In my post, THE IDEAL SKIER’S FOOT AND LEG, I described the characteristics that I observed over the years that were consistently associated with the feet and legs of the best skiers and racers. When I first started to see this pattern I didn’t understand why these characteristics were associated with superior technical ability. What I did come to understand very quickly was that skiers with feet and leg shapes that were less than ideal had difficulty skiing without major modifications to their ski boots. The images below compare the ideal foot and leg shape to foot and leg shapes that are increasingly problematic. The dashed line indicates the top of the sides of the cuff of the ski boot shell. The vertical hash marks compare the width of the cross-sectional area of the ideal leg at the top of the sides of the cuff to foot and leg shapes that progressively less than ideal.
As the cross-sectional area of the legs becomes increasingly larger, it becomes increasingly difficult to accommodate the leg within the confines of a boot cuff. In some cases, leg shapes make it difficult to even close the cuff buckles without extending the bales or re-locating the buckles. These types of fleshy legs are mostly associated with females although some males have the extreme shape depicted in the righthand image. Females with wide hips tend to have tibias that are either straight or angle inward as shown in the sketch below. This can be a big problem if the cant angle of a boot cuff cannot be adjusted sufficiently to obtain a neutral cuff alignment with legs. Boots with no cuff adjustment, like the old Lange XLR, had cuffs that were canted outward 3 degrees. This meant that female racers with tibias that were straight or angled inward would be hard on their inside edges in events like downhill if they tried to relax and let their skis glide.
Some females have tibias that angle inward and fleshy legs. Since the rear spoiler of the boot cuff determines the angle of (dorsi) flexion of the ankle joint, skiers with large calves and tibias that are straight or angle inward have too much forward lean and the wrong cuff cant. When I worked with female racers in the late ’70s and early ’80s it typically took a lot of ingenuity and a lot of work to come up with a solution.
The problem with ski boots is that the shape of the lower part of the shell and the shape of the cuff are usually designed to interface with each other in a specific configuration. This limits the ability to align the cuff in a different position with the lower shell. It was Alan Trimble, the boot tech for Lange USA, who taught me how to make cuts in the shell bottom where it interfaced with cuff, position the cuff in the desired orientation then rivet the two pieces together. Lange was one of the few boots that allowed for this kind of modification.
When I worked with Langes I had a supply of boot parts with no holes drilled in the cuffs. This made it easier to assemble boots in non-stock configurations. The soft Lange fabric liners with fit pockets made it easy to remove padding that was interfering with ankle-leg movements. A common complaint was pressure on the inside ankle bone and even along the inner aspect of the foot below and in front of the ankle. I got very good at stretching the shell wall in this area. I even had special tools made for this purpose. From feedback from racers, I came to know that it was important to not have any pressure on the inner aspect of the ankle and the area around it. But it took me years to understand why. Here is a short video clip that shows the movement of the ankle and leg that is fundamental to the technique racers such as Ligety and Shiffrin use. In a future post I will explain why and how this works.