Equipment issues – yours holding you back?
Chapter 11 Equipment Issues?
Equipment Issues while skiing and Telemarking..
…there’s a chance it just may not be you or your fault
All the micro-adjustments that can be made to equipment are akin to setting up a car to drive (See Relating to Other Sports), rear view and side mirrors, steering wheel position, seat; height, angle and backrest etc. All can equate to how your choice of boots, bindings and ski manufacturer influence where you stand and balance, either effectively or not.
You’ve been Telemarking/Skiing, had some good lessons and or taken time practising but you’re still struggling, either technically or suffering discomfort. The answer may be that the set up of your equipment is to blame. Now don’t just use this as an excuse, remember the saying “a bad workman always blames their tools”.
These days you should be able to hire very good equipment in almost every resort, so there should be no reason to struggle in this department. The problem might be the way you’re made, anomalies in the alignment of your body parts too and the equipment may impact making it worse. Let’s start with equipment first.
Skis: are skis, you can get Telemark specific skis and in the past there were differences. When skis first became shaped, Telemark skis were still relatively straight and longer in comparison and were comically called “misery sticks”. Today they are much the same and most people I know just mount Tele-bindings on Alpine models that they like. Here are a few points to help you find out if your kit is ok to do the job.
Are they in good condition? Not all shops are good, although it’s come a long way since I started.
The bases should be flat with as little visible damage to them as possible, big gouges won’t be a good thing, especially if close to the edges.
They should be waxed ready for the type of snow that has been falling, there are differences; in temperature, wet, dry, light, heavy, old and new. The wax reduces friction between the base and the snow allowing the ski to slide, without it the ski won’t slide properly (wrongly thought of as a bonus if nervous), or worse it will collect snow giving you the effect of a platform shoe as you walk across or down the slope!
If the sticky snow in the picture was on the bottom of my skis they wouldn’t slide and I’d be taller!
Are the edges sharp enough? If the conditions are icy then this will be very important, as you could be tilting the skis as skilfully as you can however, if they are badly tuned then they will not “cut the ice” or even the mustard (like driving on bald tyres, no grip). Other problems due to poor tuning; the skis being “grabby” or railed-when the edges are proud of the base, you’ll be more aware of this when the snow has a marble or soapy quality.
Are the skis suitable? The classic mistake of a beginner being on a race ski, too stiff and unforgiving or a better skier being on a ski for a beginner, too soft and unstable at speed. Akin to a beginner driver’s first lesson being in a Ferrari or Jensen Button having to race F1 in a Morris Minor.
Boots: Note! That boots are the foot and lower legs and therefore the brains and body’s connection or conduit of feel to the ski via the binding!
Although Telemark boots are different to alpine and come in traditional 75mm “duckbill” or new NTN without the duckbill – the fit should be the same. Be aware though that in a Telemark boot when the bellows is flexed if there isn’t enough room in the toe area (toe box) then it could get very uncomfortable!
Do they fit well? A ski boot should be in your normal size; not a size too big with 2 pairs of socks or too tight and this fit will differ due to personal preferences gained through experience. For example a beginner will be more interested in comfort, so the fit might be looser whereas a racer is more interested in precision and may be tighter.
Be certain to include your lower leg (the whole boot) in the fit, it will be no good them fitting your feet perfectly but hurting your calf area, or vice versa. They should be snug but not cut off the circulation to the feet – pins and needles are a bad sign. Take time in the shop and keep them on for as long as you can but in reality you won’t know for sure until on the snow. Remember there are lots of different makes of boot and one of them should be the right one for you, don’t just hire or buy the ones in a colour you like or the ones with the snazzy logo, get the ones that fit.
- Do them up loosely first thing and tighten as the day goes on
- Wear the thinnest socks you own or but good ski socks
- If when you do them up the clips are already on groove number 4 or 5 then they are too big
If you’re in boots that are too big then your skill level will have to be greater – skiing in loose boots (wellies or slippers) can be done and is like skiing with your clips undone which is a well used drill for improving balancing.
Are they too stiff/too soft? This will be just like the beginner using a race ski; the boot is just too stiff for the ability of the skier and is true the other way round too. Boots have a stiffness indicated by a number -110,130,150 for example. If the boot doesn’t fit the shin well this number becomes irrelevant really, as the load may be taken on one spot therefore making the boot feel stiffer. Remember the pressure on your shins should be light anyway!
Each manufacturer use a different last or mould and have different quirks, ramp angles, and anomalies in the making process that will either help or hinder your progress. Once again don’t just blame the boot, find out if it’s physical first with the help of an instructor, if it turns out to be the boot there are many solutions. Some of these things will help or be a solution to physical/body problems too.
