The Truth is…
The Foot Foundation
In skiing I have heard so many things that attempt to sum up skiing. Only one so far has really gotten my attention and helps bring all the others into focus. I have to give credit where credit is due. This nugget of wisdom comes from a wise young cannibal from NZ. Whare Heke, spoke the truth when he said “Everything in skiing is true, but no one thing is the truth”. This puts everything into perspective. With this rule as the backdrop you can say what ever you want to about the game without giving something more importance than it deserves. So, now with this rule in effect I give you another picture of skiing that was painted very eloquently for me by another wise man of the mountains, describing skiing as a symphony. I see this orchestra with all its instruments having equal importance. If you were to have an orchestra without one section it would be a sound without balance and would be contrived to make up for its missing parts. With this in mind I would like to shine a light towards part of the orchestra that I feel has been missing and by including it to your ensemble your orchestra will make music that you might have thought impossible. The section that has been silent all these years was muscular alignment. Or maybe we could call it stance/balance, instead of simple skeletal alignment.
With most skiers have the percussion section down, and some of the basics of harmony going for them. But even some of the more addicted skiers lack something that the truly talented enjoy with little appreciation for it. The relaxedness of the truly athletic skiers. To be relaxed while producing incredibly powerful movement is something that inspires awe from those that are struggle to attain moments of perfection in any sport. Bodie Miller proves time and time again that you don’t always have to be perfect if you can be a little more relaxed while exploring the outer most limits. Everyone watches these performances with jaws to floor imagining being in those boots during some amazingly athletic recoveries. We would probably all agree that there is certainly an entire orchestra with the volume at 11 inside those boots.
If there is one obvious difference that I see among the gifted skiers it is not basic movement patterns it is in how relaxed the ones that are going the fastest look.
So many times, people can be found in lessons or in a learning situation. There is always the paralysis by analysis factor, but even when out practicing without the prying eyes of the examiners we fail to be relaxed is it because there is a movement that we can not do or could it be simpler than that?
I have been playing with this idea since 1996 when I started working with alignment. I was initially taught the classic alignment dogma, and why, and how it works. I practiced this theory for some time before becoming rather let down by it. It is not that it did not work at all. This is not the case, let’s just say that it failed to meet my expectations. I just never felt like it really fixed all the problems. So I began to question some aspects of the theory. When you don’t believe it is hard to just continue going to church anyway. It may make you a better person, or could just make you bitter.
At the time I had the privilege of working with some very talented people that came to teach at University of Maine at Farmington Ski Industry Program. Prof Gary Brown was teaching a class called “the applied science of ski racing”. Imagine earning college credit for a class like this? We learned more about muscles and anatomy and how it worked for ski racing specifically. Most of what we learned you could go to your grave and never need to repeat. The most important thing that this made me aware of was that, “center of knee mass testing failed to address one entire section of the body. The muscles, and what affect the skeletal positions were having on muscle tension. A huge part of the orchestra was sitting there with their instruments with no music to play. So when I realized this I then became aware that a whole new way of helping people work better with their equipment was at least a possibility.
The next step was to figure out a way to look at skiing through the lens of muscle tension and opposing muscle balance. My hope was that by doing this we could learn how to teach better and how to help
the stiff become more relaxed.
The first big shift in theory, if you time how much pressure is equally distributed you might find as I did that a ski turn is rarely equally weighted. If skiing is done predominantly one foot why do we test alignment while standing on two feet equally weighted?
This was the burning question that begged an answer that never was answered for me. Another thing happened when skis started becoming more shaped. I began to realize that the role of the foot and ankle were becoming much more important than ever before. I found myself actively pronating and supinating to engage the edges instead of pushing and twisting.
The shift toward the internal was another awakening. For ever I was told to never put anything under the foot bed. Like usual in my life I had to figure out for myself why. The result was surprisingly positive.
