I recently made some boots with a thinner wall-thickness to test durability and to gather some data about softer boots.
The flex was probably equivalent to a 110 traditional boot. At first it seemed okay, as getting into them was like putting on a slipper. With less material, the lighter weight made me feel like Fred Astaire. Even the softer flex felt good in the shop and walking around.
The first few runs taking it relatively easy on groomers felt promising. I was concerned the boots would blow apart when pressed, given the wall thickness was a third of our regular boot and had greatly reduced strength. But, nothing broke so I gained confidence I could safely press the boots harder and I was ready to really put them to the test the next day and beyond.
That was when the revelations came in a rush.
First run on a pretty smooth surface was fine. I warmed up arcing some nice turns on Stowe’s “North Slope.” At the bottom I was a little tired, but attributed that to the non-stop run I’d just taken, coupled with my leg still being weak from last Spring’s ACL surgery. A ride on the quad to recuperate and I was set.
On my second run I pushed harder, tightening the arcs and increasing my tipping angles. The surface wasn’t quite as smooth, with more skiers making little snow piles, but I could still push it pretty well. Halfway down, thinking to myself “Man, this is tiring,” I skidded a few turns to give myself a rest and then pushed again on the lower portion. My legs were tired as I boarded the lift for my 3rd run.
By now the surface was getting more chopped up and I found myself working hard to maintain fore/aft balance. Past experience had proven it’s a lot more work to stay balanced on a boot with softer fore/aft flex. It’s not so bad on really smooth surfaces, but when you are in changing conditions, especially going from groomed to crud, it’s really hard work. (Don’t believe me? Try skiing downhill on nordic gear.)
Already knowing a softer-flexing boot would take more work, I concentrated on staying really balanced. But, I was still becoming exhausted.
Time to really concentrate on the cause.
I focused on doing nice, smooth arcs and keeping well centered over my skis. No problem. Then I noticed I was skiing with a lot more foot and ankle pressure to keep the ski on edge than I’d grown accustomed to using my DODGE carbon fiber boots.
The test boots I had made were not only much softer in fore/aft flex, but significantly softer in lateral flex so they laterally deflected and couldn’t hold the edge angle! My fatigue was resulting from having to constantly adjust to maintain the edge angle. I also found I was buckling tighter and tighter to lock my foot. Very tiring, indeed!
I skied a few more runs to make sure I memorized the feeling. Then, I switched to my “full-strength” boots. (My regular DODGE’s are stiff laterally and about 150 flex longitudinally.)
Wow, what a difference. I could buckle the boots loosely. I could feel the snow surface and react to it rather than being forced to constantly fight to maintain an edge. I felt stable and secure and confident in powering through the worst crud. In short, it was the difference between driving a 1960’s American sedan on under-inflated doughnut tires and piloting a modern sports car.
On the drive home, I kept thinking about my experience with a boot that is softer in longitudinal and lateral flex. Whatever comfort I experienced in the lodge and walking to the lift was quickly and severely undone as soon as I skied down the hill. My skiing regressed on the softer boot as I had difficulty staying balanced; struggled to maintain a consistent edge angle; and, was exhausted by the effort.
What troubled me even more was thinking about all the beliefs being promulgated about skiers needing a softer boot!
My own experience and observations convince me that a stiffer boot, properly set up for alignment and forward lean, is far superior to a boot that is too soft. Skiers on DODGE Boots can have the forward flex dialed in to be just right for their size, physique and skiing ability without losing any of the boot’s nice, progressive flex.
The nature of the materials and design of traditional or “rubber” boots usually means skiers on those boots aren’t able to do this and all too often are placed into a boot that is too soft. Without experiencing what is possible with a properly flex-matched boot, I’m afraid too many skiers are hindered in their performance and progression.
Maybe that’s another reason so many skiers say “WOW!” when they ski on a DODGE.