process to the next level with the help of state of the art pressure testing equipment which can analyse posture and balance. This information enables our bootfitters to make ski boot adjustments that achieve the ultimate ski stance for every customer. Our very selective range of boots not only accommodates varied foot shapes but also has specially selected models to suit individual stance variations and flexibility problems. For people who have major flexibility issues these new innovations will make ski boots more comfortable but still not 100% perfect. Footpro ski boot technicians have been aware of this problem for some time and are equipped with the skills to perform major ski boot modifications where sections of the ski boot upper cuff are cut away to reduce the amount of forward lean. This improved stance position is then riveted in place to create a biomechanical relationship between skier and their equipment.