When is it the ideal time to sort out your boots and get more knowledgeable on the mechanics related to your ski boots? Certainly at the beginning of the season, you will need to “work” your foot back into the boot, very much like when you’re starting from scratch with a new boot. Then, once you get to mid season, it is normal to find the boot liner “packing out” which usually means a visit to your favorite boot shop for a “tweak.” Then, toward the end of the season, when the weather warms up, you will likely need to consider a “refit” because now your feet are lean and mean and you can identify every nook and cranny in there and you can really tell what kind of a fit you should have.
There probably isn’t an ideal time but a visit or two a year to the boot fitter is not out of the ordinary and very important if you want to optimize your skiing experience; that’s how important a good fit is!
How much will it cost me for a good pair of boots is a question I am often asked? My answer is always the same: that depends. You can find satisfactory boots these days sub $500 and you can opt for the latest and greatest with the potential for a supurb fit at $1,500 plus plus. Along with the purchase of any boot, you should budget $100 - $250 for boot fitting or alignment in there as well. Some shops offer the $99 guaranteed fit which is usually a pretty good deal at the end of the day.
As we age, our feet tend to become more of a maintenance issue as well. Falling arches, ingrown toe nails to reduced circulation to you name it can and probably will afflict, so expect it to take time to get it right down there and try to keep on top of the little changes and you’ll soon be one of those people that say that they’ve got a fit made in heaven!
Ski boots play a huge role in skiing, particularly in relation to the skier’s ability to balance and rebalance. Therefore, any dry land training that is aimed specifically at enhancing the ability to work on your balance in the ski boots is sure to enhance your skiing experience. See Dryland Training on the web site for some ideas.
Ski boots need to meet exacting criteria in order to deliver the proper results. As we all come in various shapes and sizes, hence, so do the ski boots. So, what do you need to look for in the basic boot fit?
· There are two distinct parts to a ski boot, the “shoe” and the “cuff”. Together, they become the ski boot and form distinct angles that we call the boots geometry.
· The “shoe” length and width must be properly determined and most ski shops usually do a satisfactory job in this department but, in some circumstances, they can get this wrong when trying to match the fit of the shoe with the “cuff” to the leg.
· In some instances, an improper fit occurs for a very vain reason; you or your boot fitter wants you to be in a particular popular brand of boot and your foot just can’t be properly accommodated in it and, vanity wins out. Present company is excluded of course!
· Once the shoe fits reasonably well, and, any pressure points identified, a boot fitter will customize the shell and/or the liner to make it comfortable.
· These days the liner is mostly form fitted to accommodate the hard and soft parts of your foot but more and more, people are opting for a custom liner like the Intuition or Comfortable for both fit and comfort and, for good economics as it is much cheaper to replace the liner than buy a new shell and liner.
· Once the basic fit has been attained, most people go out and ski then come back for a tweak or two perhaps to rectify a pressure point if required.
· Now the most important part of the fitting needs to be done and that is to determine the correct angles both fore/aft and laterally.
· The Fore/aft angle is determined by the length of the bones in your leg and for the most part, is predetermined by the boot manufacturer relative to your shoe size. However, the ramp angle under the foot can be micro adjusted to fine tune the forward lean. And, to compensate for any fore foot varus [little toe higher than the big toe or valgus [when the big toe is higher than the little toe, a foot bed may be custom made and placed under the foot inside the liner to accommodate these and other anomalies of the foot.
· Most boots these days come with an adjustable cuff where the rivet on the outside of the boot comes with a cam that allows for adjustment. If your boot doesn’t have this ability to adjust, the boot fitter must take out the rivet and re-drill the hole in the appropriate spot. As most people will need some cuff alignment, you should choose a boot with this feature built right in.
· When you make a cursory observation of the position of the rivets that attach the cuff to the shoe, the inside or medial rivet should be higher up, on the cuff, than the outside rivet. Otherwise, the boot will allow you to rotate inside instead of supporting you laterally when you tip the ski to the inside of the turn.
