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Of Boot Stiffness & Ankle Flexion

BlizzardBabe

Certified Ski Diva
#1
I had an interesting chat w/a ski buddy yesterday about ankle flexion and boot softness/stiffness. He tends to think that many, many skiers these days are skiing with too little ankle flexion and he believes that skiing in too stiff a boot contributes to that. We aren't talking about competitive skiers here, just ordinary recreational skiers. He has high end boots, but has the shop tweak them to get the max flex he can out of them. I, on the other hand, am moving in the opposite direction. I felt like I was squashing my boots (confirmed by a couple of instructors), and have just purchased a stiffer pair (I'm not throwing out numbers 'cause I know that every boot manufacturer is different and that the numbers are not always meaningful). During my boot fitting I could feel the increased stiffness in the new boots but I had no problem fully flexing them. My boot fitter believes that the added stiffness will help enhance/fine-tune my control and feel.

I'd just like your thoughts on the subject. Yesterday's chat was fun, but there were only two of us and you know how it goes - two skiers, three opinions.
 

VickiK

Angel Diva
#2
My old boots are the Dalbello Scorpion 105, a 4-buckle design. They're pretty stiff and sometimes I feel like I can't get my skis up on edge properly. This could be a technique thing too.

At the end of last season I went to the bootfitter, they suggested a Dalbello Chakra 85 which has a 3 buckle design. The guy's words echoed what you heard, @BlizzardBabe . I felt the Chakra 85 was too soft. I later found the Chakra 95 on sale so I bought them.

Size and last are same as what I have now, and confirmed to be right by bootfiller. Mfg is the same too. The difference will be the design and the rating. We shall see.
 
#3
Maybe you have naturally good ankle flexion and he doesn't? So you can handle stiffer boots and he can't? I can't either. It took me years to figure out why I skied like crap when it's really cold. I can't flex my boots. Conversely I feel great when it's warmer and I can really flex my boots--that's when I seem to ski my best. I know my ankle flexion is not what it should be.

Or maybe it's all part of the soup of body mechanics, technique, etc--some do better with stiffer and others don't.
 

mustski

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#4
I have the same issue ^^^ warm weather no problem; cold weather too stiff. That was what I liked about both the Kryzma and the Chakra, the flex was adjustable so I could stiffen them up for warmer CA skiing and soften them if it was cold enough to affect the flex. Sigh, now I need new boots and I am worried. Interestingly, all boot fitters so far put me in a stiff boot BECAUSE I have such poor dorsiflexion. It seems counter intuitive, but apparently a stiffer boot is better in that situation. Then again, none of my boots have ever fit right! I am trying a new boot fitter this time. We're heading to Reno to see Bud Heishmann.

ETA: In my experience, if you talk to 3 boot fitters, you will get 3 different opinions!
 

liquidfeet

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#5
^This.

From a master bootfitter and from lots of very good skiers, I have heard that stiff boots are the way to go no matter how you ski nor how much dorsiflexion range-of-motion you've got... IF you seek strong performance from your skis and desire precision in controlling that.

It makes sense. Your lower leg is connected to the boot and the boot to the ski. Your lower leg's tilt controls the ski's tilt. The ski's tilt (tilting tips downward, not up) determines the role the shovels contribute to the turn's radius. We want that control, don't we?

However, it's important to remember that it isn't the lower leg's pressure on the tongue that tilts the shovel downward. It's the lower leg's forward pull on the top of the spine (back of the boot) that does that. I have no image to help explain this, sorry.

The more the lower leg tilts forward into the tongue without bringing the spine's tilt along with it, the less effect that lower-leg-tilting delivers to the ski. I've come to the conclusion that forward flex is there for comfort, to soften or make less abrupt the pressure against the shin that comes from getting forward on the skis. If you make fast super short turns with repeated on-and-off forward pressure, your shins are gonna get bruised -- if you are in boots with little to no forward flex.

Except those elite skiers and racers who can ski so precisely that the rock-hard boot cuff is not an issue, or who just deal with it because the precision that cuff delivers is worth it.
 
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VickiK

Angel Diva
#6
Bud Heishmann analyzed my feet and rest of me first, then suggested the Dalbellos, then adjusted the fit of the Dalbellos some more. He dialed it perfectly because I did not go back for a re-adjustment, although I could have. In fact the next time I did anything to those boots was 3-4 yrs later, to add some padding when they were packed out and to replace the heel/toe pieces. Then I added some more padding this past season. My feet are not problematic, but he is very good. Expect to pay a premium price.
 
#7
I am definitely in the camp of finding a boot that allows you to have a really good ankle range of motion in all weather conditions - warm to bitter cold. I won’t say to go “soft” or “stiff” because that is totally individual and depends on a few different factors. A great boot fitter like Bud will help with that.

