Barriers to better skiing
By Brad Nelson
Farmers Insurance runs a series of ads around the theme of “we know a thing or two because we’ve seen a thing or two”. That theme can apply to the vocations of many people and it certainly applies to long time bootfitters. By the time a bootfitter has spent a bunch of years fitting boots two things have happened to turn a competent bootfitter into an exceptional bootfitter. The first is that they’ve struggled through a mess of fitting problems and learned from them all. The second is that they’ve started to sense a pattern with clients that are struggling with their skiing. That pattern is what this article is about; barriers to better skiing.
Barrier #1 is the wrong ski boots
To understand this, it’s helpful to discuss some skiing history. Ski design changed to “shape” skis in the mid 90’s. During those first years of change the one thing that wasn’t evident at the time is that the change in skis would eventually lead to a change in teaching formats and then boot design. The other thing that changed in boots were advancements in plastic materials, plastic molding and boot manufacturing techniques.
Compared to boots from even 5-10 years ago boots today are built in different widths, weights, flexes and cuff angles. All of which makes the boots we have today the proper “tool” to make today’s skis ski the way they were designed.
Two of the worst “wrongs” with boots that some skiers use today are boots that are too stiff and cuffs that lean too far forward. To make todays skis ski the way they were designed the skier needs to ski with a centered stance with their weight distributed evenly between the ball and the heel of the foot. They also need to be able to flex the boot (at the ankle) without unweighting their heels. It is not an exaggeration to say that many of the skiers that struggle with their skiing are unable to do this. While most of the boots being sold today have more vertical cuffs, some are still guilty of being too stiff.
The second barrier is poor foot support inside the boot
The principle designs of a ski boot are to support the skier and to transmit energy from the skier to the ski. If the foot can move around inside the boot it is not going to be able to transmit energy to the ski effectively. Trying to ski properly with poor foot support is like trying to push a rope uphill…it’s not going to happen.
Feet are as unique to an individual as their fingerprints; there are no two feet that are the same. The inserts that come inside boots are not designed to support the foot they are designed to accommodate the foot. To support the foot properly in a boot the skier needs to, at a minimum, replace the stock insert with a more supportive off-the-shelf insert or preferably, invest in a custom orthotic that perfectly supports the foot and takes all the sloppiness out of the boot. Skiing with a custom orthotic becomes intuitive; you think turn….and you’re turning.
The last barrier is poor alignment (canting)
At our store we did a test at the start of the season to check skier’s alignment. Before the season got too hectic to continue with the test, we had tested the alignment of 350 skiers. 65% of the skiers we tested were either knock-kneed or bow-legged to the point where they would not have been able to make the movement that an instructor might have asked them to do.
The only way to glide straight on a ski is to have it flat on the snow. For 35% of the population (the skiers whose knees were directly above the center of the boot in the above experiment) their natural comfortable stance puts them in a perfectly aligned position. These skiers have full range of motion to the right and the left; they are capable of rolling their skis to either edge.
To glide on a flat ski, knock-kneed skiers need to move their knees out, and bow-legged skiers need to move their knees in. The problem with that is that these skiers have used up their outward or inward range of motion just getting to flat. Some of these skiers literally have no more range of motion to get their skis on edge. Other skiers, with less severe alignment issues are at the very least, compromised in their ability to get their skis edged as easily as they should.
Experience has taught me that every skier that struggles to improve their skiing is being held back by at least one of the 3 barriers described above. Custom fitting the boot to the skier is the process of eliminating those barriers.