WHAT I LOOK FOR IN A SKI BOOT


Good lower limb function, especially good foot function, is my first priority. Of all the components of the ski equipment system, the human component is the most important. Having the right shape of foot and leg is a good start. But having the right shape of foot and leg is not enough. You also need to have strong functional feet that are aligned straight ahead and a body that has a high degree of functional symmetry if you want to be able to ski like the best. It is possible to strengthen weak feet and correct poor body alignment. But I will save this subject for a future post.

When I examine a ski boot there are three things that I look for. The first is the general shape of the shell, the stiffness of the material it is made from and especially the integration of the overlap of the shell lower and cuff interface aka as the throat of the boot. The second thing is the shape of the boot board, the ramp angle and how well the boot board integrates with the shell base. The third thing is the material the liner is made of and the ease of removing material from it or cutting away portions.

The photo below shows what I look for in the interface of the boot shell bottom and cuff when all 4 buckles are closed to the first bale catch. I want a shell that is integrated and torsionally stiff at this interface. The interface of the shell below (black plastic on the left) conforms to this criteria.

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I also want a cuff shape that is oval and stiff enough to resist deformation. These characteristics provide a degree of predictability that creates an environment my foot and leg can function in. This means getting a race shell with very stiff plastic. Although harder to insert my foot into, the predictability and stability of the defined space and volume that comes from a stiff shell trumps convenience in my books.  My current boot is about a 10 year old Head World Cup size 335. It is by far the best boot shell I have skied in. Although it is still in good shape, I am considering replacing it next season with the Head Raptor.

The photo below shows what happens to the shell bottom/cuff interface of a boot shell when the buckles are closed tightly. The transition overlap of the lower shell moves towards the back of the shell.  This creates an obstruction to movement of the shin during dorsiflexion of the ankle and an overlap of the cuff that is unstable.

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I want the majority of the movements of my leg to happen within the consistent, defined shape of a shell cuff without the need for the shell to distort in order to accommodate movements of my leg, especially in ankle flexion. In order to maintain an integrated shell/cuff interface, I never tighten the buckles beyond the first bale catch. If the shell doesn’t adequately restrain my foot I adjust the fit in the forefoot of the tongue.

Assuming the shell is stiff enough and the shell/cuff interface is well integrated, the next thing I examine is the boot board. I want a boot board that is flat (no toe spring) and made of solid hard foam as opposed to injection molded plastic.

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I check the fit of the boot board in place in the shell to make sure that shelf on either side of moulded portion integrates with the sides of the shell beyond the well that the moulded portion sits in. I check to make sure there are no discernible ridges or irregularities across the area where  the balls of the feet will be.

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I also calculate the ramp angle of the boot board. The boot board in my Head World Cup calculated out at 3.2 degrees. I find this interesting because it appears that Head increased boot board ramp angle to 6 degrees in their Raptor line then decreased it this season to 4 degrees.

If the shell and boot board check out, I stand in both shells without liners in my bare feet first then in one shell on one foot to find out if there is sufficient width for my metatarsals to spread under load. I also check for any interference with the inner aspect of my foot especially my inside ankle bone.

When I go to a shop to try on new boots I take my current pair with me, put on both boots and wear them in the shop for a few minutes. Then I try one of the boots I am considering purchasing on one  foot and compare it to my current boot on the other foot. Next I replace the liner in the boot I am considering with the liner from the same foot of my current boot. This  gives me a good idea of how the shells compare.

When I change to a new boot I keep my old pair of as a reference until I am sure that the new boot is working as well or better for me than my old boot. If I feel like there are some issues that I have a hard time identifying I can use my old boots as a reference to compare them to the new boot. I also have me the option of temporarily going back to my old boots until the issues with my new boots are sorted out. More than one racer’s career has gone downhill after they switched boots and/or ski-binding systems that had a significantly different net ramp angle, shell shape or forward lean than their previous boots.

 

2 comments

  1. Dave, Do current ski teams have boot techs who do what you used to do? Do all the World Cup skiers modify their boots in one way or another? Or, how many just ski in off-the-shelf boots with no modifications?

    1. I don’t know what, if any, arrangement exists for boot work. When I started working on ski boots I did so out of necessity. The plastic ski boot was still relatively new. There were a few ski shops that dabbled in boot work but the only real source of information was tech articles in ski magazines. After I did some work for the head of the Whistler Pro Patrol he introduced me to Nancy Greene Raine. That was about 1977. She was so excited to find someone who could work on ski boots that she had me fly to Calgary with her at her expense to set up a working arrangement with the Canadian National Ski Team. When I asked her who was working on ski boots at that time she said, “No one!” I was pretty much independent in that I didn’t work for any equipment maker or the team. It seemed that the equipment makers didn’t like this arrangement especially when I was openly critical of the design or lack of design) of some of the ski boots. Soon after I started with the team I learned of Alan Trimble’s work with the US Ski Team and Lange USA. Trimble was a wizard at building Lange boots from factory parts. This was 35 years ago. A lot has changed since then except the immobilize the foot mentality which is more entrenched than ever. I am just guessing but I think it probable that a lot of racer’s today get their own work done. Boot work is mainstream today. So probably the parents of racers invest in boot-fitting. I was in a shop earlier this year and a tech was telling the parents of about a 5 year old that if they didn’t get their child aligned he was going to have serious issues later. Listening to some of nonsense that is being peddled today is like standing waist deep in cow dung in a feed lot.

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