Ryel – Yup, I remember writing that as part of a thread on boot flex. In this thread, initially it seemed like Bob Barnes was advocating firm boots whereas I was advocating soft boots for these conditions. After a bit of back and forth, I think that we realized that there was actually little difference between our two positions and it boiled down to a “how soft is soft, and how firm is firm” issue.
As Bob would point out, extremely firm boots give immediate feedback to the skier, and allow the skier to make fore-aft corrections with little wasted motion. On the other hand, this assumes that the skier’s input to the boots is correct. If the skier has not learned (or can not apply) the correct combination of simultaneous joint movements that allow him to respond to short duration changes in slope angle, he will get thrown around and the input he will be giving the boots will likely be wildly inappropriate. Take a look at Bob’s superb illustration of the “back-peddling” mogul skier to see how one can ski moguls without any ankle flex whatsoever.
The essence of my position was that for changes in slope angle that are spread out in space (e.g., terrain rolls, moguls), skiers who are less skilled have the time to respond appropriately and can handle them even in extremely rigid boots. However, as changes in local slope angle come faster, either because they are spaced more closely, or because the skier is moving faster, eventually, the ability to anticipate them (best) and/or respond to them disappears and the skier simply can’t get himself in the correct position fast enough to do what totally rigid boots require. It is at this point that some fore-aft flex in the boots becomes a godsend. Much like the shocks and springs of a car (or mountain bike) allow just the wheel to go up and down without throwing the car (or mountain bike) around on a bad road, more fore-aft flex in ski boots allows the ski to change its angle underfoot without requiring that the lower leg follow the motion.
Unfortunately, there can easily be too much of a good thing with respect to softness. If you make either the car suspension or the ski boots too soft, the object that they are supporting (i.e., the car or the skier) will wallow around and will have reduced control of the situation. So, the question reduces to determining the optimal boot flex for different skiing situations and different skiers. A shorter throw, stiffer suspension is appropriate for smoother conditions as well as skiers with greater ability and/or faster reflexes who want the ultimate responsiveness. Conversely, a boot with a wider range of flex angles (ie, a longer throw suspension), and softer in flex (i.e., a softer suspension) is appropriate for someone who wants a smoother ride on rough roads (trails) and is willing to “give up” high-strung responsiveness. You can get a feeling for what a softer flexing boot will feel like by removing the Velcro power strap (if you have on) or replacing it with an elastic version. Loosening the top buckle will also simulate overall softness. If it isn’t obvious, nobody should be going to boots that are so soft that they provide no fore-aft support.
The questions of exactly what are the optimal amounts of fore-aft travel and fore-aft stiffness are difficult to answer in general. Everybody’s ankles and ankle strengths are different, people weigh different amounts, etc. IMHO, for irregular snow conditions, the maximum forward movement of your boot cuff should roughly match your particular angular range of ankle motion (dorsiflexion). Having the boot be able to flex more than your ankle does little good since your ankle can’t close that much, and you definitely want support for your ankle at the end of its travel (e.g., so that it will support you, is not strained, etc.). With respect to boot fore-aft stiffness (as contrasted to range of motion) the general consensus is that a “progressive” flex is best – softer at first, progressing to very firm by the end of its travel. “Softer” and “very firm” are obviously in relation to the weight and musculature of each individual skier as well as their skill level and smoothness/roughness of the intended terrain.
I will make one final comment on equipment. You didn’t ask about skis, but there is an astonishing difference between a pair of 165 SL’s and a pair of 190 fat skis in the soft irregular snow that we have been talking about. If you haven’t experienced the difference in performance, you really should. My feeling is that while I *can* ski soft crud on my shorties, it’s not very enjoyable (I have to pay too much attention), I know I don’t look that good, I can’t go as fast, and I get tired more easily compared to being on my fatties. So, don’t beat yourself up too much if you are saying that you are having problems in these conditions when on equipment designed for packed snow.
Finally, you also asked about technique. My primary advice is:
1) Stay *real* loose – almost rag-doll floppy, especially in your legs and arms.
2) Don’t rush / force your turns around.
3) Make sure your skis are pointed *exactly* in the direction you are going. If they are going sideways, even by just a few degrees, your life will be miserable.
4) Drop down a notch in technique – open up into a tiny wedge for more side-to-side stability, use some exaggerated up unweighting and/or stemming if necessary.
5) If it’s appropriate, speed can be your friend. Irregularities get “averaged out” at higher speeds.
I’m sure others will chime in with more extensive tips.
Tom / PM