U.S. Ski Team Responds to FIS Changes

Marco Sullivan, a long-time U.S. Ski Team member, chimes in on the recent changes the FIS (International Ski Federation) made to ski shapes.
FIS shapes thumb

FIS, The International Ski Federation, has recently proposed some changes to ski length and shape that have the ski racing world in an uproar. The FIS is the governing body for all things related to Olympic skiing, and they have been known to rule with a strong hand when it comes to the issue of safety and what they think is right for the sport.  Sometimes, athletes feel that the ideas of FIS do not often coincide with the thoughts and concerns of the racers themselves.  The FIS recently released new measures which will affect the length and turn radius requirements for skis which are used in all disciplines on the World Cup (excluding slalom, which will remain the same).

The discipline in which the most radical changes are being proposed is giant slalom (GS), which is often thought of as the fundamental discipline in ski racing.  Since the late 1990’s, giant slalom has seen increased fluidity and gracefulness as ski regulations that allow for shorter lengths and more sidecut have given racers the ability to arc tighter turns and maintain higher speeds through the courses. The current rules allow a minimum length for men of 185 cm with a minimum turn radius of 27 meters.  Under the new regulations the new minimums for length and sidecut would be bumped up to 195 cm with 35 meters of radius.  This is a staggering jump, considering that the last time skis were of a similar shape was in the early 90’s.  Demanding any sport to step back the far in their evolution is sure to raise the hackles of the participants, and the ski racing community has been quick to react.  The athlete liaison to the FIS, Killian Albrecht, recently sent out a petition rallying against the drastic changes and it was reportedly signed by 180 racers including many of the top names in the sport. 

The US Ski Team’s Ted Ligety, the reigning World Cup champion in GS, has been a strong opponent to the changes.  He explains his trepidation in a recent blog post titled “My thoughts on FIS’s attempt to ruin GS.”  (Read here: http://www.tedligety.com.)

The ski manufacturing companies have also chimed in with a sternly worded letter to the FIS addressing their concerns on the cost to produce all this new equipment in a market that already struggles to stay in the black. (Read that here: http://www.skionline.ch/media/archive4/fis/fis_reglementsaenderung_2011/SRS_protestschreiben_2011.pdf)

FIS has released a study done by the University of Salzburg to validate the reasons for the ski changes, but no actual World Cup athletes participated in their testing. It is thought that the longer radius skis are meant to slow down the overall speed of the racers, but will that truly make it safer?  The few people who have tested the new equipment say that it is a struggle to get the ski to turn, making movements erratic and unpredictable (and therefore more dangerous).  

Safety has always been a top concern in the sport of ski racing, which involves high speeds and icy terrain, but injuries do seem to be on the rise in recent years.  Some high profile crashes (namely on the Men’s Downhill circuit) have put race organizers on high alert to make their venues safer. Some small changes to the length, radius and stand height of the Downhill race skis have also been proposed, but it is futile to change the equipment when most crashes seem to be caused by course preparations and athlete error.  Crashes are an inherent part of our sport and the FIS would be better off to address the issue of the safety equipment the athletes are allowed to wear. Helmet standards are allowed to pass regulation with archaic testing methods. Also because of aerodynamic concerns little to no protective wear is allowed to be worn under the racing suits.

The changes that the FIS are proposing will not go into effect until the 2012-13 racing season. It is my hope that in the meantime the international ski racing community will band together and make some real decisions.  Keeping the racers safe is huge, but our sport also needs to remain exciting and pushing the envelope of what is possible on skis.  Regressing into the past is a blow for racers and spectators alike.


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