What is ramp angle and why should it concern you?... Ramp angle is the angle between your heel and forefoot which is determined by your ski boots and your bindings. It has a direct relationship to your fore / aft plane of balance. Increasing or decreasing this angle moves your center of mass forward or aft over the skis. Contrary to common belief changing the forward lean angle on your boot will not have the same effect, What is the correct degree? How does your equipment affect this angle? What are the symptoms of too little or too much ramp angle? If you are not aware of all the factors that affect fore and aft balance over your skis and how to change them, you are probably not at the optimum angle and not skiing to your potential. The following will help clarify all factors that affect ramp angle related to skiing and how to find the optimum angle for your own skiing.
Raising the heel higher than the forefoot is necessary to dynamic balance. In line skating, alpine skiing, ice skating, XC skiing, all use a boot which elevates the heel higher than the metatarsal heads. From the very early days, skiers found boots with elevated heels facilitated fore/aft balance. I am not a bio mechanics expert but I do know that every skier has an optimum ramp angle and that very few find it, Let's take a look at how our equipment contributes to this angle.
In general skis themselves have little affect on ramp angle since they are basically parallel planes top to bottom. In other words the top of the ski where the binding rests is parallel to the base and therefore does not create any angle. Mounting the binding forward or back a couple of centimeters from the manufacturer's recommendations will dramatically affect how the ski performs but will probably not substantially affect the ramp angle. However, our bindings and boots do dramatically influence ramp angle.
Bindings create a ramp angle by height differences between the toe and heel piece. Most times the heel is higher off the ski than the toe. There are many variations in dimensions among different manufacturers as well as between different models in their binding lines. To add another variable, mounting the same binding model to different length boot soles changes the ramp angle, Imagine a woman with a size 4 boot and a guy with a size 12 boot mounted with the same binding model, Because the toe and heel would be much closer to gather for the size four boot, that person would have a steeper ramp angle created than the size twelve boot. So you can see there are no standards and many variables.
Ski boots also have some built in ramp angle. Again there is no standard. These angles vary from manufacturer to manufacturer and between models within there lines, Add a custom foot bed and again the angle may be affected. Some manufacturers make models with an adjustable ramp angle feature, The angle within any ski boot can easily be changed by adding different size heel wedges or grinding material away from the foot board under the inner boot. These modifications do however affect fit and volume of the boot. Most skiers never give these variables consideration when choosing equipment though they have significant consequences on skiing performance.
Go to your local boot fitter and get some bontex shims 1/8" thick or use any non compressible material about 1/8" thick. Now cut the material to fit the width of your ski bindings and place one 1/8" shim between your boots and toe pieces (adjust toe height if applicable). Ski a few runs on firm snow and notice how it affects your fore/aft balance. Then remove the shims from under the toe pieces and place them under your heels as you carefully step into your bindings. Watch your fingers!! Now ski a few runs like this. Notice what a difference just an eighth of an inch makes. Did one way feel better than your normal position? The goal is to find the optimum angle for you that elicits balance and quickness.
One can mount different thickness of Plexiglas between the heel or toe pieces of the binding and the ski to create the desired ramp angle. Make sure the screws are still getting ample penetration into the ski. Longer screws may be needed. An ideal binding would one day have the capability to maintain the exact same ramp angle whether using a 290mm or a 330mm boot sole length. Having this capability, a standard could be established for ramp angle within the industry, This would take bindings out of the ramp angle equation and focus this variable solely on ski boots. Binding manufacturers need to pay closer attention to these binding dimensions and their impact on balance because the range in binding dimension variations is quite large.
Should you feel you must initiate your turns with tip pressure you are probably too flat over your skis. Conversely should you feel your tails are washing and you are constantly getting pitched forward, your ramp angle is too steep. Add or decrease heel lift until you feel centered and have no need to pressure the tips or tails to make a clean balanced turn. I have read articles this year by prominent instructors who are telling skiers to pressure their tips more when skiing shaped skis? Hello? stick a lift in your boot and stand in the middle bud! Let's make it easy. if you are balanced in your boots and your skis are tuned properly all you have to do is stand on the outside ski and smile.
One other factor that affects your fore/aft balance is the stiffness of the ski boot and it's resistance to flexing backwards. This is probably not a problem for most of us because we are all skiing in higher performance boots; however many beginners and sport skiers are using boots that offer surprisingly little backward support. These soft boots force the skier onto his/her heels and do not allow them to easily recover from this position. When testing sport level boots a few years ago I was shocked at some of the poorly designed boots on the market. I was literally able to bend them backward the full range of my ankle extension, To illuminate this point watch for skiers using the older Nordica "Syntech" rear entry boots. If they are not in the back seat, I'm buying! This boot in particular has a very short range of forward flex, especially on the stiffest flex position. This in conjunction with a very soft rear spoiler creates a 'keep on truck'n" stance, relegating the skier to the back seat.
In conclusion, you should be aware of this small but significant aspect of equipment and how it affects your skiing performance. Experiment by increasing and decreasing this angle to find your optimum angle. Be aware when you change one piece of your equipment (ie: boot model, binding model, or foot bed) you are probably changing the ramp angle equation. With a little awareness and experimentation you will find what works best for you and be able to replicate the same angle when making equipment changes. You will be amazed how properly balanced boots will enhance your skiing enjoyment and performance.
Bio: Bud Heishman has taught skiing for 15 years and is a past P.S.I.A. Senior Examiner, Western Demo Team member, and Supervisor/Trainer for Mammoth Mountain Ski School. He has worked as a Sales/Service Representative for Salomon North America and has spent many years fitting and Balancing boots for top ski athletes. Bud is currently the President of Snowind Sports, Inc. located in the Reno Hilton Hotel.
Thanks to Dave Island for sending this along.