Ski Boots – dispelling some myths

Ski Boots – dispelling some myths.

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Ski boots can be the key to success, or the bane of your life. Every pupil I have ever had, was initially “over-booted”. In every case, the first change that made a really lasting difference to their skiing was changing either how their ski boots were fastened, or even changing their ski boots.

Like every other aspect of skiing, ski boots are part of the industry. Selling ski boots is a money earner. Nothing wrong with that, except that there will always be a strong temptation for the sellers to want to “up-sell” their customers to a more expensive ski boot.

But be wary, be very wary, because ski boots are surrounded in myths, and they are likely to entrap you. For the vast majority of skiers the belief is that ski boots needs-must be very tight and quite possibly painful. This is wrong.

It is undeniable that ski racers need very strong, very stiff, very inflexible, highly adjustable ski boots. But that is because they are the Lewis Hamiltons of the ski world. Hamilton’s car has to be extremely specialised, so much so that for you and I it would be undriveable.

It’s the same with ski boots. I spent a happy few days some years ago skiing with the Slalom World Champion’s father. He had borrowed a pair of Tom’s ski boots, and sorely wished he hadn’t. They crippled him, and his skiing suffered as a result.

The type and level of ski boot needs to be selected with respect to the forces that it is likely to face. If you weigh 110 kilos, and you are going to descend a World Cup downhill run at 120 k.p.h., your boots will need to be incredibly stiff, or they will not support you and you will not be able to control your skis as you need.

But we are not in that situation; our speeds are quite low, we are not as muscular as down-hillers, the forces we will generate are tiny by comparison. So we do not need to pay the painful price of wearing really stiff, hard boots. Indeed ski boots designed for levels of skiing above yours will impede your progress.

MYTH # 1.- Ski boots have to be very stiff.

No they don’t. You need them to hold your ankles and lower leg firmly, so that if you lean your leg to one side or the other you will immediately transfer that force to the ski. But no more than that.

The problem that arises is that if your boot is stiffer than you need, then it will probably not flex forward easily. Perhaps not at all. For early intermediate skiers this initially gives a feeling of security – you feel as though the ski boot is supporting you. It probably is, but regrettably it will support you in a posture which will forever stop you getting any better as skiing. It will “sit you back”.

So the first counter to ski boot myths is that you need to have a boot which easily enables you to flex you ankle forwards so that your shin can form a forward-leaning angle, and you can sink down somewhat. Without this, you will never progress. You might find a way down plenty of slopes but it will be a pretty ugly process and not secure and safe.

MYTH # 2 – Ski boots must be tight.

This also is not true. Of course you do not want them like sloppy wellies, but the idea that they must be so tight that your heel must not lift off the sole of the boot, is completely wrong.

If your ski boot allows you to flex your shin forward, then it is absolutely ok for your heel to lift slightly. It is more comfortable, and you will never ski well if your feet are in pain, and it will facilitate the kind of “movements in motion” so beloved of Franz Klammer’s technical adviser John Shedden.

So rule number 2 – have a pair of ski boots that allow you a little bit of wiggle room. You don’t have your day to day shoes incredibly tight, and you do not need your ski boots to be painfully constricting either.

MYTH # 3 – The more “top end” the ski boot is, the better it will help you to ski.

No it won’t. It might look pretty “flash”, but all ski boots, like all skis are designed with a specific sort, or level, of skiing in mind. If you are not a fast, aggressive, powerfully athletic off-piste free-ride heroine, don’t buy a pair of boots designed for her because they won’t work for you. To make them work you will need to ski like she does.

Top end ski boots have loads of fancy adjustment mechanisms and buckles and straps and all the other sexy accoutrements. They look brilliant and in the restaurant and anyone who notices you ( very few and they don’t care about you ) may think “Wow, I bet he’s good”. But unless you are, you might not want to be in their line of vision when you venture out again.

But look how simple the boot below is by comparison, and yet it is designed for ski mountaineering in the back country.  They will be light, they have to be comfortable and they are relatively simple.

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Shops make good money out of the myth that the more you pay the better the boot will be. In some ways they may be right, but is it better for you ? Possibly not.

You don’t need “bells and whistles”, all you need is a boot that helps your ankle to not flop-around side to side, but does allow your ankle and shin to flex forward. If you are an intermediate or advanced skier and you do this, it is highly unlikely that you will ever be in a situation where you feel the boot is letting you down.

MYTH # 4 – Ski boots are necessarily uncomfortable.

The simple counter to this is that they do not need to be, and are much better for your skiing if they are not. Get a comfortable pair. If your feet hurt you will not learn anything new and will not improve your skiing.

A question now arises – how might you give yourself some feedback on what I have written here, in order to prove that it works?  If you somewhat loosen your boots, and the “power strap” on the front ( and if that isn’t a marketing department name I’d like to know what is ), then you may well feel initially that it feels less secure.  It won’t be, but it might feel so.

You need to experiment, and there’s some stuff on successful experimentation here  It really is worth your while to work on this if you really want to improve, as well as to have comfy feet.

There is some very sensible stuff on how to avoid pain in the feet, and be more likely to get the right boot for you, here

FINALLY – THE MOST IMPORTANT RULE OF ALL!

Come on, you must know this one! If your ski boots do not effectively colour co-ordinate your ski clothes and your skis, you are doomed and you will be laughed at by the fashion police in the micro brewery in Chamonix.

The colour is easily the most important issue. Mine are yellow, like the stripe down my back.

One thought on “Ski Boots – dispelling some myths

  1. carolanne

    How true, and how I can empathise.

    I started skiing fairly late in life and in the early days, when it was completely new, I thought my boots were the bees’ knees. Stiff, tight, and I felt thoroughly secure. Then I got a bit better (under Bobski’s guidance!) and, although I wasn’t aware, subtle changes were taking place with the boots. My ankle bones began to hurt and bruise and I always had to put a load of padding on each.

    The boots always felt loose and (despite Bobski’s exhortations) I tightened them up so much that I still get occasional twinges along my inner foot bones. I found (Bobski’s aide memoire) of pressing the beetle and grape to change direction almost intolerable.

    My skiing got progressively worse and, in addition to other factors, I believe ill-fitting boots contributed to an accident I had at Le Tour, near Chamonix when I dislocated my shoulder and had to be helicoptered off the slopes. And I also believe they contributed to my loss of confidence and giving up downhill (which I had actually enjoyed).

    Following the accident, I went to a boot ‘specialist’ in Cham who took one look at my boots and pronounced then ‘far too big, darling’. I didn’t want to buy new ones at that point and decided to wait till the following season.

    It was then that a friend, who was an experienced skier, let me try her outdated ‘rear entry’ boots and they were great. I subsequently bought them off her for a song and things did seem better.

    Unfortunately, however, the rot had set in: my lost confidence never returned and I got progressively scared on the slopes. A shame, because technically, thanks to Bobski’s guidance, I knew I was as good as a lot of the guys and gals out there.

    I’ve now packed in the downhill and am giving cross country a go. Maybe it wasn’t the boots that were the actual cause of my downhill skiing going progressively downhill, but they sure did play a part!!

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