After the end of the 1979-1980 World Cup season Podborski came to Whistler so I could prepare new ski boots for him for the 1980-1981 World Cup season. It was standard practice with the racers I worked with to make any changes to a new pair boots or to change boot brands or models after the end of the competitive season. This made it easier for the racer to adapt to the changes when training resumed. It was also standard practice to never modify the previous years’ boot. Should problems arise with the new boots and the issues could not be quickly sorted out the racer could revert to their old boots.
Before Pod even came to Whistler I had recommended that he change from the Dynafit boot he had won a Bronze Medal in at the Lake Placid Olympics with to a Lange boot. Despite their success in technical events, no male competitor had ever won a downhill race wearing a Lange ski boot. And at this point no non-European had ever won the grand prix of World Cup racing, the World Cup Downhill title. Pod was naturally apprehensive about changing something that was working for him. But I persisted. He asked me if I could guarantee that he would do better in Lange. I took a deep breath, then confidently said, “Yes”. The pressure was on.
From about 1977 on I had found myself moving farther and farther away from the conventional approach of squeezing the sides of the foot between the walls of the plastic boot shell with padding to ‘support the ankle’. Instead of adding padding to boot liners, as was the common practice, I found myself doing ‘padectomies’; cutting open liners and removing padding. At first, I was doing this to try and make boots more comfortable. As I got more skilled at ‘liner surgery’, I became increasingly better at making ski boots comfortable; something that was a contradiction in terms in those days. As I did, something interesting happened. People started telling me that they were skiing better. This got me thinking that maybe the idea of supporting the foot by creating what amounts to an orthopedic splint with the padding on the insides of the rigid plastic boot shell was just plain wrong. Soon, I was not just removing padding from within liners, I was cutting away portions of liners and stretching shells to make room for the foot to sit in the shell in its natural, weighted position.
In effect, I was ‘unsupporting the ankle’, the exact opposite of what everyone else was doing.
But as I made more room for the foot a new problem started emerging; the fit of the ski boot was getting increasingly looser to the point where it felt like the foot was floating inside the shell under some conditions; not a good thing.
One day, while riding up Whistler Mountain’s old 2-person Red Chair my outside ski slipped off the foot rest and dropped into space. When the boot with ski attached bottomed-out I felt the instep of my foot jump up inside the boot shell and hit the top of the tongue and inside of the shell. I also felt a sharp twitch at the knee. It seemed as if there were several inches of free or ‘crash-space’ between the top of my foot and the inside of the boot shell. I deliberately let my foot slip off the foot rest and drop into space about 10 more times. The more I did the ‘drop test’ the more it became apparent that the reason my foot felt ‘loose’ in my ski boot was that the tongue portion over top of my instep was putting almost no pressure on my foot.
When I got home after skiing I undid the cuff buckles on my boot, grabbed the shin portion of my tongue and tried pushing it up and down. It was unbelievable. It seemed as if I could move the tongue up and down over my instep about 2 inches. And this was with the forefoot buckles tightly closed. In the coming weeks tried the tongue press test with other skiers with similar results. There had to be a better way to secure the foot to the ski with the boot. But how?
……. to be continued.