SNOWMASS VILLAGE --Leonardo da Vinci had the right idea. He believed the human foot to be an engineering and anatomic marvel. He had good reason. This marvel consists of 26 bones, 33 joints, 107 ligaments and 19 muscles. Added together the 52 bones in your feet comprise almost a quarter of all the bones in the body. When something goes wrong, you will know it. Foot problems are not life-threatening, but rather threaten your lifestyle. Your ability to walk, exercise and participate in sports can be severely compromised when you have a painful foot disorder. Imagine jamming a sore foot into a ski boot.
Skiing is very demanding on your feet. Nothing we wear is quite as unnatural as a ski boot. There are tremendous forces that are placed on the feet, usually in the order of two to three times the body's weight. Many problems can occur, especially in the muscles, tendons and ligaments along with the many bones in the foot.
Modern ski boots are much better than just 10 years ago. Better plastics, warmer liners, anatomically shaped shell to fit a variety of foot shapes, women's boots and better buckling systems have made buying new boots better. Still buying new boots is time consuming and tedious. After buying boots the work begins to achieve the perfect fit. Hundreds of thousands of skiers, most of who could instantly ski better, continue to be hobbled either by bowlegged stances, which makes them catch outside edges or knock-kneed stances, which make it difficult to release inside edges.
There are several solutions to maintaining healthy feet and increasing skiing performance. Properly fitted boots include custom insoles (foot-beds), proper cuff alignment and being evaluated to see if you may need canting.
A custom insole mirrors the image of your foot and makes the ski boot truly yours. An imprint of the bottom of your foot is taken using heated plastic or a computer-generated scan. All skiers should use custom insoles in their boots. Insoles not only support your foot in a neutral position, eliminating cramping, heel slip and toe pressure and they also help you ride a more efficient ski. A good pair of custom-fit insoles can cost up to $200, but are priceless when it comes to skiing comfort. Thousands ski better since they've had their equipment adjusted to accommodate the bio-mechanical alignment of their legs. Unfortunately, stance balancing, the blending of anatomy and gear, is a complex, time-consuming and a somewhat controversial process, most commonly involving the installation of cants (plastic wedges) beneath the binding to coax the body into alignment. Boot technicians believe that starting with the right boot may eliminate or lessen the need for cants.
Cuff alignment systems help a bit, but some boots are naturally better suited for skiers with knock-kneed stances, others for skiers with bowed legs. Three out of four skiers would benefit from realignment.
For many people, more so than buying the latest and greatest new shaped ski, stance alignment can be the most beneficial performance enhancing technology has to offer. The foot-bed is a gigantic step toward precise alignment, however, some sort of canting is often the only way to fully align the skeletal structure and place the body into its optimal skiing position. The results often include less effort needed to control the skis, less strain on joints and muscles, as well as drastic improvements in edging, carving and turning ability.
Where the canting devices are placed is where there seems to be a difference of opinion from one fitter to the next. Some fitters shave the boots. Others will add a shim to the bottom of your boots. Some recommend putting a shim under the binding, yet others are using wedges inside the boot under the foot-bed. This last method is very controversial and I personally don't agree with it and do not recommend having this done. Check with a podiatrist before you have your boots worked on if you're not sure which method is best for you.
Getting that perfect fit takes more than just buying new boots. Skiing these days, you need a near perfect connection to ride those edges and control your turn shape from one side to the other. SHOP SMALL. See you next run.
Don Jewkes is a 36-year certified PSIA-RM level 3 Teaching Professional and local resident. Support your local independent retailers and restaurants.