On and Off
By Stephen A. McDonald, C.Ped
Jackson Hole Sports
stephen.mcdonald at jacksonhole dot com
I see a lot of crazy stuff during the winters, as a bootfitter for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort, my slope side boot bench gets pretty crazy around 2:00 PM- that's when the average guy decides he can no longer hack it and has to stop the fun- usually on the first day- to see the boot guy.
Aside from cotton socks, wet liners and no footbeds, the number one problem I see is something that can be corrected by the skier- before hitting the slopes.
The right way to put on and take off the boot itself is low hanging fruit. Like most things in life, the simple tasks are always more complicated than they initially appear. I can't count the number of times an experienced skier, with properly made footbeds and professionally fit boots is whining like a fifth grade girl because of boot problems. Ninety percent of the time boot issues can be solved by taking off the boot and putting it back on again.
We'll assume you have good custom footbeds. This will ensure you are getting into the boot and staying in the same location in the liner, making sure your foot is not slipping around on the bottom of the boot. But what about the rest of the foot? The top of your foot, the dorsum, needs to be adequately snug as well as the other important control areas. The heel needs attention and retention to assure proper placement in the boot.
If possible, you want to be sitting down for these steps. Open all of the buckles to the boot and pull the tongue out and to the side of the boot you'll be putting on. Wearing a thin wool sock, plantarflex your foot and slip into the boot trying not to scrunch your sock/toes too tight at the end of the boot. Try leaving a bit of sock loose at the end of you foot so that when you place your foot into the boot, the sock material isn't compressing or pulling on the end of your foot.
Once in the boot, wiggle your toes and try to feel if there are any wrinkles in your sock around the toe area. Do the same for the rest of your foot. Then reach in and straighten the sock at the heel area, again making sure there are no wrinkles left to irritate your feet or stop blood flow. Anytime the boot is too tight, or there is a wrinkle in the sock, blood flow can be interrupted, causing cold feet.
LIGHTY bang your heel a few times while dorsiflecting (see above) your foot. This will ensure your heel is back where it needs to be when the buckling starts. A big mistake I see there is guys beating the hell out of the boot trying to get their heel down into the pocket. Too much banging can rip the liner, dislodge important padding/insulation and cause your ever-so-important footbed to shift. Stand up in the boot while performing an inventory for potential problems. If your immediate answer is, “But I have to bang to get my foot in there...”, you need to see your bootfitter. Chances are your heel is too meaty for the particular boot you're in. If you absolutely have to be in the boot you've chosen, a competent bootfitter can perform several modifications to help you get into the heel pocket mo' better.
Let's number the buckles down from the top, #1 being the top most buckle, down to #4, over your toes. Sit back down again, and tap one more time (lightly) to get you heel back into the pocket. Since we're talking about four buckle boots, start on the second buckle from the top. Lightly tighten the buckle to the first notch on the ladder. Then go to buckle #1 and repeat. What we are really trying to avoid here is going to the tightest position right away. Each position of each ladder needs to be used as you are tightening the boot. Alternate tightening buckles #1 and #2 until they are snug, but not overly tight. If you need to use the hook and loop power strap to get the buckles closed, that's fine. Just loosen the strap after getting buckle bails on the ladders.
Nearly all high end ski boots have adjustable buckles. Of course they are adjustable by moving the bails to a different position on the ladder. The second adjustment is the most important as the bail is threaded to that exacting tensions can be achieved. You should be thinking about the threaded tension of the bails each time you put your boots on. The third upper cuff adjustment is physically moving the ladder to a deeper position on the boot cuff. Sometimes these holes are pre-drilled, other times they are mere indentations in the plastic showing a bootfitter where the next logical position is. Somewhere in these positions is the sweet spot for your particular anatomy- if you've chosen the correct boot.
You've tightened the top two buckles 50%. Move to the forefoot. Stand up and flex forward. This will perform the basic biomechanics needed to ensure your heel is as far back in the boot as it will go. If the upper cuff of the boot is just barely tight, the your tibia and fibula function as a lever and force your heel into the rear of the boot. Lightly start buckling the forefoot buckles until you begin to feel pressure. Too much pressure on the forefoot buckles will work against you in several ways. The first is the issue of forefoot valgus/varus.
