Skier Balance posts

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 MECHANICS + BIOMECHANICS OF PLATFORM ANGLE – PART 12

At this point my discussion of the mechanics and biomechanics of platform angle is at what I can appropriately call the moment of truth. Moment in the context of the mechanics and biomechanics of platform angle means moment of force or torque; platform angle involves the ability of the CNS of a skier to control torques across the inside edge of the outside ski so the skier can stand and balance on the platform.

What is Balance?

That balance is the single most important factor in human movement, especially movement associated with athletic performance, is undisputed. In complex activities like skiing that involve movement in 3 dimensional space in a dynamic physical environment, optimal balance is critical. But what constitutes balance? In order to know if a skier is has optimal balance or is even in balance one has to know what balance is and what factors enable or compromise balance (i.e. postural) responses and  especially the factors that enable optimal balance.

The Balance Zone

A skier is in balance when the CNS is able to maintain the position of a skiers’ COG within the limits of a narrow band close to the inside edge of the outside ski during the load phase of a turn. The load phase of a turn occurs in the bottom of a turn when the force exerted on the platform by the COM of a skier must be balanced against the external resultant force of gravity and centrifugal force. In the load phase, the CNS must maintain COG within the forward limit of the Balance Zone within close proximity to the ball of the foot. When balance is challenged COG must not exceed the rearmost limit of the Balance Zone that lies just in front of the ankle joint. The Balance Zone and its limits are shown in the graphic below. If COG exceeds the limits of the Balance Zone shown in pink, the skier will lose their state of balance and with it dynamic control of the platform underfoot.  They will also suffer a lose of dynamic stability in the joint system of the lower limb.

The Balance Plane

In the ski system platform the plantar plane under the plantar aspect (sole) of the foot is the interface of CNS mediated balance activity. When the coordinated, concurrent forces are applied at the main force transfer point of the foot that I call the Center of Control, shown in the preceding graphic, the applied forces will manifest in more than one plane as shown in the graphic below.Force Fa applied under the head of the first metatarsal will be distributed over an area around its center.  When the force applied in the plantar plane is transferred through the structure of the platform to the base plane the center of force will maintain its position. But when the force area of distribution will increase as shown in the pink zones under the head of the first metataral and the base plane. In free rotation of the ski, resistance from the force of friction Ff will be minimal as will any force applied in the torque arm plane by the eccentric torque arm. Rotational force will be largely confined to the base plane.

The Missing Force Factor: Sidecut

In the free rotation, the effect of the sidecut of a ski is not a significant factor in terms of a source of resistance. But as the transverse aspect of the base plane of the ski acquires an angular relation with surface of the snow the resistance created by GRF acting at the  limit of sidecut at the shovel sets up an interaction between the rotational force applied to the inner wall of the boot shell adjacent the medial aspect of the head of the first metatarsal with the resistance created by GRF at the limit of sidecut at the shovel. In the graphic below I have connected the  2 dots of the platform ground effect problem with a line drawn between the two points.The graphic below shows a schematic of the mechanical aspects of the opposing moment or torque arms between the two dots that I connected in the preceding graphic. The inside edge below the head of the first metatarsal acts as a pivot in conjunction with the Center of Force applied 90 degrees to the transverse aspect of the base plane for the plaform to rotate about as the ski goes on edge.

As the base plane of a ski acquires an angular relationship with the snow the torque arm rotating the ski goes into what cane best be described as turbo torque boost. Whole leg rotational force continues to rotate the whole ski but the eccentric torque arm engages and applies a high torsional load that winds the body of the platform about the shovel. This mechanism has to be considered in the perspective of the of the inertia from the movement of the skier driving the cutting action of the shovel.  The graphic below shows the opposing how opposing torsional forces at the limit of sidecut and applied by the application of for by eccentic torque arm to the vertical shell wall by the medial aspect of the head of the first metarasal act to apply a upward force that extends to the outboard end of the plantar plane of the platform.  This is the mechanism that enables elite skiers to balance on their outside ski and initiate precise movement from from a dynamically stable platform.I first solved basic mechanics and biomechanics of the outside ski balance problem 30 years ago. The degree of difficulty was not great. Solving the problem took diligence and persistence in researching all the relevant aspects and identifying all significant forces and associated planes.

