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Can I really "buy" a turn?

by Brent Amsbury, Certified Podiatrist

We hear it at almost every ski race, somebody inevitably remarks that they could not "buy" a turn to save their soul after a poor performance, and I am always wondering in the back of my mind if they really have "bought" what it takes to really make a strong racing turn.

At the Masters Nationals this year at Big Sky, I was riding the chair with racer who was distraught at her performance during the super G. She had had a bad run and could not explain her performace other than, "I suck".

I asked her about her boots and skis and if she had been evaluated for canting and stance alignment and replied that she had, but was not completely confident in her response. She had followed a referral to a bootfitter who had sold her new boots, footbeds, and had planed her bootsoles to improve her edge to edge response.

Upon disembarking the chair I proceeded to slow down and let this racer get ahead of me about 20 yards and I then continued to watch her ski. We were heading to the same location, the top of the race course, so I was able match her turn for turn and analyze her stance. Her turns were strong, but as soon as we hit a flat area and she allowed her skis to straight run, DING, the light bulb went off in my head. Her knees were nearly pressed against each other and she was having to push herself into a narrow stance to keep her ski flat. Something was definitely incorrect with her stance.

Later that evening I approached her again at the daily awards gathering and mentioned to her that I would be happy to look stance alignment again if she would not mind. To make a long story short, she agreed, and I found that because of her athletic build, her calves were pushing her too far forward in her boots creating an 'overflexed' position which resulted in a 'locked stance'. She had purchased an aggressive race boot which, out of the box, has a high forward lean angle. This, with her low muscular calves resulted in a position that exascerbated an already slightly knocked kneed position and eliminated any ability to move her center of gravity fore and aft across her skis.

With some modifications done to her boot, (I added a toe lifter to decrease the forward lean), and resetting of the upper cuff, the result was a huge improvement in her ability to edge the ski, and to put pressure on the tip of the ski to engage the turn. Her response was, "Wow, when I want to create some pressure, I can, and when I want more, it's right there!". Voila, she 'bought' a turn!

In short, just because you went and purchased skis, boots, footbeds, and had them checked for alignment, does not mean it was done right the first time, or after skiing them for a season and after 'breaking in' your equipment does it mean that the original modifications are still in effect.

Think of it this way, when you build a race car and race it, would you just call it "all good" and continue to race it repeatedly without checking the motor, tires, suspension, and essential performance components? I think not. First, it would be unsafe, and second, performance of the vehicle would inevitably become degraded to the point of lacking in control.

With this in mind, all skiers need to be analyzed for stance alignment not only when they purchase new equipment, but also shortly after and during the ski season to make sure that any and all modifications are still working. Not only does equipment, especially ski boots, 'break in' and shift in the level of support they give, but also the human body shifts and changes over the course of time to compensate for muscular deficiencies and injuries. Footbeds and orthotics also 'break in' and breakdown over the course of multiple ski seasons and need to assessed frequently to confirm their ability to support the skeletal structure of the body.

To offer your own thoughts on this article, join the discussion at The Modern Skiing Forum