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Stiffness of boots related to performance?

post #1 of 48
Thread Starter 
Not sure if this topic should be in the technique or eqiupment section, but how is stiffness of boots related to performance? I see on Peter Keelty's site that they recommend very stiff race-stock boots as the best performers for the best skiers. Well, what if you can't flex the boots? Even though the fit is tight and the boot is super-responsive, aren't you going to be on the back of the boot if it is too stiff for you?

For example, I bought a pair of Salomon X-Wave 10.0's last year (great boot, BTW). Unfortunately, the boot is stiffer than the Tecnica Icon Carbon it replaced. I had trouble flexing it at 150 lbs. When doing slow-speed releases (such as those in Harold Harb's 2nd Expert Skier book) I found that I couldn't pressure the front of the boot adequately to complete the release as it was designed-the turn would come around much more slowly than it should have (I didn't have that problem with the Tecnica). The boot's stiffness is slightly limiting me on steep pitches and challenging conditions-I need to cut it out and soften it. So, how would I be helped by getting an even stiffer race-stock boot? Obviously the fit is superior, but what about flex? Isn't a little guy like me held back by stiff boots? Or is there another school of thought here?
post #2 of 48
Good Post! I am also very interested in hearing what people have to say about this.
post #3 of 48
Not just in forward flex, but all over stiff, my L-10 Langes are very responsive, no slop, all business. As I get older, this is more important.

My only objection .... On very cold days, I get locked into the boot and it takes a hair dryer or 15 minutes warming time to get out of them.
post #4 of 48
A boot that is too stiff is the worst obstacle to good skiing. It can ruin a persons ski life, maybe life period. There is no way to ski properly on a boot that is too stiff.(I could go on forever, having been through it. The memories make my skin crawl) Fortunately even the stiffest boot can be softened fairly easily, but not the other way around.
post #5 of 48

You're discussing the area in which ski equipment selection changes from science to art - if there is ever a science to it. I guess it is important to point out that the ability to flex a boot is not just related to weight, height and strength but also to technique, terrain and personal preference. Another important thing to realize is that boot stiffness in all 360 degrees of movement is important and that boot sole rigidity is incredibly significant.

I guess you could say that side-to-side rigidity is of utmost importance in a high performance ski boot. Rearward flexibility is also very significant. It is through these parts of the boot that you control the edging of the ski and apply pressure to the tail of the ski. However, range of forward motion in the boot is the area that most people consider highest when they think about the stiffness of a boot they might purchase if they consider the other planes of motion at all.

I believe it is in the area of rigid flex in the 180 degrees of flex that wrap from one ankle around the calf to the other ankle where race-stock boots excel. One of my personal problems with mid-entry (or walk featured boots) was that they made me spend alot of energy to pressure the tail of the ski. I find the same problem with many boots that have flex adjustment features or other screw filled holes in the back upper shell of the boot. Those same boots also tend to feel a bit sketchy in lateral flex as well. If you look at the race stock models you will find that all of them lack these features - if they are true race stock models. I'll have to defer to the higher-end more recently experienced boot fitters on this forum to speak up about whether a flex-softened race stock boot is better for a high-performance light weight skier than a boot that is designed to be soft in the first place. I personally believe a race stock boot with a slit or two properly placed in the lower shell of the boot would offer higher performance than a boot designed for the lower end of the market.

Another issue is materials. Race stock and top consumer boots tend to be made of plastics that offer better underfoot feel and energy return than upper mid performance or lower boots.

Lastly, sole stiffness. It is very interesting to see pictures of the soles of worl cup boots. Their fitters do some really wild things to the bottom of the boots with a Dremel tool to make them flex the way the skier likes. My personal experience with sole flex is limited, a bit fledgling and anecdotal. Last season I was skiing for my second season in my second pair of Salomon Course boots (quite similar to the X-Wave except for fit and stiffness). The Course comes with two different boot baords (the part between the liner and shell sole) - one fiber reinforced and very snug fitting, the other fits slightly less snugly and is not fiber reinforced. When I purchased each pair of boots I messed around with the different boot boards in many different ways. The fiber reinforced boards mande the entire boot too stiff and the sole did not transmit much feel at the speeds I typically ski. When I really opened up with them the feel was pretty good and the faster I skied with them the better the feel. The non-reinforced boot baords transmitted more feel and left the boots at a stiffness I like for every day instructing. I used a dremel to cut voids out of the fiber reinforced boot boards and found that softening them in the right places gave them a really good feel stiffness and feel combination at all speeds. In the end I just used the non-reinforced boards. The point here is that your description of the X-Wave parallels my feel of the Course with the too rigid boot boards. Check to see if you are using the grey hard boot board that is screwed into the bottom of the boot. If so, consider replacing it with the black one or the grey elastomer one to see what you get. The elastomer board is found in the 1080 boot. It may be very difficult to get a set of properly sized boot boards from Salomon but try your local shop for them.