Each also differ with their forward lean angles too – some models being more upright than others, generally they are similar but some can differ – by 4 or 5 degrees which doesn’t once again sound much but can make big differences to people with problems that this would affect. This can be changed by a good boot fitter or by getting the correct model for YOU.
Cuff alignment. If you’re extremely bandy (couldn’t stop a pig in a passage) or incredibly knock kneed then getting the boots aligned could be an answer as this will even out the anomalies and make the skis flat when before you were over on the edges or couldn’t access the edges. This can be done by adjusting the cuff of the boot – aligning the part of the boot that encases the shin or lower leg, sometimes known as canting or by grinding internally or externally the base if extreme and lots of other clever things that a good boot-fitters can do.
Calf wedges. Not entirely a female problem, many men have slim calves too and this can be a factor if the boot is too big or upright – a couple of piste maps shoved down the back of the boot to take up the volume, is a quick fix to see if this helps but once again see a good boot fitter.
Ramp-angle adjustment. If the boot’s natural angle fore/aft of the internal base is steep or flat and doesn’t suit your build, then this can play havoc with any skier, especially if you have small feet as the length will steepen the angle (a 2mm difference in height between 2 points 15cm apart and 20cm apart is different). This will tip you forward or backward, inhibiting the amount of ankle, knee and hip flexion/extension movements you can make comfortably or effectively. Internal shims, grinding and many other clever things can be done by a professional boot-fitter and podiatrist (foot doctor) or just try another/more suitable model.
The picture above allows you to understand that every boot and binding set up (every manufacturer differs); there exists an unseen internal ramp angle (RA) that differs from completely flat to steeper and the Delta angle (DA) – if the measurements differ greatly between toe and heel even by a few millimetres this can make a big difference. If the RA is high along with a big difference in the DA then the skier may be pitched forward causing problems. The same can be said in other circumstances if the RA and DA are flat, if it doesn’t suit the build or make-up of the individual.
You may notice the 4mm riser under my front binding – correcting or flattening my DA. and stopping my knee pain(Thanks Andi).
These vary too and are numerous; even different models within a range of the same make can differ – some hire bindings can have very differing heights at toe and heel (DA), more info following.
Ski binding/boot relationship
As stated each manufacturer can differ greatly and partnering certain makes together may not be good for your personal needs! For example using made up names, pairing a;
- “Cerveza” boot, which has a steep interior ramp angle and is quit upright
- With a “Jose Guillermo” binding, which has a 5mm difference between the toe and heel binding (heel high)
If you’re a size 5 uk foot and have slim calves, this may be detrimental and you may be better off using a different brand of boot, binding or both! However if you’re size 10 it may not as the angle is not so steep. Find the pairing/models that suit your build or have them adjusted by a Pro.
Foot beds. These can normally correct a lot of problems and take away the pain of burning under the foot. During my first season or two before I acquired some, I could always tell the time, at about 1-2pm the balls of my feet would go crazy as if ablaze and I had to remove the boots for a while. It could also have been because I was standing/leaning too far forward and on the balls of my feet (See Stance and Balancing). Imagine sleeping on an unsuitable mattress or pillow for the night as compared to your own much loved one at home.
They can also correct lateral problems; pronation and supernation – they provide support for the foot to relax and work more efficiently.
All the things above have cost implications but if it cures the problem it will be worth it as you’ll be able to enjoy yourself and continue for longer. Ask your pro instructor and get a referral to a good boot fitter. I use Head Skis and Boots for Alpine and Scarpa boots for Telemark because they fit and I like the product. I also receive a good deal from them and it should come as no surprise as they’re in a lot of the pictures.
I use a few boot-fitting services:
Jules the Bootroom, Chamonix
Andi doing some of his magic adjustments on a client on snow, he is an old friend of mine from the Andorra days and works all over the place as well as with Colin in Bicester. All of these guys are well placed to help with any problems you might have and will be able to give advice to help correct them. Be prepared for lasers, spirit levels and amazing tests and proofs of balance improvements.
Bindings. There are so many different models of Telemark bindings the most basic being 3-pin ones (these gave Telmarkers the nickname Pin-Heads) that have a lever at the front that locks the 3 pins into the base of the duckbill. These progress through all manner of cable bindings that are; front closing, rear closing, are sprung with springs, canisters, have a rubber stretch band under the foot to the closing mechanism. These are all designed to keep forward pressure on the duckbill to keep it in its housing. Most of these traditional bindings don’t release, some do. The new innovation, NTN (New Telemark Norm) attaches via a closure system under the ball of the foot that is closed by pressing a lever down at the front and can be closed and opened without bending down. Other than this the same rules as Alpine can apply.
