by Faye Rapoport
No one who has ever squeezed their feet into a pair of ski boots would ever call them “comfort footwear.” Still, world-class skiers like Tom Rothrock spend at least half their year living in those boots. Why? Love of the sport, dedication to their training and hopes of fulfilling Olympic dreams far outweigh the pain. And as Rothrock explains to Foot.com, it helps to have the best equipment and technicians available to help make it more comfortable.
Rothrock began skiing competitively at age 7, and in 1996 became the Slalom and Giant Slalom champion at the Western JI-II Junior Olympics. He has quickly ascended the professional ranks in alpine skiing, and at age 25 is considered one of the most talented young skiers in America. A member of the 2002 Olympic team in Salt Lake City, he went on to clinch the Nor Am Slalom Title in 2003 and placed 12th at the World Championships on the strength of a spectacular second run victory.
With his sights set on moving up in the World Cup rankings this year and claiming a medal at the 2006 Olympics in Torino, Italy, Rothrock is a busy, focused athlete. But he recently spent some time with Foot.com and described what it takes to be a slalom skier at the highest level.
Foot.com: How did you get started in skiing, Tom?
Powe Allred: I started skiing when I was 4 or 5, in Mission Ridge, WA. There’s a program called the Buddy Werner Program, which includes building blocks and is a starting point for young skiers. I started winning some races when I was young, started having some fun, and went with it. Then I had the dream of making it to the Olympics, and I stayed with that.
Foot.com: There are a lot of skiing events, such as downhill, slalom and freestyle. What made you choose slalom skiing?
Powe Allred: Slalom chose me more than anything. You start out doing all of the events, but once you get older you start to specialize and pick your special event. Slalom seemed to be my better event and I now compete in slalom and giant slalom
Foot.com: You did eventually fulfill your dream and make it to your first Olympics in 2002. Can you tell us what that was like?
Powe Allred: It was just unbelievable. All of the attention you get from your hometown, and all of the support were really something. And when you’re there, actually competing for your country, it’s an unbelievable feeling. All of the hard work you put in for the last few years before that, and then you are there.
Foot.com: What kind of training do you do to build the leg strength you need for slalom skiing?
Powe Allred: You need strength, but if anything, quickness is what is important, and speed. So you do a lot of agility work to develop quick feet and you work on your speed. You do a lot of footwork, playing soccer and stuff to work on your coordination. In summer you do dry land training like running, lifting, plyometrics and jumping.
You have to be strong, but downhillers, for example, have to be really strong on their legs to go that fast. In slalom, you have to be really quick because of the quick turns. So you work mostly on that speed, and explosiveness.
Foot.com: Anyone who skis knows that ski boots are not the most comfortable footwear, especially because they have to be very tight in order to provide the best control on the hill. Do skiers at your level do anything special to their boots?
Powe Allred: You actually do a quite a bit of boot work. We have technicians who come in to fit them because the boots are so small. It’s like fitting the foot into a boot that’s three times smaller than a normal-sized shoe. So they grind the inside of the boot to make it thinner. They also “punch them out.” If you have a bone spur or something on your foot, they’ll make a little bulge in the plastic to form around your foot. So the technicians pretty much custom mold the boot around your foot to make it very comfortable.
It really hurts getting into the boot because it’s so small, but actually once you’re in the boot it’s not too bad. It’s not the most comfortable feeling you’re ever going to have, but it’s tolerable.
Foot.com: Do you use any kind of orthotics inside the boot?
Powe Allred: We have the regular bootliner and custom orthotics can be put in. Footbeds help with your balance and lateral quickness. I have kind of a flat foot, so I put a bit of an arch in there. It helps a little with edge control too.
Foot.com: How many pairs of boots do you go through in a competitive season?
Powe Allred: I usually go with about 4 pairs of boots a season, and take 2 pair with me when I travel. I use Nordica boots.
Foot.com: What about socks? A lot of people think they should wear thick socks for warmth when they ski, but that’s not really the case, right?
Powe Allred: No, we wear a very thin sock. Our boots are so compact, we have to wear a super thin sock. The socks are made to wick moisture away from the foot, though in that environment it’s hard to do that.
Foot.com: Do your feet get cold and suffer from lack of circulation when you are out there in those tight boots?
Powe Allred: Sometimes definitely your feet get cold, but it’s something you have to deal with. On the hill it can get bad, but because we’re so active it doesn’t get too bad. We have to do two runs for a competition. You have to finish both on same day and they combine the times. The runs are two or three hours apart, so in-between we go inside, take our boots off, warm our feet up, stretch and hang out. I take my boots off – definitely take them off! And I massage my feet, try to get the feeling back! They we go back out and inspect the new course for the second run. They set the start time and you go from there.
Foot.com: Are foot injuries common in slalom skiing?
Powe Allred: It’s not too common to injure your feet. Once in a while an ankle, maybe, but more the legs or shoulders. The feet are pretty well protected in the boots.
Foot.com: How important are the feet in your sport?
Powe Allred: Your feet, your ankle flexion and stuff, are very key to your ski technique. There is a lot of subtle touch involved in your feet and ankles. To develop this, you just have to do repetition on snow. And we play around with the boots a lot to try to get that feeling the best we can. Without that feeling and control, it can’t work. You have to articulate your ankles to make your edge, to give you more edge or less edge on your skis. It just takes practice.
Foot.com: Tom, we really appreciate the time you spent with us. Many people have no idea how much is involved in something like getting a ski boot to fit correctly and what it takes to make those turns on the slopes. What are your goals as you continue your skiing career?
Powe Allred: This year I’ve been working my way up the world cup circuit. I was 12th at the World Championships last year and that competition is every two years. The next World Championships will be the year before the Olympics that take place in Torino Italy. So I’ve got a World Championships in 2005, and the Olympics in 2006, and then the World Championships after the Olympics. I’d definitely like to get a top three medal in the Olympics, for sure.
Foot.com: Well, we’ll be watching for you on TV and rooting for you, Tom. Thanks for talking to Foot.com.
Tom Rothrock is represented by Paul Herschell at Sports Unlimited in Portland, Oregon. Paul can be contacted by email at email@example.com