Spring blossoms, snow melts and the ski season is over...or is it? For US Ski Team racers, winter's end marks a time to make equipment fixes and switches.
Bill Farwig, of Salomon's race department, explains, "For any racer who's under a contract that's expiring, there is a set process. All companies must join the Ski Team equipment pool, and the pool administers the rules. There is a protocol of how to test skis before any athlete can switch companies."
Part of these pool rules require any racer under contract to follow a specific chain-of-command for equipment problems that can involve the USST director of athletics and the pool review board. The contracted company then has a set time to address the grievance. If the racer has an expiring contract, he or she may decide to test other companies. This pits brand against brand in timed ski runs.
"Right now the rules are changing, but ski testing is still going to happen," says Tom Parks, director of racing for Fischer Skis. "If there is a high profile athlete that we really want, we may even go to Europe to test. Typically, athletes try to get any testing finalized by April or May. The longer a skier puts it off, the longer it's taking their focus away from training."
This is critical, since once the gear changes are settled, athletes must keep testing new skis to pick a few fast sets. These then need to be "seasoned" throughout the summer with wax.
"We want to get on with that preparation period," says Parks. "And we as a company want to have a decision, so we can go forward with marketing any new athletes."
While changing sponsors may be complicated for USST members, getting picked up by an equipment company is a big hurdle for younger racers. Ski companies are continually inundated with resumes from coaches; most keep an ongoing list of hopefuls.
"I always have my ears and eyes open to what kids are popping up in what programs," Parks continues. Bill Farwig agrees, adding, "With Salomon, we sponsor so few kids that we want someone on our product who can be good ambassadors and represent our product very well."