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Is Your Gear Limiting Your Development?


Most Americans believe in self-improvement, believe that regardless of the chosen endeavor, one should strive to get better at it. As applied to skiing, this world-view implies that all skiers, from rank beginner to elite competitor, would like to ski better. Effective immediately, if possible.

Skiers who've been engaged in the sport for a while know that better gear will allow them to ski better. To choose an obvious example, even average skiers understand that a wide ski with a turned-up tip and tail will make it easier for them to stay upright in powder.

What many skiers fail to consider is the opposite side of this coin: that misguided boot and ski selection places serious limitations on their improvement.

By far the most widespread roadblock to skill development is the over-sized ski boot, followed closely by various other forms of mis-fitting. A boot that doesn't accurately support the rear foot, ankle and lower leg ought to inspire sickening dread in anyone wearing it while heading downhill. No one can ski worth a lick when his or her toes are frantically clawing at the bottom of the boot, vainly searching for some measure of stability.

If you don't know how, precisely, your boots are supposed to fit, I recommend you read a few of my prior posts on the subject. Check out The Definition of Fit, Fit Your Whole Foot, and How to Fit a Boot.

A point frequently made in these essays is worth mentioning again here: should you decide it's time for new boots, don't waste said time researching every detail about the current market, trying to find your best match in a boot. Instead, use resources like realskiers and America's Best Bootfitters to identify the best individual bootfitter near your home or where you frequently ski.

Once you're sitting on the right boot-fitting bench, your only remaining job is to provide the most accurate feedback you can - including an unembellished self-assessment as a skier - throughout the fitting process. (By the way, now is an excellent time to buy at your local city or area specialty ski shop. Inventories still have decent selection and prices won't get much, if any, lower.)

While nothing is more important than boots, we don't call the sport "booting." The choice of ski is likewise pivotal to one's chances for self-improvement. The ski segment's analog to the over-sized boot is the over-wide ski.

America is besotted with fat skis. One of the best-selling skis nationwide is the 106mm-wide Rossignol Soul 7, which would make more sense if every resort in the country were regularly dosed with fresh, natural snow. This is no slight on Rossi; they make other, narrower models that sit right alongside the Soul 7 on ski racks across America, but too many advanced skiers ignore them in favor of the fatties.

Since the Soul 7 is actually a very nice performance ski that's easy to manage, why get my knickers in a knot about its runaway success? Because wide skis place limits on the development of skiers who aren't yet at the top of their game.

There are two fundamental actions the skier must apply to the ski to make it travel on a clean, carving edge: tipping and pressuring. It's the tipping business - without which the pressuring isn't as helpful - that's compromised by excess width.

True experts, who can achieve a high edge angle on a whim, have no problem applying this skill to a fat ski. Skiers who don't naturally maintain a more or less continuous edge won't suddenly acquire this facility on a ski that's inherently more arduous to tilt up at a high angle to the snow surface.

Am I suggesting Americans overcome their dependency on fat skis and dispose of them all on Craig's List? Of course not. Getting rid of your fatties just because they'll see limited duty would be like selling the convertible just because it's winter. Save them for the powder days they were meant for.

If you want to get better, your everyday ski should match everyday conditions, which last time I checked didn't include large infusions of bottomless fluff. It's time for America to go on a ski diet, and trimming that ski waistline is the place to start.

jackson hogen