Fitting process for racers, high level instructors and competitive skiers.
Our boot fitting philosophy and elite custom boot work at the Banff Ski Lounge has been helping racers improve their times for many years. We are also renowned for giving instructors attempting higher level certifications that extra edge to succeed in the skiing component of their exam. Here is a brief overview of the race fit process at our center.
Four key people are instrumental in developing the ideal boot solution for a ski race athlete:
- the athlete
- the coach
- the sports health professional (physio, orthopedic surgeon, personal trainer, and so on)
- the boot fitter
We commence every boot fit session with a discussion with the athlete, coach and/or parent about the athlete’s goals, style, physiological factors and gather any other information that may be relevant. We discuss goals, past injuries, current physiological conditions, and concerns with previous fits or performance issues that may be equipment-related.
Of course budget is also discussed with parents, where appropriate; we understand that young feet are growing feet and sometimes the full bespoke solution is not the right answer for a foot that will grow out of the boot in six months. In this case a full quote will be presented to the parent or guardian at the end of the initial consultation, written in priority order of what work should be done first and broken down by cost.
We use state-of–the-art data sharing capabilities to collect this information via iPads, iCloud and various imaging technologies. Coaches are encouraged to upload or bring in video or images of the athlete on hill. Notes from health professionals relating to current injuries, rehab status and other concerns such as tight muscles, pelvic tilts, leg length discrepancies, and so on, are also very helpful in this assessment phase.
When developing the perfect boot solution for an elite skier, information from all those who help contribute to an athlete’s success is instrumental in providing a complete database to draw from.
Following this, we take some physical measurements such as: width, first and fifth methead, cuneiform, navicular, medial/lateral malleoulus, styloid process, gastrocnemius, soleus in flexion, dorsiflexion, achilles, pronation/supination, calcaneous width, windlass, q-angle, pelvic tilt, leg length discrepancy and tibial varus, to name just a few.
These measurements, as well as images of the athlete’s foot, are added to the electronic database. The athlete and their coach will have direct access to their own iCloud database at any time in the future.
2) Create a stable platform
A base of support for the foot that accommodates the entire width of the foot is an essential first step for the foot/boot/ski system. It is our belief that the foot should be left in its natural state of pronation or supination, as we have the ability to counter balance alignment issues with shell work and boot sole planing.
The footbed should have some flexibility in the arch to allow a small amount of pronation into the turn, which enables the muscles to fire and engage before they are blocked by a solid footbed or the boot.
It is vital that the footbed:
- a) capture the arch completely,
- b) stabilize the heel to arch area, and
- c) cover the entire width of the foot so that the fifth metatarsal is not overhanging the footbed resulting in nerve pain and potentially permanent damage.
This is the foundation to our entire system.
Sole planing and carrying out more elaborate boot work when the basic platform is not correct is like building the Colosseum on top of a house of cards.
3) Shell work
The foot must be allowed to sit flat in the boot and not crushed in a vice-like grip. Everyday we see elite skiers in boots that are far too tight. Someone, somewhere one day said “no pain, no gain”; we feel this person deserves a swift kick in the behind. Overly tight boots should be a thing of the past as they no longer match with current ski theory. In fact, many elite athletes have been in boots too tight for so long now that the brain has simply blocked pain messages from the foot and they don’t even feel it anymore. However, if these messages are being blocked so are the other messages from your feet, those that alert the skier to fine changes in pressure and delicate variances in snow condition.
Overly tight boots equal reductions in proprioception, stability, pressure control and circulation.
A race boot should be closely fitted but not so tight as to alter the alignment of the leg or positioning of the foot and prevent valuable feedback from the feet to the brain.
The foot should be able to articulate just a little in the boot in order to allow small corrections rather than sending these corrections higher up the biomechanical chain. We like the navicular to be able to move into the turn, again allowing the surrounding muscles to fire and engage before the foot hits the medial compartment of the boot.
The achilles, calcaneous, lower soleus and gastrocnemius must all fit precisely into the back of the boot and the boot may need to be modified to accommodate for the shape of the leg. Shell work on a race boot can take anywhere from thirty minutes to five or six hours.