But I’m generally with @BlizzardBabe’s ski buddy. While some folks are in boots that are too soft (can be dangerous for your ankles!), IMHO, the much more common problem is skiers who cannot flex their boots. There is more than one possible cause, but being in a boot that is too stiff or too large seems to happen a lot, especially with newer skiers.

Since approximately 20 degrees is a really nice ROM in a ski boot, most people are not actually limited by their natural amount of ankle dorsiflexion. It can definitely be a problem for some folks, but I think it’s not as common as a lot of people think. I have found that shin length (for leverage), overall weight and understanding how to flex a boot (with our weight and technique, not our muscles) are key.

It’s also important to distinguish between fore-aft stiffness and lateral stiffness. Even though I advocate making sure a boot is soft enough that you can flex it fore-aft, I’m all for maximum lateral stiffness. @VickiK - If you are working on edging and unedging skills and feel like you are having problems, consider the lateral stiffness and make sure you have an excellent lateral fit.

Interesting to read that @Christy feels like she can ski better when it’s warm and she can flex her boot. I totally agree!!

But an important thing to consider is - whether you are flexed way forward with your ankle or whether your ankle is relatively open and your shin is more upright, a frozen or relatively unmoving ankle is often what leads to backseat skiing, IMO. Being able to move your ankle through a range of motion is critically important, IMHO, and gives you more options for managing your fore-aft balance.

Play around with it during your early season groomer runs. And see what you think!!
 

liquidfeet

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#8
There are wild disagreements in the world of skiing about how much ankle flexion is needed when skiing. Just keep that in mind, readers, as you digest the differences in this thread.

Make up your own mind about how much flex you want in your boots, and how much you want to open and close your ankles with each turn. Experiment and try every way of dealing with this.

And please, once you decide what works for you, avoid telling everyone else that they HAVE to agree with you or they must be in the back seat. Every skier in snug stiff 130-140 flex boots is NOT in the back seat.

People are different, their anatomy is different, the terrain they ski is different, and they have different intentions as they ski. One "size" does NOT fit all in skiing, no matter how insistent and repetitive some people may be in saying so.
 
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#9
I'm interested in this discussion because my Taos instructor said I need to remember and think about "dorsiflexion" and my weekly trainer recently told me I need to work on ankle flexion when doing squats. Taos instructor had me practicing and getting used to flexing my ankles while on the chairlift. That was the main thing I needed to work on..... yes there were probably others too but this was my first clinic/lesson in 20+ years...
 
#10
I don't know or can't remember what previous boot stiffness I had in the past. My boot history, fwiw.
1. Nordica
2. Dalbello
3. Head - TOO BIG, bought at REI, a bad move
4. Dalbello - bought from Bud Heishmann in 2011, my current boots
5. Dalbello - the new one, "we shall see"
 
#11
There are wild disagreements in the world of skiing about how much ankle flexion is needed when skiing. Just keep that in mind, readers, as you digest the differences in this thread.

Make up your own mind about how much flex you want in your boots, and how much you want to open and close your ankles with each turn. Experiment and try every way of dealing with this.

And please, once you decide what works for you, avoid telling everyone else that they HAVE to agree with you or they must be in the back seat. Every skier in snug stiff 130-140 flex boots is NOT in the back seat.

People are different, their anatomy is different, the terrain they ski is different, and they have different intentions as they ski. One "size" does NOT fit all in skiing, no matter how insistent and repetitive some people may be in saying so.
Lol. I think I know who “some people” are!

But I totally agree that there is not a one size fits all which is why I ended my post with - play around and see what works for you.

PSIA used to endorse “flexing and extending out of three joints” (ankle, knee and hip) in their technical manuals but seems to have backed off that position more recently, so you will definitely hear different things from different instructors these days. Don’t let that throw you. Just earnestly try out what you hear and cobble together what works for you - great advice that I got years ago from Lito Tejada-Flores. :smile:

Conceptually, the idea of a more active ankle is that it gives you more options - you can think of it as more adjustment points - for managing your fore-aft balance. There is a great visual in Ursula’s video that she made for the Divas where she demonstrates flexion and extension with and without adjusting the degree of ankle flex. IMO, that visual is very compelling in terms of what happens to your weight placement. But that may not be your primary concern! I DO think that there are elite skiers who spend alot more time with their weight aft than I do. No doubt they are stronger, more gifted and (mostly) younger than me! I place a higher premium on staying forward because I know I can’t pull off the recovery moves that they can, nor do I want to use my quads as much as they do. But that’s a personal choice.

As always - the only thing that really matters is what works for you - what allows you to ski all the terrain you want to ski with confidence, and what feels fun!
 

liquidfeet

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#12
Skisailor, in that post above it still sounds like you equate skiing a different way than yours as skiing back seat.

