Hi - Had this posted over in the Boot Guys forum, received zero replies, probably because it's not answerable in straightforward terms, more 1/2 rant and 1/2 seeking informed POV about why boots are designed the way they are, and what we should do about its impact on our skiing. So here's a modified, and far far longer version:
The Philosophical Side:
Background: I face either a philosophical or political problem about my boots. Currently have 26.5 Krypton Crosses. 7 mm between heel and shell, so very snug fit. Their 3-piece design has improved my skiing markedly in terrain I frequent say 2/3 of the time: trees, softer snow, and natural features. Groomed is close to a wash, slight improvement. Carving hard is a slight loss. On all terrain, win or lose, I can feel the effect of the 3 piece and low hinge. So between my experience and the number of pros who wear these for freestyle/freeride, I believe there is a significant difference in the biomechanics of a 3 piece vs. a 2 piece that will affect skiing. I know some of you will argue otherwise, but for heuristic purposes, I'm going to postulate that 3 piece shells facilitate skiing irregular terrain and/or soft snow, while 2 piece designs facilitate carving ice and hardpack. All good so far.
Problem: My Crosses are only a marginal fit even with ID's and heroic expert fitter effort. My fitter began our relationship by pointing out that my foot was at ragged limit of what would work for a 26.5 Dalbello (learned among other things that last proportions change in a non-linear fashion, it's not just that a "98" refers to a particular length - typically 27.5 - but that the heel to forefoot relations aren't the same in a 26 as a 27, etc.) Next length up was more feasible in front, way too big in back. By going very short, my Crosses fit at the rear where they need to, but are a pain (literally) in front. My toes are actually short, in anthropometric terms, but there's no room anyway, and the metatarsal region (98 last) is silly narrow for my foot.
Upshot: Many grinds and a few stretches later, the boots are decently comfortable if I only ski in them a day or two in a row. After a week, I'm limping even in street shoes. OTOH, they are very solid at transmitting force laterally, and the flex pattern is perfect once you get used to it. I've made the sacrifice (once again) of comfort for desired performance. Like many of you.
So my initial question is which damages our skiing more, having a boot that is less comfortable while we ski, but performs well, or having a boot that's comfy, but doesn't perform adequately? And for now, let's hold off on the inevitable "you should be able to have both, you just need to try xxx." Let's imagine there are truly only these two choices. To me, not just a "It's your call, go for what's most important to you" question. That's simple truth. But what should a decent skier in 2012 should be aiming for with a boot?
My second question reverts to xxxx: Can particular models of 2 piece shells get around some of their deficiencies (for me, maybe not to you) in irregular terrain? All 2-piece shells are basically the same (as are cabrios), but perhaps there's a particular model that has a flex pattern or lower hinge that gets at the some of the issues (for me).
The Political Economic Rant:
My rant (since this is a discussion forum) is the larger, why have we arrived here? Why do we need to incessantly seek boots that better balance comfort and performance? Why do we advise newbies here that boots can't fit like street shoes, so suck it up if you want performance? Those "cushy" boots are for wusses and beginners.
Seems obvious, maybe, it's the athletic ethos: No pain no gain. Discomfort = the $ of excellence. Just do it. But is any of that necessarily true? Sports medicine shot down the "no pain no gain" coaches credo - along with rubber suits for August football drills - years ago. It's no longer an automatic that a sign of a good workout is muscle soreness. NSAIDs probably cause heart disease, so maybe we shouldn't dose ourselves with them every time we go do a sport. So why do we assume we need "snug" boots that have to be dialed in every season to readjust those pressure points? How many of you still unbuckle on the lift as the price of a good run? And sigh in pleasure and relief as you pull off your boots at the end of the day?
I'd argue that our idea of what a boot should be is tied in with conservative RD that is chiefly aimed at marketing and profits rather than innovation. Now we don't tolerate skis that are crazy good at two things but mediocre at a third, equally important, mission. We go buy new ones. And the ski makers respond by remarkable changes in ski technology over the past decade.
Boots are another story, aren't they? Yes, there's been incremental evolution. But consider what today's boots share with my original Langes, the pebbly black ones, cut like a leather boot, those rock hard liners full of strawberry jam that leaked onto your socks once they cracked:
Still use the same materials, basically. It's not like the basalt or carbon or exotic metal revolution in skis. Same plastic, far as I know (yeah, I realize there's PU and prebax, so is that as dramatic a difference as metal vs. carbon? And liners that these days are closed cell thermo-sensitive foam, which was around shortly after the strawberry jam was. My mattress pad is made of similar stuff, just less viscous, and it costs a touch less.
Boots still use the same design, also. Yep, the top's gotten taller from my Langes, and we like power straps now. But guess what, still that hinge point that bears no relationship to human anatomy, metal or plastic buckles that pull across a strap or piece of metal until they stress fracture. These days we make a big deal over small insanely cheap machine screws that are renamed "micro-adjusters." We get all excited about small changes in the density or thickness of the plastic around areas that boots hurt in most people. We still, after all-mountain skis that literally are good to superb everywhere you can ski, have to choose between a boot design that allows us to transmit energy to the ski and a design that's easy to get on and off our foot. (No Dodge photos allowed; check back when racers are actually winning in them and average people are actually paying for them.)