I’ll let the readers ponder the informaton in this for a while after which I will be happy to respond to questions and comments.

THE MECHANICS + BIOMECHANICS OF PLATFORM ANGLE – PART 10

In THE MECHANICS + BIOMECHANICS OF PLATFORM ANGLE: PART 8,  I stated that after a thorough investigation and analysis of the forces associated with platform angle mechanics I reached the conclusion that rotational (steering) force should be applied to an isolated area of the inner shell wall of the ski boot by the medial aspect of the head of the first metatarsal as shown in the graphic below.Applying rotational or steering force to the medial (inner) aspect of the head of the first metatarsal requires the application of an effort by the skier that attempts to rotate the foot inside the confines of the ski boot. The application of rotational effort to the inner aspect of the vertical wall of the boot shell opposite the head of the first metatarsal will result in a reaction force that pushes the lateral (outside) aspect of the heel bone against the outer corner of the vertical shell wall as shown in the graphic below. The robust structure of the bones of the first metatarsal, midfoot and heel bone serve as a structural element in transferring rotational force to opposing aspects of the shell walls in an eccentric torque couple.The outline of the boot shell in the above graphic was generated from a vertical plane photo of an actual ski boot. The interference created by the inner wall with the localized application of rotational force to the shell wall by the medial aspect of the head of the first metatarsal should be obvious.

The radius of the moment arm acting on the outer aspect of the heel area of the shell is much smaller than the radius of the moment arm acting on the inner aspect of the shell opposite the head of the first metatarsal and many times shorter than the length of the moment arm acting at the shovel of the ski. The result is that rotational force applied to the eccentric torque arm couple by rotation applied to the ankle will attempt to rotate the torque arm and the axis of rotation at the ankle joint about an axis of rotation at the lateral aspect of the heel as shown in the graphic below. This mechanism enables a skier to  apply much greater rotational force into a turn at the center of the ski than can be applied at the shovel. This has signficant implications for platform angle mechanics. In addition to the above, the plane of the rotational force applied by the medial aspect of the head of the first metatarsal and lateral aspect of the heel bone to the shell wall is elevated above the plane of the rotational force at base of the ski below.

In my next post I will discuss what happens when the reaction force from the snow that opposes the 180 degree force applied to the base plane of the ski becomes sufficient to arrest rotation of the ski about its axis of rotation at the ankle joint.

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

THE MECHANICS + BIOMECHANICS OF PLATFORM ANGLE: PART 7

On January 12 of this year I started a new direction for The Skier’s Manifesto with a critical examination of the mechanics of platform angle after concluding that this issue and its effect on dynamic stability is the single most important factor in skiing. The platform is the portion of the stack of equipment between the sole of a skiers foot and the base of a ski. I started my discussion with a review of some of the typical technical terms associated with platform angle mechanics.

In my last post, I examined rotational force applied to a ski. I noted that in the technical terminology of skiing this is referred to as steering. I identified a number of inconsistencies, ommissions and errors pertaining to steering that I will expand on in this post.

Platform Paradoxes

Technical discussions on steering typically show a ski rotating like a propeller about the center of its long axis. In my last post I demonstrated that the source of the rotational force or steering is the femur rotating in its joint with the pelvis and applying rotational force to the foot its lower (distal) end at the tibia.

The graphic below shows the axes of rotational force (steering) applied to a ski through the foot/ski boot interface by the leg. I’ve used a large ski boot and a short ski to illustrate the effect of the location of the axis of rotation.

Technical discussions of steering don’t always mention the source of steering force let alone show its location. In addition, no explanation is offered that would explain how a ski can rotate about its center like a propeller.

