balance

SKIER BALANCE: IT’S ABOUT BALANCING OPPOSING TORQUES

The subject of my 4th post published on May 14, 2013 was the role of torques in skier balance. That this was one of my most important yet least viewed posts at 109 views suggests that the role of torques in skier balance is a concept foreign to skiers especially the authorities in the ski industry. This post is a revised version supplemented with information results from a recent study on balance control strategies.


While everyone recognizes the importance of good balance in skiing, I have yet to find an definition of what is meant by good balance, let alone a description of the neurobiomechanical conditions under which a skier is in balance during actual ski maneuvers. In order to engage in a meaningful discussion of balance, one needs to be able to describe all the forces acting on the skier, especially the opposing forces acting between the soles of the feet of the skier and the snow surface (ergo – applied and ground or snow reaction forces). Without knowing the forces involved, especially torques, any discussion of balance is pure conjecture. In 1991,  I formulated a hypothetical model that described these forces.  I designed a device with biomedical engineer to capture pressure data from the 3-dimensional forces (torques) applied by the foot and leg of the skier to the internal surfaces of the boot during actual ski maneuvers.

Test subjects ranged from Olympic and World Cup champions to novice skiers. By selectively introducing constraints that interfered with the neurobiomechanics of balance even a World Cup or Olympic champion calibre skier could be reduced to the level of a struggling beginner. Alternatively configuring the research device to accommodate the neurobiomechanical associated with skiing enabled novice skiers to use  balance processes similar to those of Olympic champions. To the best of my knowledge, no one had ever done a study of this nature before and no one has ever done a similar study since.

When analyzed, the data captured using the device called into question just about everything that is accepted as fact in skiing. This study was never published. For the first time I will present the data and describe the implications in future posts. We called the device shown in the photo the Birdcage. It was fully instrumented with 17 sensors strategically placed on a 3 dimensional grid.

Birdcage

The Birdcage instrumentation package was configured to detect coordinated neuromuscularly generated multiplane torques that oppose and maintain dynamic balance against external torques acting across the running surface of the inside edge of the outside ski in contact with the source of GRF (i.e. the snow).

  1. plantarflexion-dorsiflexion
  2. inversion-eversion
  3. external/internal vertical axial tibial rotation

Ankle torques are applied to the 3 points of the tripod arch of the foot (heel, ball of big toe, ball of little toe) and can manifest as hindfoot to rearfoot torsion or twisting wherein the forefoot rotates against the rearfoot.

A recent study (1.) on the role of torques in unperturbed (static) balance and perturbed (dynamic) balance found:

During perturbed and unperturbed balance in standing, the most prevalent control strategy was an ankle strategy, which was employed for more than 90% of the time in balance.

In both postures (unperturbed and perturbed) these strategies may be described as a single segment inverted pendulum control strategy, where the multi-segment system is controlled by torque about the most inferior joint with compensatory torques about all superior joints acting in the same direction to maintain a fixed orientation between superiorsegments.

The alignment of opposing forces shown in typical force representations in discussions of ski technique is the result of the neuromuscular system effecting dynamic balance of tri-planar torques in the ankle-hip system.

NOTE: Balance does not involve knee strategies. The knee is an intermediate joint between the ankle abd hip and is controlled by ankle/hip balance synergies.

The ankle strategy is limited by the foot’s ability to exert torque in contact with the support surface, whereas the hip strategy is limited by surface friction and the ability to produce horizontal force against the support surface.

Ankle balance strategies involve what are called joint kinematics; 3 dimensional movement in space of the joint system of the ankle complex. Contrary to the widely held belief that loading the ankle in a ski boot with the intent of immobilizing the joint system will improve skier balance, impeding the joint kinematics of the ankle will disrupt or even prevent the most prevalent control strategy which is employed for more than 90% of the time in balance. In addition, this will also disrupt or even prevent the CNS from employing multi-segment balance strategies.

