Ski Boots

FIT VS. FUNCTION

With rare exceptions, the consistently stated objective of boot-fitting systems and modification efforts is to create a perfect fit of the foot and leg of a skier with the rigid shell of a ski boot by applying uniform force to the entire surface of the foot and the portion of the leg in the boot in what pits Fit against Function. The end objective of the Perfect Fit is to achieve a secure connection of the leg of the skier with the ski. In the name of achieving a secure connection of the foot with the ski, the function of the skiers’ foot has become unitended collateral damage.

But boot design and boot fitting effors didn’t start off with the intent of compromising the physiologic function of the foot. It just sort of happened as a consequence of the limited ability to change the shape of the rigid plastic ski boots to address issues of user discomfort when plastic boots were first introduced. The new plastic boots worked well for some skiers. But for most, myself included, my foot moved around inside the shell when I tried to ski. The feeling of insecurity created by the looseness made skiing with any semblance of balance or control impossible. The fix seemed to be a simple matter of trying to figure out where to place a pad or pads between the foot and shell to stop the foot from moving.

In 1973 when I first started tinkering with my own ski boots the craft of boot fitting barely existed. Like myself, those who were trying to solve the problem of a loose fit were doing proceeding by trial mostly with alot of errors. After what seemed like unending frustration from many failed attempts at trying to find and then solve the source of my loose fit, a consensus began to emerge within the ranks of the ski industry that the easiest and quickest solution was a process that would create a tight fit of the foot everywhere with the boot instead of wasting time trying to find the elusive right place to add pads. The Perfect Fit was born.

Injected foam fit was first off the mark as a Perfect Fit solution. But injected foam fit wasn’t tight or precise enough for my standards. So I tried to take the Perfect Fit to the next level with Crazy Canuck, Dave Murray. I started the process by carefully trimming and laminating together pieces of sheet vinyl to form a matrix of solid material that I inserted into the liners of Mur’s boots. The process took about 2 weeks of painstaking effort. Finally, I satisfied that Mur’s feet were securely locked and loaded; ready for the best turns of his life. The result? One of the world’s best racers was instantly reduced to a struggling beginner, the exact opposite of what I had expected! This experience served as a wakeup call for me; one that caused me to rethink what I thought I knew and question whether the Perfect Fit was the best approach or even the right approach.

I started looking for alternate ways to restrain the foot so it was secure in the shell of a ski boot without compromising foot function. In 1980 when I was building a pair of race boots for Crazy Canuck, Steve Podborski I literally put my finger on the solution when I pressed firmly, but not forcefully, on the instep of his foot just in front of the ankle and asked if he thought we should try holding his foot like this in his new race boots. Without the slightest hesitation he said, “That feels amazing. Let’s do it!”

It took me more several few days to fabricate a system to secure Pod’s foot in his boots by loading the area of the instep that I had pressed my finger on. The problem we faced when the system was finished was that the liner made it impossible to use the system without modifying it. So a decision was made to eliminate the liner except for the cuff portion around the sides and back of his leg which I riveted to shell. At the time I wasn’t sure the system would even work. So I made a pair of boots with fined tuned conventional fit as backup. A boot with no liner seemed like an insane idea. But Podborski was not only able to immediately dominate his competition on the most difficult downhill courses on the World Cup circuit but go on to become the first non-European to win the World Cup Downhill title. Even more remarkable is that in his first season on the new system he was able to compete and win less than 4 months after reconstructive ACL surgery.

What I discovered set me off in a whole new direction. Pressing on the instep of Podborski’s foot activated what I later found out is called the Longitudinal Arch Auto-Stiffening Mechanism of the Foot. This system is normally activated as the mid stance (support) phase of walking approaches late mid stance where the foot is transformed into a rigid structure so it can apply the forces required for propulsion. As I learned about the processes that transform the foot into a rigid lever I began to understand how interfering with the function of the foot can compromise or even prevent the Longitudinal Arch Auto-Stiffening Mechanism from activating and, in doing so, cause the structures of the foot to remain ‘loose’ regardless of any efforts made to secure it.  A rigid foot is necessary to effectively apply force to a ski.

