Welcome to the Summit Web site's Coaches Corner. The intent is to provide information of a general nature to better inform the parents and kids of Summit about issues of technique and technology that affects the performance our young skiers are trying to achieve. If anyone requires more specific advice I would be glad to offer it.
- Glenn Allen, Level 3 CSIA, Level 2 CSCF (and a practicing member of the ski business since 1976)
One of the most important equipment choices a skier makes in terms of affecting their performance and fun on snow is their boots. This is the essential link that either allows or inhibits good balance and as a result the performance of the skis. The steps to properly assessing this are as follows:
1) The first question is whether it is the proper category (and this includes the flex of the boot) for the skier. Often skiers are spending a lot of money on products that are too stiff for them to flex the ankle through a relatively broad range of movement and as a result balance and make fine adjustments at the ankle joint. The higher the performance of the boot the stiffer it is generally made but this does not take into account individual differences in skier size and strength (which dramatically have an impact on the ability of the skier to use the boot). The question I always ask is it possible to stand in the boot when it is cold and bend the boot cuff towards the toe of the boot so that the skier's knee approximately reaches to the end of the boot? This is with the cuff buckled up, completely enclosing the shin and calf of the skier. In other words does the whole cuff move with the skier's lower leg or does it block this movement in some way.
2) Is the boot the proper length (measuring using the smaller foot there should be about 2-3-cm of space in the boot shell length-wise between your foot and the inside of the shell)? This also promotes good balance on the ski for if the boot is too large for the foot often the mounting point on the ski will result in the skier being too far back on the ski to easily achieve early control of the ski. This phase is critical to creating a platform for generating power.
3) Does the boot provide comfort and warmth under most of the conditions that you ski in? If the boot is not able to keep your foot comfortable (not loose but snug without severe constriction particularly on the top of the foot) and warm then you lose approximately 80% of your ability to balance on the foot. In extreme conditions the boot may require boot heaters but if your feet are cold all the time (and you do not have a medical condition predisposing you to this) then this may require custom fitting or a new boot.
4) What kind of insole is in the liner? This is critical to good balance and is a complex subject. Suffice to say that the insole (often referred to as the footbed) provided with the boot is rarely adequate. Unless the ankle joint can allow the foot to roll inwards (towards the arch) and lengthways (towards the ball of the foot by the big toe) in a
biomechanically appropriate fashion then it is very difficult to apply pressure and balance against the forces involved in carving.
Honestly in terms of the flex adjustment features that come with most boots by far the majority of skiers make the mistake of making their boots too stiff for their body to balance or buying boots that are too stiff in the wrong planes in the first place. This is clear at all levels of skiing. In 2004-5 some members of the Canadian Alpine Ski Team did some on hill training in boots that were totally devoid of a cuff (the upper of the boot). This was in order to realign their points of reference for balance and practice balancing on their feet instead of leaning on their boots. In other words they trained with zero stiffness around their lower leg to improve their balance and to rediscover awareness of their foot on the ski!
My suggestion is that you try skiing with the boot at all times in the softest position possible to achieve better balance. This will to allow you to carry your momentum by moving the center of mass (roughly your body) down the hill to the inside of the turn once your skis have reached the fall-line and you are starting to carve the turn (grip the snow with the edge rather than skid the skis on the edge and base). Ask a friend who is capable to ski beside you and watch whether you bend the ankle and the knee almost equally at the start of the turn. In other words (depending upon your speed) is your hip over the heel of the binding when your knee is over the toe of the binding or are you sitting back more (greater bend at the knee than at the ankle)? I hope that this has offered some guidelines.
Short of this information the best thing a skier can do for their long-term enjoyment is find a good custom boot fitter who will work with them to enhance their comfort and value from the boot they buy.
- Information provided by Glenn Allen, Masters Head Coach
- Source from presentation by Terry Makes, Footworks, Canmore, B.C.
First: We Don't Get Cold We Lose Heat!
The trick to staying warm is staying dry while trapping the right amount of heat to maintain body temperature without losing energy unnecessarily. Simply put the more you sweat the colder you'll get. The technique is called moisture management. Winter clothing in Manitoba often has to cover a range of temperatures from 5 to -40 degrees C. You need to learn how to layer properly, from base to mid to outer shell so as to allow sweat to pass through one layer to another and still trap warm layers of air in between.
Second: What's in a Name?
There are a lot of different fabrics and fabric treatments you'll encounter in your search for the right clothing. Waterproof and breathable fabric treatments such as Aquamax, Omnitech and Heli-Tech as well as the familiar Goretex brand in addition to ventilation zips on the jackets and pants help you cool down when you're too hot. Next to the skin layers like Matrix Dry Tech, Lifa, Nike Drifit and Adidas Climafit quickly take the moisture off your skin fast. Size this layer tight like a second skin. Don't make the mistake of wearing cotton in the winter. It just holds the sweat in one spot without allowing thinning out so that body heat can turn it to vapour.
Third: Accessories Are Important
Make sure that you wear good head covers, gloves or mitts and modern moisture managing socks inside the ski boots. Often when people get cold its because they are losing too much heat at these opposite ends of their body and you have a hypothermic reaction. Remember that different people (and people of different sexes) often lose heat at different rates so there is no such thing as an absolute temperature rating.
Fourth: What's The Truth about Layering?
The layering process consists of three steps. First is the base layer as detailed above. The second is the mid- layer or insulating layer and the last is the shell. The function of the base layer is to keep you dry. The purpose of the mid-layer is to trap warm air. The role of the shell is to keep cold air out when necessary and to keep you dry from outside weather conditions. Don't be misled by the term breathable on jackets and shells. If the first two layers do not easily release moisture to escape through the fabric of the shell you can still get damp. If the air temperature and humidity outside the shell are the same as inside you can still stay damp. The most expensive shell will not work if the mid-layer traps moisture and is not breathable as well.
Fifth: Fit and Function go Hand In Hand
Proper fit is also critical to keeping the right amount of heat trapped to regulate the temperature of the body. Too big or too small leads to heat and water loss, discomfort and energy loss that the skier needs to keep performing at our extreme temperatures. The more heat you have to produce to keep warm the less hydrated you will be. This has a dramatic effect on the skier's ability to co-ordinate and sustain the complex movements that the sport requires. A great trick to fit the popular 3 in ones (usually a shell with a zip in liner, often of polyester fleece) is to unzip the liner from the jacket and zip the shell to itself while zipping the inside liner to itself. A jacket of the proper size should allow the wearer to extend their arms forward so that their fingers touch without the sleeves riding up past the wrist. With the wearer leaving their arms down to their side have someone grasp the jacket in the back between the shoulder blades with one hand. If there is just enough fabric to allow you to get one handful of material the jackets is not too big across the shoulders.
Sixth: Get under the Hood
You wouldn't buy a car without knowing what's inside. Open up the jacket to see all the features. Are there extra pockets for goggles and other things? Is there a snap or zip together powder skirt to keep snow out and heat in? How functional is the hood (a must for Prairie skiers) and does it fit over helmets. Do the sleeves close off with Velcro or is there an inside cuff. There are many more features that can be important but these are the basics.
Finally: Does it really matter?
Absolutely!! My many years of being with my own kids and teaching or coaching others has taught me one thing. The single biggest distraction to learning anything new or concentrating on practicing something in order to improve is the comfort level of the student. Cold is not fun or comfortable!