Regardless of which strategy is employed by the central nervous system (CNS), motion and torque about both the ankle and hip is inevitable, as accelerations of one segment will result in accelerations imposed on other segments that must be either resisted or assisted by the appropriate musculature. Ultimately, an attempt at an ankle strategy will require compensatory hip torque acting in the same direction as ankle torque to resist the load imposed on it by the acceleration of the legs. Conversely, an attempt at a hip strategy will require complementary ankle torque acting in the opposite direction to hip torque to achieve the required anti-phase rotation of the upper and lower body.

Balance is Sensory Dependent

As a final blow to skier balance supporting the arch of the foot and loading the ankle impairs and limits the transfer of vibrations from the ski to the small nerve sensory system in the balls of the feet that are activated by pressure and skin stretch resulting in a GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) adverse effect on balance.

Spectral analysis of joint kinematics during longer duration trials reveal that balance can be described as a multi-link pendulum with ankle and hip strategies viewed as ‘simultaneous coexisting excitable modes’, both always present, but one which may predominate depending upon the characteristics of the available sensory information, task or perturbation.


  1. Balance control strategies during perturbed and unperturbed balance in standing and handstand: Glen M. Blenkinsop, Matthew T. G. Pain and Michael J. Hiley – School of Sport, Exercise and Health Sciences, Loughborough University, Loughborough, Leicestershire LE11 3TU, UK – Royal Society Open Science

IS ‘SUBTALAR NEUTRAL’ SKIINGS’ HOUSE OF CARDS?

If you purchased custom footbeds for your ski boots or had your ski boots custom fit you may have been told that your foot was placed in subtalar neutral and that this created the strongest position of the bones of the foot and leg for skiing. Neutral in this context refers to a neutral configuration of the subtalar joint of the ankle/foot complex.

As best I can recall, the term subtalar neutral began to emerge in the ski industry about 1978. The authoritarian manner in which it was presented and promoted suggested that it was science-based and supported with evidence that conclusively demonstrated superior performance. But I never saw or heard any explanation as to how subtalar neutral could create the strongest position for skiing of the bones of the foot and leg and I have still not seen such an explanation.

Back in 1978, I didn’t even know what the subtalar joint was. I couldn’t envision how the bones of the foot and leg could be maintained in a specific configuration while foam was injected into a liner around the foot and leg or through some other custom fit system. But in spite of the lack of even a theory to support the premise of subtalar neutral as creating ideal biomechanical alignment of the bones of the foot and leg for skiing the premise seemed to be readily accepted as fact and quickly became mainstream. By the time The Shoe in Sport (which questioned the principles on which the plastic ski boot is based) was published in 1989 (1987 in German), neutral subtalar was firmly entrenched in the narrative of skiing.

In my US Patent 4,534,122 (filed on December 1, 2013) for a dorsal support system that I called the Dorthotic, I had unkowingly tried to fix the subtalar joint in a static position as evidenced by the excerpt below from the patent:

The system of the invention applies significant pressure to the dorsal (upper) surface of the foot over the instep, including the medial and lateral aspects thereof, and hence to the bones of the mid-foot to substantially prevent these bones from moving relative to each other.

Note: The prior art refers to the current paradigm in existence.

The objective of the dorsal support system was to immobilize the joints of the bones below the ankle in conjunction with the joints of the bones of the midfoot while allowing unrestricted dorsi-plantarflexion of the ankle joint within it’s normal range of motion. But the significant medial (inner) pressure applied by the  system to the bones of Podborski’s foot below his ankle made it difficult for him to stand and balance on one foot with the system in a ski boot shell even on the concrete floor of my workshop. Removing the offending structure from the dorsal support system quickly resolved the issue by allowing his foot to pronate. This made me aware that structures that impede supination did not appear to create issues. This insight raised the possibility of a fit system based on selective constraint applied to specific aspects of the foot and leg as opposed to what I termed indiscriminate (general) constraint.