The graphic below shows a ski with the running center of the long axis with approximate location of the axis of rotation indicated. In this example the axis of rotation is approximately 11.5 cm behind the running center (C). On my own skis, the axis of rotation is approximately 13.5 cm behind the running center for my 335 mm ski boot.

When the ball of the foot is located on or close to the transverse center of the long axis of the running surface of a ski the axis of rotation will move progressively towards the shovel as a foot gets shorter and move progressively towards the tail as a foot gets longer. No one seems to mention this even though it raises a number of signficant issues, among them the effect on the edge hold and carving characteristics associated with platform dynamics.

Where is the Force Applied?

Technical discussions of platform mechanics typically don’t show or even mention the location of the force applied to a ski by the weight of a skier. Since the weight of the body is transferred to the foot from the lower end of the tibia the weight tends to be transferred to the foot close to the heel.

Some discussions of platform and steering mechanics even suggest that a skier should feel their weight under their heel when steering the skis. This would place the applied force on the transverse center of a ski, behind the center of the long axis and offset from the inside edge where it will create a torque or moment arm that will degrade platform mechanics.An analogy of the mechanics of rotational force applied to a ski by rotation of the leg is a vertical shaft (leg) rotated by a force with an arm (ski) projecting outward from the shaft.

As the arm gets longer the distance the end of the arm travels for every degree of rotation of the shaft will increase.

  1. How will increasing the length of the arm effect the application of force applied to an object by the end of the arm distant from the shaft given a rotational force (torque) of a fixed magnitude applied to the shaft?
  2. How would reducing the effective length of the arm acting on a ski affect platform mechanics, in particular edge hold and carving characteristics?

There is a way to reduce the effective length of the arm acting on the ski. Elite skiers can do it. This will be the subject of my next post.

THE MECHANICS + BIOMECHANICS OF PLATFORM ANGLE: PART 6


In my last post I identified whole leg rotation of the head of the femur at its joint in the pelvis as the source of the rotational force acting 180 degrees to the transverse plane of the platform. In the technical terms of skiing whole leg rotational force is called steering.

When I started skiing in 1970 the ability to hold an edge on hard pistes and especially ice was the exclusive domain of elite skiers. Back then, the majority of skiers and racers were still skiing in low cut leather or plastic boots with the shaft not much higher than the ankle bones.

Debates raged in ski magazines as to the reason why elite skiers were able to easily hold an edge on ice while the majority of skiers struggled. The question was posed as to which came first. Did elite skiers edge first and then turn their skis or did they turn their skis and then edge? The consensus was that the best way to hold an edge and not to slip was to establish edge grip early and not slip when the forces increased. Recovering an edge once a ski started to slip was next to impossible. 

Since holding an edge during a turn involves movement of the skier there was no static way to demonstrate how to hold an edge on ice. The only option was watch an elite skier and try and copy them. This was seldom successful because even elite skiers couldn’t describe what they were doing. Strength and athletic ability and/or level of fitness did not seem to be significant factors.  Even elite hockey players often struggled to hold an edge on skis. I had questions but few answers. Finally a female ski instructor gave me a valuable clue when she told me that she presses down hard on the ball of her outside foot to make her edges hold on hard snow.

Clues such as turning the skis and putting pressure on the ball of the outside foot pointed towards the mechanism of the mechanics of platform angle and dynamic balance. But before the mechanics could be explained the introduction of the high shaft rigid plastic ski boot distracted attention away from the problem. High stiff plastic ski boots made it easy for even a novice to stand, crank their knees into the hill and put their skis on edge. This turned out to be a good marketing tool because it made holding an edge appear easy even for a novice. But using the leg as a lever didn’t work except under ideal conditions.

When I tried using my leg to hold a ski on edge on ice I met with marginal success. Later, when I modelled the mechanics the combination of forces didn’t result in a mechanism that would enable a skier to cut a step into hard pistes so as to create a platform and control its angle.

