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The Fall Line

By Cathy Margiotta
Posted on 9/22/2017 3:09 PM

Boots are the most important piece of gear for a skier. We can ski on any ski—we may not like them, but we can get down a hill ok. You can't, however, ski while wearing just any boot. I know from personal experience because I have this unhappy story about having to use rental boots on one trip.

Boots that are too big or too small create a nightmare scenario for the skier. I also have much personal experience with this. I can't ski on cramped feet—nor when my feet are sliding around inside the shell because the boot is too big.

A) The first part of boot fitting is to know that your boot must be compatible with the length and width of your foot. Some boot makers favor wide feet; others narrow. I ski on Technica because I can get a boot with a 94 or 97 mm width. Nordica, on the other hand, makes women's boots only as narrow as 98 or 100 mm so I avoid them like the plague.

A responsible boot fitter takes measurements and knows what brands are appropriate for your feet. And in the above case, that boot fitter would never even have me try on a Nordica.

This is basic shoe buying—and yet sometimes we get talked into boots that are incompatible with our foot size. Do your homework on a boot maker's website before you buy. And if some irresponsible fitter says it's ok, it's not.

B) Your average skier usually appreciates how bunions and hammer toes and callouses etc affect boot fit. If you have them, be honest with the boot fitter. There are all sorts of things they can do to help the boot fit comfortably. But you must make them aware of your foot problems before you sign on to buy.

C) There are six points of contact to check for:

     1. Your toes have to be able to touch the shell above them. Curl your toes up. If they don't touch the shell, the volume of the boot near the toes is probably too big.

     2. The left and right sides of your heel have to be embraced by the shell.

     3. The bottom of the heel has to sit on the foot bed. Women, FYI, are especially prone to getting a boot where the cuff holds their heels off the foot bed. This is totally bad.

     4. The hinge of your ankle has to match the hinge of the boot.

     5. Each arch has to be supported by that part of the foot bed.

There's a paradox at work here: if your foot contacts all the above points, it will feel very snug. Some people think that this snugness means the boot will hurt when they ski, or that it's too tight and your feet will get cold. In reality, that snugness holds the foot in place quite well. It keeps the foot from moving around inside the boot, keeps the muscles from getting cramped, and promotes good circulation.

D) Women are often sold heel lifts. The woman tells a less-than-reputable boot fitter that she is always in the back seat when she skis. The less-than-reputable boot fitter then sells you inserts for $40. Reality: heel lifts make back seat skiing worse not better. Ask me why next time you catch up with me at a club meeting and I'll show you.

E) There's one more thing about boot fitting that is often overlooked. That's your skeletal alignment. To put it simply, if you are bowlegged or knock-kneed, you will ski much better if you neutralize these imperfections. These imperfections are also called pronation and supination. I discovered the hard way that my right foot pronates severely—I discovered it through a stress fracture while trying to train for a marathon decades ago. It was so bad I was basically running on the inside of my right ankle, rather than the sole of my foot. Who knew? Apparently not me until it hurt like the dickens.

In a perfect skeletal alignment, your knee is parked between your second and third toes when you stand up straight. When you bend your knees, your knees travel back and forth over that position. On the other hand, if we are bowlegged or knock-kneed, the knee travels to the inside or outside of the foot.

Why does this have a negative impact on our skiing? At some point there will be an entire blog devoted to this, but here's the simplest explanation:

When we ski, we want our knees to track in two parallel, non-intersecting planes. If just one knee is out of alignment, you will almost never be able to achieve this, no matter how hard you try. No matter how many lessons you take. No matter how many pairs of skis you buy. because the ones you have don't work well. No matter how many tips you get from me or Leonard Credeur or Jim Colbert. Having two knees each doing their own thing as you ski compromises your sense of balance and safety and your technical expertise.

It's analogous to having your car out of alignment, except in this case, the wear and tear is on your body, not on your tires, which are a lot easier to replace.

You've heard all these things before. I want to confirm just how important it is to know your feet before you spend hundreds of dollars on a boot that can't be returned.

Pronation and supination require a custom-made orthotic. Only the best boot fitters are able to make them correctly for you.

In the market for new boots? I can help you if you have any questions. Ask me by commenting on this blog. I'm happy to help.


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