The graphic below shows a sketch on the left from Kevin Kirby, DPM’s 2017 paper, Longitudinal Arch Load-Sharing System of the Foot (1.) Figure 44 A on the right is from my 1993 US Patent 5,265,350.

The above graphics clarify the details of the arch loading system I first disclosed in my US Patent 4,534,122. This system challenges the current Perfect Fit paradigm in which the physiologic function of the foot is compromised in an effort to try and achieve a secure connection of a skier’s foot with the ski.

Figure 44A above shows the principle components of the arch loading system which is comprised of a number of complimentary elements. I will discuss these elements in my next post which will focus on solutions.


  1.  Kirby KA. Longitudinal arch load-sharing system of the foot. Rev Esp Podol. 2017 – http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.repod.2017.03.003

 

THE FUTURE OF THE SKI BOOT – PART 2

The introduction of the rigid shell ski boot served as a foundation for the evolution of what became a science of immobilization and splinting of the joints of the foot and a leg of a skier. By creating an encasement for the foot and the portion of the leg within the rigid shell, mediums such as foam could transfer force to the ankle and leg to substantially immobilize its joints. Supporting the foot in a neutral position with a rigid footbed or orthotic in conjunction with form fitting mediums ensures maximal immobilization that is described as the Perfect Fit. The science of immobilization has evolved over the years to include thermoformable liners and even thermoformable shells.

Even though the medical textbook, The Shoe in Sport, cautioned 30 years ago that “the total immobilization by foam injection or compression by tight buckles are unphysiologic (against physiologic function)” the proponents of immobilizing the joints of the ankle continue to claim that this puts the foot in it’s strongest position for skiing.

The paper, Recent Kinematic and Kinetic Advances in Olympic Alpine Skiing: Pyeongchang and Beyond,  published on February 20, 2019, cited better transfer of the skier’s action to the skis through improved boot-fittings with individual liners and insoles. If in fact, skier performance is improved due to improvements in the science of immobilization through boot-fitting then it should be evident in studies that look at skier performance.

One such study, Challenges of talent development in alpine ski racing: a narrative review, published in March of 2019 found:

Youth and adolescent ski racers report lower injury rates compared to World Cup athletes. The knee was the most affected body part in relation to traumatic injuries. The most frequently reported overuse injuries were knee pain (youth) and low back pain (adolescent level). Athlete-related modifiable risk factors were core strength, neuromuscular control, leg extension strength and limb asymmetries.

Neuromuscular Function (NMF) affects Neuromuscular control (NMC). NMC is an unconscious trained response of a muscle to a signal associated with dynamic joint stability. This system of sensory messages (sometimes referred to as “muscle memory”) is a complex interacting system connecting different aspects of muscle actions (static, dynamic, reactive), muscle contractions, coordination, stabilization, body posture and balance. The movements of the lower extremity, including the knee joint, are controlled through this system, which needs correct sensory information for accurate sequential coordination of controlled movement.

It has been known for decades that restricting the action of a joint or joint system, especially immobilizing the joint, will cause the associated muscles to atrophy. But a study, Effect of Immobilisation on Neuromuscular Function In Vivo in Humans: A Systematic Review, published in March 2019, suggests that the effects of immobilizing joints of the body are far greater than simply causing muscles to atrophy. This is the first systematic review to consider the contribution of both muscle atrophy and deterioration in neuromuscular function (NMF) to the loss of isometric muscle strength following immobilisation. The fact that the study, Challenges of talent development in alpine ski racing: a narrative review, cited core strength and neuromuscular control as issues in the development of talent is significant. The feet are part of the core in what is called foot to core sequencing. Immobilizing the joints of the foot can affect lower limb and core strength.

