Snowbasin, UT, March 2, 2001–Boil ski racing down to basics, and the goal is simple: reach the bottom faster than all the rest. However, ski racing’s governing board doesn’t keep things so clear and simple; over the years, the World Cup has developed pages of rules and regulations.
The Federation Internationale du Ski (FIS) laws can run from logical – like the minimum number of gates required to constitute a World Cup slalom – to the extreme, which can sometimes affect no less than uber-racer, Hermann Maier.
In 1998, racing GS at Val D’Isere, France, Maier crossed the blue finish line with the quickest time. Does this mean he won? A FIS rule, designed mainly to protect sponsor dollars, states that racers must also cross a red line before removing their skis for the cameras. The greatly disgruntled Herminater was stripped of the day’s win.
On Mar. 2, 2001 the FIS disqualified Daron Ralves for tying a knot in the backside of his oversized bib to keep it from flapping. Ralves would have been fourth behind Austrian Hermann Maier in the Kvitfjell, Norway downhill if not for the violation of the FIS rule 608.1 stating that a bib’s “shape, size, lettering and attachment method may not be altered.”
With sponsors paying big money, an athlete’s ski equipment and clothing creates a walking billboard, with logos occupying much of the team uniform. FIS allows racers to sell a space roughly 1.5″ x 4″ to a headgear sponsor. Failure to stay within those limits once meant a disqualification, but has softened to a $500 fine. This sponsorship can be valuable, since it’s front and center, usually emblazoned across not only helmets, but headbands and baseball caps.
Other regulations cover the narrowest width allowed at the ski waist (61 mm), height limits on binding lifters (55mm), and – with the emergence of shaped skis, minimum length allowed on slalom skis (155cm). These equipment stipulations are designed as safety standards, where FIS is quite strict. Both Italian legend Deborah Compagnoni and America’s Megan Gerety have suffered disqualification’s based on gear limits.
Even speed suits are regulated for standards of breathability. FIS technical expert, Heinz Krecek, is posted at each finish area to test skis, boots and suits. He says, “Each ski suit must have a small silver disc, which shows that it has passed. It is called a ‘plombe’ – to not have it is also a disqualification.”
After all, who wants a clammy, sweaty ski racer?