Business Monday: Foot Foundation helps customers find alignment from the ground up

Founder Eric Ward takes unique, one-foot-at-a-time approach to custom insoles

Foot Foundation’s Eric Ward hides his products in plain sight: Anyone with feet could be wearing his 3D-printed insoles in their shoes, and the only telltale sign might be an extra pep in their step.

“I sell a product that’s invisible, … and it solves a problem most people don’t even know that they have,” said Ward, who founded and owns the business currently located in Gondola Plaza.

Ward and what he jokingly calls “a crack team of two stunt doubles” specialize in custom footbeds designed to address excessive pronation and supination (inward and outward rotation of the foot). The footbeds help restore a more neutral, comfortable position based not on how feet “should” be but how they naturally are.

“The ripple effect is really profound in both directions,” Ward said. “If you have a huge problem, the opportunity for improvement is massive. If you don’t have a huge problem, the opportunity for success is massive.”

That’s because there are “huge correlations and huge connectivity” between the feet and the rest of the body, according to Ward. Knee pain, tight hips or an aching back can have as much to do with the foot as with anything else.

“It’s kind of a harmony of the bones, the brain and the muscles and how they work together.” he said.

Ward’s patented foot assessment method takes about 15 minutes and measures pronation in degrees; the goal is to find the foot’s neutral state — the point at which it isn’t over-rotating inward or outward — and create a footbed that accommodates it while still allowing for a degree or two of natural pronation for flexibility and shock absorption.

Ward said he can produce footbeds within about 24 hours using a 3D printer, which also allows him to make multiple identical pairs of insoles.

The Foot Foundation will remain in Gondola Plaza through the end of the ski season before the business goes mobile. Aspen Skiing Co. offered Ward the space on a short-term basis, which he considers a “once in a lifetime” opportunity; he doesn’t expect that the business will return to that location “unless some minor miracle happens,” he said.

Though the shop’s tenure at the base of Aspen Mountain may be short-lived, Foot Foundation is a decades-long enterprise with deep roots in the valley.

The business is Ward’s “millennium baby,” born in 2000 from an idea that there could be a different approach to footbeds — one that diverged from the conventional wisdom that “you have to stand on two feet and look at where people’s knees are,” he said.

While studying biomechanics and learning the trade from industry pros, he began to suspect that the two-foot model didn’t apply much outside of the controlled environment.

“It dawned on me that, ‘Hey, you know what, whenever I’m doing what I’m doing, I’m always on one foot,” Ward said. “That was kind of the epiphany.”

Skiing is chief among those one-footed applications, Ward said: He has nearly 30 years of work as a ski instructor and coach under his belt and knows from experience that alpine athletes rarely place equal pressure on both feet at the same time. The same goes for walking, running, cycling — “every sport you can think of minus swimming” could be improved with the right insole, Ward claims.

But the idea didn’t land with some of the longtime orthopedic professionals he trained with.

“I was just told, ‘Just follow the procedures and everything will be OK. Don’t ask questions and don’t cause problems,'” Ward said. “Eventually I came to the conclusion that two-footed stuff doesn’t really give us much data. … We had to go in a different direction.”

Ward’s approach to footbeds also rejects the long-held notion that the arch of the foot needs support in order to prevent pronation.

“There’s really the big difference from what we do and what everyone else does, because we don’t believe in arch support,” Ward said. “In fact, we believe that arches are self-supporting structures.”

Ward’s one-foot modeling and 3D printing system meets customers’ feet where they stand, so to speak: rather than try to forcibly correct the shape and placement of the foot, The Foot Foundation’s products enable the body to find balance, alignment and comfort with what’s already there.

“We’re not gurus — we are the pit crew,” Ward said.

“You don’t need someone to tell you how to manifest some kind of perfection in your life. You need someone to help you get the best out of your feet.”