Even though at the time that I wrote my US Patent No, 5,265,350 in February of 1992 I still did not comprehend the mechanism behind the claimed superior performance associated subtalar neutral, I knew enough to know that attempting to fix the subtalar joint in any configuration in a ski boot would interfere with, or even prevent, a skier from balancing on one foot.

Here is what I said in the patent:

The prior art refers to the importance of a “neutral sub-talar joint”. The sub-talar joint is a joint with rotational capability which underlies and supports the ankle joint.

………………….the prior art which teaches, in an indirect manner, that the ideal function for skiing will result from fixing the architecture of the foot in a position closely resembling that of bipedal function, thus preventing monopedal function (balance on one foot on the outside ski).

I later discovered that the above statement came close to the truth.

I also discussed the issue of subtalar neutral in my post NO NEUTRAL GROUND (2.) published on September 1, 2014. But I did not learn about the origins of subtatar neutral and especially the intense controversy surrounding it in professional circles until recently when I came across a discussion on Root and his subtalar neutral theory in an online podiatry forum.

The Origin of Subtalar Neutral

Merton’s Root’s subtalar joint neutral theory was first described in the textbooks, Biomechanical Examination of the Foot, Volume 1. – 1971 (Root, Orien, Weed and Hughes) and Normal and Abnormal Function of the Foot – 1977 (Root, Orien, Weed). The basic premise of Root’s subtalar neutral theory is that a neutral position of the subtalar joint (which Root defined as existing when the foot was neither supinated or pronated), is the ideal position of function in static (two-footed bipedal, erect) stance and in gait where the subtalar neutral theory posited that the foot was pronated in the first half of the stance phase then transitioned through neutral in mid stance to become supinated in the latter half of the stance phase.

Root’s paradigm proposes that the human foot functions ideally around the subtalar joint’s neutral position and that deviations from this ideal position are deformities.

What Root really said

Root and his associates never stated that the joints of the foot should be immobilized in subtalar neutral. The reference to static in subtalar neutral as the ideal position of function in static stance pertained to a subject standing in place in an erect bipedal stance on a flat, level, stable surface with the weight apportioned between the two feet. In this static stance the Root subtalar neutral theory posited that the subtalar joint should rest in neutral. Root and his associates never stated, implied or suggested that the joints of the foot should be configured and immobilized in subtalar neutral. Further, Root and his associates made no reference, of which I am aware, to the application of subtalar neutral to activities other than static stance and gait. Critrics have asserted that a subtalar neutral position in static stance is neither normal or ideal. In defining subtalar joint neutral as normal, Root’s theory implied the existence of abnormal pathologies in the feet of the majority of the world’s population.

The lack of evidence

Critics of Root and his associates “Eight Biophysical Criteria for Normalcy” claim the criteria was nothing more than hunches, that these conjectures were accepted as fact, when, in reality, there was no experimental data or research to support them and that the eight criteria were neither normal or ideal.

 The STJ neutral position problem

One of the early critics of Root and his associates was Kevin Kirby, DPM. He is an Adjunct Associate Professor within the Department of Applied Biomechanics at the California School of Podiatric Medicine at Samuel Merritt College in Oakland, Ca.

Kirby observed a large error range in determining STJ neutral position on the same foot from one examiner to another. In unpublished studies done during his Biomechanics Fellowship at the California College of Podiatric Medicine, Kirby found that the Biomechanics Professors were +/- 2 degrees (a 4 degree spread) and the podiatry students were +/- 5 degrees (a 10 degree spread)  in determining STJ neutral position.

Subtalar neutral appears to be what amounts to a knife edge between pronation and supination where neutral is the border or transition point between the two states. Unless the subtalar neutral position can be precisely and consistently identified, it is impossible to know whether the subtalar joint is pronated or supinated.