The correct flex of a boot is not solely based on the ability and skill level of the athlete; it is also based on length of tibia (the lever), the athlete’s weight and dorsiflexion of the ankle. All these factors are taken into consideration when adjusting the flex of the boot to stiffen or soften. Flex pattern of different plastics and different models of boots is also considered in light of the preferred discipline of the athlete.
Just because an athlete is racing at a very high level does not mean he or she should be in the stiffest 150 flex boot available. There are several factors to take into consideration when deciding on flex. As well, we sometimes see flex strength in each leg being substantially different; in such cases we adjust the boots so that the overall flex is smooth and symmetrical. Information from the coach and health professional will also be used when making boot adjustment decisions in this area.
5) Fore/aft stance
We check that the fore/aft stance is correct for the athlete. In some cases we will remove the upper cuff, modify it for larger or lower calf muscles or desired forward lean. An ill-fitting cuff can contribute to early thigh fatigue by over engaging the quads, reducing rangeof motion (flexion/extension) and excessive forward lean, not to mention the inability to stabilize over the arch-heel! We can also adjust the way the cuff tracks in relation to the lower shell for knees that track substantially outward or even at different angles – which which may be seen in people with major knee injuries. We then check the ramp angle of the boot board and discuss with the coach the desired outcome. Video analysis of on-snow performance can be very helpful here.
6) Cuff alignment
Often mistaken for canting, this is the adjustment of the upper cuff laterally to ensure the leg comes centered into the upper part of the boot. As the range of cuff alignment from the manufacturer is usually only 1.5 deg, a true cuff alignment can also involve some shell work on the upper medial cuff for larger gastrocnemius, which can substantially throw off alignment if the calf muscle is blocked by the medial shell.
Note that if the lower shell is too tight around the foot and the correct shell work has not been done before this stage, then sole planing first is putting the cart before the horse.
7) Stance alignment and boot sole planing
The final step of the process, the icing on the cake, is stance alignment and boot sole planing. Often we are asked to skip all the earlier steps and go straight to this one, as it is a service that is only provided by a handful of bootfitters and is rightly seen as very elite boot work. We cannot stress enough that without the prior six steps, boot sole planing on its own is just a band-aid fix and is not a valid stand-alone solution.
We will not grind angles into a base of a boot without the athlete present so that we can do a complete assessment. Without looking at all the data and, especially, the athlete’s stance, this process can lead to very unreliable results.
Once we are satisfied with steps 1 through 6, we mark the center of mass of the knee, account for other factors such as tibial varus, leg length discrepancy (anatomical and mechanical), pelvic tilt, leg shape, and so on.
We then place the athlete – whilst in their shell modified boot and with a correct custom footbed – on a stance device that shows us how far tipped in or out their center of mass of knee/tibia is in relation to the center of the boot. We then choose the correct angles required to be ground into the boot to bring the ski to be flat on the snow. The boot is then sole planed with a specialised machine, calibrated to be precise to within half a degree. The heel and toe lugs are returned to DIN using lift plates and routering. We recommend 3mm but can adjust the boot with a 5mm lift to remain within the FIS regulations of 43mm in some circumstances.
Preparing for your consultation
Things to bring with you:
- the athlete!
- the current boots and footbeds
- a pair of shorts so we can see the knee
- ski socks
- knee brace (if used).
Optional things to bring:
- your coach
- information from your coach and/or sports health care professional
- video or still image of your skiing
- iPad if you would like to learn how to access your database on hill.
- Lunch, as appointments can take awhile please feel free to bring something to eat. We have a microwave and kettle if you would like to heat food up.
We can arrange a clinic for your team or club in our store and show you first-hand how this elite boot process works, as well as the highly specialised machinery we use to form the boot to the athlete. We can also travel to your club or ski hill to do a clinic on site if there is sufficient interest from your team. We can then look at some on-snow analysis as well, if time permits.
What you have read above gives a brief outline of the process of an elite boot fit. There are many more aspects to this level of bootfitting. We are more than happy to discuss with you further what we do and how we can help you, your team or your athletes.