Methods and Mirrors.
No discourse on boots would be complete without addressing the field of ‘Alignment’ and/or ‘Balancing’. The practice, in various permutations, has been around for quite some time, and the need is certainly there. In simplest terms, adjusting equipment is like moving the driver’s seat in a borrowed car. You need to reach the pedals. And maybe the buttons on the radio.
(My goals in aligning are most likely different than those of other
practitioners, and as such, I follow a different protocol.)
The interface between skier, boot, and ski can be manipulated to great effect. What you modify, and to what extent, will determine whether or not you have tuned out the static on the radio, or merely changed the station. It is not enough to simply make skiing feel ‘different’. The goal is to make it feel ‘right’. If one part of the turn becomes easier, while another part is a bit more difficult to manage than previously, the odds are good that the wrong parameter has being tweaked.
One of the more important considerations as to the how’s and why’s, is what will the skier do with your handiwork, and have they the wherewithal to make good use of it? The end user easily accommodates some aspects of alignment, such as improved foot support and rudimentary cuff alignment. Other elements, such as internal ramp adjustment and canting, require the user to re-examine some of their previous movements and practices. Presumably, alignment will remove obstacles to ‘performance’. It stands to reason then, that any number of by-now habitual ‘work-a-rounds’ will need deprogramming. This takes time, some effort (both mental and physical), and a need for the athlete to address their previous deficiencies. This last part can be particularly challenging, if the skier has much of their identity tied up in their skiing, or in their process of skiing.
Be aware that, if you evaluate and align a skier in a ‘parallel’ stance, your adjustments will facilitate that stance, and possibly that stance alone.
The primary problem with classic alignment schemes, is that they are data heavy and results inconsistent. Most are variations of the same theme, and most are based on flawed premises of how skiing works, and what movements/postures are required.
I spent the winter of ’97-’98 living in Aspen Colorado, working for the Performance Centers of Aspen. Our product was proper ‘alignment and balancing’ using an allegedly effective process. Though I followed this process faithfully, I did not get replicable results from one client to the next, outside of generating positive cash flow for the business.
Following a valid process should yield consistent results across a selection of clients. This one, like others before, did not.
The format in use was derived largely from the work of Warren Witherell, who authored a few books on the topic, notably, ‘How the Racers Ski’ and later, ‘The Athletic Skier’.
Both are worth reading.
To his credit, Witherell was/is correct in his assertion that altering equipment can have a marked effect on performance
Measuring effective athletes and ascribing meaning to those measurements is not a terribly effective means of improving the performance of mere mortals.
Upper echelon athletes, who ski well, ski well because their physiques predispose them to ski well. If they were in need of much in the way of alignment, they likely would not have gotten so far in their chosen discipline. (The nature of ‘competition’ is such that lower achievers are weeded out of the system.) As such, they follow, for the most part, the same alignment paradigm. Quantifying that paradigm with measurements and reference points will only tell you what. It won’t tell you why. Trying to apply these metrics to the rest of us is something of a waste of time. It’s a lot like assuming that if I set myself up on a bicycle like a Pro-Tour cyclist, I will ride with similar efficiency…
Implement something that works for “…the tired, huddle masses… yearning to (be) free…”, and you’ll have an understanding of alignment issues.
Canting is not an edge contact game. Rather, it is a means of restoring joint mobility and reducing muscle tension in the lower extremities. These criteria mean little if they are not practically utilized. The phrase ‘a flat ski’ means nothing without understanding the reference frame involved.
Groomed snow is not ideal for evaluation of alignment. Deep snow and bombproof are far better.
For greatest effect, geometric alterations to the boot/binding interface should be made in a specific sequence. Begin with proper foot support……..Finish with canting.
One way or another, many skiers are at odds with their equipment, either due to comfort, or geometry. Many of the common issues seen on the slopes are directly related to how the boot positions us on our skis, and how those boots affect our joint articulations. When the boot complements our anatomical and nervous needs, skiing can become more fluid and powerful, with much less effort.
And that is an entirely different plane of existence.