Skiers, Beware!

03/28/2008 02:48 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

It's that time of the year again. The ski season is here and people are flocking to sporting goods stores to stock up on their new ski gear and ski outfits to look great on the slopes. Few can dispute that skiing is a fun sport, though it does have its risks and pitfalls. One of the most important aspects of skiing is using the proper equipment. The right ski gear can sometimes make the difference between safe skiing and a trip to the emergency room.

Happy Freedman, a sports performance consultant affiliated with the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York City, states that the "skier should have a properly fit ski boot. If the boot does not fit properly it can injure the foot or cause the binding to release improperly." Purchasing the right equipment is necessary for ski safety.

Paul Zajkowski, of Potter Brothers Ski Shop in Kingston, New York adds "the salesperson selling you a ski boot should have proper training from the manufacturers who make the boots. They should have a minimum of five to ten years experience with boot fitting." He also recommends that the person fitting and selling the boot should be a skier themselves as this provides an advantage in experience and understanding the function of the equipment.

Many ski enthusiasts are using special ski inserts that are placed in their boots. The use of a ski boot insert can increase the comfort and level of performance of a ski boot. Ski boot orthotics should only be made by people properly trained in the molding and fabrication of these devices. Freedman further adds that the " use of a ski boot can increase the comfort and performance of the ski boot." But remember, orthotics are prescription items and skiers should consult a medical specialist, such as a podiatrist, to ensure that any weaknesses in the foot and ankle are sufficiently addressed. In addition, a properly prescribed and designed ski boot orthotic can further stabilize the foot and prevent injuries especially in the presence of a pre-existing foot problem such as achilles tendinitis, ankle instability, plantar fasciitis and heel pain and other foot disorders.

The most important requirement concerns the presence of orthopedic and biomechanical problems that include the foot, ankle, knee, hip and back. Dr. Alisa K. Miller, a Greenwich Connecticut foot specialist, remarks that " a skier with medical problems should first consult a health care professional who understands the complexity of lower extremity biomechanics prior to purchasing ski boots and orthotics." The sport of skiing places tremendous forces and pressures on the lower extremity. Dr. Miller further adds that " ski boots that are too small can aggravate a painful forefoot condition known as a neuroma; too tight can lead to nerve compression injuries, while too loose can lead to overuse tendon and muscle injuries as well as fractures because of lack of stability."

Ski boots not carefully matched to the bindings can also present a dangerous scenario. This is especially so when the boot does not release from the binding which can cause foot and ankle trauma as well as knee injury. Smart skiers use proper boot to binding control for maneuvers. Fit the boot to the foot, not the other way around.

Children are especially at high risk for ski injuries. Buying a boot for kids that is larger than their foot size is not always recommended because excess movement of the foot in the ski boot can increase the risk of a twist injury when the bindings are supposed to release. It can also reduce the level of control a child has when skiing. And for all ski boots, the first and last word is not "molded" insoles but overall effective fit. They might be mutually exclusive if properly done. Insoles made for ski boots are not the same as for sneakers or hiking boots.

Choosing the right equipment is a major factor in safe skiing. Skiers must take into consideration many factors when purchasing equipment such as ski boots and ski orthotics. Ski shop technicians can work in conjunction with qualified medical specialists just as a podiatrist or orthopedist on specific biomechanical adjustments to improve performance and safety as well as the proper selection of ski gear. With all this, the ski season should be a pleasant and safe one.