“A problem with stronger sports people is that they can ‘fake’ the outcome. But when it comes to free form, fluid skiing… the real deal is still missing (for me).” – Whistler Ski Pro, Matt
Since last fall, I have been working with Matt. His situation is not uncommon. It is one thing to look like a good skier. It is another matter entirely to be able spread your wings and fly like a bird in free form, fluid skiing. A small number of skiers can ski at this elite level in boots right out of the box, with little or no modification. These are the skiers that rise to the top. Based on my experience, I estimate that this elite skier group makes up less than 0.5% of the skier population. But these are the skiers those such as Matt are chasing but never getting any closer to, no matter how hard they work at their skiing. Matt’s problem isn’t a lack of talent, fitness or athletic ability. Matt’s feet are simply out of specification for most performance ski boots.
The reason I started this blog is to provide serious skiers like Matt with information that would help them realize their full potential. About a year ago, I started working with a small number of serious skiers and racers in different parts of the world, mostly by email. Since that time, I have learned a lot more than I previously knew about how equipment, especially the ski boot, can affect a skier. More important, I have learned a lot more about the process with which to correct and reverse these effects so skiers whose progress has stalled, can reach a higher level.
On October 11, 2015, I received the following message from Matt:
“Hi David, I have been following your posts and discussion with interest. I’m a ski coach, I work 10-11 months of the year on snow. Summer in Australia and Winter in Whistler. I have a lot of questions for you. To keep it short, will you be in Whistler this season? And secondly, are you available for any amount of time to briefly discuss boot fit/make an assessment of me on/ off skis. I would be happy to pay any amount of money for your services.”
On October 22, 2015, Matt wrote:
“Thank you for your comments, it makes sense to read. Now my next question is…. Through the season could I look at creating the perfect boot and liner with you. Whilst I make do with my vacuum fit in the mean time, I’d like to invest and do this properly as I understand the critical importance of this.”
On October 26, 2015, Matt wrote:
“I appreciate all of your advice on the matters. In my years of skiing I’ve yet to have a boot where I’ve felt as if it’s the correct fit. Whether that be adverse effect in my feet or the outcome to my connection to the ski and snow!”
Matt knew that something was preventing him from realizing his potential.
I replied, “Once you have found a product you can work with, the process is not difficult.”
The first thing I did was ask Matt to send me photos of his feet taken from top, sides and rear. Matt is solid and athletic. His problem is his feet, not in terms of their function, but in their inability to function within the constraints of pretty every performance ski boot.
In the photos below, Matt’s big toes are angled inward and twisted outward. His forefoot is also wider than performance boot shells, which are narrower than recreational boots. A big clue to Matt’s issues are the prominent heel spurs on both feet and the inflamed area outlined on the shank of his left foot. It was almost certain that his prominent inside ankle bones were in hard contact with the inside of the shells of his boots.
Although not as obvious, the front to back cross-section of Matt’s leg, above the ankle bone, appears big in proportion to the length of his foot. The mass of Matt’s calf muscle is also larger lower down on his leg than that of the typical elite skier. This issue is exacerbated by the large heel spurs that prevent Matt’s foot from moving all the way to the rear of the liner and boot shell.
Based on Matt’s photos, the most likely source of his problems was that the tongue of the liner of the boot was obstructing the glide path of his ankle joint. The lack of sufficient width was was limiting Matt’s ability to load the heads of his metatarsals, especially the head of the first metatarsal. This was preventing his foot from fully compressing and tensioning the arches. When Matt attempted to flex his ankles by moving forward in the hips, the center of force on tongue pressing on his shank was moving down the shaft of the boot into the glide path of his ankle. I discussed this issue in my posts:
TONGUE TIED – https://skimoves.me/2014/04/15/tongue-tied/
TONGUE TIED ERRATA – https://skimoves.me/2014/04/15/tongue-tied-errata/
TONGUE SURGERY – https://skimoves.me/2014/04/18/tongue-surgery/
As far back as 1987, the importance of ankle flexion and maintaining the center of force on the shin was recognized by a number of preeminent authorities.
In Kinematics of the Foot in the Ski Boot – Professor Dr. M. Pfeiffer of the Institute for the Athletic Science at the University of Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria said, “The shaft of the boot should provide the leg with good support, but not with great resistance for about two thirds of the possible arc, i.e., (12 degrees) 20 to 22 degrees. Up to that point, the normal, physiologic function of the ankle should not be impeded. Previous misconceptions concerning its role in absorbing energy must be replaced by the realization that shaft pressure generates impulses affecting the motion patterns of the upper body, which in turn profoundly affect acceleration and balance.”
In Sports Medical Criteria of the Alpine Ski Boot – W Hauser P. Schaff of the Technical Surveillance Association, Munich, West Germany said, “Many alpine skiers have insufficient mobility in their knees and ankle. The range of motion, particularly in the ankles, is much too small”.
In Ski-Specific Injuries and Overload Problems – Orthopedic Design of the Ski Boot – Dr. med. H.W. Bar, Orthopedics-Sportsmedicine, member of GOTS, Murnau, West Germany said, “Few forms of athletics place as high demands on the footwear used in their performance as alpine skiing. It (the ski boot) functions as a connecting link between the binding and the body and performs a series of difficult complex tasks. (my emphasis added) “The boot must assure freedom of mobility to the toes. This is accomplished by having a large enough inner shoe.
In my next post, I will discuss what’s wrong with ski boots in general.