ASSESSING CHANGES TO SKI BOOTS


Since the summer and fall is a time when racers and serious skiers make changes to their ski boots, I will describe the strategy I use to assess any changes. It is important to make changes in a manner that controls variables and provides a baseline to make one-on-one comparisons against. However, after viewing video provided to me by several followers of my blog that graphically show the effect on technique of changes made to ski boots over a number of years, it became apparent to me that few, if any, racers or elite skiers have any idea of what a ski boot should ideally feel like and especially how it should affect them in terms of performance.

Without clearly defined end objectives and a sequential process for achieving and confirming successful implementation, skiers and racers can only think in relative terms of better or worse, not optimal.

The experience of Mikaela Shiffrin at the beginning of last World Cup season serves as a prime example. Prior to the start of the 2014-15 World Cup season she changed boots. Early in the season, Shiffrin struggled. Thankfully, she regained her form after changing back to her old boots at a camp over Christmas.

In a similar manner, multiple Olympic and World Championship medalist, Julia Mancuso has struggled after changing boot brands. For the 2015-16 World Cup season she will be back on the boot brand she won her medals on. Will she return to her previous form? Hopefully, she will. But there is no guarantee.

These experiences are excellent examples of the perils of fixing something that ain’t broke and especially the need to have an escape route that allows a change to be undone that doesn’t work out for the better. Getting a boot right so it enables optimal user performance involves a degree of luck in addition to skill and knowledge.  As demonstrated by Shiffrin and Mancuso, no amount of talent can overcome a ski boot that is not right.

Good ski technique starts with a strong stance. In the order of things, the starting point is ensuring optimal performance of the human system by having a comprehensive biomechanical assessment done followed by a program designed to correct any deficiencies identified. The next step is stance training done outside of the ski boot in a controlled environment. This will be the subject of a future post.

Contrary to what is inferred by marketing pitches, ski boots don’t perform. They are inanimate objects. What ski boots do is influence the performance of the human system. Skiers and racers do the equivalent of chasing the rainbow by searching for the right boot in the absence of a definitive specification for what the right boot for them needs to be. Comfort is often erroneously used as a benchmark for performance. Although a boot that supports user performance must be comfortable, comfort, in itself, does not equate with optimal user performance. A boot can be very comfortable while severely compromising skier performance. As the impediments to performance are sequentially removed, a boot that started off being comfortable typically starts to become increasingly uncomfortable as the most prominent sources of interference to function reveal themselves and does not become comfortable again until all sources of interference are removed

The following is part of general strategy strategy for assessing changes in ski boots:

  • Do not change components of a ski boot such as liners and insoles without the ability to reverse the changes.
  • When changing to a new boot model or boot brand retain the old boots. If doubts arise about the new boots  one-on-one comparisons can be made with the old boot on one foot and the new boot on the other.
  • If possible, try the shell of a new boot with the liner inserted in it from the old boot and do a one-on-one comparison with the old boot. This eliminates differences in liners and can give a good idea of how the new shell compares to the old shell.