In July of 2011 the International Ski Federation (FIS) announced the release of new regulations that would be put in place for the 2012-2013 World Cup season. FIS claims these new regulations will result in less injuries in the alpine racing community. Their plan is to change current dimensions of Giant Slalom (GS) skis from 185cm to 195cm in length, and 27m to 35m minimum side-cut radius. The new regulations have caused an uproar among the ski racing community. There are many concerns as to how these new regulations will change the sport and FIS does not seem to want to listen. “The opinion of more than 170 athletes has been ignored,” stated a press release by the Chairman of FIS Athletes’ Commission, Kilian Albrecht, (The FIS Athletes’ Commission Kilian Albrecht (Chairman, FIS Athletes’ Commission), 2011). Most concerns lie with the safety of the athletes but other concerns expressed are how it will affect ski companies, especially if these skis are more prone to cause injury, and the effect it will have on the sport in general. This has become a highly controversial topic that may alter the sport for the worse with many athletes speaking out and trying to get FIS to listen to what they have to say.
To begin, the reason for the new equipment rule changes seems rational. FIS claims that, “Over the past several seasons, FIS has undertaken considerable work in trying to find ways to reduce the risk of injury and improve safety” (“Recent FIS News”, 2011). Although this may be true we have yet to see any evidence of the research. “It seems like there is a lack of sufficient information behind the research and testing that was put into the new skis”, US National Ski Team Member, Warner Nickerson posted on his blog, “Where is the data? Who tested the new skis? Which companies made them? What was the surface? Where did it take place? What type of terrain was involved? What else did they test? Where is the peer review?” (“More FIS Regulation Talk Â« Warner Nickerson Alpine Ski Racer”, 2011). Despite World Cup athletes being invited to test the new skis at the end of their season, none were present. In a comment on his blog, Nickerson, speaking for many athletes states, “…at that time of the year, we want to take a break and go home after a long season rather than dive into more ski testing. Not to mention, there is certainly a disconnect here because I don’t think many athletes were asked.” (“More FIS Regulation Talk Â« Warner Nickerson Alpine Ski Racer”, 2011). So as to why FIS went ahead so urgently to put these new rules in place for next year’s World Cup and Europa Cup circuit without looking more into their research and the response of others seems to be quite uncertain.
In terms of how the actual ski will behave, its function and performance, there are many opinions due to insufficient testing of the product, and no evidence to support FIS’s decision. The load going into the turn and coming out of the turn is supposed to be minimized, according to a study done at the University of Salzburg in Germany. Feedback from top athletes suggest otherwise, “The on snow behavior of these skis is extremely problematic. The loads that are exerted on the knee joints have been dramatically increased, rather than reduced as intended.” This is likely due to the fact that out of the few people who tested the skis some were familiar with they way these skis work. To be able to ski this longer ski with increased side cut radius with the same line and speed as the current skis, “the ski must be edged 7 degrees more” but “more knee angulation will cause an unstable leg geometry leading to uncontrollable, non-linear generation of loads,” (Dodge, 2011). Ted Ligety, the three time World Cup Champion, who is very out spoken about the topic shares his opinion, “As to how the new skis felt; they for sure do not turn as easy, they lock onto the edge hard, are slightly smoother through small bumps, take more muscling and twisting of the ski (manual pressure as opposed to body position), recoveries are slower, there is less energy out of the turn and are far more tiring to ski on.” (Ligety, 2012). Ligety also shares on his blog about how the product is working to his advantage, “I have been testing the..35m skis, in Hinterreit, and (…drumroll…) I am faster! Significantly faster!” (Ligety, 2012). There are many that fear the effects the ski will have on the sport, that these changes are only taking away from the development of the sport. “This is another step back in time”, Bode Miller, two time World Champion said in an interview with ESPN (Press, 2011). On another note, the beauty that so many aspiring and top athletes see in the sport may be at stake, “Ski racing is all about the glory of bending up a ski and snapping off a nasty clean, crisp arc. It’s that liberating feeling of excitement, power, and freedom that makes this sport so special”, Warner Nickerson shares in a blog post (“More FIS regulation talk Â« Warner Nickerson Alpine Ski Racer,” 2011). In essence we could potentially see more injuries in the sport as racers try and make the ski work to their advantage. We may also see youngsters driven away by the skis that take more strength to make work (men will be given tolerance to ski on women’s skis). On the hand, others may benefit from these changes because there are many other styles of skiing that can work, unlike today when all the top athletes we watch ski with very similar technique.
Furthermore, the opinion “of the athletes, their advisors and coaches, as well as numerous experts,” have been ignored when putting these regulations into place (“Insufficient FIS Equipment Studies | skiers.pro – Ski Athletes Network,” 2012). Although FIS claims in a statement that the new skis are, “scientifically proven to enhance athlete safety and reduce risk of injury” (“Recent FIS News,” n.d.), this seems to have become a major concern seeing that athletes’ safety could be at risk. In Ted Ligety’s blog he writes, “…I still believe that FIS has no place to creating equipment regulations. These rule changes may benefit me but by benefiting me, someone else is losing out. That is unfortunate and unfair.” (Ligety, 2012). The testing of these skis did not include women or young children, so when the regulations of the new skis come into play in the 2013/14 season out of World Cup and Europa Cup circuit, how the skis will affect these athletes is unknown and currently overlooked.
Where other concerns lay is how the ski companies will be affected if they put millions of dollars into producing and manufacturing new skis when there is no certainty that they will be successful. Bode Miller further states “If the companies just refuse to produce the skis that are required, they will get the backing from the athletes.” (Press, 2011). There is no official union for athletes and if athletes protest they could be sanctioned, but the manufacturers are part of a union and could protest against this. Hans Olsson, Swedish National Team Member, speaks his concerns about this topic, “The ski companies will suffer badly from this, they have to put in a lot of Euros in developing the new skis & most likely new boots. I´m not sure how much money the ski companies will still have after developing all the new stuff… Will they have enough to keep paying their athletes?” (Olsson, 2011). Seeing that there is no real evidence, or any fact to support FIS’s decision it becomes uncertain to how the product companies will be affected.
There are other actions that FIS could be taking to further insure the safety of athletes. A press release from the Chairman of FIS Athlete’s Committe states that FIS could ensure proper, “piste preparation, with the objective of more safety”, making sure that the conditions of the course are as safe for the snow structure as well as researching, “adaptation of course setting to the modern developments in equipment and technique” and ensuring, “…race suits… provide better safety…as to reduce speeds. Cut-resistant underclothing should be made compulsory” (Chairman, FIS Athletes’ Committe, 2011). Furthermore, it is not the first time that FIS has done something along these lines and been mistaken, showing their incompetence and lack of qualifications in this area. In 2007 they introduced a rule making skis wider, resulting in the skis being “more aggressive which may have led to injuries by extending the lever arm thus putting more force on the knee” (Ligety, 2011). The new skis could potentially end up being more of a risk factor. Many believe that there are other amends FIS could go forward with to ensure greater safety for its alpine athletes; preferably in areas where their expertise belongs.
In essence, whether or not these changes result in less injuries, More time should have been taken to test the new skis before making serious changes with no real evidence of how it will affect the sport and alpine ski racers today. Greater consideration should have been taken from those affected and those whose opinions are of significance such as coaches and experts in the field. If next season we find the skis to be more dangerous than beneficial there will be greater consequences than if the proposed skis are advantageous to the sport. FIS will have to be prepared for the consequences.