I can’t think of any application where the universal mentality that supporting the foot is necessary to provide a strong foundation for the foot is causing more problems than in ski boots.

In a ski turn, forces can reach several Gs. In such a situation, interference with the dynamics of the arch of the foot can prevent it from acquiring the intrinsic or fascial tension it needs to oppose the external forces and potentiate the neural processes associated with balance.

After decades of intervention in the form of arch supports and orthotics for feet with weak intrinsic muscles that do nothing to address the underlying issue and in many cases may actually exacerbate the condition, we are now seeing sound thinking prevail in the paper, The foot core system; a new paradigm for understanding intrinsic foot muscle function – Br. J of Sports Medicine dii: 10:1126/bjsports-2013-092690.

One blog that I follow is Dr. Nick’s Running Blog. Dr. Nick is a podiatrist who endorses barefoot function and ways to rehabilitate weak feet. Dr. Nick’s last post was on a two year case study demonstrating an increase in arch height from running in minimalist shoes. The post has a series of before and after photographs of the subjects feet. When standing on a flat, level surface, arch height is a good indicator of foot function.


It has been my observation that unless properly set up, ski boots, and especially any form of arch support, can significantly compromise foot function needed for skiing and may even cause feet to become weaker. When I was a child, the shoes I wore were far too narrow for my feet. Over the years, this caused significant damage to my feet that adversely affected my gait and balance. As the damage progressed, the height of my arches  decreased and my feet got wider. This did not present a noticeable problem for me in skiing until I switched to the new rigid plastic boots.

Over the past 8 years I have gone barefoot as much as possible. I also started wearing minimal shoes such as the New Balance Minimus with zero drop (no heel to ball of foot ramp). As Dr. Nick cautions, one has to make the transition to minimal shoes gradually. Since going mostly barefoot, the height of my arch has increased dramatically and my feet feel very solid to stand on. I now recognizing more of the compact, stiff foot structure that I used to envy in the feet of the best skiers when I worked with Canada’s National Ski Team.

In a future post I will go greater detail on the importance of intrinsic foot muscles and fascial tension to skier balance and ski technique.





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  2. There is a lot to this. However, while some people have ‘good’ foot conformation and the potential to be outstanding athletes, others have poor feet and ankle conformation that, no matter what they do, will impede their ability to use their feet and ankles effectively in sport. If they were horses, or racing dogs, they’d simply become dog food. You see some people with collapsed arches practically walking on their medial ankles, and they tend to be the ones who need some sort of orthotic to prop them up. I don’t know how people with feet like that would function in the type of boot/liner design you advocate…they’re already fully pronated. I guess we don’t worry about them because they’re unlikely to ever be more than a poor recreational skier with sore feet at the end of the day. They’re equally unlikely to be athletic at a high level in any sport. Your design is really geared to the higher level skier who is conformed reasonably properly and pushes the edge a bit. Or, even beginner skiers with reasonable foot conformation would likely ski better earlier if taught how to take advantage of this boot design.

    Salespeople in the footwear industries tend to be indoctrinated into believing that everyone needs some sort of orthotic to support their feet in a neutral position, no matter what. I was looking around on the internet at boots recently, and many of the vendors were selling custom molded footbeds to go with the boots, for around $250. Joe Skier doesn’t know enough about boot and foot function to make an educated decision, and there’s money to be made from selling orthotics…so that’s where it’s headed. There are skiing magazines, though, and people buy them…have you written anything for the popular press about this?

    Most of these sales guys, when you talk to them about foot mechanics, just glaze over. The individual boot manufacturers aren’t going to train the salespeople in the shops in any significant way…but they are being trained to sell custom foot beds.

    1. I agree completely with your position that some people have feet so bad that their options are severely limited. For people with feet in this category skiing is probably a sport they should forgo because the are unlikely to ever become even remotely proficient. Having worked closely with a talented female skier from the time she was 13 and witnessed spectacular results from her I agree to a point with your position that someone with reasonably functional feet will benefit from a properly set up boot if they start when they are young. But at the same time I continue to have spectacular results with intermediate skiers whose boots have significant issues with things like net ramp angle, cuff cant and especially forward lean. I have witnessed a female transformed from a intermediate to an expert within minutes after correcting too great a cuff forward lean. This is consistent with the findings of Dr. Benno Nigg at the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Calgary. Nigg’s studies found that the human foot adapts slowly to a negative environment but rapidly accepts a positive environment. I have also found that when I correct boot faults, skiers respond very well to subtle cues given over a few seconds. I attribute this to the fact that in a boot that creates an environment conducive to foot function the lower limbs and balance system are able to function as intended. In skiing, a disdain for science seems to be endemic based on the unsubstantiated assumption that science makes skiing more complex that it really is. Seriously? How about trying to teach someone to ski when their ski boots make it impossible for them to do what the ski pro wants them to do? I can think of a bunch of terms for this. None of them good.

      One cannot walk into a ski or skate shop today without encountering a footbed machine or signs pitching the value of custom inserts. Custom inserts are the equivalent of cartridges for ink jet printers. The sale of a custom insole is tied to the sale of a skate or ski boot. And the shop probably realizes a greater net profit on the insole than the skate or ski boot. The incentive is to upsell a custom footbed with every footwear sale. The typical sales pitch is that a person is wasting their money purchasing a new skate or ski boot without a custom insoles because without them a skate or ski boot lacks a foundation for the foot. The concept of a foundation resonates with the consumer. It creates an expectation of significant benefits. But how? In what manner does a custom insole create a ‘foundation’ that the foot benefits from? I can’t think of any way a custom footbeds would serve this end.

      The problem is that there appears to be a systemic lack of diligence in the footwear industry in general but especially in the ski industry. This seems to have fostered an ‘anything goes’ attitude where salespeople seem to believe they are immune from liability. Someone spins a good story and everyone goes along with it without questioning whether it is valid. It doesn’t help that when the footwear industry does get caught they quietly settle or try to keep things in the background. Of late more than a few have been caught;

      Vibram FiveFingers Barefoot Running Shoes Class Action Lawsuit

      Skechers Class Action Lawsuit Shape-Ups – Business Insider

      Reebok pays $25 million to settle EasyTone lawsuit | GlobalPost

      Once lawyers get a taste of blood and establish case law anything that moves gets sued. Those making statements about custom insoles and the foot functioning best in skiing when it’s joints are immobilized are treading on thin ice or perhaps sliding on a slippery slope.

      1. This is continuation of my reply to Bob Colborne since I didn’t address the issue of whether I had written anything for the popular press. While I have posted material on ski forums I doubt that any ski magazine today would be willing to touch my material, let alone publish it. Back in the ’70s ski magazines regularly featured articles on fitting boots and problems with the new plastic boots. One writer I recall who produced a lot of material on this subject is Doug Killam. Back then, ski magazines were often openly critical of equipment makers. This was especially true when serious knee injuries began to emerge as a replacement for broken legs. One article I recall that appeared in a major ski magazine was called, ‘Bringing the skiers to their knees’. Prior to the introduction of the rigid all plastic boot, knee injuries had been non-existent. Some with expertise in biomechanics and functional anatomy assigned the cause to effect of the boot stiffening the ankle sending the stress of skiing up the leg to the delicate knee. Then sometime in the 1980s the guns of criticism fell silent. After that the impression I started to get was that there was an unspoken rule that under no circumstances was the ski industry to be criticized. As one person involved in the sport told me, “We are all dependent on ski equipment. Nothing happens without the equipment makers and suppliers.”

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