· When moving the cuff is not enough to allow you to stand flat on the lateral plane in your boots, you may need to have the boots shimmed or shaved to accommodate extreme lateral misalignment, either to the inside [knock kneed] or to the outside, [bow legged.] In my case, I am naturally knock-kneed. To correct this, I have had my boots soles altered/shimmed by 4 degrees, which gives me a zero/zero tilt on the lateral plane.
· The common way the boot fitter measures for this is to mark the center point on your knee and then place a bobbin so that it hangs from that mark down to the center point on your ski boot. A boot fitter will then place shims under the boot until the two points are aligned.
· You need to be completely flat in order to edge properly; no ifs, ands or buts. It is estimated that 4 out of 5 people are naturally mis-aligned and to date, most people simply live with it, not even knowing that this handicap is easily correctible [for about $75 a side.]
· When your car has an alignment issue, you notice it right away by the “shimmy” vibrations or, in slight cases, by the extra wear to the inside or outside of the tires.
· In skiing, alignment is often overlooked because the skier does not realize that their inability to tip to their edges properly without losing their balance is the result of their mis-alignment. They just assume that edging will get easier once they improve their ski technique.
· The reality is that the skier with corrected alignment will never have an issue or be subjecting their joints to uneven long term wear. The moral of the story: get your alignment checked, sooner than later.
Once you have this all dialed in, you are ready to balance in your boots fore and aft and laterally, on the edges of your skis and achieve the same degree of edge angle from both feet. If you have this procedure done to your boots, it is important to take your time and allow your muscles to adapt to the new balancing paradigm. Remember, even though you were misaligned, your body adjusted to keep you upright. Now the muscles need to adapt to the new reality of perfect alignment.
Now that you have your alignment “bang on”, you still need to perfect the skill of balancing on your ski edges so that you don’t need to turn or pivot the ski to change direction, unless you want to, but discover that the ski can do the turning for you! The modern day shaped skis turn by themselves when you tip them on to their edges and hold them there while the ski carves the turn. This “hold” is achieved by co-contracting the muscles in the ankles and feet with the muscles in the lower legs.
Further, when you tip your skis up on edge, you need to “counterbalance” the tipping by moving the body mass in the opposite direction [to the tipping.] Otherwise, the body will rotate in the same direction which makes you flatten the tipped ski and lose the edge.
This counter balancing effort can be practiced and perfected off the slopes and added to muscle memory for the next time you hit the slopes. Perhaps the best time to add this to your training is immediately after a day on the slopes when the skiing movements [or lack of them] are still fresh in your mind. Try putting your ski boots on in front of a mirror and tip the boots on to their edges and counter the tip by moving the body in the other direction. Practice to both sides until it feels natural.
I’ll finish this discussion on boots by asking you to bring your ski poles out as well to this dry land practice. The poles are actually an important component in the “balancing act” so the pole plant movement should be practiced and perfected at the same time. It has been said that an improper pole plant messes up a perfectly good turn and, while you’re skiing, the best way to learn how to do a pole plant is to not plant the poles at all! However, if you practice the right movements of wrist and fore arm in dry land, you can bring a whole new game plan to the slopes.
What is the right pole movement these days? With you arms forward in the ready position, try to perfect a “tap” of the pole to the side instead of the conventional “plant” of the pole. This will allow you to pass by the point where the pole touches the snow very efficiently. Try to time the “tap” with the engagement of the new edges instead of the release of the old edges as we did when we “planted the pole.” So, the old pole plant was a movement of the wrist forward and an actual planting of the pole, the new pole plant is a pole tap brought about by a simple rotary movement of the wrist!
What is “my” correct pole length is a question that I am often asked by people. Conventionally, you can measure your pole as to allow you to make a 90-degree angle between your fore and upper arm while you hold it just under the basket and have the grip on the ground. If you plan to ski moguls a lot, a shorter pole will be more beneficial; a slightly longer one if you tend to do a lot of traversing and need to push and pole.
Now, get out there and do what it takes to enjoy your boots and poles like never before!