FIS stands for Federation Internationale de Ski, or International Ski Federation in English. The FIS is responsible for determining and imposing standards for the world of ski racing, including sizing of race skis. The FIS has been taking heat lately for changing the minimum turn radius of giant slalom skis to 35 meters as opposed to the 27 meter radius the skis are currently required to have. The FIS is quoting racer safety as the reasoning for the change in turn radius. This change will take effect for FIS athletes for the 2012-2013 ski season, unless the athletes have their way. Initially the changes will not effect racers at the USSA level, however the new regulations are set to trickle down through the ranks over the next few years.
The original proposal by FIS was to make GS skis 40 meters, so you could consider the 35 meter rule progress on the behalf of the athletes. Many of the ski companies have been developing prototypes of these new 35 meter skis for their World Cup athletes to train on. So far most of the athletes who have tried the new skis have spoken out against them. Ted Ligety, 2010 and 2011 GS World Champion blogged about his experience on the new skis back in August. Ted the United States best GS skier seems to have the most to lose from these changes. “Bode Miller has said that FIS should remove itself from equipment issues all together and I agree.” Ted Ligety.
To put the 35 meter radius skis into perspective we need to dive into the archives of ski museums everywhere. The last time GS skis were available with a turn radius that large was in the mid 1980s. In the mid 80s many of the athletes on the US ski team weren’t born yet. Those who were old enough to ski were sporting one piece snow suits and doing pizza turns on the bunny hill. Many of the World Cup athletes have joked about World Cup skiers from the 90s coming out of retirement and dominating the world cup again because the 40 meter skis perform that differently. Personally, I think those athletes would even struggle. Watch these two videos and compare the difference in technique. The first is of FIS athlete Warner Nickerson trying a new pair of Head prototype 40 meter skis. The second is of Ingemar Stenmark who dominated the World Cup circuit in the late 70s and through the 80s, winning more international races than any other alpine skier in history.
Someone get on the phone now and make sure to get Ingemar in a coaching position ASAP. As you can see from the video of Warner Nickerson struggling to stay in the course, even the best athletes in the world can’ t make 40 meter skis turn in between gates set for 27 meter turns. The stepping motion Nickerson and Stenmark are using to make the turns is referred to as a Stem Christie turn. What was once the definition of an accomplished skier, this technique is now obsolete. The Stem Christie turn is so different from what is preached in current racing technique – both skis perfectly parallel, quiet upper body, early pressure and a high line. This Stem Christie/shuffle style turn requires a lot of exaggerated movements with the upper body and counter rotaion to get the skis to arc. After completing this run Nickerson’s coach told him that he wasn’t doing anything they had been working on. Nickerson pointed out the skis and the coach’s response was “That explains a lot”. Nickerson had this to say about the new skis. “First off, they are great for slipping. My first run was a slip run where they performed exceptionally well. They didn’t hook up at all; they gracefully slipped over every single rut, bump, and hole so nicely. They would be perfect for course workers and coaches since they don’t torque your knees at all slipping.” Warner Nickerson.
FIS states safety as their main concern and reasoning for increasing the turn radius. I may be on my own here, but the video of Warner Nickerson’s GS run looked anything but safe. I haven’t had the experience of trying these new 35 meter skis, but I have made the mistake of trying to take my 23 meter GS skis through a slalom course. I did that once, and I never want to do that again. I had never been so scared in a course in my life.
The day before the 2011-2012 World Cup opener in Soelden, the athletes met with the FIS officials to speak out against the new rule changes to take effect for the following season. According to an e-article on Ski Racing Journal Bode Miller was the first athlete to speak up at the meeting, but the most effective “presentation” was made over two hours into the meeting by Swedish racer Anja Paerson. She pulled together two racers the six-foot-three-inch Aksel Lund Svindal and five-foot-three-inch Lara Gut. Much of the research the FIS decision is based on was relating to male test subjects. “So you are saying that the research done for Aksel is good to use for Lara,” said Paerson.
This brings up an excellent point. What about the women and the young athletes? The new 35 meter skis give a serious advantage to brute strength over technical skill. The young racers and female athletes don’t have the same strength of the some of the more powerful male athletes like the six-foot-three-inch Aksel Lund Svindal. Racers including Didier Cuche and Ted Ligety are concerned about the effects these new rule changes will have on younger athletes. Racing already struggles to maintain interest with the increasing popularity of freestyle skiing, what will happen once these changes take effect? “This I fear will drive many young skiers out of racing at a greater rate.” Ted Ligety.
In addition to World Cup athletes speaking out against these changes racers and race parents in general are in an uproar regarding the new rules. Groups have formed on facebook like Keep the Arc in FIS Skiing to oppose these changes. Let us know how you feel…