When a skier or racer changes ski boots, they often change everything. If they had a custom insole or orthotic in their old boot, they may use it in their new boot. But that may be the only thing that is the same. The problem with changing everything is that there is no reference with which to assess whether the new boot enables the same level of skier function as the old boots, let alone determine whether it is better or worse. The underlying assumption seems to be that newer is always better. But when it comes to a promising career of a talented racer, new can sometimes be career ending.
In Matt’s case, the reason he was changing boots is that he had concluded that his present boots weren’t allowing him to ski the way he was trying to. Setting up his new boots will follow a methodical, step-by-step process; one that will allow Matt to assess the effects of each component and modification. Without such a process, it is virtually impossible to assess the effects on skier performance of any aspect of the boot. The rule is to assume nothing until a benefit has been proven.
Here is the sequence I follow.
- Ensure Boot Board is to Specification
- Create Functional Space for the Foot and Leg in the Boot System
- Position the Foot in the Boot
- Adjust Shaft Side Cant and Forward Lean to Support a Functional Stance.
- Load Specific Aspects of the Foot and Leg within the Structures of the Boot
Boot Board Ramp Shape and Angle
Boot board ramp angle can have a significant impact on stance and skier/racer function. Yet, it is rare for a skier or racer to know the shape and ramp angle of the boot board in their old boot and take steps to ensure that the specification of the boot board in the new boot is the same let alone optimal. The standard I use is a boot board that is monoplanar and parallel with the transverse aspect of the sole of the boot with a positive ramp angle of approximately 2.7 degrees. For boot/ski continuity, my preference, is zero ramp angle in the ski binding system.
The boot board in the photo below is not flat. In addition, the ramp angle is 4 degrees. So the first step is to grind it flat and reduce the ramp angle to 2.7 degrees.
The stock Head insole is also not flat. I always start with a flat insole. So the stock insole is heated and flattened in a press. Even when flat, it usually still requires trimming and adjustment based on skier input.
With the boot boards to specification and the shells expanded to create sufficient functional space for Matt’s foot, the next step in the process is liner modifications. A number of issues are flagged in the photos below.
When Matt tried the liners on he found that them very constricting. The first thing I did was remove the panel on the instep that holds the sides or ‘quarters’ of the liner together. With Matt’s foot in the liner, it became obvious that the tongue was attached too far rearward. It was pressing in the glide path of his ankle and not even in contact with his shin in the upper area of the tongue. So the next step was a tongue-ectomy or surgical tongue removal with a sharp Exacto knife. Skiers/racers I have worked with have consistently found significant benefits to having the tongue free floating as opposed to fixed to the liner.
In order for Matt to assess the effects of every modification, I started by modifying one liner. In Matt’s case, I modified the left liner. Matt would ski with one modified and one unmodified liner until it was clear which one was better.
Here is what the stock right liner looked like.
The kind of modification needed at times is not the faint-hearted. But Matt assured me he was “all in” as in “whatever it takes”.
Here is the left liner after removal of the tongue and the toe portion of the liner. After the tongue was removed, the ends of Matt’s toes were still all crunched so that he could not fully weight his foot. This necessitated removal of the toe portion of the liner.
Since clearance on the inner or medial side of Matt’s foot required major shell expansion all padding within the liner was removed on that side only. This was done by cutting the stitching and then grabbing the padding firmly and ripping it out. Later, the same thing was done to the other side of the liner.
As a final modification, the portion of the rubber-like base that turned up along the inner or longitudinal arch was trimmed away.
Matt was good to go for a test flight. Some are probably thinking that with toes of the liner removed, Matt’s feet would freeze. Only Matt can answer that question. So I’ll let him respond to that issue in my next post.