Ski orthoses / orthotics, custom foot beds, ski insoles - whatever you want to call them, everyone benefits from a custom foot orthosis in their ski boot. I remember fitting a ski instructor in Canada with their first pair of custom footbeds (before I was a podiatrist). He looked dubious about the improvement it would make. He didn't have sore feet or any problem with his boots. But after a quick chat he agreed to try them - just to see. After one run he popped back into the shop beaming. The control and comfort he now felt was so remarkably improved he brought his whole ski class into the shop and convinced them all they needed footbeds. How he got to the skiing level he did without the correct equipment is a tribute to his skill, not necessarily his knowledge or understanding of equipment.
Ski orthotics, custom footbeds, custom insoles - all the same thing. The difference is in the name which is determined by who's made them. But what's in a name? Only a qualified podiatrist can produce a device called an orthosis (just for the record, it's an orthotic-device or orthosis, the term "orthotic" is actually incorrect). Custom footbeds are what bootfitters working in a shop will call their devices. There are definitely some highly skilled boot fitters who make excellent custom footbeds for ski boots. For the purpose of this post, and because I'm a podiatrist, I'm going to refer to these for the rest of the time as ski orthoses.
CAN I WEAR MY RUNNING ORTHOSES IN MY SKI BOOTS?
No, no, no! Don't do it to your poor feet. Running or normal shoe orthoses do not work in ski boots. They are designed for a walking or running gait in which the foot does completely different movements than what it's doing in a ski boot. They either provide too little contact and support, or alternatively end up being too rigid in their efforts to control your foot.
Regular orthoses are designed for the foot to go through a full range of movements - from heel to toe and then swing through the air. In a ski boot your foot is stuck in midstance the whole time - I'm going to call it "static gait" for want of a better term. Ski orthoses are designed to allow your foot to stay in relatively the same position, controlling pressure throughout the ski turn.
Regular orthoses are generally made from a hard polypropylene material and are designed to correct or change your gait pattern. Ski orthoses are softer and more accommodative and tend to have a higher arch for support and pressure distribution.
WHAT BENEFITS DO SKI ORTHOSES GIVE ME?
Oh, there are so many wonderful things about ski orthoses and words simply do not do them justice. But let me try...
Pressure dispersion - this will make the foot feel comfortably supported like it's never felt before. It prevents "hot spots" under the foot and an even feeling of control.
Holds the foot in a neutral joint position - Holding the foot in a neutral position supports the muscles and ligaments of the foot. The joints are held in the ideal, neutral position allowing the nerves and arteries to run through without being squashed. This prevents cold and numb spots, and fatigue and cramping from muscles overworking. Ever had an arch cramp in a ski boot? Oh yeah, you need ski orthoses. Or if you already have ski orthoses, you need new ones/modifications.
Arch support - When turning, the arch will collapse if not supported, causing the ankle to roll in and the tibia to rotate inwards, creating a tendency to "A-frame"as you move through the turn. Proper support here will prevent the ankle from rolling too much and causing shin rub or painful inner ankle problems on the boot.
Ski control - A ski orthosis "fills in the gaps" under the foot so your movements are translated to the ski with minimal energy loss from wasted movement. Improved contact also improves your sense of balance - your head has more information with which to calculate your position in space (proprioception). Better control leads to improved technique from setting the ski on its edge and releasing it faster.
Prevents the foot from splaying - did you know that your foot can measure a size larger if you don't have a well made custom ski orthosis in your ski boot? A boot that's too big will result in sloppiness and foot pain that is unnecessary. If you require any shell expansions for spots that rub or cause pressure, you need a ski orthosis. Unless you have a ski orthosis stabilising your foot, it will just move into the space created and you will still get the rubbing or squashed feeling in your feet. Black toes occur if your foot is not stabilised and is sliding around in the boot. It would be like not wearing a seat belt in your Volvo.
Cushioning - everyone needs a bit a of cushioning between their foot and the hard plastic shell. Can you imagine the heel bruising without it? Ski boots come with a cushion-y insole but they compress very quickly and once you leave the shop, that cushioning is gone gone gone. A ski orthosis will hold on to what it's got.
GREAT, I WANT SOME! WHERE DO I GET THESE MAGICAL, FIX-ALL SKI DOOVERS?
Well my friends, this is where it can all fall apart. You need someone who is skilled in making ski orthoses to get the benefits listed above. They don't just come in a box off the shelf. Some people may try to sell you off the shelf orthoses for ski boots, but please don't waste your money as they just are not the bees balls. Apart from Formthotics - these do work remarkably well in ski boots for a foot without any funky problems. For these people, Formthotics can offer you 70-80% of the performance and fit outcomes of a custom ski orthosis.
You need to find someone who understands the role the equipment plays in the foot's functionality whilst skiing. So any old podiatrist won't do, as in my experience they have excellent understanding of the body, but don't grasp the vital role the rigid plastic boot plays in skiing and foot comfort/performance.
Shop staff on the other hand tend to understand the equipment better than a podiatrist, but have not had the years of training to understanding the body and its physiology. Some ski shops don't even put posting on their custom footbeds (the foam stuck under the heel and ground down to give a flat surface - imperative for a successful custom orthosis). Sacrilege darling! You should not buy custom orthoses from this place, as they don't respect the importance of the orthosis if they are not posting.
This image shows posting. The rear of the orthosis will rock on the curved base if not posted.
There are a handful of excellent bootfitters dotted across the place who have mastered the art of bootfitting and are worth seeking out. Please contact me if you want a bootfitter recommendation near you. I am more than happy to suggest people worth seeing.
Or if you're in Victoria, just come and see us! Without wanting to toot our own horn too much, we hold a special place in understanding equipment (having worked in the ski industry for over a decade) and understanding feet and the body (having studied them extensively) so we can provide a body-down assessment and problem solving for skiers. Pre-boot purchase assessments, or if you own your boots already, all start with making the perfect ski orthosis for your special, one-of-a-kind foot. Certain foot types change more than others when an orthosis is used, and in many cases this can impact the fit and selection of the correct boot. So if you have any of these issues...
...come and see us before purchasing a boot. You can read a little about our ski orthoses here.
Well there you go. Toot toot!
QUICK RUN DOWN
Everyone not only benefits, but NEEDS, ski orthoses
Regular running or walking orthoses must NOT be worn in ski boots
Ski orthoses will make your feet feel all warm and fuzzy
Ski orthoses lead to better control, less fatigue and longer ski days
Make sure you get your ski orthoses made by someone with skill in understanding equipment AND feet and how they all fit together. A good bootfitter will understand the body as well as the equipment.