Meanwhile in skis we're having threads about cleats and boot hulls and how much rocker is correct for which kind of skiing, and whether reverse/reverse works outside powder, and look, racing skis have early rise!
In boots, we're trying to get an approximate fit and then trudging off to the fitter for grinds and blows and "dialing-in" that may be analogous to tuning a ski, but not to choosing a ski. Actually it's more analogous to a woman trying to find a pair of heels she can actually walk in for more than a block, and being excited when they only hurt after three hours of use.
Now you may come back with, ah, but rear entry didn't work in hindsight, and Scott truly sucked, and there's the new vaccum tech, and there's always the Dodge. So boots are perfected. You have all these choices. They're about as good as they can be for most people. You just have mutant feet.
Really? You'd prefer to keep your boots on after a day of hard skiing, maybe pad around the kitchen in them? Or are you really saying that the discomfort is manageable, minor, compared to other boots you've owned? Or are you saying that your feet are statistically normal and everyone who buys new boots before theirs wear out have statistically deviant feet?
More specifically, it would be interesting to address these questions:
1) Why do ski boots have basically symmetrical, ovoid toe boxes that bear no relationship to human forefoot anatomy? My speculation is because ski boots are so foundationally conservative that they are modeled after street shoe aesthetics from the 1920's.
2) Why do most ski boots have posterior shell designs that, again, have little resemblance to the foot and ankle inside them? Why do Jim and Phil need to have a (probably wonderful) process that collapses the heel around their customer's feet less than the forefoot? Yes, it's the thickness of the plastic and limitations of the vacuum system. So back to pads here and there. OK, all good, but why have thick plastic there at all? Skis in 2011 don't achieve greater stiffness by being thicker. That was 1970. Now we look for exotic materials, and innovative engineering. My speculation is that again, assumptions about ski boots are still based on leather hiking boots from a hundred years ago. Anyone here old enough to have owned lace up ski boots? If you recall, thicker leather lasted longer before it lost its stiffness.
We talk about how bad the old days were, but as with internal combustion engines or batteries, it's just the same technology, over and over. Replace leather with plastic, and we're off on another century of small profit. I speculate that this is less about the cost of innovative materials per se than corporate inertia over an item that does not lead to large profit margins anyway. If we buy what they give us, why change what that is? Corporate competition is over marketing details that will attract our attention, not design or structural innovation.
3) Why do boot makers use lasts that do not, on average, reflect typical populational averages? Here, I'll go with anthropometric data again. Most people in 2012, yes even in Italy, do not have wide heels and narrow forefeet. Or put another way, all human feet get substantially wider in front. Some of us have different ratios of width in front to narrowness in back, but even if you have "meaty" heels or "narrow" forefeet, your feet are a rhomboid with a longer front. My speculation is that all boots are based on European boot lasts out of the last century that themselves reflected shoe fashion more than anatomy. As with women's heels, or traditional running shoes, we buy what we are conditioned to accept as appropriate, rather than what actually has functional value. (You could make an argument that heels at least affect sexual selection fitness; hard to make that argument for ski boots.)
Meanwhile since 1900, there's been this thing called "secular trend." People have gained about 4" of height, and corresponding skeletal breadth. Hands and feet are bigger. But not in a linear scale. As feet get bigger (longer), they do not scale just as wide, they get wider than predicted by the length. That's called allometric change, and it's because feet reflect the loads placed on them by body weight and muscular forces. Those forces increase mostly as a cubic function, while the load bearing attributes of the foot change as its cross sectional surface area, a squared function. So SA has to increase disproportionately to keep up with weight and force.
Moreover, if you grow up American, you grow up in flip flops or sneakers. Ratios of forefoot width to heels have changed even more over here. Go check out photos of indigenous tribes who have never worn shoes. Or spend some time in Hawaii, where everyone pretty much wears flip flops all day every day. Such feet are very wide, and keep getting wider over time. The ends of these folks toes do not converge; they often cover more space than their metatarsals.
And I am advised by my wife and her female friends that women's feet get noticeably wider after a few pregnancies. That's an extra 20-40 lbs for 9 months, of which the average woman keeps 13 per pregnancy. So increasing width makes sense from the prospective of weight versus surface area. It also seems to hold up empirically; I've done some measurements on obese individuals, who report the same phenomenon. Likely to be age related, too, in societies where we add about 12 lbs per decade.
Yet I notice no recognition of any of this, beyond advertising for "radical" new fits that allow a bit more width around the 5th metatarsal. Apparently for the ski boot industry, it's still 1925 Bavaria.
So my conclusion: Boots are in no way shape or form evolving like skis are, and this reflects profit motives on the part of boot makers, who realized long ago that we will continue to buy antiquated designs because we're a largely captive and well-conditioned market. Retailers, well, there's an intrinsic conflict of interest in demanding better products, no? The more hurting feet or sloppy edge response, the more new stock moves off the shelf.
Edited by beyond - 10/14/11 at 10:29am