SKI BOOTS: WHY LESS IS MORE


At the time I filed an application for my second patent in April of 1989 , I had some ideas of what a ski boot should do for the user from what I had learned from the dorsal containment system I was granted a patent for in 1983. But I was still a long way from being able to answer the question.

A watershed moment came for me in 1990 when I read a medical textbook published in 1989 called The Shoe in Sport on what is referred to in the text as ‘the shoe problem’.

The Shoe in Sport, supported by the Orthopedic/Traumatologic Society for Sports Medicine, was originally published in German in 1987 as Der Schuh im Sport. The textbook is a compilation of the collective efforts of 44 international experts, including Professor Peter Cavanagh, Director of the Center for Locomotion Studies at Penn State University, biomechanics experts from the Biomechanical Laboratories at ETH Zurich and the University of Calgary, Professor Dr. M. Pfeiffer of the Institute for Athletic Sciences at the University of Salzburg, Dr. A. Vogel of the Ski Research Syndicate, Dr. W. Hauser and P. Schaff of the Technical Surveillance Association Munich and many other experts in orthopedic and sportsmedicine on  ‘the shoe problem’.

The buyers of athletic shoes are always looking for the “ideal shoe”. They encounter a bewildering variety of options and are largely dependent for information on the more or less aggressive sales pitches that directed at all athletes in all possible ways. (1.)

This volume should assist in defining the role and the contributions of science in the further development of the athletic shoe and in the recognizing of the contributions made by the various research groups, who are all interested in the problems of the athletic shoe. (1.)

Dazzled by the fancy names, the buyers believe that they can match the athletic performance of the champion who wears “that shoe,” or after whom the shoe is named. The choice is not made easier by the plethora of promises and a roster of specific advantages, most of which the merchant cannot even explain. (2.)

When The Shoe in Sport was first published in 1987, the field of biomechanics was in its infancy as was the associated terminology. This created an opportunity for a new marketing narrative of techno buzzwords. Since the consumer had no way to understand, let alone assess, the validity of any claims,  the only limits to claims made for performance was the imagination of the marketers. Consumers were increasingly bombarded with features that far from recognising the human foot as a masterpiece of engineering and a work of art as espoused by Leonardo da Vinci, suggested the human foot is seriously flawed and in need of support even for mundane day-to-day activities. These marketing messages distract attention away from the real problem, the design and construction of shoes and their negative effect on the function of the user; the modern ski boot being one of the worst examples.

The Shoe Problem

For this reason, the “shoe problem”as it exists in the various fields of athletic endeavour, will be studied with respect to the biomechanical, medical , and technical aspects of shoemaking. The findings (criteria) should enable the interested reader to distinguish between hucksterism and humbug on the one side and the scientifically sound improvements in the athletic shoe on the other. (1.)

Form follows Human Function

The Shoe in Sport focusses on the medical orthopedic criteria in offering guidelines for the design of shoes for specific athletic activities including skiing and ice skating.

Less attention will be paid to the technical and material aspects of the running surface and shoe, and more to the medical and orthopedic criteria for the (design of) athletic shoe. For this reason, the “shoe problem”as it exists in the various fields of athletic endeavour, will be studied with respect to the biomechanical, medical , and technical aspects of shoemaking. 

This volume should assist in defining the role and the contributions of science in the further development of the athletic shoe and in the recognizing of the contributions made by the various research groups, who are all interested in the problems of the athletic shoe.

Barefoot as the Reference Standard

Research done at the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Calgary found that optimal human performance is produced with the unshod foot and that human performance is compromised by the degree of interference; the greater the interference caused by any structure appended to the foot, the greater the compromise of performance. This is true even for a thin sock.

The authors of The Shoe in Sport ask:

Is there really a need for shoes? The examples of athletes like Zola Budd and Abebe Bikila suggest in a technologic environment the evolution of the athletic shoe parallels the decline of our organs of locomotion. (1.)

The Future of the Ski Boot

The shoe affects the athlete’s performance and serves to support the foot as a tool, as a shock absorber, and as a launching pad. Giving serious consideration to our organs of locomotion opens up an enormous area of activity to the athletic shoe industry. (1.)

This is especially true of the ski boot. The questions that needs to be asked is how does the structure of the ski boot affect the human performance of skier and what is the minimal combination of structure that will enable maximum skier performance.

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. (3.)

Before the question of what structure of a ski boot will maximize skier performance can be answered, the functional mode of the human system in the complex physical environment associated with skiing must be known. The first and most important and fundamantal component of this question is explaining the mechanism by which the human system is able to achieve a state of balance on the outside ski characterized by neuromuscular control of torques in all 3 planes across the joints of the lower limb and pelvis.


  1. Introduction by Dr. med. B. Segesser, Prof. Dr. med. W. Pforringer
  2. 2. Specific Running Injuries and Complaints Related to Excessive Loads – Medical Criteria of the Running Shoe by Dr. med. N. L. Becker – Orthopedic Surgeon
  3. 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

One comment

  1. Excellent chronological flow about the history of shoe in sport which emphasizes the need to avoid interference in foot function as it relates to the ski boot. History shows we have created a monster. Serious investigators like David McPhail are confronting the problem with careful analysis. Hopefully the ski boot industry is weakening its long held tradition that the foot can function while captured in subtalar neutral and restricted ankle dorsiflexion. Please keep up your good work.

Comments are closed.