Immobilisation in the study the Effect of Immobilisation on Neuromuscular Function In Vivo in Humans: A Systematic Review, was achieved by using casts, braces, slings, unilateral suspension, strapping or splints with the following locations immobilised: knee, ankle, wrist and finger. All studies measured isometric muscle strength. No studies were cited that involved bilateral immobilisation of both ankles such as occurs in form-fitting ski boots. However studies did find that multiple joint immobilisation was likely to produce the largest change in the NMF of segments consisting of both mono and biarticular muscles. Other key findings were:

  • The greatest changes in all variables occur in the earliest stages of immobilisation.
  • The loss in muscle strength during immobilisation is typically greater and occurs faster compared to the loss of muscle volume.
  • The choice of joint angle for immobilisation using the brace or cast method appears likely to play a large role in the outcomes.

I started this blog six years ago for several reasons. A primary reason was to identify whether any influences existed in skiing that would serve to change the focus from immobilizing the joints of the foot and leg with the associated claims to a science-based focus. Since the future of the ski boot appears to be continued refinement of the science of immobilization this will be my final post.

I have learned a lot over the past six years that led to huge breakthroughs on skis for myself and those who I have worked with. Thank you to those who commented and contributed to The Skier’s Manifesto.

THE FUTURE OF THE SKI BOOT – PART 1

SHOEspiracy, a new feet-first documentary by barefoot/minimal shoe maker Vivobarefoot (1.) provided me with insights on the factors behind the unproven theory on which the design and modification of the rigid plastic ski boot is based that supporting and immobilizing the foot of a skier in neutral places it in the strongest position for skiing.

The intent of SHOEspiracy is to shed light on what amounts to a  ‘Shoe-shaped’ Public Health Scandal’.

There is a 20 billion pair a year, silent public health scandal a’foot and it’s shoe shaped!

It’s astonishing to us that the vast majority of shoes produced each year are actually bad for people’s feet—and the wearers are none the wiser.

VIVOBAREFOOT co-founder Galahad Clark

According to the documentary SHOEspiracy is intended to inspire viewers to reconnect with their feet and create a drive within the multi-billion-dollar footwear industry to establish a template for healthy shoes, healthy feet and natural movement. Most people are blissfully unaware of the problems footwear can and does cause and assume that what they put on their feet is benign.

I commend Galahad and Asher Clark and Vivobarefoot for taking the initiative to educate consumers on the problems shoes can and do cause and to establish a template for shoes that respect and accommodate the physiologic requirements of the user.

From Function to Fashion

At one time all humans were barefoot. This changed about 40,000 years ago when humans began to wrap animal skins around their feet to protect them against damage from the elements.  From crude beginnings as nondescript forms of protection, footwear evolved into a fashion entity; one that changed the shape and appearance of the foot, often radically, to render it more aesthetically pleasing. Heels first appeared in horsemen’s shoes as a device to help keep the rider’s feet in the stirrups.

As the evolution progressed shoes became corrective and lifestyle devices in addition to fashion accessories. In the footwear fashion era people have historically worn shoes that deformed their feet, the Chinese Lotus shoe  being an extreme example. But since a degree of deformation does not typically result in a noticeable impact on low-key locomotion the negative impact of restrictive footwear has generally flown under the radar unnoticed.  Adverse effects due to footwear such as joint and muscle pains and impaired balance are usually attributed to other factors.

Young feet are especially malleable. Their shape can be molded by footwear often resulting in permanent deformity as mine were when as a child my feet were put in orthopedically correct, supportive footwear to help them develop properly. The recent photos below show the state of my feet after more than 5 years of wearing exclusively minimal shoes, doing exercises like the short foot and using NABOSO insoles. Although they have become much stronger and healthier, it is doubtful whether the damage done when I was a child can ever be undone.

The left hand photo shows my feet with forefoot minimally weighted. The right hand photo shows my feet weighted. Note the difference in the robustness of the big toe of my left foot compared to the big toe of my right foot. I believe this at least partially explains why I am able to stand and balance with superior stability on my left foot compared to my right foot.

The photos below serve to graphically illustrate why I gave up road biking several years ago and now ride a touring bike with large flat platform pedals and minimal shoes fit with NABOSO insoles. As my feet became stronger and more functional I was no longer willing to abuse them with constrictive footwear.

