So, before I go off the handle, you can read a lot of the documentation on these changes from FIS on www.skionline.ch. The PDF from FIS are there and are in various languages. The manufacturers’ letter of protest is also there in English.
There are many opinions and many numbers being thrown around about injuries and safety in alpine skiing. And while FIS might have the best interest of the sport in mind through reulating equipment changes, I do feel this is not the area to mess with, at least not at such an extreme level. There are many opinions from many top athletes out there that range from ski racing is a dangerous and fast sport and we (the athletes) assume that risk, to being glad the FIS is doing something. And all those opinions are valid. The problem truly is that the FIS seems to act arbitrarily in these instances and then the reaction from the participants in the sport is surprise and anger. The FIS says we worked with the Oslo Sports Trauma Research Centre and the University of Salzburg to come up with the changes. And FIS has made regular adjustments over the years to bring speeds down and decrease carving and edge angle. But during this time, they have never published the raw data along with the changes. And why is this? Why are the athletes and coaches not allowed to see the numbers? Because we might come up with ideas to reduce injuries that do not involve equipment change? Because someone out there might be able to analyze the data and come up with something innovative? The real concern from my point of view is that FIS looks heavy-handed and arbitrary when they do such things. Just look at the reactions from major players among the manufacturers. Look at the letter of protest they wrote. They are not only angry, but surprised at the changes and the severity of those changes. And, to be sure, this will not be the end of it because the skiers, coaches and companies will figure out ways to go faster yet again and then FIS will go through this process yet again. We are all chasing our tails on this one. Maybe the real answer is in another area that can be controlled rather than in radical equipment changes? Regardless, the impact of these changes will be felt far and wide and not just at the World Cup.
The first major impact of a sweeping change like this will be purely economical. The manufacturers will need to change all they do to make skis. To do that they will again end up reducing support levels for top athletes and increasing purchase prices throughout the system, causing a large increase in the economic burden on families and athletes. And all the athletes in the system will need to turn over an entire quiver of skis. These are the people we need to keep in the sport and not drive away with ever increasing prices and decreasing support.
Obviously, the impact on the sport on the hill will be huge as well. Ski racing, and especially GS, will become far more difficult. The athletes will need to find new ways of applying fundamental skills to different equipment in order to go fastest. It will put a premium back on basic skills more than in the past 10 years. It will also create a situation where the companies will be looking for ways to make skis faster and to use new materials. I wonder… would you rather be going faster on a longer, straighter ski and have less recovery chance? Or on the shorter ski with a smaller radius and have a chance to stay on your feet when things get hectic? I would also venture to guess that it will be less fun than it has been in the past. Further, it is possible that the lower level FIS circuits on flatter hills will see much straighter courses in GS as coaches and athletes will still be trying to carve to go fast. And if you can’t be clean in the top of the turn because the turn shape of the set is too big, the time separation will increase. Because one thing you really cannot regulate is how much swing a course-setter puts in the set. You can complain about it, but you cannot really regulate it.
I also wonder why the jump in radius in GS was so large? There is really no explanation coming from FIS at all as to why that is. I can only think that the people driving these changes are desperate to get carving out of GS skiing and want it to look like something different, with a lot of sliding and hanging on the edge. It will not change the direction of what the athlete is trying to accomplish but it might change the aesthetic value on television to the point where it just looks awful.
And, does anyone know if this will actually slow speeds in GS at all? I think it will on the steeper sections but I think the opposite will happen on the flat. Courses will straighten on the flats and will straighten sooner at the bottom of pitches to carry speed sooner and further across the flat. The straighter and longer ski will allow for more speed on those sections and carving but all with less control and ability to recover. Therefore, the possibility of more danger on flat sections is there.
One issue I have not heard anyone speak of as yet is the effect this will have on the FIS ranking system. I do think it will cause a greater separation in time in GS. Especially in the Nor Am level and the upper FIS levels in the USA where college skiers and US Ski Team athletes are present. They are bigger and stronger and more experienced and the point value will be higher in the future. Get ready for it, and I hope that FIS is prepared for it as well.
And what about equipment testing? How vigilant can we be? Will TDs have the means to enforce the rules at all FIS races? Is FIS prepared to do what needs to be done at all levels? Because there will be serious temptation to keep the old skis around at the lower levels if we don’t test. Just the money itself will drive people to use the old stuff and justify cheating. And masters racers; get ready to buy-out all the old stuff from World Cup guys and girls and from the companies themselves. You will all be the beneficiaries of this shift. Buy as many of those GS skis as you can and hang on to them as long as you can!
There are more permutations of all of those possibilities but I really think the biggest injustice is going to be the cost that is passed down to the young kids trying to move up in the sport. One of the most important tasks of the ski clubs throughout the world is to come up with a formula for keeping kids active in the sport long enough for their potential and talent to shine. It is a tough task because it is a difficult and dangerous sport with little financial return on the high-end. So it becomes a labor of love and it is hard to live only on love, no matter what John Lennon said.
I have also been seeing commentary from various sources, including coaches around the world, that this is a return to the stone-age and how awful the skiing is going to be and how hard it will get, etc. And I will warn everyone that there will be people who understand the sport on the most basic levels and their programs will succeed during the adjustment years. And a positive and pragmatic outlook is what will be necessary. The negativity and prediction of doom will do us no good at all. A reminder, that even with the huge increase in radius of the ski, the lengths have barely changed. And think about it if you raced in the 70s and 80s; what could you have done in GS with a pair of 195 skis on your feet with today’s materials and research and 50mm of lift?
I also had at least one World Cup GS skier in 2006 or so who skied on a comparatively straight ski and had them built that way on purpose. And they were 193cm so it was already close to what we see now. Maybe only a 33m radius or something like that but it was a departure from what everyone else wanted. Ted’s ski he won on in Yong Pyong was a 193 and I am going to guess the radius was greater than 27m. If you can make them work, straighter skis turn less and are therefore faster. Don’t be surprised if 4 or 5 years from now, the GS skiers at the highest levels are going faster, especially on moderate to flat sections.
The other potentially positive side of this is that maybe, just MAYBE, FIS is setting it up so they don’t have to make these changes again? To avoid greater cost changes in the long-run by making it tough on everyone in the short-term?
I don’t like the new regulations; I think they are an over-reaction. But I also think that it will help the better technical skiers who have the best fundamentals as well as the smartest athletes who can adjust their tactics more quickly than the others. I guarantee you that Benni Raich’s positive comments have less to do with reducing injury than the fact that he sees this change as helping his chances to continue to ski well for a longer time.
I wrote this piece over 3 days with some fishing in-between and I noticed that my first reaction was very strong against the changes. And I stand by it. But we will all need to deal with the changes whether we like it or not. Those of us who are strong in our convictions of what we teach and what we have been teaching over the years, regardless of equipment changes, will benefit from the change.