Martin Bell’s Expert Advice: Part 1 - Ski Equipment

Martin Bell’s Expert Advice: Part 1 - Ski Equipment

We've been working with former Ski Olympian Martin Bell for over 15 years and he created our unique PB Martin Bell Ski Academy, which runs every year in Zermatt and, from this winter, in Arosa too for children, aged 11 to 15. In this series of blog posts, Martin shares his extensive knowledge and valuable expertise. This is the first of the series, which offers an overview of the essentials of ski equipment and just how important it is to get your boots, skis and bindings right.

Boots

The first item on all skiers' list to buy should be boots. Skiing on unsuitable or poorly prepared skis is irritating, but trying to ski in boots that don't fit can be downright agonising, and can wreck your ski holiday.

Finding the right boot is dependent on two main criteria: flex and fit. Your ideal flex is determined by your skiing ability and style, as well as your body shape. If you are an experienced, faster, more aggressive skier, and if you are heavier or taller (creating more leverage) than average, you'll need a stiffer boot. If you are a less confident skier, and if you are smaller and lighter, you need a softer boot.

All boot companies give a "flex index" for each of their models. Anything around 100 is average, with anything higher representing a stiffer boot and lower indicating a softer boot. These ratings are not standardised across manufacturers but are fairly similar.

The fit of the boot is determined by the "last": the metal template around which the plastic shell is formed. All boot companies now list the width of their lasts, measured across the forefoot. These range from 95mm, which is tight-fitting and best for narrow feet, to 105mm, which offers a more generous fit, better for wider feet. A good bootfitter will be able to take a look at your foot and tell you what shape and width of last would be the most comfortable for you personally.

Almost all boots come with a heat-mouldable liner (the "inner boot"). Many of them also now have shells that are heat-mouldable too. For maximum comfort, you should make use of both of these processes. In addition, there are lots of ways that a good boot fitter can reduce discomfort, for instance punching out or grinding out the shell, or adding padding to the liner, so make sure you keep going back to the shop to get them worked on until they're right.

To ensure warm feet, you should dry out your boots thoroughly every night, either on a boot dryer, if available, or by removing the liners from the shells.

Skis

Over the past 20 years, the shape and design of skis have evolved far more extensively than at any time since the birth of the sport in the 1920s. The range of dimensions may seem confusing, but it is possible to define a ski by two basic numbers: waist width, and sidecut radius.

On most skis, the width measurements of the ski are marked, often under the binding or near the tail. There are usually three numbers: tip, waist and tail. You mainly need to pay attention to the middle number - the waist or "underfoot width" - because the other two widths are dependent upon it anyway. The key point is that narrower-waisted skis (under 80mm) are better on ice and hard snow, whereas wider, "fat" skis (over 90mm) are better in powder and soft snow. "Mid-fats", with waist width in the 80s, are a good compromise that will do a decent job on or off piste.

The sidecut radius (sometimes called the turn radius) measures the curvature of the edge. All skis have an hourglass shape: wider at the ends and narrower in the middle. A smaller radius (e.g. 10 metres) indicates a very curvy edge, meaning the skis will turn easily, and will be best for shorter turns at lower speeds. A larger radius (anything over 20 metres) means that the skis are straighter, best for longer turns and more stable at higher speeds. "Rocketed" skis, where the tips, and sometimes tails, bend upwards, are designed to be easier to pivot, especially in deeper snow. They are ideal for learning to ski powder, but their downside is that they can be unstable at high speeds on firm, bumpy snow, because the tips flap around.

Skis require some maintenance to enable them to work effectively. The edges need to be sharpened with a file or an abrasive diamond stone. The bases need to have hot wax ironed into them, the excess of which is then scraped off when cool. For competitive skiers, edging and waxing needs to be done every night, but for holiday skiers, once or twice a week should suffice.

Bindings

A quick word on bindings; the initial adjustment is best done by experts in a shop. However, whether you're on your own skis or rentals, every skier should know their ideal DIN setting. This is important because it measures the tightness of the springs inside the bindings. Too tight and the skis may stay on your feet when you crash, causing injury. Too loose, and the ski may release from your foot when you don't want it to, which can also be dangerous. By a process of trial and error, every skier should get to know what setting is right for them. If you are heavier, taller or ski faster and more aggressively, you will need a higher setting. For youngsters that are still growing, keeping up can be tricky. If you are using the same pair of skis as last year, you may need to adjust your binding setting upwards.

Ski equipment is a complex part of the sport. But when you get it right, you can learn to gain trust in your equipment, so that your skis can almost become an extension of your own legs.

For more information on the PB Martin Bell Academy, click here or call 020 8246 5300.

Read our other blogs from Martin using the links below:

Part 2: Ski Fitness

Part3: Carving Turns

Part 4: Conquering Bumps

Part 5: Piste Skiing

Part 6: Racing

Part 7: The mental game of skiing