The Jogging/Ski Boot Connection

About 50 years ago a new type of shoe appeared; one that would revolutionize the footwear market. The Sports Shoe was created in response to the running boom of the 1970’s. When I took up running on the cusp of the running boom, runners of the day ran in flats made for tennis or basketball. These were plain canvas shoes with no heel toe drop or special features.

Jogging, published in 1967 by Nike cofounder, William J. Bowerman, served as a catalyst for the running boom that emerged in the 1970s and with it the development of jogging and other sports footwear including plastic ski boots. At the time that he wrote Jogging Bowerman was working with elite runners looking for ways to improve their performance. His book was preceded by the introduction of the first Lange ski boot in 1962 followed by a racing model in 1965.

People who took up jogging who hadn’t run before started having problems with their Achilles tendon and calf muscles because their everyday shoes had heels. After consulting with doctors Bowerman made a decision to raise the heel of his jogging shoes by 1/2” (12 mm) to accommodate people who wore dress shoes. This feature was for the general public, not the athlete. Bowerman recognized that the sports footwear industry needed to create a consumer product that could be worn without causing discomfort. In an attempt to address problems caused by raising the heel the sports shoe industry responded by adding counters, arch supports and other features; in effect adding band aids in an effort to correct problems caused by raising the heel.

When the Nike Waffle Trainer was marketed as a shoe designed specifically for jogging the idea of sport specific shoes initially made sense to me. But even though I had been running with a heel strike technique in flats I experienced problems right away with ankle and knee shock at heel strike in my Nike Waffle Trainers. In comparing the Nike shoe to my canvas flats it became obvious to me that the flared heel was adversely altering the mechanics of heel strike. Trimming away the outer (lateral) and rear aspects of the flared heel reduced the shock of impact at heel strike.  I suspected that other aspects of the shoe were also adversely affecting my running mechanics. This incident caused me to question whether the design of sport specific shoes was supported by science.

When I started looking for answers I found out that it had been known for decades that footwear can negatively impact the physiologic function of the user. But the issue of the effect of footwear on athletic performance came into sharp focus in 1989 with the publication of the medical textbook, The Shoe in Sport (published German in 1987 as Der Schu im Sport). The Shoe in Sport brought together the collective expertise of 44 international authorities on orthopedics and biomechanics to focus their attention on the SHOE PROBLEM in the context of problems shoes can cause for athletes that compromise performance and contribute to injury. The Shoe in Sport focusses on the medical and orthopedic criteria of sports shoes in offering guidelines for the design of shoes for specific athletic activities including skiing and ice skating. The efforts of the Shoe in Sport was supported by the Orthopedic/Traumatologic Society.

In the Introduction to the Shoe in Sport, Dr. med. B. Segesser and Prof. Dr. med. W, Pforringer note that the buyers of athletic shoes are always looking for the ideal shoe. In their search 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 directed at athletes from every angle.

Segesser and Pforrineger go on to state that the findings in the textbook should enable the interested reader to distinguish between hucksterism and humbug on the one side and scientifically sound improvements in the athletic shoe on the other. The Shoe in Sport makes it abundantly clear that it is not a question of if the structures of footwear will affect the physiologic function of the user but a question of how they will affect the physiologic function of the user and especially whether the footwear will compromise athletic performance and/or contribute to injury. The Shoe in Sport studies the biomechanical, medical and technical aspects of the shoe problem as it exists in various fields of athletic endeavour.

A number of leading footwear company executives have often said to me over the years that they know science and agree with the philosophy behind the benefits of barefoot shoes, but that consumers aren’t ready. – Galahad Clark

Clark’s statement seems to suggest that little has changed since the publication of The Shoe in Sport in 1987 and the subsequent publication of Nigg’s Biomechanics of Sports Shoes in 2010. One reason may be the difficultly in conducting objective studies that lead to definitive conclusions pertaining to effects on the user of specific features of footwear.

