Some people reading my blog probably wonder why I bother having a blog let alone going into such detail on the mechanics, biomechanics and physics of skiing. If I ski well simply and with minimal effort as Ken Chaddock describes in his book, Ski Well Simply, why would I bother telling others. A good part of the reason is that as an intensely curious individual I am fascinated by the potential performance of the incredible human system. Perhaps it is this intense fascination in me that has created a conscious awareness of the factors that limit human performance. The ski boot can certainly be a significant limiting factor.
When I resumed skiing in the 2012-2013 season after an 8 year hiatus, the first thing that struck me was how badly most people ski today. I have always loved to watch the elegant, fluid movements of the best skiers. I make a habit of watching skiers as I ride the lifts. Compared to the fluid movements I saw years ago in the best skiers, the majority of the skiers I see from the lifts today are locked in static positions. As the saying goes, “Watching them makes my eyes bleed”. It is difficult for me to imagine why anyone would want to work so hard to look and ski so badly. To me, the majority of skiers today aren’t really skiing. They are simply, ‘going down the hill’. Do I feel smug? Sometimes. It’s hard not to. When you can ski with minimal effort, it is easy to start to feel superior. But the truth is that the satisfaction I felt when the racers I was working with were winning races and when the recreational skiers I work with today are able ski to their full potential, is what really drives me.
I often find myself wondering, “How does not helping the majority of skiers ski with the ease that my spouse and I and a minority group of skiers enjoy, serve the interests of the ski industry and the sport of skiing when the ski boot is an obvious source of most of the problems?” Some of the most satisfying moments in my life have come from helping others ski well or in some cases, just to be able to help people ski again after a horrific trauma.
When I had my boot fit company, Anatomic Concepts, several skiers from the east made special trips to Whistler to see if I could help them. One poor fellow had both feet severely crushed in an accident. He could walk after fashion which was amazing considering how bad his feet were damaged. He used to be an avid skier. But he could no longer ski since his accident. The poor fellow lived to ski. He used to heli ski several times a year. No longer. I didn’t have the heart to suggest that he quit. So I made overly supportive insoles for him and did something I would normally never do. I padded his liners to hold his ankles away from the shell. It was an act of desperation. I sent him to the ski hill, crossed my fingers and waited. He called me after a few runs. He was ecstatic. He could ski again and was loving it. He may not have skied the way I would have liked him to ski. But he was able to do something again that he loved. To me, that was everything. After he left Whistler he wrote me every year for years thanking me for helping him to ski again.
I had two other rewarding experiences similar to this, both with very wealthy men. One had developed an ankle issue that only bothered him when he skied, which was a lot. He consulted a prominent orthopedic surgeon who told him, “If it only bothers you when you ski the solution is simple. Give up skiing”. He was devastated. He came to me for help. Shortly after I sorted out his boots and got him skiing again he found out that he had terminal cancer. This was to his be his final ski season. Days before he passed, he sent me a letter thanking me for making his last ski season the best ski season of his life. The other wealthy fellow I helped sent me a case of Dom Pernignon every Christmas for years after I fixed his boots and refused to let him pay me for my work. He also died of terminal cancer. But he died happy because he too lived to ski.
These stories are the most satisfying part of my skiing experience. That I am able to ski with incredible ease is a bonus.