When you first put your foot into the boot and immediately reach to hammer the forefoot by buckling them to the max, you change the relationship between the forefoot and rearfoot.
Imagine your trusty bootfitter, determining you have a forefoot valgus (over pronation of the forefoot) and built a killer footbed to address this problem....
Then you get into the boot and immediately begin by (over) tightening the forefoot. This will prevent your heel from getting into the rear of the boot, no matter how much pressure you put on the two upper buckles. Over tightening the top two buckles increases stresses on the chin and we all know that's a nightmare to fix. Also, control issues, like stance and balance, are immediately compromised by actions working against the foundation and support of the boot and footbed.
#3 and #4 buckles- better known as forefoot tourniquets
Over tightening the two forefoot buckles will also constrict blood flow to the toes and will make your day a short one if the temps are even remotely cold. Guaranteed. If you have a high arch or a high instep, these problems were likely seen and addressed by your bootfitter, but too much pressure or tightness in this area will shut down your vacation. I like to tell stronger skiers, “No more than two fingers of pressure!”. If you have to use anything more than two fingers of pressure to get a firm snug fit, talk to your bootfitter and see what can be done to take up some volume in the forefoot area.
Once you are in the boot, before standing up, Adjust the tongue to make sure it is the proper position. After you have broken in your boots, the tongue will find its place each time you beging to tighten the boot. The tongue doesn't have to be centered between the upper cuffs of the liner. It just has to be comfortable. I like to tell skiers to use the tongue to protect the tibial crest. the maximum padding should be protecting the shin from the pounding that occurs in the upper front portions of the boot.
Now begin to ratchet the buckles on the ladders from the top down, making sure to hit each position on the ladders. This will slowly suck your foot into position each time you put the boot on.
Changing the balance of your forefoot isn't just a foot and boot issue. The forefoot and it's relation to overall stance cannot be underestimated. If uncorrected (or made worse by you overcompensating with poor form) knee problems are encountered.
Depending on your anatomy, knock knees or bowleggedness, an unbalanced forefoot can have a drastic effect on your skiing. Our shop guys regularly bring experienced skiers over to my boot bench and say they are complaining about their skis not being flat or poorly tuned. In reality, the boot was improperly put on and the relationship between forefoot and rearfoot has the skier treading water from the start.
Simple biomechanics will prevent the skier from ever skiing the ski without overcompensation (making sore) by your lower limb joints.
Last but not least is the power strap. Most high end boots have a pretty stout power strap. This needs to be as tight as you can get it. You should wrench on it. It should be so tight that it marginally loosens the #1 buckle on your boot. Don't worry that the once tight top buckle may be a bit loose, this will correct on your first set of turns, if it doesn't, use the threaded bail to achieve greater tension. The power strap is an essential part of the boot, controlling anterior lower shin pressure, rebound and overall flex of the boot.
If you have a three buckle boot, just pretend the middle buckle functions as buckles #2 and #3 on a traditional four buckle boot. After making sure your heel is seated in the rear of the boot, some skiers prefer to tighten the #1 buckle first then #2, then lastly #3. Since most three buckle boots are lower volume in the toe area, it is important not to over tighten this buckle.
To take your boots off, cross your legs and plantarflex your foot, using the opposite elbow to push the boot off your foot. Even the tightest boot will slip off with ease. Don't use the other boot or your foot to push the boot off your foot. The rear cuff is an essential part of the boot and while strong, it wrinkles and collapses easily. You boot will remember this mistreatment and will reciprocate on a deep powder day.
There are billions and billions of little air bubbles in your liners. They have a memory. A really good one. You want to make sure they have happy memories the first day you put on your boots.
Performing these steps takes no longer than putting on your boots any other way. These steps will become habit in just a week or so, and it will preserve the life you both your feet and your liners.
Stephen A. McDonald, C. Ped is a Board Certified Pedorthist who was lived in Jackson Hole for twenty years. He works for Jackson Hole Mountain Resort inside Jackson Hole Sports in the Winter and is a Mountain Bike Guide in the Summer. You can find him at his slope side boot bench- in the afternoons.