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.