Ankle and knee injuries are part of a slalom skier’s life, a seemingly unavoidable reality ominously lurking somewhere in the foreseeable future. While there does not appear to be a strong correlation between a specific binding type and frequency of injury, every skier has his or her own theory as to which setup is safest. Simply ensuring that your boots are properly fitted and adjusted to your size, weight and ability level could be your best defense against a season-ending injury.
Dr. David H. Nichols, a muscular-skeletal specialist based in Austin, Texas, has plenty of real-world slalom injury experience. A nationally ranked slalom skier with scores into 38 off himself, Nichols has treated scores of wounded amateur and professional skiers. “The most common injuries I encounter are to the knees and ankles — torn or strained ligaments, meniscal tears, patellar dislocations — some pretty bleak situations,” he says. While Nichols concedes that slalom skiers are prone to injury, regardless of binding preference, one prominent factor stands out. “In my experience, it always comes down to one foot releasing without the other. One leg versus the environment will usually end in injury,” he says.
Whether you opt for traditional rubber bindings or hardshells, it’s important to ensure that both feet can release with roughly the same amount of force. “There’s no such thing as a totally safe binding system,” ski and binding designer Mike Ferraro agrees. Mike has been a designer for Herb O’Brien for more than 30 years, and he currently works on Radar Skis’ design team as well. “It’s something of a catch-22, really; the stiffer the boot, the easier it is for you to stay on edge. A softer boot will likely offer an easier release in the case of a fall, but it will be at the cost of greater performance.” Ferraro has served as expert witness on behalf of the water-sports industry for numerous product liability cases. “I’ve seen every fall imaginable, on every binding configuration made. The bottom line is this: The nature of the opposing forces involved in this sport can cause injury, regardless of the bindings you use.”