It's not necessarily so, Skisailor. Please try to wrap your head around that. There's value in having an open mind. I'm not trying to convince you to stop skiing the way you do, just to stop saying that everyone who doesn't must put a lower premium on staying forward than you do, or that they spend alot more time with their weight aft. I'm taking these words from your post right above mine.

It's not so. Just NOT SO.
 
#13
Skisailor, in that post above it still sounds like you equate skiing a different way than yours as skiing back seat.

It's not necessarily so, Skisailor. Please try to wrap your head around that. There's value in having an open mind. I'm not trying to convince you to stop skiing the way you do, just to stop saying that everyone who doesn't must put a lower premium on staying forward than you do, or that they spend alot more time with their weight aft. I'm taking these words from your post right above mine.

It's not so. Just NOT SO.
 
#14
I absolutely do believe that many elite skiers have more moments where their COM is behind their BOS than how I would ski. Why ? Because they say so themselves! And also because it is easy to see visually. My mind is perfectly open on this.

The leap you make is that I somehow conclude this means it is “bad” “backseat” skiing with all the negative connotations associated with that language. I do not believe it is bad skiing and I have never ever said anything of the sort.

I have always explained things in terms of what I believe to be the particular benefits of skiing in the style I have learned from Ursula. But that may not be for everyone and that’s fine.

I do not make the kind of negative value judgments that you ascribe to me. But I do think there are certain anatomical and bio mechanical facts that we can’t ignore.

There are many different perfectly valid ways of skiing (By valid I just mean that it’s fun for you and that you are in control enough to not be a danger to others). The trick is to find a style that meets your own needs and goals.
 
#15
A great example of what I’m talking about is Ursula’s analysis of a video of the amazing J.F. Beaulieu.

https://www.theskidiva.com/forums/index.php?threads/some-ski-porn-for-us-snow-deprived.18334/

I think it might help to open up our minds to the idea that great skiing can involve having our weight back at times. It’s a personal choice just how much of a priority we want to place on staying “forward”.

The more effortless, less muscularly intensive style that Ursula advocates is my own personal choice and has also been extremely popular with my students at all levels.
 

liquidfeet

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#16
Skisailor, when my weight is back, it's at the top of the turn when I have just released my skis and I'm very light. So there isn't much "weight" on the skis. This is that moment when I get upside down at the top of the turn. Guess what? My outside ankle is open-er than usual, and my inside ankle may be also. I'm not paying much attention to the ankles at that point, but to the skis and what they are doing on the snow. When I'm doing this, I am definitely not doing some up-down movement with an ideological requirement of having equal action at the three joints, ankles, knees, and hips. Far from it.

I don't ask my intermediates to do that type of turn, anyway. I ask them to keep their ankles closed. Of course there's some wobble in the amount of closed-ness they achieve in their basic parallel turns, and there's wobble in my ankle-closed-ness too when I do those slow round groomer turns. My intent is to get them out of the back seat -- which comes with shins straight up from skis. That is the back seat that has all the negative consequences. We are both working to get our students out of the back seat.

You don't teach the way I teach, and I am sure what you teach works just fine with your people on your terrain and in your Big Sky conditions. I've said that before, and will continue to say it.

But my intermediates, on my terrain and on my conditions, can stay out of the back seat while working on keeping their ankles closed. Do you believe this? Really, do you?

So yes, good skiing can have moments when the body is over the back of the centerpoint of the skis. And good "intermediate" skiing can have ankles closed all the time, without opening up to make shins straight up from the skis.

That is not what your posts about ankle flex sound like you are implying, though. Please clarify. I think we may have an audience.
 

contesstant

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#17
I'll throw in the variable of ramp angle and cuff angle of the boots, too. I am now realizing, after starting this season over the weekend on the boots I picked up mid-season last year, that I was REALLY messed up by being in a Jr race boot (that I had been skiing previously) that had a very steep ramp angle and cuff angle. My quads would SCREAM during the first few weeks. This weekend, with the Tecnica Mach 1 LV 95 boots, which are fairly flat and have an upright cuff, I skied with zero quad fatigue, and WAY more confidence early-season than I have...ever. The steep ramp and cuff of the junior race boots I think threw my BADLY into the backseat. Throw in a short BSL, and the problem was amplified.
 
#18
@contesstant I'm glad you're out of a Jr race boot, and it sounds like the Tecnica's are working out. But remember you put in some serious quad work on the MTB rides, just judging by your times and elevation gains on Strava. :hail:
 

contesstant

Ski Diva Extraordinaire
#19
@contesstant I'm glad you're out of a Jr race boot, and it sounds like the Tecnica's are working out. But remember you put in some serious quad work on the MTB rides, just judging by your times and elevation gains on Strava. :hail:
That I did, but I rode even more the two seasons prior, because I wasn't working. That job stuff, such an imposition! :tongue:
 
#20
lol
But back to topic, I will be cautiously evaluating my new boots' 3 buckle design and softer flex, as compared to the old boots.
 

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