The future of subtalar neutral in skiing

Too many times theories of how the human foot functions and therefore how mechanically inducted foot problems are treated have been presented as if they were facts. The dogmatic adherence that sometimes ensues from such an approach has frequently stifled the evolution of foot mechanics. This has been particularly apparent in the field of podiatry which has been dominated by the Root paradigm. (4.)

The long standing controversy and growing challenges mounted against the credibily of Root’s subtalar neutral theory has significant implications for the continued promotion of subtalar neutral in skiing as providing the strongest position of the bones of the foot and leg.

It may eventually be shown to be unfortunate that Root’s influential textbooks were published at a time when the ski industry was attempting to come to terms with the skier/boot interface issues associated with the new paradigm created by the rigid shell plastic ski boot.

In my next post, I will discuss what a ski boot should do for the user or perhaps, more a case of what a ski boot shouldn’t do.


  1. Root ML, Orien WP, Weed JH, RJ Hughes: Biomechanical Examination of the Foot, Volume 1. Clinical Biomechanics Corporation, Los Angeles, 1971
  2. https://wp.me/p3vZhu-Bv
  3. Are Root Biomechanics Dying: Podiatry Today, March 27, 2009
  4. Foot biomechanics- emerging paradigms: Stephen F Albert, 4th Congress of the International Foot and Ankle Biomechanics (i-FAB) Community Busan, Korea. 8-11 April 2014

 

RAMPING UP THE POWER OF YOUR STANCE

Note to the reader

The post that follows was originally published on March 1, 2016. At the time that I wrote it, I was trying to identify the optimal net (total) ramp angle or NRA using fixed angle ramps. But I found the process to be inconclusive for reasons I give in my recent posts on the dynamic ramp assessment device. I am reposting this older post because many of the concepts expressed are even more relevant in view of the results seen with the dynamic ramp assessment device and boot boards altered to the same ramp angle identified in dynamic testing.


RAMPING UP THE POWER OF YOUR STANCE

The foundation of a strong technique is a strong stance. But what makes a strong stance? The angle of the combined ramps of the binding and boot board or zeppa in relation to the base of the ski. If the net ramp angle weren’t important, binding and boot makers would make their products with no ramp. If ramp angle doesn’t make a difference, why bother? But not only does net ramp angle make a difference, it has a significant effect on stance.  Stance affects balance and muscle power, especially the ability of eccentric gastrocnemius-soleus complex muscle contraction to absorb shocks that would otherwise be transmitted up the leg to the knees and back. I discussed some of these issues in WHAT’S YOUR ANGLE? – : https://skimoves.me/2014/03/29/ski-boots-whats-your-angle/ ‎

If there were a problem, and there is, the ski industry is all over the place especially when in comes to binding ramp. There doesn’t appear to be any industry standards and especially any continuity between products. Worse, most skiers assume that their ski boots are putting them in the optimal stance. Without a reference they have no way of knowing. The Stance Ramp can give them that reference especially when it comes to how much ramp is enough, how much ramp is too much and how much ramp is too little.

Note Added March 19, 2018 – Having a kinesthetic sense of a stance based on tensegrity gives a skier a valuable tool that when used in a structured process can help them assess the effect of zeppa-delta ramp angle and the constraint imposed on their feet and legs by the structures of a ski boot.

In 1978, when I was building boots for female racers with small feet, I noticed that they were skiing like they were wearing high heel shoes. When I started checking their bindings and boot board ramps, I found out why. Some had 10 or 12 degrees or more of net ramp angle. After I started doing stance training with racers on a ramped board I discovered through empirical experiments that about 3 degrees of ramp angle seemed to give skiers the strongest stance.

Note Added March 19, 2018 – It now appears as if 3 degrees is the upper limit of the zone of stability. This explains why skiers started to ski better when the net ramp angle approached 3 degrees.