But the crank the knee into the hill option prevailed and took root. It provided an easy way to demonstrate a complex issue. Once knee angulation became established the ski industry appeared to lose interest in trying to discover the real mechanism responsible for platform mechanics. In spite of a protracted effort I didn’t begin to understand the mechanism until about 1989 after getting some valuable clues from the chapter on the ski boot in the medical text, The Shoe In Sport (see my post – THE SHOCKING TRUTH ABOUT POWER STRAPS). But getting insights on the mechanism entailed making some significant discoveries that have only come to be recognized and studied in the l ast 10 years.

One discovery I made that was fundamental to understanding platform mechanics is that the Achilles tendon is capable of transferring large forces to forefoot as the pelvis moves forward in the stance phase of locomotion.

Steer onto the Platform

Although steering and edging are often discussed together they are typically considered different, but related, skills that are blended together. In fact, they are one and the same. Elite skiers steer their skis onto a platform but only if their equipment, in particular their ski boots, enables the requisite neurobiomechanics. 

The Center of Rotation of the Foot 

The turning effort from the pelvis is applied to the foot at the distal (farther end) of the tibia as shown in the graphic below. In terms of position on the running length of a ski this places the center of rotation on the rear half of the ski. The implications are that the forebody of a ski will rotate more across a skier’s line than the tail of the ski. In my foot, the center of rotation is approximately 12 cm behind the running center of the ski.
The femur has a typical range of rotation of 45 degrees in each direction (total ROM 90 degrees); 45 degrees medial (towards the transverse center of the body) and 45 degrees lateral (away from the transverse center of the body). 

If rotational effort is applied to the foot against a firm vertical surface the rear foot will be forced away from the surface.

The implications for skiing are that as the platform angle of a ski with the plane of the snow increases towards perpendicular (normal) to the slope the turning effort applied to the feet will direct the forebody into the surface of the snow. As a reader commented on a previous post on platform angle mechanics the tips (shovel or forebody) of the ski leads the charge. A carved turn starts at the tip with the edges engaging and cutting a step into the snow for the portion of the edge that follow to track in. The shovel leads the charge and starts the carving action. 

Mechanical Points of Force 

A final point for this post is the two key mechanical points where loads on the foot apply high force to the platform; one under the ball of the great toe (i.e. head of the first metatarsal) and the other under the heel in an area called the tuber calcaneum. These are the primary centres of force in skiing. 

The effect of any rotational force or steering to a ski is significantly affected in the carving or loading phase by where the center of force is located. This will be the subject of my next post.

THE MECHANICS OF PLATFORM ANGLE: PART 5

In my initial posts on the mechanics of platform angle I demonstrated the physical impossibility of making a ski carve an edge into hard pistes at high platform angles with the snow by a skier aligning opposing applied and reaction forces with the vector perpendicular to the transverse plane of the platform of the outside ski. The reason for this is that the component of shear or slipping force will progressively increase as the angle of the applied force Fa becomes increasingly aligned with the plane of the surface of the snow as shown in the examples in the graphic below.

In my previous post I said that a reader who commented on Part 3 correctly stated for a ski to hold and carve at high platform angles required two separate forces acting on the transverse plane of the platform; one force oriented at 90 degrees to the plane and a second force oriented parallel or 180 degrees to the transverse plane with the vector acting into the surface of the snow. I ended my post by asking the reader what the source of the 180 degree force was.

The graphic below shows the answer. Elite skiers can make the outside ski of a turn hold and carve at very high platform angles because they are able to apply two separate forces in a coordinated manner. The reason I say ‘able to apply’ is that many factors can severely limit or even prevent the coordinated application of these two forces; the most significant factor being interference from the structures of the ski boot with the associated coordinated joint actions of the foot and leg.The graphic above is for the purpose of illustrating the source of the 180 degree force acting on the transverse plane of the platform. As such, the graphic  is not accurate because it shows the plantar (sole) plane of the foot oriented on the transverse plane of the platform. The actual mechanics and biomechanics are much more involved. I’ll start to explore the various factors in my next post.