I don't know if that monologue qualifies as another school of thought or not but it sure did kill some time for me. I hope I conveyed my point the way I intended. Synopsis: there is value in having a professional boot fitter soften a race-stock boot or your X-Wave for you to see if it works to your liking. If not, the Tecnica Icon DPXR and Salomon Course 1080 are really cool and quite a bit softer.

post #6 of 48
Originally posted by dawgcatching:
When doing slow-speed releases (such as those in Harold Harb's 2nd Expert Skier book) I found that I couldn't pressure the front of the boot adequately to complete the release as it was designed-the turn would come around much more slowly than it should have. Or is there another school of thought here?[/QB]
There is always another school of thought!

Your first problem was reading Harb's first book.

Your second problem was reading his second book.

The only release you should practice is dropping both texts in the trash.

Having said that.....in theory you should be able to ski in concrete boots. It is, however, nice to be able to make adjustments via the hinge action of the ankle.

Pressuring the front of the boot is largely a vestigial movement. I would suggest modern technique is geared towards remaining centered on the shorter skis that most are using.

I ski in a relatively soft boot so that I have as much range of motion as is available in the ankle and so that if I apply any pressure to the front of the boot I don't end up levering the front of the ski.

Get stacked on the middle of the ski and tip em or turn em.

[ October 06, 2003, 08:19 PM: Message edited by: Rusty Guy ]
post #7 of 48
Ever watched Bode ski ? Doesn't look stacked in the middle, does he ?
post #8 of 48
Would you advocate we try to teach folks to ski like him?

If so.....how?

In the event you can give it a name, write a book, and create a video you'll be the next Harald Harb.
post #9 of 48
I sure would like to teach myself to ski like him.
Besides that I am not really into putting people down.
post #10 of 48
Bode or HH?

I've met HH and skied with him. Good skier. One of the all time nice guys.

Don't like the first book and hence, didn't read the second book. I'm not putting him down....just the books.

Isn't literary criticism still permitted?

[ October 07, 2003, 10:36 PM: Message edited by: Rusty Guy ]
post #11 of 48
Thread Starter 
Interesting post-what don't you like about the books? I did some of the drills in the second book-it exposed some flaws in my technique that I was struggling with (releasing, shuffling my feet too much).
post #12 of 48
Boot stiffness is directly related to the performance - to a point. If you cant flex the boot, then i would say that you cant get as much performance out of it, compared to if you were skiing in a boot you can flex. Chances are, that if you can't flex a boot of a certain stiffness, you dont need that level of performance for your everyday skiing. There are plenty of boots out there that offer high performance w/o requiring someone with bode's strength to flex it. (By the way Bode is the only skier in the world to ski on a Doberman Hard) There is always the option of taking a boot like the course, or the X-wave and softening it, but you have to demember that Salomon and other companies use that same shell for that whole line of boots. there are softer X-wave boots, and softer Icon boots. When you make the jump to a race boot, you get a thin liner, and a smaller volume which in turn increases your quickness. If you cant flex the boot, it will just slow you down, and be downright miserable to ski in. Having the boot softened can be helpful, but you have to remember that the boot will still be stiff, even after you cut out some material.

Once you jump to a true race stock boot, you are usually looking at no true flex point. A boot like the Doberman, Salomon X2, Lange Plug, and Rossignol Plug, all have 4 or so rivets in them, very thick plastic, and very very low volume. these boots are STIFF. The Soft doberman flexes at 150. I found the Rossi and the Lange to be softer, but still stiffer than any other retail race boot. The average skier does not need or want this kind of boot. they are poorly insulated, stiff, and uncomfortable - even after hours of bootwork. Typically you wear them 2 or 3 sizes too small as well. So will people benefit from this type of boot? No, probly not.

If you can flex the boot - the performance is there and you are able to use it, so of course its going to help your skiing. Just like any pair of skis - you dont put an intermediate or advanced skier on a race stock GS board, why would you do the same with boots? If you have the ability to use this performance then by all means - extract it.

An interesting sidenote: WC bootfitters are now starting to drop the heel inside of the boot and raise the toe of the boot - so you sit with your heel down and your toe up slightly. this puts you in a naturally foreward position. Inorder to get back up to the FIS height of 45mm on the boot sole they put a HUGE stack on the heel of the boot. Most of the WC athletes have this done to their boots. Lange actually makes their plug with about and inch and a half of extra material in the heel - you can barely get it on w/o grinding it. A stack like they are using makes my 5mm stack on my Dobermans look pretty small...

