When I started modifying ski boots in 1973, my perspective was that the problems that I was experiencing with my own skiing after switching from low-cut leather boots to the new higher, rigid plastic boots was an improper fit of the boot with my foot and leg. The paradigm back then, one that persists today, is that the optimal fit of the ski boot is achieved when the fit of the boot perfectly mirrors the shape of the user’s foot and leg. A related perception, that also persists today, is that the design of activity specific footwear is based on sound principles of science and that the footwear supports the performance of the human system.
I went forward on the basis that the conventional paradigm was both valid and based on sound principles of science. But instead of the expected improvement in performance commensurate with improvements in the application of the principles of the established paradigm, I was seeing a decrease in performance. As this continued to happen, I began to question everything I had initially accepted as factual and sound. When I did, I started heading in a new direction. A few Einstein quotes are appropriate.
We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.
Insanity: doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
A man should look for what is, and not for what he thinks should be.
Starting in the fall of 1978, I began to look for what was, instead of looking for what I believed should be. One thing Einstein didn’t appear say is that human thinking seems to follow Newton’s Laws in that once a paradigm becomes accepted it tends to develop momentum that resists new thinking. Right or wrong, it seems to be human nature to stay with the familiar. This is especially true once a paradigm has acquired commercial momentum. In terms of contemporary knowledge of functional anatomy, the thinking in the footwear paradigm, even today, is by comparison, at best, stone age.
Once I stepped out of the conventional footwear paradigm it became obvious to me that, with rare exceptions, the majority of footwear today, including ski boots, is predicated on a 5,000 year old, unsophisticated, cobbler-paradigm of wrapping a sole structure over and about the foot and leg of the user. Like Henry Ford’s dictum, You can have any color you want as long it is black, the consumer today is faced with a similar You can have any form of footwear you want as long it is based on a 5,000 year old artisan format. That a 5,000 year old footwear paradigm remains substantially unchanged in our digital age tends to foster the perception in the consumer that activity specific footwear such as sport shoes is conducive to proper biomechanical function. This premise is largely accepted without question. But in the following statement contained in the introduction to The Shoe in Sport (published in 1987), the authors suggest, that far from being conducive to proper biomechanical function, footwear may, in fact, actually be causing problems.
“Is there really a need for shoes? The examples of athletes like Zola Budd and Abebe Bikila suggest
……. in a technologic environment the evolution of the athletic shoe parallels the decline in our organs of locomotion.
The authors go on to state,
The buyers of athletic shoes are always looking for the ‘ideal shoe’. They encounter a bewildering variety of options and are largely dependent for information on the more or less aggressive sales pitches that are directed at all athletes in all possible ways. For this reason, the ‘shoe problem’ as it exists in the various fields, will be studied (in the book) with respect to the biomechanical, medical and technical aspects of shoemaking. The findings (of the studies contained in the book) should enable the interested reader to distinguish between hucksterism and humbug on one side and the scientifically sound improvements in the athletic shoe on the other. (my emphasis added).
The reference to hucksterism rings true with some of the statements made by ski industry tech and ski magazine writers that are so patently absurd as to be offensive to anyone with a modicum of knowledge of functional anatomy. In 1978 when I first began to suspect this was the case, I diverged from convention and started looking in new directions. I started asking questions that no one had answers for.
When I began to conduct subjective experiments that called into question the principles on which ski boots were based, I got a clear indication that I was displeasing certain parties in the memo below received by National Team racers and forwarded to me.