FIS, the International Ski Federation, in an effort to “find ways to reduce the risk of injury and improve safety” among ski racers has announced new specifications for alpine equipment. In a nutshell, the skis are getting straighter and longer. In a time when recreational skis are curvier and shorter that ever, it seems FIS is taking it old-school.
I just signed my step-son’s FIS application. He’s a ski racer and will be affected by this new change. According to Andrew, the new ski shape will require racers to attack the gates in a different way. Instead of starting a turn early and arcing it around the gate, these skis, along with the new rules for setting courses, will encourage racers to stivot, using more of a braking/skid method to navigate the course. A stivy, as it’s known in the racing world, is a technique currently used to make tight gates, often found in technical GS courses that a racer would otherwise be unable to arc around. The racer points his or her skis in the direction of the next turn well before the gate and skids on the ski past the tight turn. Once the ski is pointed again towards the following gate, the racer sets his or her edges once again and hurls toward the next turn.
This will slow racers down, which as a parent watching my step-son reach speeds on skis that I’m not even comfortable driving in a car, should be a good thing. But I’m reserving judgement. Andrew spent years learning how to turn early and not scrub speed. He knows how to gain time on the flats, keep his arms together when he reaches mach speed and eek out every mph possible out there on a course. Ski racing and skis have developed over the years, and now, thanks to side cut, has progressed to a point where a racer can set an edge early and ride it gracefully around a gate. The sport might just be losing it’s aesthetic.
Check out this video that Andrew put together explaining the difference between the stivot and the arc. Notice that when a racer carves very little snow sprays behind his or her skis. When stivoting, on the other hand, the snow flies.
This change will certainly shake up the sport of ski racing. The most adaptable athletes will have an edge. Perhaps the advantages in weight will even out a bit, opening the field to more slightly built athletes. Skiers, such as Ted Ligety, who seem to have mastered the art of the stivy, might well have an advantage. Then again, Ligety also knows how to lay down a graceful arc, and with the new skis that skill may no longer be necessary.
World Cup athletes have not reacted well to the news. I can see where they’re coming from. They have perfected their art over a lifetime of ski training, and to change the equipment now would be a tough transition. But racers have transitioned before as skis got shorter and more side cut.
As ski manufacturers and athletes scramble to meet the new criteria, I’m reminded of Vinko Bogataj’s spectacular fall during the opening scene of The Wide World of Sports, where his “agony of defeat” could be felt by all. Let’s just hope these new straighter skis bring about less of those falls, and more of the “thrills of victory.” Ahh, the human drama that is sports!