Also, my bootfitter told me that he wouldnt soften the flex of my Doberman Softs (150 flex) because i could already flex them quite a bit, and i broke my old Salomon Course boots from flexing them too much... So he said to ski in them a few times and see what i thought, because in the store at 70 degrees i was flexing them very easily... (actually flexed them both at the same time) So hopefully once im on the hill i wont have a problem. I dont anticipate having an issue, but the option is always there to soften them. Personally i dont find them that stiff (i have skied on them before - just not my pair), but they are very very low volume, especially in the calf area. Is it a good free skiing boot? - NO... if i wasnt racing would i own a pair and have it softened? - NO.

Get a regular Salomon Course if you like the race feel - they are pretty soft and have pretty low volume, and you can probably have them softened up a bit if you wish. You can also take the rear screws out of the Course - and probably the X-wave as well, in order to make it softer. You will find that your comfort level will go down, but your quickness and feel for the snow will increase slightly, but if you arent at an ability where you can notice this, you wont feel a difference at all - or in fact may feel worse. When i had my course i used the reinforced insole. I tried both but liked the stiff one better on ice.


post #13 of 48

I tried the softer boot theory last season. I went from race boots like Grand Prix 90's which were as I got older just killing my feet.

I went to a MUCH softer W8 and have to say the comfort level is amazing. I think I went too soft though. It's a good boot for here in PA where there are no steeps. I can feel the boot not keeping up with me though when really laying out high speed arcs.

Out west however, these boots are way too soft. I'm going to attempt going to W10's or even W12's this season to see if I can find a softer boot that can keep up with me.

I wouldn't want to race in these softer boots, but for all mountain riding they really work well, in some situations even better than stiff race boots. I'm a convert, just gotta find the right balance of stiffness/softness now.
post #14 of 48
I think the ecohound and the oxidized one both are correct. as to the JawJah Catchuh, dunno.

here's my thought, as one weaned on stiff boots and long pencil skis that I couldn't get into an arc at under 25mph...

the most critical feature in your boot's "stiffness" is its accuracy in transmitting your inputs to the ski without altering those inputs.

the most important direction for this stiffness is LATERAL.

if you are trying a drill that you think requirs a softer forward flex than you presently have, here's a simple solution, and one that's been around for as long as there have been skiers using boots...

do the drill with your cuff buckles undone. this gives freedom of fore-aft movement. of course, it also leaves room for slop in the lateral direction, but if you're proficient, you can take care of that issue, eh?

whenever I feel sloppy over my skis, I do some nice fast blue groomers with my cuffs unbuckled. I focus on staying centered over the boots, balanced on my skis.

once you learn the efficient movements, you'll see that it's tough to see how your boot flex really holds you back.

NOW for chapter 2...

if you're a racer and your movements are hyper-refined (whether that means technically perfect from a book-learning perspective is irrelevant now), you want a stiff boot that causes the ski to respond instantly to your input.

what has most people confused in modern days is the fact that modern ski sidecut and flex patterns DO NOT require excessive shovel pressure to initiate the turn or load the ski. most movements are lateral, not fore-aft (provided you're balanced). so, lateral stiffness is paramount.

as a skinny little bastidge who's always had a hard time finding a proper balance between lateral stiffness and smooth fore-aft flex, I say this: suffer a bit of excess fore-aft stiffness, but don't physically suffer. if it's so stiff it hurts to ski, then it's too stiff.

imagine, how intuitive all that is, and how many ridiculous words it took me to say it. call me Bartleby.
post #15 of 48
Everybody agrees that lateral stiffness is good. Everybody also seems to agree that substantial fore-aft stiffness is good for racers and pros who can make lightning-fast fore-aft pressure shifts as needed. The real question is how stiff should boots be (in the fore-aft direction) for the rest of us.

On groomers, the rhythm of flex and extend is fairly slow and regular, and the magnitude of these movements for most recreational skiers is fairly limited (especially with modern skis). Thus, while such skiers need some ankle movement, it can be relatively small and they can use a moderately stiff boot. However, this is not the issue. Groomers do not present a serious problem for intermediate and above rec skiers.

On the other hand, ungroomed conditions do present problems to many recreational skiers. When going fast over cut-up, irregular snow, everybody has a speed limit beyond which they can't keep up with the fore-aft weight changes necessary to stay in balance. At that point, they must rely on ankle flex (in combination with knee and hip flex) to help absorb the irregularities. If the ankle is locked by too stiff of a boot, only knee and hip motion is available, and this usually results in a back-seat skier. Thus, considerably more flex is beneficial for fast ungroomed skiing.