I didn’t really understand why until much later. Was the process scientific? No, not at all. Do studies of this critical issue need to be done? Absolutely. If I figured out that ramp angle was a critical issue almost 40 years ago, why is it that no studies appear to have done in the intervening years to determine the affects of ramp angle and identity the optimal angle?

With input from skiers in different parts of the world over the past two years, I have narrowed the ideal ramp angle down to about 2.7 degrees. This seems to be something of a standard in World Cup. Through experiments over the past few months, I have found that changes of 0.1 degrees can make a significant and easily perceivable difference. Optimal ramp angle isn’t just critical for World Cup racers, it is critical for all skiers. The easiest way to convince yourself of the importance of optimal ramp angle is for you to experience the effects of ramp angle through experimentation. How? With a Stance Ramp set to a base reference angle of 2.5 degrees.

The Stance Ramp lets skiers stand in their ski stance (barefoot is best) on a flat, level, surface then assume the same stance on the Stance Ramp, compare the kinaesthetic sense and judge whether they feel stronger of weaker. The angle of the Stance Ramp can be predictably increased or decreased by inserting shims at either end between the ramp and the surface it is supported on. When the ramp angle that makes the stance feel the strongest is arrived at, it can compared to the ramp angle of the ski boot board by having one foot on the Stance Ramp and the other in the ski boot.

The best part? The Stance Ramp is easy and inexpensive to make with readily available materials. I made mine out of some scraps of plywood I had lying around. Here’s what the Stance Ramp I made looks like. You stand with one foot on either side of the stiffener in the center with your heels at the high end (left end in the photo below).

IMG_6304

Here’s a top (plan) view. It is a good idea to check the surface the ramp will sit on to make sure it is very close to level.

IMG_6302

Here’s the underside of the Stance Ramp showing the element at the rear that gives the ramp its 2.5 degree angle. The stiffener in the center is important to ensure the ramp doesn’t flex under your weight.

IMG_6309

The sketch below is a basic plan for a Stance Ramp. The only critical details are the height or thickness of the element that lifts the rear aspect of the ramp to achieve and 2.5 degree angle (angle A) and the distance the lift element is placed from the front edge of the ramp. The stiffening element in the center of my ramp is 8 cm wide. The ramp has to be big enough to stand with the feet under the hips and long enough to accommodate the length of the feet.

Stance Ramp

An online right angle calculator such as the one at cleavebooks.co.uk can be used to calculate the spacing of the lift element from the low end (front edge) of the ramp based on its thickness.

SR calculate

Once the optimal ramp angle is arrived at, the Stance Ramp can be used in combination with the ski boot shell to confirm that the boot board is at the same angle.

IMG_6307

In my next post, I will discuss what I call the Resistive Shank Angle that is the base to build  a strong stance on.

STANCE MUSCLE TENSIONING SEQUENCE EXERCISE

Tensegrity

Tens(ion) + (Int)egrity 

The optimal ramp angle, as determined by the dynamic ramp device, is based on a stance predicated on the principles of tensegrity.

Fascial continuity suggests that the myofascia acts like an adjustable tensegrity around the skeleton – a continuous inward pulling tensional network like the elastics, with the bones acting like the struts in the tensegrity model, pushing out against the restricting ‘rubber bands: Tom Myers, Anatomy Trains (1.)

A ski stance based on the principles of tensegrity must be learned and rehearsed in a step-by-step process. It is neither natural or intuitive although elite skiers and racers such as Shiffrin and Hirscher appear to have acquired the elements of tensegrity. Assuming a group of racers of equal athletic ability, the odds will favour those whose stance is based on tensegrity.

In a ski stance base on tensegrity, tension in the arches of the feet will extend to the palms of the hands holding the poles.

