As we approach the ski season and look forward to seeing our San Francisco Peaks snow covered again, it’s time to think about our gear! Did you lose out on fun or full days on the mountain because of boot misery? There are some things to consider in terms of your boot fit and there may be some inexpensive fixes to make a current pair right. If not with your present boots, then rest assured, there’s a boot on the market that can be fit to your foot. Having grown up ski racing in the intermountain West, I’m familiar with those boot fitting woes, especially having preferred a boot that was a size too small for more stability while racing. Needless to say, boots and fitting techniques have come a long way!
In my practice, I frequently see a number of issues that lead to foot pain while skiing and snowboarding. These include bunions, hammertoes, bone spurs or prominences in the midfoot or ankle, flatfeet and high arches, foot cramping, neuromas and forefoot pain. And of course, don’t forget acute injuries such as ankle fractures and tendon tears that are common to snow sports.
Here’s a boot-fitting checklist to start:
- Make sure you have just one thin, clean ski sock in your ski or snowboard boot.
- Ensure there is not a lot of space for your ankle to move or twist side to side in the boot.
- The toe box should be roomy and allow for your toes to lay flat and stretch out to full length.
- Keep your toenails trimmed.
- New boots? The liners will break in with use, or consider a thermo-fit at your local ski shop.
- When trying on new boots, it’s best to step into your ski binding so that you can flex forward and feel how the boot fits in a skiing or boarding position.
As a local foot and ankle surgeon, I see injuries every year in our skier/snowboarder population.
In the 1960s, the most common injury in skiing was a fracture of the lateral malleolus, termed “skiers ankle.” It was seen with low, soft leather boots. Over the past 25 years, the incidence of tibia and fibula fractures has decreased due to improvements in our equipment. Today’s ski boot extends to the mid-tibia and allows for better control of the ski. Modern ski boots protect the leg and ankle somewhat better but transmit forces to the knee, resulting in knee sprains and ligamentous injuries, now the most common skiing related injury. This same phenomenon has been reproduced in the evolution of snowboarding boots. Soft boots give the snowboarder twice the risk of ankle injury compared to hard boots. “Snowboarder’s ankle,” a fracture of the lateral talar process, is caused by forced dorsiflexion and eversion at the ankle permitted by softer boots. Hard boots place the snowboarder at risk for “boot-top” fractures of the tibia and fibula as well as double the risk for knee injury.
Today, the snowboarding population has the most significant incidence of lower extremity fractures and injuries relating directly to the use of non-releasable bindings. This has been changing over the past five to seven years with the use of risers with releasable bindings on the boards. They may add weight and bulk, but they are an extremely important mechanism of safety.
Many skiers and snowboarders find that a simple customized foot bed, or orthotic, can greatly enhance the comfort and fit of their boots. These don’t need to be fully customized, as the cost can be prohibitive. Rather, many of the higher end insoles found in outdoor shops and ski shops can be heat molded to your feet. Check with your local ski shop on fitting these into your current or new boots.
Here are a couple of things to check to determine if you have a properly fitting (and safe) ski boot:
1) What is the shell fit like for length? Remove the liner, put your foot in the shell only, have your toes lightly touching the front of the boot and see how much room is behind your heel and the boots shell. Use a pen as a spacer and measure this for thickness. You want 5-15mm (3/16 to 5/8 inch) of room. If you have more than 25mm (1″) or <5mm, stop here.
2) What is the shell fit like for width? Now, center your foot front to back (same amount of room behind the toe and heel). Is the width of your foot touching the sides of the boots shell? You want anything from lightly brushing to 2mm per side. If you have 3mm or < 1mm per side, stop here.
Hopefully, your boot is within all of the above parameters and you are ready to reinsert your liners and go play! If your boots are just too big or too small, don’t try to force them to work for you. The risk of getting an injury or just being miserable is too high. There are plenty of options from preowned to new that will bring you success! In the end, if you feel you may have a foot or ankle condition or deformity, you should seek perspective from a foot and ankle specialist whom you trust. FBN
Of course, if the thought of buying new boots is just too big of a pill to swallow, and you really want work on what you have, an expert boot fitter may be worth the investment. Fortunately, we are a ski town with local expertise. Here in Flagstaff, Humphries Summit offers a professional boot fitting service with many years of experience A proper fitting boot is one of the most important elements in your ski/snowboard experience. Get out there and enjoy the sport, but keep your safety and comfort as the highest priorities!
By Stephen Knecht, M.D.
Stephen Knecht, M.D., is a board certified, fellowship trained surgeon in the Foot & Ankle Center at Northern Arizona Orthopaedics, located in the Summit Center. To learn more about Dr. Knecht and his specialty in foot and ankle care, visit NorthAZortho.com.