Obviously, one can also go in the direction of too much fore-aft softness in the boot. If you leave your ankle loose in an extremely soft boot, it might result in something more like free-heel skiing than alpine technique. However, by increasing muscular tension in the ankle, one can stiffen the boot-ankle system when needed, and leave it loose under other conditions. One can not go as easily in the opposite direction and help an overly stiff boot flex more.

For these reasons, I would recommend erring on the side of fore-aft softness for most recreational skiers.

Tom / PM
post #16 of 48

In no particular order,

a "stance leg"
a phantom foot
post #17 of 48
Hello everyone. Good topic here, and I've got little else to do at the moment, so watch out!

This subject of boot flex/stiffness has come up often in the past here at EpicSki, and we've had some pretty good discussions. Do a search on "boot flex" in the Technique section, and you'll find several links.

I'll throw out a few points as food for thought anyway. I maintain that there is more myth, half-truth, and just plain
wrong "conventional wisdom" about this particular issue than perhaps anything else in skiing.

I maintain that the need for "ankle flex" is largely a myth, and that, given sufficient skill, good technique, and consistency of balance, stiffer boots (fore and aft) are an advantage. It is possible to go too stiff, though, and who among us has sufficient skill, perfect technique, or perfectly consistent balance? Before I go on, let's keep in mind the sometimes vast chasm that exists between describing theoretically ideal technique and real-world skiing. Theoretically, skiers rarely if ever need to flex their ankles. It is in the real world of imperfections, imbalances, and errors that the need for SOME amount of boot flex comes into play, sometimes.

First, it should be quite obvious that skis do not respond to "boot flex" or "ankle flex." They do respond to pressure fore and aft, which may or may not change when the ankle bends. As far as the skis are concerned, they couldn't care less whether your ankles are bent or not--they'll respond to the same input regardless of the degree of ankle flex.

Boots are very simply "handles" by which we hold and manipulate and communicate with our skis. They are the two-way connection, the sole interface (sorry!), between us and our equipment. Clearly, the less slop and play, and the more rigid the handle, the more direct and precise the connection. All else being equal, a completely rigid (i.e. concrete) boot would offer the most sensitive, direct, and advantageous linkage between us and our skis. Soft boots are to the ski what a soft rubber hinge between our ski poles and grips would be!

Of course, all else is rarely equal. The ankles do have important functions in human movement. Primarily, they are one link in the long chain of joints that affect fore-aft balance and allow us to flex and extend. Flexing and extending are important movements in skiing, allowing us to regulate pressure, absorb shocks, and swallow moguls. I suspect that the biggest argument most "ankle flex/soft boot" proponents make is that the ankles need to bend as part of this chain when we flex and extend. They certainly do bend when we flex low without skis and boots on, so don't they need to do the same with skis and boots?

In a word, NO! Ankles, knees, hips, spine, neck, and arms work together to keep us balanced, harmonizing in ways we've practiced and perfected since the first time we stood upright. Any one of these joints, moving in isolation, would change fore-aft balance, but they rarely move in isolation. As you bend down to pick up an object on the ground, your knees bend, moving you back, and your ankles, hips, and spine flex forward to compensate. Hands and arms may reach forward somewhat as well. That's the "normal" motion when every joint functions. But lock up any one of those joints--with a splint, a fused spine, a knee brace, a cast--or a rigid ski boot--and the other joints can and will compensate. Yes, there's some learning involved. New movements, or at least different degrees of "proportional flexing," must occur within the chain of joints. It takes time and practice to develop skill at these new movements, but it is worth the effort!

Once a skier learns to flex and extend independently of the ankles, he/she can take advantage of the benefits of stiff boots described earlier. Stiff boots add some steepness to the learning curve for skiing, because they require that skiers learn new movement patterns. But whoever said skiing was easy? This is one of the most critical of all skiing skills, and perhaps one of the most overlooked.

Here's a graphic that illustrates these fore-aft issues. Note in particular Figures 7-10, which illustrate flexing and extending with and without stiff ski boots and ankle flex.

Once we learn to flex and extend independently of the ankle, then we can use that ankle actively to regulate fore-aft pressure. As the first (lowest) link in the chain, even a subtle movement of the ankle produces a large affect on fore-aft balance. While today's skis rarely require leverage (fore-aft pressure) to function at their best, whenever I do need a little extra tip or tail pressure, stiff boots transmit my subtle ankle movements directly, and completely, to the skis. Soft boots do not!

While I rarely pressure either the tongues or the cuffs of my boots, at least when I'm in balance, I like the cuffs snug and stiff. They give me constant feedback, a solid reference point for my balance. And they provide instant, firm support to help me quickly regain my balance when I lose it, too.