  1. Start by standing barefoot on a hard flat floor or surface in a controlled environment such as your home. Where possible, use the same surface and place to rehearse the stance. If you have constructed a dynamic ramp assessment device, use this with the top plate set to level.
  2. Stand upright at attention. You should feel most of the weight under your  heels and less weight across the balls of your feet. This is normal. The fore-aft weight distribution is actually 50-50 heel to forefoot. But because the weight of the body is spread across the balls of the feet and along the outer aspect behind the small toes, more weight is sensed under the heels. Stand so your weight is distributed equally between both feet.
  3. Relax your hamstrings (in your thighs) and let your torso drop towards the floor.  Your knees move forward as they flex and your ankles will dorsiflex. Your ankles should stop dorsiflexing on their own when the front of your knee caps are aligned approximately over the balls of your feet. This is the point where the tension in your soleus (calf muscle) peaks with the tension in your arches. You should feel about the same pressure under the balls of your feet as you feel under your heels. But it should feel as if the circle of pressure under your heels has gotten bigger and your feet should feel more connected or integrated with the floor. I call this ‘rooted’ because it should feel as if your feet have sunk into the floor.
  4. While keeping your upper body erect, move slightly forward in the hips. You will quickly reach a point where you start to become unstable and feel as if you would fall forward onto your face if you move farther forward in the hips. When you get to this point your big toes should press down on the floor on their own to try stabilize you. This is the forward limit of stability.
  5. Now move rearward in the hips until you start to feel the same instability. This is the rearmost limit of stability.
  6. Now bend forward from the waist. Do not curl your back. Bend from the hip sockets for the thigh. The movement is actually thigh flexion. Lift your thigh to get the right feeling. As you bend forward from the waist, let your buttocks move rearward.  Your ankles and knees straighten. Allow your buttocks to drop towards the floor until you feel your body settling onto your feet. As this happens, reach forward with your arms as if you were going to hug a large barrel in front of you. Make sure the palms of your hands are facing each other with fingers curled and pointing towards each other. Find the place where your arms and head feel neutral to your spine. As your arms come into position you should feel your abdominal core and muscles in your back acquire tension.
  7. Experiment by increasing the amount of flexion at the waist while keeping solid pressure under your heels and balls of your feet as you straighten your knees slightly. As you increase the forward bend at the waist, pressure should increase under the balls of your feet. But you should not feel unstable. If anything, you should feel stronger and more stable. Make sure to keep solid pressure under your heels as you increase the pressure under the balls of your feet. You should feel as if the weight of your head and shoulders is pressing your feet down into the floor.
  8. Increase the bend at your waist while keeping the pressure on the balls of your feet and heels until the top of your head is down by your knees. You should still feel very strong and stable in the feet. The is the lowermost limit of waist flexion.

Once you have acquired a kinesthetic sense of the integrity of foot to hand tension, a sense of stability while pulsing the torso vertically up and down over the feet confirms a state of tensegrity.

The photo below is of simple model I designed and constructed in 1993 to illustrate the basic concept of bottom up tensegrity and how the degree of tension in the arches of the feet and the vertical biokinetic chain is driven by the weight of COM stacked over the foot.

The graphic below shows the continuum of tension from the balls of the feet to the opposite shoulders through the mechanism of the transverse posterior sling.

In my next post I will discuss what I term the NABOSO Effect.


  1. https://www.anatomytrains.com/fascia/tensegrity/

FIFTH GENERATION STANCE RAMP ASSESSMENT DEVICE

Since my first version of the stance ramp assessment device I have made a number of significant improvements. The series of photos below are of the fifth generation device.

The bottom plate or base of the device is approximately 18 inches (46 cm) wide by 16 inches (41 cm) deep (front to back). I intend to make the next version about 22 inches (56 cm) wide by 18 inches (46 cm) deep. Size is not critical so long as the top plate is deep and wide enough for the feet being tested.

Stiffness of the plates is critical. Three quarter inch thick (2 cm) plywood or medium density fiberboard (MDF) are suitable materials. I added 1.5 inch x 1.5 inch wood reinforcing ribs on the sides, middle and rear of the top plate.

