Skis : When progress is apparently made in one direction often there are contrary problems in another direction.
I ski a lot, over a hundred days a season. Most of it is off-piste some times in marvellous conditions sometimes not. Of course this is a good job. But it is suddenly not good when your knees start screaming with pain and you have to continue, otherwise you can not earn a living.
A brief potted history of off piste ski design evolution :
Skiing off-piste has exploded in popularity over the last 20 years . The primary reason for this is because skis were developed for solely skiing off-piste. They were much wider and shorter allowing them to” float” on top of the snow and because they were shorter they would turn faster. The skis were called “Fat Boys.” They were named not because of their width but because they allowed fat people to ski off piste and they are credited with saving the Canadian Heliski Industry.
The big draw back of these skis was that they were so wide that it was difficult to engage and hold an edge. This is essential for skiing on anything other than bottomless powder snow. Off piste skiing [especially lift accessed] involves skiing all types of snow , some of it being rock hard and icy to snow resembles “porridge.”
What gradually happened was that the ski manufacturers to a great extent cracked the problem of wider skis inability to be skied well on the piste. They made the skis torsionally more rigid. This meant the edge could bite into the hard snow and the grip was better.
Now seemingly you could truly have a big fat ski that you could carve on the piste. Apparently the best of both worlds . The buzz word being ” Free Ride skis .”
These skis were Game Changers because people like me ( Mountain Guides ) had a much bigger potential pool of clients because off-piste was now comparatively easy.
Fast forward to last ski season. I was due for a new pair of skis and as I get older I am always looking for ways to make it as easy on my body as is possible.
It made sense for me to buy a fatter pair of super modern skis . So I bought a stunningly well made pair of skis which the manufacturer promised were good in all sorts of snow but also I quote “allowed me to carve my way home on the hardest of pistes”
They were not wrong ! These skis charged through the powder the breakable crud and certainly did allow me to carve on the piste. I skied hard on them all week then one day I started to get pain on the inside of my left knee. Now this is something you get use to as a Guide . You learn to live with it, when you get home you ice your knees and stretch and by the next morning it’s mostly okay. Yet this pain was different because within half an hour my right knee was hurting in exactly the same place as my left. Still I just thought “oh well these pains come and go.” But this pain did not go, it got worse and by the end of the third day I was in considerable discomfort . Self diagnosis told me that it was a cartilage problem. My hypochondriasis lead me to conclude that it was the beginning of the end – my knees were starting to fail me.
I went to see my physiotherapist ( about a completely unrelated problem : tennis elbow) but when he saw me hobbling through the door he asked me what I’d done? Meaning have you had a ski crash or something.
I told him I hadn’t done anything that I hadn’t been doing for 20 years.
Any way he sat me down examined my knees and then asked ” have you bought a pair of new fat skis?”
“Er yes I said , thinking me must have a side line as a mind reader ” I thought they made skiing easier?” I said.
He raised his eyebrows and said ” well that’s your problem! Your new skis are too wide.”
The Physiotherapist [who not only looks after me but also looks after the French Ski Team] then explained that it was a relatively common problem because when you put the skis on their edge( which turns them,) because they are so wide your knee is put under too much stress because of the change in angles.
The next day I fished my old skis out of the skip and went skiing again and there was no pain.
I have discussed this with various professional skiers and it seems that I am the only person who didn’t know about Fat Skis causing knee pain. Many confirmed what my physiotherapist had told me.
A modern off-piste ski might be something around 8 cm wide under the binding.
It seems that once a ski is wider than 10 cm under the binding then this kicks off the potential for sore knees. 10cm is okay , but my new skis were 12cm . This 2cm appears to be the tipping point. Some of the really really outlandish skis are 15 cm underfoot.
Needless to say I have been convinced. I have just bought another pair of skis.
Clearly this is just my personal experience but it does seem to follow the adage that when progress is apparently made in one direction often there are contrary problems in another.
If you would like advice on injury prevention and treatment visit this page https://www.wimbledonclinics.co.uk/contact-us and one of our orthopaedic specialists will respond to your query..
Mark Seaton is a professional Mountain Guide who lives and works in the French Alps. He has worked as a Guide since 1992 and operates at the cutting edge of his profession. In 2007 Mark guided a client on one of the most difficult ascents in the world, the notorious north face of the Eiger. This is something no other British Mountain Guide has done alone. He is the first Guide to successfully reach the summit of Europe’s highest mountain, Mont Blanc, with a blind client Mark is an internationally qualified Mountain Guide and a member of both the British and French mountain guides’ associations.
He is also a professional speaker and a published author of twoChildrens books entitled “Mark the Mountain Guide” Mark lives in France in the town of Chamonix with his wife Jane, a passionate sportswoman, and his three daughters who proudlydescribe themselves as “The Dangerous Sisters.” www.markseaton.com and Twitter: @guidemark