These Boots are Made for Skiing

October 14, 2018

Ski season will be here before we know it. Resorts and the back country will be packed with downhill and cross-country skiers. Millions of dollars will be spent on gear and clothing. As with any sporting endeavor, specialized equipment and footwear is required. Both cross-country and downhill ski boots have gone through many adjustments throughout their history, continually improving materials and the specific bio-mechanics and function needed for each sport.


The origin of all types of skiing is Nordic, which originated in Scandinavia. As far back as 6000 BCE, people used skiing as a means to travel cross-country. Skiers’ daily work shoes were strapped (or stuck with fur) to the skis, and a long pole helped navigate the deep snow. By the mid-1800s, the technique had become a recreational activity worldwide and equipment was becoming more sophisticated. Bindings with an additional heel strap provided better control for steering and edging downhill. The toe of the ski boot was fixed to the binding, allowing the heel to rise off the ski. Modern cross-country ski boots haven’t changed much since the 1950s, though they are no longer made of leather.


On cross-country skis, the heel is lifted with every stroke, creating a forward, skating motion that propels the skier across snowy, mountainous terrain. The foot is firm from side to side, and can flex at the ball of the foot, like a shoe. A more supportive boot is used for back-country skiing, where uphill climbing is required, and slopes are rugged, not groomed.


Alpine skiing began around 1840, when cross-country skiers began to compete and enjoy the challenges of skiing downhill. Boots were leather, like a heavy work or hiking boot. In 1928, the invention of cable bindings changed the sport. To allow more control, the downhill ski boot design became stronger and stiffer. In 1956, boot laces were replaced with buckles. In the 1960s, leather was replaced with sturdier, waterproof plastic. These new boots provided more warmth and better control.


Modern alpine ski boots have rigid soles that attach to the ski at both the toe and heel via a spring-loaded binding. The theory is that the foot should be locked in a stable position so that direction from the hips, knees and lower legs transfers directly onto the ski edge. Downhill ski boots have a reputation for being notoriously uncomfortable. Feet can pivot forward, but not side to side. Uneven and too-tight pressure distribution causes pain in the ball of the foot and reduces circulation.  


It’s difficult to control your skis if your feet are too snug in the boot or not supported enough. Like runners, many elite skiers use custom orthotic inserts in their ski boots to improve fit and function. Orthotics made for your individual feet can improve your balance and edge control, and keep you skiing in comfort.


Foot Doctors Orthotics’ team of experts has 25 years of sports medicine and orthotic design experience. We manufacture our custom orthotic inserts on site. Email us at or call 877-598-2471.