After I learned of the research done by Benno Nigg at the Human Performance Laboratory at the University of Calgary that found that anything appended to the human foot compromises physiologic function I set out to develop a minimal constraint device for rigid soled footwear such as hockey skates, ski boots, cycling shoes and the like that would create a functional environment equivalent to barefoot. Activities that employ rigid soled footwear are much easier to conduct in vitro and in vivo studies than other activities. The objective of the device I wanted to develop was to enable the study of the effects of interfering with the action of discrete joints or joint systems of test subjects by controlling variables against a standard reference. In 1991, I succeeded in developing such a device in a corroborative effort with a biomedical engineer. The device can be constructed at minimal cost and readily fit with instrumentation to capture performance data.

When I wrote my US patent 5,265,350 at the beginning of 1992 I described the research device in impeccable detail with the intent and hope that others would construct the device and conduct studies with it. Under the terms of a patent, research may be conducted using a technology for which patents are pending or granted without infringing. This meant that research vehicle could have been constructed and studies commenced as soon as my patent application was published.

The graphic below shows the Birdcage research device on the left and Figure 1 from US patent 5,265,350 published on  February 22, 1993 on the right.

Form follows Function

The designation of the research device as Figure 1 in the patent is symbolic of the priority I give to function and science over other considerations.

The design and development strategies used by David MacPhail are very holistic in nature, placing the human system as the central and most critical component in the biomechanical system. His intent is to maximize human performance and efficiency, while foremost preserving the well-being and safety of the users and minimizing biomechanical compromises.  Alex Sochaniwskyj, P. Eng.

In US 5,265,350 and subsequent patents granted to me I disclosed a series of accessories for use with the research device. I designed these  to enable the effect on the user of factors such as the position of key mechanical points of the foot in relation to the mechanical points of a snow ski appended to it to be studied. To the best of my knowledge the minimal constraint research device and accessories has yet to be constructed and employed by other parties.

…………. to be continued.


  1.  https://www.shoespiracy.tv

THE FIRST SKI BOOT PROTOTYPE BASED ON THE BIRDCAGE

In going through archived files for the MACPOD Ski Boot Project I found a photo of the first injection molded ski boot prototype based on the principles of the Birdcage.

The photo below is of the Birdcage research vehicle that was used to validate my hypothesis that explained the mechanism by which elite skiers establish dynamic stability of the platform under the outside foot of a turn by balancing torques in two planes across the inside edge. This mechanism extends GRF acting along the running surface of the edge out under the platform for the skier to stand and balance on.

The photo below is of the Logan Chassis (aka The Convincer) that was developed in conjunction with the first injection molded ski boot prototype based on the principles of the Birdcage.

The photo below is of the first injection molded ski boot prototype. It was called the MACPOD boot. The design and format were very good. But the stiffness of the plastics, which were stiffer than used in conventional ski boots, was many orders too low on the scale of shore hardness. A subsequent effort called the Rise boot suffered from the same problem. It was a lack of suitable materials and manufacturing technologies that eventually sealed the fate of the MACPOD ski boot project.

THE MECHANICS + BIOMECHANICS OF PLATFORM ANGLE: PART 8

A soon to be published study (1.) recognizes that recent advances in sensor-technology allow the kinematics and kinetics of skiing to be monitored and data collected during training and actual competitions. The data will generate detailed information about the biomechanical factors related to success in competition and used to individualize training and skiing and equipment for each unique skier and, most important, motivate innovative scientific research for years to come.

 Individualize equipment for each unique skier

I fervently hope that this marks the beginning of the realization of a vision I had 30 years ago; one that resulted in the 1992 on snow studies using a unique instrumented research vehicle I designed with a biomedical engineer. This research vehicle allowed data to be acquired from skiers ranging from World Cup and Olympic champions to neophytes during actual ski maneuvers and meaningful metrics generated with which to assess performance. The objective of the study was to validate my hypothetical model of the mechanics, neurobiomechanics and physics of platform balance and the mechanism of skier CNS mediated dynamic stability. A validated model is essential for the interpretation of performance extrapolated from data. The intent of the subsequent patents was to provide a knowledge base to serve as a foundation for a science that would eventually enable individual skier optimization of every aspect of equipment and make skiing as easy and intuitive as walking for the masses.