I became immediately aware that when I put tape on my bindings it did not have nearly as dramatic of an effect for me as when I put some tape on my foot bed. Soon there was the perpetual pile of duct tape fillings in front of my locker at Sugarloaf. I had a pair of Peterson foot beds that were not posted so I began to fill the gaps with layer upon layer of duct tape. I got to the point where I began to layer tape under the ball of my foot and WOW that was when I started to make real changes in how relaxed I could be on my skis. Although at the time I did not understand exactly why.
By the time I was nearing my retirement from Sugarloaf I learned of another part of the symphony that had been ignored by conventional wisdom. The proprioceptive ability of the body, The common thread that connected all of the parts of the band and made sense of it all for me. Just in case you don’t know about this part of your body, it is the body’s personal internet. It is the communication system. It is what lets the body know where it is in space, where is going, and helps make decisions about how to keeps itself moving towards its objective. It connects the brains bones and muscles. It connects both sides of the body. Basically it is why we are able to balance in the first place. This is the key to understanding stance/balance, or alignment in my estimation. This could be compared to the conductor of the orchestra. The conductor with a wave of his magic wand can bring to life incredibly sophisticated sound, as well as the most simple of notes.
What I learned on my winter vacation. If the bones don’t stack well, then the muscles will have to stack them through constant tension. If there is 100 percent muscle available for any movement but 30 percent is always being used just to stack the bones up then you are only able to use the remaining 70 percent if it is not exhausted when you ask it to do its job. And some times you are asking it to relax and it simply can not relax and let the bones collapse there are conflicting messages that in the end result create state of mandatory tension. This is like removing many of the musicians from the orchestra and expecting the music to sound the same.
How does this work in reality. Here comes the ski geek speech. So I often wondered why the best test for alignment was always the one footed straight run. Unquestionably the easiest way to see what is happening to someone’s alignment. Why if we do this one footed straight run outdoors, why would we use a two footed test indoors????
Anyway here we go While attempting this amazing feat, most people would encounter the most basic of human condition the collapse of the foot structure inside the ski boot. This is a normal function of the foot. And something that even custom foot beds do not fix. So there you are, sliding into terminal velocity on one foot and all of a sudden the ski begins to turn and you never asked it to. Upon your second attempt to accomplish this acrobatic move, again feel this collapse inside your boot and again the ski instantly begins turning into a traverse.
Cause and effect: The foot collapsing inside the boot brings the pressure to the big toe side as well as inwardly rotating the leg and Wallah, the ski turns. This might be fun if you were just learning to ski, however if you are an accomplished musician you only want to make noise how and when you would like to. So you should be less than pleased with this outcome. What do you do? Well you could get your boots ground or shim the bindings to adjust your knee. However the cause of the problem is not the knee. It is the foot and ankle collapsing. So how will this solution fix the problem? It will not fix the problem but it might make the problem different. It will feel different when you repeat this after making equipment changes externally but because you did not address the real cause of the problem the chances are very good that the problem will continue at differing levels of success. This was exactly the problem I had with the more historical views. I did see change, but rarely did I see perfection. So how do we achieve it and what is skeletal and muscular perfection?
Another wise thought that was planted into me in school is the following:
“Being average is just one step from failure; to catch excellence you must strive for perfection” “Coach” Tom Reynolds Thanks coach!!!
So I blame coach for all of this, you should too. It is not my fault. If left to my own devices I would have never thought this way.
In my research what I feel The Foot Foundation has done is simply to prove that yes you can in fact create positive change and increase the ability for someone to relax on their skis by properly positioning the foot within the boot.
So what does this all mean well Perfection is in the eye of the beholder. I feel that the perfect fix will be a combination of what ever it takes both internal and external solutions should be explored if needed. Alignment/Balance/Stance… is a war that should be fought on the individual level. Remember “In skiing everything is true, but no one thing is the truth”. This is the case with the conventional wisdom as well as the current thinking. Neither will succeed on in total exclusion of the other.