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There has been a fair amount of uproar about the proposed FIS equipment changes for the 2012/13 WC/Continental Cup season. I’ve stayed out of the online discussion so far, linking to other credible sources when they come about. But for the severity of the changes and how drastically they will affect the sport, there have been far too few top athletes speak out on the issue. I was with a large number of top racers and coaches for a few weeks in Zermatt, and not one person I spoke to was happy about the change, nor understood why these changes were being made, or how they would help to decrease injuries.

The change with by far the most discussion around it is the change in GS skis from 185cm/27m radius (both minimum) to 195cm/40m radius. Yes you read that correctly, a 13 meter radius jump in the core event that ski racing is based around. Think that will change style/tactics much? Bye bye carving. To put things in perspective, the current DH skis are 215cm/45m radius, SG are 210/33m.

 

Full table of changes here: http://www.fis-ski.com/data/document/specifications-ski-length-radius-profile-width-standing-height-final.pdf

UPDATE: FIS has removed the table from their website. Presumably to update it with the new 35m change instead of 40m. Cached copy here.

 

The FIS have not presented one shred of data on their testing of the new equipment, or anything explaining how these changes will reduce injuries. The SRS (Ski Racing Suppliers Association) presented FIS with a ‘protestschrieben’ (google translated to written protest) on the changes, in which they demonstrate their ‘reservations to the process which led to these new specifications, certain aspects of their content, and issues which will arise in connection with their implementation. Obviously the ski companies are not pleased with the changes and do not feel they will be entirely beneficial. They continue to say that they feel the testing was not conducted properly and on a wide enough scale to produce proper conclusions. The words ‘rushed’ and ‘haste’ are thrown around a fair amount. It is a fantastic read which brings up many points you wouldn’t otherwise know about the changes, so I highly recommend reading it.

There are many things the FIS should be focusing their efforts on. Safety is quite obviously at the top of the list, but needs to be gone about in a much more constructive way. Another is the attraction of skiing to the general public. I won’t lie, skiing is not the most fun sport to watch on TV. Mainly due to the fact that we still watch it the exact same way people did back in 1970. Coverage hasn’t evolved like almost every other successful mainstream sport has. On-board cameras have been around in F1 since the late 80s! We have the technology to make some pretty amazing things happen for spectators and viewers, and yet none of it is being utilized. Get some smart marketing/TV people on it and make the sport fun and interesting to watch for everyone, not just the die hards.  (@MADMattPrice is a good one to talk to on this issue.)

The most disturbing part about the whole thing is that (to my knowledge) not one athlete was asked how they felt about the changes, or what they think might help prevent injuries. When you have Ted Ligety, 3-time World Cup GS Crystal Globe winner, publicly ridicule the FIS, something might be wrong. What needs to happen for the FIS to realize that we the racers are the ones skiing, the ones feeling the speed, danger and adrenaline? We ski two thirds of every year, you’d think they would realize we have some valuable input on what could make the sport safer, while at the same time maintaining its beauty. For instance, regulate speed suits, or bases. You can’t tell the difference between 110km/h and 130km/h on TV. Slow the bases down, we slow down, things are safer and still look good, everybody wins.

 

Obviously I’m not happy about the changes and don’t think for one second that they will help to decrease injuries. I am someone who abides by the mantra that skiing is an inherently dangerous sport. No matter what you do, it’s dangerous to huck yourself down an icy chute with the intention of trying to get to the bottom as fast as you possibly can. Nothing will ever change that. Arbitrarily making changes to equipment every 3 or 4 years and hoping something will stick is clearly not the way to go, and I hope the FIS comes to their senses soon, or they may have more problems on their hands than blog posts by a few people who care.

UPDATE: Helmets. Helmets have been the single most overlooked safety aspect in ski racing in the past 20 years. Head injuries are just as common as knee injuries, but can be way more detrimental to a career, and to life after skiing. Way more research needs to be done for ski helmets to get up to par (don’t get me wrong, some companies are going in a good direction) but the FIS needs to step in and regulate things for the better. This could make a monumental difference in safety in comparison to the proposed changes.

 

Some other good blogs on the subject:

Ted Ligety speaks his mind

Warner Nickerson tries out the new skis

http://nymansworld.blogspot.com/2011/07/reality-check-fis.html

http://www.alpineraceconsulting.com/blog/2011/7/24/fis-equipment-changes.html

http://www.skiracing.com/?q=node/10255