A major source of inspiration and direction for my work and especially for my persistence came from the medical text-book The Shoe and Sport, in particular, Part 6 The Ski Boot.

From a technical (skiing) point of view, the ski boot must represent an interface between the human body and the ski. This implies first of all an exchange of steering function, i.e., the skier must be able to steer as well as possible, but must also have a direct (neural) feedback from the ski and from the ground (snow). In this way, the skier can adapt to the requirements of the skiing surface and snow conditions. These conditions can be met if the height, stiffness, angle and functions (rotational axes, ankle joint (AJ)/shaft) of the shaft are adapted, as well as possible to the individual skier.

The modern ski boot must be designed from a functional point of view, i.e., the design must take into consideration the realities of functional anatomy (axes etc.).

It (the design) should not make compromises at the expense of other joints (length of shaft, flexibility and positioning).

It (the ski boot) must represent the ideal connecting link between man and ski (steering and feedback).

I am forever indebted to  Dr. E. Stussi,  Member of GOTS – Chief of Biomechanical Laboratory ETH, Zurich, Switzerland, Professor Dr. M. Pfeiffer of the Institute for the Athletic Science, University of Salzburg, Salzburg, Austria, Dr. med. H.W. Bar, Orthopedics-Sportsmedicine, member of GOTS, Murnau, West Germany and W Hauser and P. Schaff of the Technical Surveillance Association, Munich, West Germany and other pioneers who inspired my efforts and paved the way to the future of skiing.

In the words of W Hauser and P. Schaff:

In the future, ski boots will be designed rationally and according to the increasing requirements of the ski performance target groups.

I sincerely hope that the work of Supej Matej and H-C Holmberg (1.) ushers in the future of skiing.

The Platform Balance Solution

In previous posts I established that:

  • the axis of rotation of the foot and the ski (steering) resulting from rotation of the femur in the socket of its ball joint with the pelvis by what amounts to a muscle driven torque motor, occurs behind the center of the long running surface of the base of the ski.
  • the ball of the foot of a skier is located on the proximate center of the long running surface of the base of the ski.
  • edging and carving force require components of force with vectors aligned 180 and 90 degrees to the transverse aspect of the base plane of the outside ski.
  • the rotational or steering force (torque) is the source of the vector of the 180 degree force acting into the snow.
  • the point of application of the rotational cutting force when the axis of rotation of the ankle is oriented on the X-Y axis of the ski is mechanically ineffective. The monoplanar nature of the torque makes it less effective in terms of contributing to skier dynamic stability.
  • the effect of side-cut on platform angle mechanics must also be considered.

From a mechanical-neurobiomechanical perspective, the logical place to apply the center of force of the foot acting 90 degrees (or slightly less) to the transverse base plane is under the ball of the foot (i.e. the head of the first metatarsal).

After a thorough investigation and analysis of the forces associated with platform angle mechanics I reached the conclusion that given the robust structure and the degree of stability of the head of the first metatarsal and the fact that the 90 and 180 degree forces should be congruent it seemed logical to apply the force acting 180 degrees to the transverse base plane of the ski to the medial aspect of the head of the first metatarsal. The 1992 study was designed to confirm or disprove the validity of this conclusion.

The graphic below shows the application of the rotational (steering) force to the medial aspect of the head of the first metatarsal.The photo below shows the robust force transfer structures under and on the inner (media) aspect of the head of the first metatarsal. 

In my next post I will discuss the requirements of a ski boot necessary for the user to simultaneously apply plantar force to the platform and rotational force to the medial aspect of the head of the first metatarsal.


