In 1990, I was approached by Glen Wurtele, Head Coach of Canada’s National Alpine Ski Team, and asked to work with Whistler’s Rob Boyd. As a six year veteran of the National Team with 3 World Cup victories to his credit, Boyd had been shut out of the win column for the first time in 4 years in the 1989-1990 World Cup season. By the end of the season, he was frustrated and dissatisfied with his skiing. Wurtele, a long time supporter of my work, asked me to help.
In the fall of 1990, I spent time studying Boyd. Then I built a brand new pair of Langes for him and travelled to Portillo, Chile to hook up with the ski team who were training there and work with Rob. The morning after I arrived in Portillo, I was standing on a knoll with Wurtele and several other coaches on a 6o second downhill course set up above the hotel. When Boyd came into view on the very first run on his new boots the coaches didn’t recognize him until he passed directly across from the knoll where we were standing.
The photo below shows the dramatic change in Boyd’s technique.
(Click on the graphics to enlarge them)
In the article below, that appeared in the November 3, 1990 edition of The Globe and Mail, Boyd describes, in his own words, the powerful benefits of skiing feet first. Skiing feet first requires the ability to use ankle flexion. I specifically configured his boots to permit approximately 12-14 degrees of free shank movement for ankle flexion within the boot shaft.
Once a skier has experienced the sensation of being connected with the snow that comes from a platform under the outside foot that allows them to use their sophisticated, innate balance processes, the CNS quickly recognizes structures in a ski boot that prevent this. Ideally, skiers, but especially racers, should make this connection as early as possible in their careers. Because of the mentality that the foot functions best in skiing when its joints are immobilized within a tight fitting ski boot, few racers will ever get to realize their potential. Their racing careers are over before they can even start.
Ankle dorsiflexion is critical to stance and balance In skiing. Edge angle is increased by increasing pressure on the inside (medial) aspect of the foot by pronation. As pronation increases, an obligatory 1:1 internal rotation of the lower leg (tibia) occurs. Dorsiflexion enhances pronation and leg rotation and this combination of forces controls the edge angle.
The graphic below shows the 3 Degrees of Freedom on the foot/ankle complex.
1. Dorsiflexion – Plantarflexion
2. Medial Axial Rotation – Lateral Axial Rotation
3. Inversion – Eversion
DOFs 2 and 3 are mechanically coupled through the subtalar joint that acts in the capacity of a mechanical torque converter.
Functional perspective: Without dorsiflexion, leg joint imbalance moves the skier’s center of mass posteriorly into the classic “backseat position” resulting in quad strain, inadequate leg steering and fatigue.
Medical perspective: inhibited foot pronation and leg internal rotation through a lack of dorsiflexion causes static foot discomfort, eccentric inner boot pressures(blisters, bunionettes) and abnormal shin-boot tongue pressure (shin bang). Also, associated foot inversion stress leads to a slip-catch oscillation process wherein “catching a ski tip” may cause serious abduction-external rotation knee ligament injuries.
Dr. Kim Hewson is a Telluride Ski School Alpine Instructor and Staff Trainer in the Biomechanics of Alpine Skiing
The poor quality of the Globe & Mail article makes it difficult to read. So I have reproduced Boyd’s comments.
In Chile, I skied easily. It was fun again. It rekindled my love of skiing. Everything was so smooth, and that’s the way I got to think about Europe. I’m not skiing it as a comeback season. I’m just trying to take what happened in Chile another step further.
One of the things that happened in Chile was a lesson from ski-boot designer David MacPhail of Whistler about how to ski “inside the boots”. Since he had begun skiing, Boyd had thought of his feet merely as that part of him that connects to the skis.
I was only worried about a good, solid fit, then I skied from the ankles up. I never realized how much the foot can be used and should be used. But Dave is a like a mad scientist on this. He has an obsession with this thing.
He’s studied it. It’s all logical, and other skiers do it, but it had never been explained to me before.
Trying to feel his way down the mountain with his feet, Boyd said he finished third among a group of German skiers on a super-giant-slalom run. And I’d never been that good in Super-G before.
To strengthen the muscles in his feet-particularly under the arch-for the coming season, Boyd took up rock climbing and mountain biking.
A few short weeks after the Globe & Mail article, The Whistler Question, a local Whistler weekly paper, trumpeted the good news: “The Boyd-man is back”.