The photo below shows the heel end of the device. Two 1/4 inch drive ratchets turn bolts threaded into T-nuts in the top plate that raise the heel end up.

The photo below shows the top plate hinged to the bottom plate with 4 robust hinges.

Four telescoping hard nylon feet are set into the bottom plate to enable the device to be leveled and made stable on the supporting surface. It is important that the device not tilt or rock during testing.

The photo below shows the details of the interface between the top plate on the left and the bottom plate on the right.IMG_3409

I used gasket material purchased from an auto supply to shim the forefoot of my boot boards to decrease the ramp angle so as to obtain the 1.2 degree ramp angle I tested best at.Shim pack

The package contains 4 sheets of gasket material that includes 3 mm and 1.5 mm sheet cork and 2 other materials.Gasket

I cut forefoot shims from the 3 mm cork sheet as shown to the right of the boot board in the photo below.BB w shims

I adhered the shims to the boot board with heavy duty 2-sided tape and feathered the edges with a belt sander.shims installed

I corrected the ramp of my boot boards in 3 stages. Once my optimal ramp angle is confirmed, I will pour a boot board into the base of my ski boot shells in place of the existing boot boards using a material such as Smooth-Cast 385 Mineral Filled Casting Resin. More on this in a future post.

Ramp Angle Appears to User Specific

It is important to stress that although there appears to be a trend to optimal boot board ramp angles for elite skiers in the range 1.5 degrees or less, there is no basis to assume a  ramp angle that is optimal for one skier will be optimal for another skier. Recreational skiers are testing best between 2.0 and 2.5 degrees.

It is also not known at this point whether the initial optimal ramp angle identified with the device will change over time. Based on the impressive results seen so far in the limited number of skiers and racers who were tested and ramp angles adjusted there is no basis to assume that ramp angle is not a critical factor affecting skier balance and ski and edge control. Studies on this issue are urgently needed and long overdue.

It is important that testing for optimal ramp angle be preceded by kinesthetic stance training. This will be the subject of my next post.

A DEVICE TO DETERMINE OPTIMAL PERSONAL RAMP ANGLE

This post contains the most important information I have ever written on skiing. It concerns the most important discovery I have made since I began to cast a critical eye on the positions of the various experts about 45 years ago; a method to determine the optimal personal ramp angle of a skier/racer.

By 1978, subjective experiments had taught me that a total ramp angle between the sole of the foot and the base of a ski of more than 3 degrees could have significant adverse effects on skier stability, balance and the ability to control the direction and especially the edge angle, of a ski. Wherever possible, I tried to limit total ramp angle (boot boards + bindings) to below or close to 3 degrees. But ski boot and binding construction often limited my ability to reach this objective. It was limitations in the construction of my current Head World Cup boot that presented challenges in getting the boot board ramp angle below 3 degrees. Through a concerted effort I had managed to reduce ramp angle to 3.3 degrees (bindings are zero) with a noticeable improvement in balance, ski and edge control. But the results of my recent NABOSO insole test suggested that the boot board ramp angle needed to be a lot lower.

The Dynamic Ski Stance Theory

A standard test of the human balance system is to subject a subject to dynamic changes in the platform under their feet. Over the past few years, I made numerous attempts to find the optimal ramp angle for skiing. One method involved assuming my strongest stance on a hard, flat level surface then stepping onto a plate shimmed to a fixed angle then repeating the process with the plate shimmed to a different angle. The results were inconclusive. Every time I went back to the hard, flat level starting surface my balance system seemed to reset. I had to get the angle of the tilted plate well over 3 degrees before I began to sense obvious instability. This led to my positing of a theory that the angle of a plate that a skier is standing on needs to be changed as the skier goes through a stance protocol designed to test stability and what I call a rooted or grounded connection where the skier feels as if their feet are literally rooted in the snow.