  1. Recent Kinematics and Kinetic Advances in Olympic Alpine Skiing: Pyeonchang and Beyond – Supej Matej and H-C Holmberg: Frontiers in Physiology

TIGHTLY FIT SKI BOOTS COMPROMISE SKIER BALANCE AND CONTROL

In reviewing recent articles on ski boot fitting I encountered the same perfect fit of the boot with the shape of the foot and leg and ski boots must be tightly buckled for good balance and control narrative fabricated decades ago to justify the interference with the actions of the joints of the ankle and leg created by the rigid plastic shell ski boot.

When the first rigid shell plastic ski boots were introduced, the field of biomechanics, as it exists today, was in its infancy. Even until recently, the human foot was modelled as a rigid block which was consistent with the shoe last theory and the theory that the perfect fit of ski boots with the foot and leg of the user is the best option for skiing. Further support for the support and immobilize theory came from the vilification of pronation arising out of the misapplication of Root’s Neutral theory (1.)

By the time the authoritative medical text, The Shoe in Sport, was published in 1987, the knowledge of the biomechanics of the human foot had progressed to the point where tight-fitting ski boots and loading the ankle joint were recognized as unphysiologic.

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. (2.)

Investigations by Pfeiffer have shown that the foot maintains some spontaneous mobility in the ski boot. Thus the total immobilization by foam injection or compression by tight buckles are unphysiologic.(2.)

Many alpine skiers have insufficient mobility in their knees and ankle. The range of motion, particularly in the ankles, is much too small.(2.)

From a technical (skiing) point of view, the ski boot must represent an interface between the human body and the ski. This implies first of all an exchange of steering function, i.e., the skier must be able to steer as well as possible, but must also have a direct (neural) feedback from the ski and from the ground (snow). In this way, the skier can adapt to the requirements of the skiing surface and snow conditions. These conditions can be met if the height, stiffness, angle and functions (rotational axes, ankle joint (AJ)/shaft) of the shaft are adapted, as well as possible to the individual skier. (3.)

The articles on ski boots in the Shoe in Sport identified the objectives I was seeking in my efforts to design a ski boot based on principles of what is now referred to as neurobiomechanics. By the time I had formulated my hypothetical model of the mechanics, biomechanics and physics of skiing in 1991 I understood the need to restrain the foot in contact with the base of a ski boot and maintain the position of the foot’s key mechanical points in relation to the ski while accommodating the aspects of neurobiomechanical function of the foot and leg required for skiing. This was the underlying theme of the US patent that I wrote in February of 1992.

Existing footwear does not provide for the dynamic nature of the architecture of the foot by providing a fit system with dynamic and predictable qualities to substantially match those of the foot and lower leg. – US patent No. 5,265,350: MacPhail

On June 2, 2013 I published the post TIGHT FEET, LOOSE BOOTS – LOOSE FEET, TIGHT BOOTS (4.) in which I describe how attempts to secure the foot to a ski in a manner that interferes with the physiologic mechanisms that fascially tension and stiffen the structures of the foot that render it dynamically rigid actually reduce the integrity of the joint system of the lower limbs and hips resulting in a looser connection with the ski.

Studies done in recent years confirm the role of the active state of the architecture and physiology of the foot to postural control and balance.

These findings show that rather than serving as a rigid base of support, the foot is compliant, in an active state, and sensitive to minute deformations. In conclusion, the architecture and physiology of the foot appear to contribute to the task of bipedal postural control with great sensitivity. (5.)

The science of neurobiomechanics and the understanding of the mechanisms of balance and the role of the sensory system in human movement is accelerating. The time is long overdue for skiing to abandon it’s outdated concepts and align it’s thinking with the current state of knowledge.


  1. IS ‘SUBTALAR NEUTRAL’ SKIINGS’ HOUSE OF CARDS? – https://wp.me/p3vZhu-2mn
  2. 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
  3. Biomechanical Considerations of the Ski Boot (Alpine) – Dr. E. Stussi,  Member of GOTS – Chief of Biomechanical Laboratory ETH, Zurich, Switzerland
  4. https://wp.me/p3vZhu-2K
  5. Foot anatomy specialization for postural sensation and control

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