PUT YOUR BEST FOOT FORWARD


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.

Rob Boyd

 (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. 
Boyd putting best foot forwardOnce 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.

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 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.
3 degrees of freedom r1Functional 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


ADDENDUM

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.

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 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”.

Happy feet put Boyd back on the podium

6 comments

  1. I needed some new footbeds and from a referral I went to a very well known boot fitter/instructor/coach who built me a pair. He swore up and down that I absolutely had to have a footbed that allowed my ankle to roll inside the boot, so the footbeds had a firmer density on the lateral half and a much softer density on the medial half. I skied on them for three days to try and get used to them and finally threw them away. Every time I moved into a turn the collapse of my foot to the inside made every turn feel weak and unreadable. I have no idea what it was doing to my knee as the thought of increased torque around the tibias made me squeamish. I went back to Surefoot, and had them make me some footbeds, which included slightly over pressurizing the nubs used to create the pressure distribution map of my feet. The feeling of having a solid base of support under my foot, that didn’t allow my foot to cave was a welcome relief and I could once again rip some turns. So, please explain to me again how I have been so misguided to think that a firm footbed is actually a mistake.

    1. I have no idea what you mean by “allowed my ankle to roll inside the boot’. From an anatomical perspective, if your ankle is rolling it could be serious. I am also unsure what you mean by “didn’t allow my foot to cave”. If I were you, I would seek immediate medical attention.

  2. 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.

    Well, here we go. That is what is called in colloquial terms rolling the ankle. And that why David punched out Rob”s boots at the inside ankle a detail he does not mention here for God’s sake.
    Nowadays it is common practice on the World Cup.George at McCoos does it at WiistIer. He is a disciple of David”s> He told me “It gives you room to roll your ankle.”

    1. Where did I ever use the term ‘roll the ankle’? Never. Because the ankle doesn’t roll.I went into great detail in US 5,265,350 to describe the global movements in three dimensional space of the elements the foot supported by numerous graphics. I even posted an excellent video on my blog of an computer generated animation of the elements of the foot. Ankle roll? Nowhere to be seen. To paraphrase Shakespeare, “The fault lies not in our texts on functional anatomy but in those who refuse to partake in endeavours that serve to enlighten.”

    2. “Colloquial terms” are why we are here! The term ankle roll needs to be discarded. The ankle moves like a door hinge….up and down. The mechanics of edging are simple when you embrace the functional anatomy of triplanar motion in the foot/ankle complex. The old terms of “skierspeak” need to be shown the door and replaced with scientific clarity.

    3. “Colloquial terms” are why we are here! The term ankle roll needs to be discarded. The ankle moves like a door hinge….up and down. The mechanics of edging are simple when you embrace the functional anatomy of triplanar motion in the foot/ankle complex. The old terms of “skierspeak” need to be shown the door and replaced with scientific clarity.

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