by Faye Rapoport
It takes a special kind of spirit to hurtle down a snowy mountain, both feet bound to a board, defying gravity with jumps and turns that make anyone watching say, “WOW!”
For Finland native Ami Voutilainen, it’s all in a day’s work. Voutilainen has earned his reputation as one of the most respected snowboarders in the world. He placed second on the 1998 ESPN Freeride Tour, had five top ten finishes on the 1998 ISF Halfpipe World Cup circuit, and scored gold (Slopestyle) and silver (Halfpipe) medals at the 1999 Australian X Games. He is sponsored by Motive Snowboards, Dragon optics, 32 boots, Etnies shoes and High Cascade Snowboard Camp.
Now approaching his 30th birthday and living in Oregon, Voutilainen is focusing his snowboarding career on film and promotional work. He has had more than 100 published images in international magazines. And through it all, he maintains an easy friendliness and a strong sense of adventure, hard work and fun.
Voutilainen recently talked with Foot.com about the unique demands of snowboarding on the body, and the importance of having the right bindings, boots and even socks to protect the feet and ankles from injury.
Foot.com: First, can you tell us how you got involved in snowboarding?
Voutilainen: I got into it through skateboarding. I’m from Finland, and I tried skateboarding first. But the winters there are long and harsh, and my friends kept telling me, “you can’t skateboard in winter!” I tried skiing a couple of times but wasn’t really into it, so I tried snowboarding. The next winter I actually got my own board, and I’ve been boarding ever since.
Foot.com: How old were you when you started?
Voutilainen: I think I was about 14.
Foot.com: Is snowboarding popular in Finland?
Voutilainen: Now it is very popular. Back then, when my friends first got into it, I had never even heard about it. There were maybe three guys who were snowboarding. But now about 97% of children who start winter sports in Finland are snowboarding, more than hockey or cross-country and downhill skiing. Those sports used to be more popular.
Foot.com: What made you enjoy snowboarding more than skiing?
Voutilainen: I think it was because I had already been skateboarding for a while. I never really enjoyed skiing because so much was going on, there was too much equipment to control. In snowboarding it was just one thing, the board, and I could relate to that from skateboarding. I was doing similar tricks and stuff like that. I could never be as creative on skis as I could while snowboarding.
Foot.com: For skiers like me, it looks a little scary to have both of your feet bound into position on that snowboard. New snowboarders often talk about how much they fall, and it looks risky for the feet and ankles.
Voutilainen: Well, it kind of goes both ways. To a certain extent it’s good that the bindings don’t release in snowboarding. In skiing it’s different, because you have two separate skis and if you fall and your bindings don’t release, you can twist an ankle or a knee. On a board that’s not as much what causes the problem. It’s more of a problem to have so much power when you land that you could hurt your ankles or blow your knees out. It’s a safer position to be locked into the board with both feet parallel to each other, so you can’t twist your knees.
But people do fall so much in the beginning because you are locked into the board, so you can’t move your legs to gain balance. You have to relearn your balance. On skis you can use your legs separately, but in snowboarding you can’t. If you start leaning one way, that’s it, you’re going down.
And in terms of injury, at the professional level, all the jumps and tricks are getting bigger, everything in the half pipe is bigger, so it gets to the point where your body is just reaching its limits. The impact is so much greater that there’s no way your body can handle it.
Foot.com: Have you had any foot or ankle injuries from snowboarding?
Voutilainen: I’ve personally broken one ankle and torn everything in the other. It has a lot to do with your equipment. When I tore pretty much all of the ligaments in my right ankle, my boots weren’t supportive enough. They wouldn’t allow for a flex in the sole of the boot, and because the sole was locked in, it put too much force into my ankle. When I broke the left one, I went too big off a jump and I don’t think there was anything that could have saved it, it was just the impact. I landed on my toe edge and the snow was slushy and kind of deep. My board got stuck.
Foot.com: Ouch! That sounds painful. What’s the craziest trick or jump that you do?
Voutilainen: Well, every year you just try to find bigger jumps or stuff that looks crazy. The craziest or scariest thing is when you’re freeriding in the backcountry, and it’s just so steep that you can’t see where you’re going. The jumps aren’t as bad. If you have your speed and don’t land short or long, you have nothing to worry about with the jumps. After you learn the tricks, they don’t seem that crazy. The learning process is the fun part. .
With freeriding, you go up with snowmobiles, and ride off cliffs or really steep shoots and stuff like that. There are so many factors that come into being safe, like avalanches, and you have to remember your line, which way you want to go. You look at the path first from the bottom, but then when you get to the top everything looks different. You have to use landmarks to find your way.
Foot.com: Besides your ankle injuries, have you had any other kinds of foot problems from snowboarding?
Voutilainen: I have really high arches. It used to make it so that my knees and my hips would hurt, and my back was all messed up. I went to a foot specialist in Finland who made special insoles, and that was really helpful for me. They were really good ones that supported the arches, and that made a huge, huge difference.
Right now the kinds of boots I use are 32s. With the liners they have, I don’t need to use the insoles. I don’t know the technology of the liner, but it kind of molds to your foot. But I do wear insoles in my shoes.
Foot.com: What kind of socks do you use?
Voutilainen: Usually I wear a very thin pair of socks. When I first bought them, it was from some army surplus place, it was probably some crazy military technology. They are very thin, and keep your feet dry and warm. The worst thing is when your boots get soggy and cold.
A lot of times during the contests, there is a lot of waiting around and your feet can get cold. And if you are working on a film, you’re out there doing something all the time, with a lot of hiking around, so you definitely have to have good layers to stay warm. But with socks I just wear one pair. I’ve tried wearing a couple of pairs but it causes more rubbing, so I personally like just one thin pair. Sometimes if it’s really cold I use a thicker pair of socks. Another important thing is that they are long enough so they come up to the knees and don’t sag and cause wrinkles in the feet.
Definitely NEVER wear cotton socks.
Foot.com: Are you still competing?
Voutilainen: I used to compete a lot when I was younger, on the World Cup and such, but now I am more concentrating on film and magazines. Right now I’m working with a clothing company called Holden and Think Thank Productions on the filming of a snowboard movie, “Love/Hate.” I’ll be both filming and riding in it, more of the filming than riding.
Foot.com: Do you have any last words for our Foot.com readers on foot care and your sport?
Voutilainen: In snowboarding, for foot comfort and preventing injuries, the most important thing is to have boots and bindings that work well together. It’s more important than your board or anything else. You need good supportive boots that work for your individual needs, and the right bindings to complement the qualities of your boots.
Foot.com: Thank you for taking the time to talk with us, Ami!
Voutilainen: And thank you.
For more information about Ami Voutilainen, please contact Paul Herschell at Sports Unlimited (www.SportsU.com)