Research is Urgently Needed

Before I go any further I want to stress that I believe that an idea, no matter how compelling, is nothing more than a theory until it has been thoroughly tested and has withstood rigorous scrutiny. Even then, no theory should be immune to challenges. Research on this subject is urgently needed and long overdue. With this in mind, I designed the dynamic stance assessment device so it can be easily made with reasonable skills and readily available, inexpensive materials. I have recently completed a 4th generation prototype to serve this end. But a much more sophisticated device can and should be made and used by academic researchers. A servo motor driven ramp with a data acquisition package is the preferred option.

Stance Training is Essential

In order to obtain accurate results with the dynamic stance assessment ramp it is essential that the subject being tested undergo kinesthetic stance training and follow a protocol during testing that is designed to help the subject assess the effect of changes in ramp angle. It is disturbing that few of the skiers tested so far have a kinesthetic sense of the elements of a strong stance. Most have never sensed a strong stance. Worse, no ski pro or coach has ever discussed this crucial aspect of skiing with them. It appears as if it is simply assumed that a skier will automatically find their optimal stance. I can unequivocally state that this is not the case.

Dynamic Stance Ramp Test Results

  • The majority of skiers tested so far were most stable at ramp angles between 2.0 and 2.5 degrees.
  • A number of skiers, myself included, were most stable at close to or under 1.2 degrees.
  • One skier was most stable at 1.6 degrees.
  • One skier appeared to be relatively insensitive to ramp angle until it was above 2.8 degrees.
  • After training, most skiers were sensitive to changes of 0.1 degrees.
  • No skier tested so far was stable over 2.8 degrees.
  • Adding NABOSO insoles further reduced the ramp angle.

I tested most stable at 1.2 degrees; 2.1 degrees less than my existing boot board ramp angle. In order to reduce the boot board ramp angle to 1.2 degrees, I had to raise the toe end of my boot board 9 mm and lower the heel 2 mm for a total reduction of 11 mm.

First On Snow Impressions

Walking in my ski boots with the corrected boot board ramp angle immediately felt different. But the huge impact didn’t come until I started moving over the surface of the snow on my skis. Then the whole world seemed to change. I had a huge deja-vu moment; one that took me back to the solid, stable feeling I had under my feet in my first low-cut leather plastic soled ski boots. It was then that I realized that it was the jacked up heels of my first all plastic, rigid shell ski boots 45 years ago that had destroyed my balance and confidence on skis. This is a big miss for the ski industry, one that should have been caught by those who promote themselves as the experts in skiing, but wasn’t. This miss has huge implications for skiers at every level and ability all the way up to the World Cup. A skier, but especially a racer with a sub-optimal ramp angle will revert to an unstable weight on the heels, back seat Defensive Stance in which the skier is incapable of recruiting the enormous power of the glutes and optimal sensorimotor processes.

First generation device in action. Ratchet socket wrenches raise the ramp by turning bolts set into T-Nuts on each end.


Digital SmartTool electronic level accurate to 2 decimal places


Fourth Generation Stance Ramp assessment prototype. Two x two wood stiffening elements added to the platform.

The skiing of those whose ramp angle has been optimized is elevated to a whole new level provoking immediate comments like the difference is ‘night and day‘. After my transformation, I now believe that until ramp angle is optimized, everything else is irrelevant and that no amount of footbeds, orthotics, cants, alignment or custom fitting can overcome the adverse affect of sub-optimal ramp.

MEMO TO OLYMPIC ALPINE RACERS: PLEASE READ THEN FIX YOUR BOOTS

TONGUE TIED – https://wp.me/p3vZhu-uw

TONGUE SURGERY – https://wp.me/p3vZhu-w3

CLARIFICATION OF OBSTRUCTION TO FLEXION – https://wp.me/p3vZhu-fF

MOVEMENT OF THE SHANK IN THE SHAFT – https://wp.me/p3vZhu-u3

GETTING SHAFTED BY THE (SKI BOOT) SHAFT – https://wp.me/p3vZhu-tr