How stiff is too stiff, then? Part of the answer lies in your skill level--particularly, how skillful you've become at the ski-specific flexing-extending movements described above. Beginners will certainly find softer boots more forgiving of their lack of skill. On the other hand, if they provide an excuse for not learning these new skills, they may just contribute to bad habits. Those skills are important! Better, I say, to get "real" ski boots and learn to use them, right from the start.

Stiff boots transmit ALL your input more directly to your skis--good ones, and mistakes too. The more mistakes you make, the more it may make sense to soften your boots a bit. Softer boots are, once again, more forgiving of errors, and most skiers would find stiff World Cup race boots just way too demanding and unforgiving.

And even the best skiers and racers can go too stiff, not because they need to "flex" their boots as part of their technique--I've already addressed that myth. But because some amount of flex helps absorb the natural shocks and vibrations of skiing across ruts and bumps, smoothing out the quick fore-aft and vertical pressure jolts, and allowing the skis to glide faster and carve cleaner. For the jolts that occur more quickly than any skier could react, some boot flex helps, like the stiff but necessarily compliant shock absorbers of a race car.

What about mogul skiers? Many skiers believe that skiing moguls requires softer boots, to allow them to flex and extend deeply. But, while a mistake in moguls with stiff race boots will provide a painful reminder to your shins, soft boots are still not required for moguls. Personally, because being thrown out of balance, sometimes severely, is inevitable in moguls, I appreciate the ability to recover quickly that only stiffer boots can provide.

Here's an animation that I've posted here before, illustrating the "back-pedaling" motion required to absorb moguls while maintaining fore-aft balance. Note that the one angle that never changes is the angle of the skier's ankles. Ideally, this skier's shins will remain constantly "neutral" in the boot cuffs--in contact with, but not pressuring, the tongues or the backs:

As the knees bend, the skier flexes strongly forward at the hips and spine, and reaches forward with the arms, to compensate for the inability (and undesirability) of flexing the ankles, thereby maintaining fore-aft balance. Freed of their role in flexing and extending, the ankles are once again able to make important, constant, subtle adjustments in fore-aft balance.

Finally, what is far more critical than "boot flex," especially with boots that allow little, is boot setup. In particular, the degree of forward lean--the "neutral" angle at which the boots hold the shins when there is no fore-aft pressure on their cuffs, becomes critical. This angle is a function of both boot cuff angle and the binding ramp angle ("delta angle") that may tilt the entire boot. It's also a function of the skier's leg. Those like me with skinny calf muscles will find any boot more upright than someone with heavy, muscular, or low calves.

If a boot is too upright, bending the knees requires an exaggerated amount of compensation in the hips, waist, spine, and arms. Stiff boots that are too upright severely limit your range of flexion, preventing you from fully absorbing a mogul without being thrown backward. On the other hand, too much forward lean limits the amount of extension available without over-pressuring the ski tips.

Removing the ankles from the flexion-extension chain does restrict the range of motion available somewhat. So it is essential to find a "neutral" ankle/shin angle that optimizes the range. Too upright limits the low (flexion) end. Too forward limits the high (extension) end. And both require an unnatural stance just to stand comfortably in balance (see Figures 3 and 4 in the first illustration, showing two skiers "in balance," one with boots too upright, the other too forward). "Just right" is just critical!

So there's a little to think about. Again, in the real world of real people skiing real mountains, some degree of boot flex is handy, if not essential. But not for the reasons so many people suggest! There is no inherent or universal need to "flex the boots" when turning, despite overwhelming "conventional wisdom" that says otherwise. Skis do not respond to boot flex!

I'll wrap this up with a list of statements, all of which are fairly common, but all of which are myths worth, at the very least, a closer look.

Common Myths:
  • Ankle flex is a fundamental necessity.</font>
  • Skiers must always "flex" as they go through turns.</font>
  • Forward pressure bias is important for initiating turns.</font>
  • Softer skis need softer boots.</font>
  • Shorter skis need softer boots.</font>
  • Deeper sidecut skis need softer boots.</font>
  • Moguls need softer boots.</font>
  • Forward lean angle directly affects fore-aft balance point.</font>
  • Position alone is indicative of fore-aft balance.</font>
  • Lateral stiffness is more important than fore-aft stiffness.</font>
Don't believe a word of it!
Best regards,
Bob Barnes

[ October 11, 2003, 01:48 PM: Message edited by: Bob Barnes/Colorado ]
post #18 of 48
As for the need for ankle flex, I skiied throughout the 70's in a pair of Lange Comps (the tall back black ones) which had no hinge at all. Granted the very thick shell material would deform slightly to allow some flexure. I skied everything from eastern hardpack to Colorado, Utah, Wyoming powder in those things. Only moguls had me occasionally wanting something more flexible. I still miss the Lange-flo liners and tongues which were far higher quality than anything out there today.

