The boot story: fit, alignment, orthotics
Unlike skis, which have undergone such radical changes in the past few years that they now just barely resemble the ones you grew up with, ski boots look, feel and perform much as they have for years. And what was true of boots then still holds true now.
“The orthotic is the most important part of skiing,” said Tyler Williams of the Surefoot shop in Aspen, a professional free skier and former winner of the 24 Hours of Aspen.
Orthotics, or custom-milled footbeds, increase performance and comfort by placing the foot on a bed that is molded to the foot’s contours. This helps to eliminate pressure points and support parts of the foot, such as the arch and instep, that oftentimes do not get the support they need with standard footbeds. Also, with more of the foot in direct contact with the beds, response time is minimized, leading to sharper performance on the slopes.
Beyond the continued popularity of orthotics, the major changes this year in ski boots can be found in the materials and construction. System fits Most manufacturers these days are using a variation on a system variously called “exo-power,” “endo-frame,” “the cockpit” or “bi-injection.” Essentially what these systems entail is wrapping the foot in a very rigid frame of hard plastic to support the heel cuff and the ankle, and then constructing the bulk of the boot from softer, more pliable plastic. The result is that boots have become lighter and more responsive without sacrificing support.
Boot liners, while remaining fundamentally the same, are designed to be more comfortable than in years past, and a number of bootmakers have turned to using “thermoldable” liners, which are heated up and then shaped to fit an individual’s foot. In addition, most companies have improved their buckles and now use high-quality aluminum for the buckles on their high-end boots.
The other major differences in the boot market for 1999-2000 come, in part, in the sheer number of boots being offered.
“There are more new launches this year than we’ve seen before,” said Matt Ross of Surefoot. “It’s all boots designed for new skis.”
While this may sound sensible, Ross cautioned that many of the new issues are little more than marketing ploys. Many bootmakers now offer a complete line of what they call “carving boots” designed to work in tandem with today’s carving skis.
These boots can be a little lower than standard boots and are slightly stiffer laterally, but there is essentially “no real difference” between them and other boots, according to Ross. In that vein, Rossignol now has a line of “freeride” boots and Salomon offers ” X-scream” boots to tap into the current free-skiing craze, although the boots themselves are very similar to previous models.
One change that does seem destined to impact boot performance, however, is that a number of manufacturers have started to incorporate lifts into their high-end boots. Among these companies, Salomon, Tecnica and Nordica, for example, use about four millimeters of lift in their boots to pitch the leg at a more aggressive angle and increase leverage while turning.
But regardless of the plastics involved or the clever names assigned, skiers can still get more out of their boots by taking them to a shop to be aligned correctly.
“Aligning your boots is extremely important,” said Ross. “Bad alignment can make you uncomfortable and ruin the skiing experience.” Alignment process The three-step alignment process begins with a neutralizing orthotic that puts the foot in a neutral position while it is determined what needs to be adjusted. The cuff of the boot is then lined, if necessary, to accommodate the lower leg and set the leg at the optimal angle. In the final step, the relationship of the knee to the foot is checked and then canted, if that is what is called for, to put the body in a more comfortable position to make the entire skiing experience more enjoyable.
Because a comfortable boot, particularly one with a new set of orthotics, is essential to having a good day on the slopes.
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