Friday, October 28, 2011

Deciding on Ski Boots? Here's a guide to Performance considerations.

Hey Harald, Since the Vonn boot discussion has morphed to a discussion of the Dodge boot, I’m curious if you’d be willing to shed more light on the new Head boot and general boot stiffness.

This is my post: many athletes, even at the WC level, can actually make use of such a stiff boot? As I understand, an improper setup can render even the best boot, completely useless to the most skilled athlete [point of the thread really I guess]. I know that I and many other very good skiers cannot [do not] spend 100% of their time on even a 150 flex boot... So, what is the relation between setup and boot stiffness, and where do you draw the line on a boot being too stiff for an athlete [thinking racing applications only for the time being]?

I know we have discussed this before and you are an advocate of a stiff boot for obvious reasons regarding pressuring the ski, etc; but I know you’re also an advocate of tailoring every aspect of the boot to the skier/athlete. With guys I know [22 FIS points] skiing a ZB Rossi [140 flex] it seems that it would take a special athlete to handle a 170 flex boot. Even at the elite level not all athletes are created equal.

So to summarize the above – when do you hit the point of diminishing returns in terms of boot stiffness?

Here is a Dalbello 110 flex that skis great for 90% of skiers. It doesn't ski like a soft boot. It's a performance design. So if the design places you in the right balance point, there is enough support unless you are a racer on ice, or over 180 pounds or over 6'-1" tall.

HH response:
As you know I'm 150 pounds, I don't bend a boot and it's my philosophy not to, the best skiers don't want any boot bending or flexing. As far as your friend goes, , how does he know he wouldn't be faster in a stiffer boot? If the ankle position in other words, the dorsi flexion is right, in the boot, the flexing comes from the hips, knees and back. I have movement at the top of the boot, I don't stuff lots of spoilers behind my calf, and I adjust the booster so it's not over tight, and I leave the top buckle so I can move forward. That is how it works for me. I think the Dodge has some way to go before it's perfect, but for right now it's the best, super high performance boot, I know. I ski better "off piste" with a Dodge, it's just physics, it weighs about 1/2 of regular plug boots, less weight to move around if you get out of position and if you ski,  "off piste", aggressively; you are bound to have to manage your CG over your boots or vice vera.          
Ski Boots that hold up under pressure.

Thanks for the quick response. That actually helps a LOT. The most intriguing part is regarding where flexing is coming from. Your philosophy is different from many – especially in this area of the country where the current buzz is all about softer boots. You’re getting your mobility in the boot from not having it clinched down overly tight on your leg at the top, not having spoilers, etc. This is similar to how I ski my boots as well, although I might try backing the top buckle off a turn or two… might be why I haven’t found the “magic” in a softer boot.

This allows you [us] to still ski with our ankles, but also have access to lever the front of the ski when we have to – at which point, the boot is going to flex no matter what because of the amount of force being transferred. I do appreciate my 130’s off-piste though, because I tend to over-lever the front of the ski mainly because I can get away with in here in NY. The softer flex makes my fore/aft less “touchy” in softer snow.

This is different from how others are getting ankle mobility – they are doing it with a softer boot – and I’m assuming are not leaving room for ankle mobility in the top of the boot – meaning they are probably clinching the boot down tight. They are aiming for ankle mobility, which is great, but they are sacrificing access to the front of the ski to do so. The other possibility is that dorsi flexion of their setups is not ideal, which is likely as well since it takes time and attention to fine-tune (at least it has for me).

Racers I know, have been pondering this topic for awhile. Their thinking is, dropping down to a Rossi ZA potentially (ordered a ZB and considering swapping for a ZA). I’ve been urging them to keep the ZB because I think going to a super soft boot is a mistake. The part of the reasoning I was missing was the point you just made about how you get your ankle mobility.

Dodge Boot, The only "high performance", comfort ski boot, in the world, made of carbon Fiber.

BTW – I totally understand why you like the Dodge boot. After handling them in the shop, it makes complete sense. The weight is incredible. That alone could make the boot a tremendous success – not even taking into consideration the lateral stiffness that comes from such a stiff material as carbon.

HH response to: Your philosophy is different from many –
I'm not sure if that's a compliment, but thank you. It should be because the success rate from "the many" is marginal. Our success rate is phenomenal. My need and understanding, and the same goes for those on the WC, for a stiff boot, is simple, you get a faster response to re-balancing with the stiffer the boot. This goes for everyone once you learn how to use it. It goes with technique as well. If you want to steer the ski and skid it until you have to jump on the edge set, get soft boots. With a supportive set up, you can adjust the pressure to the tip more progressively as well. It sounds contradictory, but it's not, once you learn it. Think about it, if you are trying to get to the tip, before you get there the boot flexes, it moves away from you, you have to move farther forward, (while trying to tip the ski) and to do so you are working against the plastic. When I am at the front of the boot, I keep my hips moving forward until the ski tip bites, then I move off the pressure. This is a fraction of a second for each turn. If I am being thrown around, I use the back and front of the boot to keep me centered. If my boot is soft, when I want to rebound off it, I can't get it, because the boot flexes away from me and absorbs my energy. It puts your recentering timing way off. It slows your reaction timing. The cycles of boot philosophy change often, from stiff to soft, and this comes and goes over the years, just like opinions about wide stance to narrow stance change, for coaches. Most have no idea of why or what is actually happening. Coaches are weak at setting up boots, even at the world cup level. So they embrace most current philosophies or follow a trend instead of developing knowledge for themselves..

I believe as everyone here knows that soft boots are mostly cheap, under-performers, and they just hold back your skiing development. They keep you at the same level. Look at the sport car comparison, more performance means, stiffer springs, lower Cg, stiffer shocks and bushings. The German car makers have known this for years, even in their street, performance, road cars. Try to take a sporty approach to corners in an American road car of the 60ies, 70ies and 80ies you were wobbling all over like in a boat, they were a joke.  Compare that to the first 911s or Jaguar XKEs. Or even road cars like the Saab, VW, BMW 2002 or a 530.

The other part, soft boots put your body into a compromised position, many cause you to over use your muscles, because you are holding yourself for every turn, rather than the boot helping.  These soft boots tend to lower your hips, create more steering and give you lordosis (curved lower back) You might even tear out an achilles tendon. Ha!
Questions: Are there any people who you wouldn't recommend a stiff boot for? For example, would a green-level camper be hindered by a 130 flex?

We have many Green (intermediate skiers) campers in 130 flex boots and they are better supported. Many are in good 100 flex boots, as well, because of the speed and steepness of the slope they ski. If you aren't going to need the support that comes with speed and terrain, it's not, "value smart" to over boot. As the flex index goes up, so does the price. We put many women for example, in a 90 flex Head boot, which is a great boot, great value and we have great skiing results with it. But to a 125 pound women, the 90 flex Head boot is like a 130 flex, for a 170 pound man.

Whatever you aspire to or dream, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic. Why waste your energy, time and funds practicing incorrectly when the right way is known? 

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