[ October 11, 2003, 12:38 PM: Message edited by: arcadie ]
post #19 of 48

Thanks for a great post. As usual, it was complete and full of great information, and a great help for a relative newcomer like myself. I actually just bought new boots, Salomon x-wave 10's because I wanted a tighter, stiffer boot. They are stiff and I can flex them ok at my size (6'4", 255lbs), but with everything I've heard here lately I was worried that they would possibly be too stiff for me to progress the way I want. Your post, coming from someone who knows this sport inside and out, certainly put my mind as ease. I can't wait to try them out on the snow. Thanks again!!
post #20 of 48
You're welcome, Sportscoach! Just please do keep in mind that, while I've tried to explain my points, and I hope they make sense, there ARE others in the industry who would argue the other side--as you've seen in this thread. There are skiers and instructors who I respect (even if I disagree) who believe that boots should be soft and that they must be flexed to make a proper turn.

There is no "gospel" and I offer only food for thought!

Best regards,
Bob Barnes
post #21 of 48
The flex on my boots can be varied, by design of the boot, which has a "stiffener" - very effective. Also, tightness of buckling seems to affect the stiffness of the boots. Invariably, in their stiffest setting, I simply can't ski in them - I'm constantly "back" no matter what I do. Assuming [it's a lie, but just go with it, please] that my technique is perfect [HA!], would I be helped by some ramp angle? Bob?
post #22 of 48
would I be helped by some ramp angle?
Quite possibly, Oboe. I can't say ramp angle specifically, but it could be that you need something that would give you a little more forward lean angle of your shins. The solution could be an adjustment of the cuff angle forward, inserting shims in the cuffs, behind your calves, or tilting the entire boots forward by lifting the heels of the bindings, or mounting the bindings on a tapered plate.

Technically speaking, the last option (tilting the boot forward by elevating its heel) is an adjustment of "delta angle," not "ramp angle." Ramp angle refers to the angle of your footbed INSIDE the boot. Interestingly, increasing RAMP angle would probably have the opposite effect. It would lift your heel and leg inside the boot, without altering the cuff angle. Because the cuff would now close around a narrower part of your lower calf, the adjustment might make your boots more upright overall.

This whole matter becomes quite complicated, though, and it is possible for some people--that is, those with very limited ankle flexibility--that internal heel lifts (increased ramp angle) could help. Typically, ski boots hold your ankle at an acute angle, and if your ankle can't even bend as far as it needs to to fit into the boot, internal heel lifts will "open" the ankle slightly, allowing your shins to tilt more forward.

Experienced boot fitters (I am NOT one, by the way), will tell you that they occasionally come across people who can't bend their ankles enough even to put a boot on. They drive their heels down as far as they can, but they can't get them to the bottom of the boot. Women who wear high heels a lot may lack ankle flexibility, and it can be caused by injury as well. Straightening the cuff (more upright) can allow them to get into the boot, but it may create the problem of too little forward lean. For these people, internal heel lifts (increased RAMP angle) can solve the problem.

Certainly no simple or universal answers here. These are calls that really only a knowledgeable, experienced boot fitter can make, and only after a personal assessment and measurement. I must make the disclaimer that you should not take any of these suggestions without confirming the diagnosis with a qualified boot fitter, in person. On the other hand, it never hurts to experiment. If your ankles are sufficiently flexible, try stuffing a couple folded up trail maps into your boots, behind your calves, to increase the forward lean. Experiment with different thicknesses, and see what works. I've gone entire seasons with as many as three or four maps as part of my regular equipment!

And don't forget (hate to bring this up!)--it COULD be a question of technique! Your boots could fit and work fine, but you still need to become skillful at those ski-specific movements that I described in my long post above. Take the ankles out of the equation, or even just restrict them slightly, without any compensating changes in the movements of other joints, and you WILL be in the back seat every time you bend your knees!

Best regards,
Bob Barnes

[ October 11, 2003, 03:24 PM: Message edited by: Bob Barnes/Colorado ]
post #23 of 48
Ah, yes! I do remember all of those trail maps coming out of your boots at Snowbird in Steve Bagley's emporium!

Technique? Hey, I'd trade my left hm hm for better technique.
post #24 of 48
Originally posted by Bob Barnes/Colorado:
You're welcome, Sportscoach! Just please do keep in mind that, while I've tried to explain my points, and I hope they make sense, there ARE others in the industry who would argue the other side--as you've seen in this thread. There are skiers and instructors who I respect (even if I disagree) who believe that boots should be soft and that they must be flexed to make a proper turn.

