Last updated on January 6, 2021
Photo: Eric Buck
When you spend a lot of time watching other people move about on snow, you begin to notice things.
If you are equipment obsessed, you begin to associate patterns of movement, and specific types of footwear.
For instance, how the majority of recreational skiers in a particular boot tend to stand and move in roughly the same manner. And how the majority of hard boot snowboarders tend to look alike as well.
Then you begin to wonder why. Different people, different body structures, different age, different ability, same general movement pattern?
Then you do some research, quantify things, try to find an answer.
Then you reach a conclusion.
Boot geometry, specifically internal heel height, will have a pronounced effect on leg flexion/extension.
Most ‘active’ footwear has an elevated heel. How much is enough? That depends on the activity, and the limb geometry of the user. For every activity, and every skeletal structure, there will be an optimal heel height.
In alpine skiing, for instance, you want enough heel height to encourage the skier to stand slightly ahead of the center of bend of the platform, but not so much that the skier will stand with a posture ‘back of center’.
In hardboot snowboarding, heel height should be tuned to each foot to accommodate weight distribution within the ‘one foot in front of the other’ stance.
The ski boots observed in the example above were popular at my local area, so I had the opportunity to tune quite a few.
On average, I was lowering the heels by .375″, +/-. That’s significant, especially when heel height can be tuned to within about .012-.024″.
After heel height tuning, each athlete was able to stand more comfortably on their skis, and also experienced a greater range of movement, both with reduced effort.
Heel height and forward flex are two factors that determine vertical stance in alpine sport. Too much of one, too little of the other, and the skier develops something of a crouch, legs more or less locked to a particular degree of flexion in order to find some semblance of stability.
Locked legs, whether straight or flexed, greatly inhibit the options for controlling /applying pressure underfoot, and developing/utilizing rebound of the platform.
In short, it’s tiring, and it’s static. There are other considerations, but these two are the most obvious to the plateaued athlete looking to progress.
If your pursuit is hard boot snowboarding, and your legs get tired sooner than you think they should, consider that the most popular boot shells have +/- 12 degrees of bootboard ramp.
‘Excessive’ is an understatement.
Then consider that most hardboot snowboarders ride in more or less the same compressed posture, and exhibit strikinglly similar movements from one turn to the next.
This is not a choice. Their movements are constrained by boot geometry.
Then consider that a competition grade ski boot has about 4 degrees +/- of internal ramp.
At the highest levels of the game, alpine ski racers demonstrate a greater range of movement, and more general elasticity from the hips down than do their contemporaries in snowboard racing. There are other considerations as well, but boot geometry clearly has a hand in this disparity.
If your quads are burned, and you’re struggling to up your game, particularly on uneven surfaces, consider modifying your boots.
Pattern recognition takes time. As that ability develops, it can lead to interesting conclusions regarding cause and effect, and from there to athletic progress.