I started skiing in 1970 in low-cut leather boots with plastic soles. Since the speed and movement didn’t bother me, I quickly advanced and was soon making effortless parallel turns. When I enrolled in a ski week after only a few days on the ski slopes I was assigned to the expert group after the ski school ski off. The instructors labelled me a ‘natural skier’; born to ski.
All this changed the next season when I switched to the new rigid plastic boots the ski magazines were raving about. But instead of the expected quantum boost in my skiing prowess, my skiing literally went downhill. I had almost no balance and little or no control. I was not alone. That ski season I met many others, some of who, like me, had skied well in low-cut leather boots but who were struggling in the new technology. Being a problem-solver I knew something didn’t add up. After purchasing a collection of plastic boots with no improvement I began modifying ski boots in 1973 looking for answers. Over the next decade I spent hundreds of hours without compensation working on the boots of friends and even people I didn’t know trying to find out why they were having so much difficulty trying to ski in the new plastic boots. Some were in excruciating pain. Others had enjoyed skiing for years prior to adopting the new rigid plastic boots only to find that after switching they were no longer enjoying the sport.
By 1977 I was working with some of the best racers in the country including Crazy Canucks, Dave Murray, Steve Podborski and later, Dave Irwin. Although I had great success working with these talented skiers it would be many years before I was able to solve my own problems and ski with the ease and grace I had long sought. The key is creating the right environment in the boot for the feet and lower limbs to function and making the ‘right moves’ that the best skiers have always made that allows the external forces of skiing to work for you not, against you.
In 1991 I did a research project with a company called MACPOD (David MacPhail – Steve Podborski) on the mechanics, biomechanics and physics of skiing that studied the 3-dimensional forces applied by skiers at the foot-leg ski boot interface. I was fortunate to work with some exceptionally talented scientists. One such scientist was Alex Sochaniwskyj, P. Eng., a biomedical engineer. When we started our project, I specifically requested that Alex be approached to see if he would work with me. He was working as a consultant at the Hugh MacMillan Rehabilitation Centre in Toronto. Alex agreed to work on the project and left his position at the rehabilitation centre. Alex’s impression of me, as expressed in his letter in support of my nomination for a science award in 1995, is as follows:
The design and development strategies used by David MacPhail are very holistic in nature, placing the human as the central and most critical component in a biomechanical system. His intent is to maximize human performance and efficiency, while foremost preserving the well-being and safety of users and minimizing biomechanical compromises. – Alex Sochaniwskyj, P. Eng.
My perspective on issues pertaining to issues discussed in this blog is, to the greatest extent possible, objective and based on established principles of science. As such, I am prepared to defend my positions with sound principles and credible studies. Much of what is presented as factual in skiing is subjective. While this does not necessarily invalid it, subjective positions tend to be propped up on consensus, not fact. A good example is knee angulation. A Ski Pro or Coach observes the knee movement into the turn of the elite skier and tells his or her students to, “drive your knees into the turn”. From a scientific perspective, it is well established that balance strategies or synergies are bottom-up in nature, not knee down or knee up. The knees move into a turn in response to what the feet are doing. Put another way, the feet drive the knees and not vice-versa.
Some of the readers of my blog will tend to believe that what they experience or observe equates with science as in, “I tried different skis and these are the best”, to which I would say, “Under what conditions?” If a group of competitive swimmers of equal athletic and technical ability were all wearing weighted vests the outcome would be relative in that the best swimmer would win or place well. But if one swimmer were to discard the weighted vest they would probably easily win or place with less effort than the others. So it is in skiing. My position is that only when a skier’s subjective impression is supported with correlating hard data can it be concluded that their performance is optimal or even sound.
If you feel strongly that custom insoles or foam fitting boots or some other piece of ski equipment supports human performance in skiing please provide an explanation for the effect based on sound principles of science and/or some credible studies that captured and analyzed representative data to support the expected effect which was predicted in advance. This is the essence of the scientific method.
My area of expertise is solving problems. In this capacity, I am an innovator and inventor. My work involves identifying areas with potential for innovation and conducting initial investigations. After my initial investigation and assessment is complete, any studies that are needed are done by credentialed researchers.
I haven’t worked on ski boots for compensation in about 30 years. Nor do I have any current interest in working on ski boots other than for myself, my spouse and friends who request assistance from time to time. The inordinate amount of time and effort required to modify a pair of boots to the point where someone with foot and lower limb shapes that are incompatible with a pair of out-of-the-box ski boots can ski with minimal effort is not justified in anything other than extenuating circumstances.
I am a partner in a company that is developing footwear technologies that will produce double or even triple digit quantifiable improvements in human performance compared to conventional technologies. The current activities of the company are not related to skiing.
For further information on me please see the PDF document, Science Award nomination in the APPENDIX.