There is no "gospel" and I offer only food for thought!

Best regards,
Bob Barnes
I happen to be one of the people who respectfully disagrees with Bob on this subject. For a "nobody" like me to disagree with someone like Bob, is somewhat difficult however.

In principle I agree with Bob's arguments. They make perfect sense. The problem is that most beginners and intermediates are simply not capable to achieve the kind of skill and balance that allows them to manage a stiff boot.

My ideal boot would allow some flex and become very stiff once the ankle is a little flexed. This still allows complete control of the ski, but in a more "dynamic" position. A body limited by a relative stiff ankle area will require superior balance skills and most mortals cannot deal with that. Furthermore, the back must be far more active to keep you in balance if your ankles cannot flex. Try squating without flexing your ankles! So if you have a bad back (and a tendancy to protect it by limiting the range of motion), stiff boots will throw you around.

Anyway, this is another opinon and reflects the experience of a decent skier who will never achieve the skills of a Bob Barnes. [img]smile.gif[/img]
post #25 of 48
Originally posted by TomB:
For a "nobody" like me to disagree with someone like Bob, is somewhat difficult however.

Try squating without flexing your ankles! So if you have a bad back (and a tendancy to protect it by limiting the range of motion), stiff boots will throw you around.

Anyway, this is another opinon and reflects the experience of a decent skier who will never achieve the skills of a Bob Barnes. [img]smile.gif[/img] [/QB]
Everybody is somebody at epicski!

Your mention of squatting is interesting. Two things I would suggest. While weightlifting, one isn't moving and it is done on a horizontal surface.

Often in a gym, novice lifters place a block of wood about two inches thick under their heels while squatting in order to improve their balance.

I have mentioned what the opposite did for me when I raised the toepiece on my bindings approximately 10 mm. Now I don't have to struggle to get my torso aligned with my tib/fibs.

[ October 12, 2003, 06:22 AM: Message edited by: Rusty Guy ]
post #26 of 48
Hey TomB--Give yourself more credit! You raise good points.

"Stiffness" is a relative thing, and I fully agree that boots can be too stiff. For beginners and intermediates, I do recommend a boot somewhat softer than for experts, for the reasons you mentioned--they are more forgiving of their less developed and less consistent techniques. On the other hand, I do NOT recommend that soft boots be used to substitute for skill, or to replace the need to develop skill. As I said, ski-specific flexion and extension movements, largely removing the ankle from the loop, are among the most essential skills of skiing. Soft boots may mask the problem, but they do not make it go away! Soft boots compromise responsiveness, to both correct movements and errors.

Also, for those who rent boots, softer boots are probably a necessary evil. Few rental shops have the time or the expertise to properly set up stiff, high performance boots. Because they do not hold your shins as aggressively at any particular angle, soft boots forgive poor set up just as they forgive poor technique. The worst thing you can do is ski stiff boots that are set up wrong. Better is soft boots that are set up wrong. Best is stiff boots that are set up right!

As I suggested, there is a difference between the theoretical ideal and the real world. Theoretically, we should not need to flex our ankles, and the stiffest boots would give us the greatest performance. In reality, because we all make mistakes, we sometimes need to be forgiven. (Yes, skiing IS a religion!) Somewhat softer boots are a lot more user-friendly.

The boot you described--softer at first, but stiffening quickly after it's flexed a little--is ideal. Even for experts and racers, something along those lines helps smooth out the harshness and vibration, allowing a smooth, fast glide, while still providing the control, sensitivity, and recovery possibilities of stiff boots. Perhaps the only difference between an "ideal expert's boot" and an "ideal beginner's boot" would be the amount it has to be flexed before it stiffens up--not the overall stiffness of the boot.

There is definitely a compromise here. Stiffer boots do lengthen the learning curve for beginners somewhat, because they require skills that must be learned. Softer boots let you move more like your "non-skiing habits." You could probably accomplish more on your first day with softer boots, by some measures. For those with absolutely no high-performance, off-piste, or "expert" aspirations--for those who would be satisfied with just seeing the top of the mountain and cruising down the easiest groomed runs and don't care about good technique or bad habits, softer boots would serve them adequately. But for everyone else, learning in softer boots represents another shortcut to mediocrity. Like "instant parallel," they may increase instant gratification at the expense of long-term frustration.

Best regards,
Bob Barnes
post #27 of 48
TomB--you also brought up another legitimate reason for softer boots: injury. Stiff boots greatly restrict the flexion of the ankles, by definition. Learning to use them effectively requires compensating by increasing the activity of the other joints in the flexion-extension and fore-aft chain--knees, hips, spine, neck, and arms. My entire premise relies on the redundancy in this chain, the fact that we CAN compensate for restricted ankle motion.

