Originally Posted by primoz
These things are a bit tricky. You can get FIS legal skis (let's stick with skis, as I don't know boots part all that well), but FIS legal skis and skis made for WC racers are two completely different things. They are similar, they have same dimensions, they might even have same materials, but for most of them, they are not done in same place. Race departments are small departments inside of company, where they very limited resources, people vise and tech vise, so they are simply not able to produce big numbers of skis. Now do the calculations... Head for example have 1000+ skis to produce just for their WC racers, then there are lower level FIS racers, then there's 1000s of hobby racers all over the world, who of course want to be on Head, as Ligety is on Head, so they are for sure best GS skis. Adding these numbers together, you come to numbers, where you need smaller factory just to produce these "RD" skis, not small lab with few people and ski press or two. :)
So in reality you have WC race skis, then "Europa/Noram cup" (considerably big part of these skis are skis, which come back from WC racers as they don't fit them or are too slow, the rest are either produced in RD or in normal factory) and then you have "race stock" skis, which are skis with same/similar materials and same dimensions as WC skis, but have never been even close to RD (they still get measured etc.), and that's what you can normally get in stores (so called race shops I mean,not some big sport stores). With Fischer for example these things were marked with famous blue (WC stock) and red (everything else) tape when they came out of company.
Thanks primoz, that's the most detailed explanation I've seen yet!
It makes sense that once they've figured out an innovation that improves performance, they're not going to release it publicly (in their "red tape" product) for a while, to prevent other companies from reverse-engineering it*, to allow their racers to maintain a competitive advantage. I suppose an example would be the first generation of Head RD GS skis after FIS went to 35 meters, which reportedly worked better than anyone else's that year. But then, when it becomes clear other manufacturers have figured it out, I suppose they would then begin allowing the tech in their "red tape" gear (?).
Correspondingly, I would guess this means that even someone like Hirscher can't ski on whatever he wants, because there's no way Head would have been willing to provide Hirscher those special 35 m skis (which Atomic would have then covered over with Atomic cosmetics), since in so doing they would have given away a significant competitive advantage.
It also makes sense that skis are customized, since the nature of ski construction makes customization easily. But what about bindings, which seem to be at the other end of the customizability spectrum (since they require extensive testing and certification for safety, etc.)? Is there any difference between a company's top publicly-available race binding (e.g., a Head "Freeflex Evo 20 X RD") and what a pro would use? I don't mean things like add-on damping arms, I mean something that would directly change the release and/or retention mechanism of the binding itself.
I see from your profile that you ski raced for 20 years, and are now a professional sports photographer. May I ask what circuit you raced on, and whether your avatar is a picture of you, or one of your pro shots of another racer?
*Actually, this raises an interesting set of questions: I assume Atomic has its own in-house race lab that fabricates gear for its WC skiers. Given this, when they encounter a situation in which one of their star racers (in this case, Hirscher) has to race on someone else's product to get the performance he wants, do they try to reverse-engineer those skis themselves so that their star can be on their own product the following year? Or do they even have the capability to do this (not sure if skis can be reverse-engineered)? Or is it the case that they could, but since he can get what he wants elsewhere (and if all their other WC skiers are happy with their gear) perhaps it's not worth their time to devote the resources...? Or do they have to make an agreement with the other supplier that yes, you can put your graphics on our skis, but you can't reverse-engineer our tech?
Edited by chemist - 12/27/15 at 2:17pm