Are they the correct model? Once again if a beginner is on a race binding it might not release and may cause injury. The other way round can be just as dangerous as the binding might release too easily.
Also if you can already ski and use a demo binding these can contribute (if the front binding is millimetres lower than the rear binding it will create an exterior delta angle) to the interior ramp angle tipping you up even more, maybe by a few degrees or so, this doesn’t sound like much but can be a factor. This isn’t something that the beginner should worry about but it is something the instructor should be aware of as it can inhibit the amount of ankle and therefore all joint movement. Once again more important with small feet as the angle becomes less dissipated over a longer foot.
Note bindings do a difficult job; they are designed to keep you attached to and deliver your inputs to the ski on one hand but release you when necessary.
How can I tell the difference in models?
The easiest way other than the word RACE on the side is the DIN (Deutsch Industrial Norm) settings, these are the industries benchmark and are common to every manufacturer; each binding has a window somewhere on it with numbers which indicate the strength of the spring that creates forward pressure in the binding making it easier or harder to release from it. A small child’s binding may have 1 2 3 and an arrow adjusted by a screw to increase and lessen the amount on both the front and back binding. 1 will release easier than 3. The front binding is designed to release a sideways, backwards and combinations of these and the back one can release up forwards and sideways. Both bindings working together can release in a number of combined ways when critical torque is reached. A race binding may go from 10-20 and the higher the numbers start and finish the harder they are to release so it is very important to get the correct model to prevent injury.
Some of the problems from before can be dealt with under the binding with shims and such but once again get and let the professional do it, placing beer-mats under your bindings and using gaffer tape has been done in the past but is NOT advisable!
Safety note, never adjust your bindings yourself, always talk to the ski technician as there are many factors to think about; weight, type of skier, size of feet and height to mention a few, leave it to the professional. You want them to release properly at the correct moments but not pre-release when you haven’t fallen and you’re bashing the bumps.
In the past
Many years ago in Soldeu, I can’t remember who instigated it in the ski school, we all went and hired equipment from the local ski-hire rather than using our own and went out skiing. We all had a nightmare! We were all using the same inputs as when on our own equipment but couldn’t do anything remotely as we normally did.
There were as many different reasons as there were people;
- Blunt edges
- Skis too soft
- Pain due to no insoles (me)
- Skis and or poles too short or long among many others
At the end of this experiment we all had a new respect for the students we taught; “how can they ski on this kit?” “No wonder they can’t edge/ski on ice” etc, etc.
Conclusion; get the best fitting and most appropriate equipment for your level. Most shops are good but not all; some just want you out of the shop so they can serve the next person, they should give you if professional very good advice.
Best practice, is to check that the equipment you’re using is suitable and aligned perfectly but remember your build (we are all slightly different) may be creating the problem. Having an anomaly, either in your build or in the equipment, will hinder your progress and having it corrected professionally can make all the difference. Imagine running the 100 metres in wellington boots or stilettos (there they are again), not impossible but easier and a better result if in trainers.
Build and bodies
Humans could be said to be very similar in their make-up and build but there can be big but very subtle differences; from short or longer legs in relation to shorter or longer upper bodies. Flexibility; one person very or hyper flexible to the next who is more like a plank or more rigid. I could go on and on and talk about the dis- or differently- abled however, even the perfectly formed Greek god or goddess may have some anomalies in their build.
In my early days I had 2 ski buddies that spring to mind to out line this; Ian and Stu, Ian had one leg 2 or 3 inches shorter than the other and Stu had Scoliosis (curvature or the spine) and they struggled to pass the final exam or to “fit” into the template that the examining body had of a top level skier at the time. Their bodies did not allow them to do certain things as the trainer/examiner wanted. This made their turns unsymmetrical and was a long time ago when all the things that could’ve been done to their equipment was in it’s infancy.
Anomalies in your equipment can have a big effect on the way you ski/Telemark. This can also compound and worsen a biomechanical anomaly that your body has. Anything from; being bandy or knock kneed, to affecting and or restricting the amount of movement in a particular joint or joints/body parts, to creating pain or extra discomfort say in your calves from having short or tight Achilles tendons. SEEK EXPERT ADVICE. Feel free to use the contact links added in this chapter. Hope this helps, Jose
Next chapter deals with what to do with your poles and hands or poleplant