If any of those other joints is also restricted, we have lost some of that redundancy. Bad back, injured shoulder, limited hip flexibility--any of these problems could justify softer boots. Obviously, this would not really solve the problem, but it might allow the person to ski!

Best regards,

[ October 12, 2003, 09:02 AM: Message edited by: Bob Barnes/Colorado ]
post #28 of 48
BobB - When I went over to a pair of boots that fit well (Technica Icon somethings, about 1.5 seasons ago), they were stiff and stunningly good for me on reasonably smooth hard surfaces, but set my skiing way back when attempting to ski fast through soft irregular, cut-up crud. Fortunately, these boots have lots of adjustments, and I was able to soften them up without doing anything irreversible to them. Presto, my crud skiing got back to its old level, but their performance on hardpack did suffer a bit.

Since I generally preferred the softer feel, I left them in this state and learned to simply increase the stiffness of my ankle momentarily using muscular tension when this was called for, and let it remain a bit more floppy in cut up conditions. This seems to give me the best of both worlds. I can develop tip pressure when needed or let my skis and ankles wobble around like a long throw suspension on a MTB or off-the-road car, when that is needed.

Unfortunately, as I said in my previous post, one can not as easily go in the opposite direction and use your ankle muscles to help an overly stiff boot flex more (toe lifting not withstanding).

This is what led me to my recommendation to err on the side of slightly softer flex for all purpose use by rec skiers.


Tom / PM

[ October 12, 2003, 09:34 AM: Message edited by: PhysicsMan ]
post #29 of 48
Hi Tom/PM--

Ultimately, it's a personal choice, of course. If you prefer the way the softer boots work for you, then you should use them.

But I would not give up on exploring the world of stiffer boots (keeping in mind that both "soft" and "stiff" are relative terms). Your experience is not unusual, as others have noted in this thread. While many skiers have found that they don't like stiff boots, I am convinced that the reason is almost always one of two things: poor set up of the stiff boots (it's critical), or lack of the requisite movement patterns needed to compensate for the limited ankle flex. Even if the skills are there, the habits may not be. Remember too that anything that is markedly better is also markedly "different," and will take some getting used to!

Very stiff boots are critically demanding of both set up and technique. I can't emphasize this point enough! It alone may be sufficient reason why most of us in the "real world" should stay away from the stiffest boots.

Again, for practical, real-world purposes, my boot recommendations for the average skier are not as extreme as my posts might suggest. Few skiers will have the opportunity to have their boots expertly set up, and there is little worse than poorly set up ultra-stiff boots. The more time and money you're willing to spend on this, though, the more I would recommend stiffer boots. The same goes for technique. If you're willing to put the time, effort, and money into it, get the equipment that will take advantage of your great technique!

Take another look at the "back-pedaling" animation earlier in this thread. The ankle angle does not change at all, as all the other joints flex and extend through a very large range of motion. It shows roughly how you have to move in moguls with very stiff boots. But it's important to note that this is the way you should move, even in the softest possible boots, for balance and pressure control. The technique is not stiff-boot-specific--it's just good skiing.

Stiff boots demand good technique. Soft boots forgive some error. But it's still error. If your shins get hammered every time you hit a mogul--whether it's the dampened shove of a soft boot or the harsh, bruising blow of a stiff boot--it indicates a mistake. It pushes you off balance to the rear, applies excess tip pressure, and interferes with your ability to absorb the mogul and flow smoothly through the turn.

How about one more illustration, to go with the others--the front view of the mogul skier....

Best regards,

[ October 12, 2003, 10:33 AM: Message edited by: Bob Barnes/Colorado ]
post #30 of 48

Pleae clarify something for me in your stick figure that is backpedaling in the moguls. That figure also shows the hands and arms moving forward. In the PSIA clinics that I have attended, I have been "corrected" many times for moving my arms forward to help maintain balance. You even commented on that to me last February at Durango. The most often clinic instruction is to keep your upper body and arms stable, and to do a pole flick with your wrist, not with your arm.

The problem that I see most often in students is that they try to maintain balance by thrusting their hands and arms forward. I see them stiff in the lower body. When they go to absorb a bump, they do not dynamically flex all joints, end up in the back seat, and they thrust their hands forward to maintain balance. Although balance is maintained, this often results in a blocking pole plant. Then they end up stemming to make the next turn.

I have been told many times by examiners and clinic leaders to get some different boots, that have good lateral stability, but a little softer forward flex. I did that last season, and noticed an increase in my ability to perform in bumps, crud and powder.

Thanks for the input here, and for your clarification of the above questions.
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