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Manufacturers question new ski specifications

A letter from the Ski Racing Suppliers Association (SRS) took dead aim at the changes to ski specifications the International Ski Federation (FIS) has announced for the 2012 season.

In the letter, sent to FIS officials, national ski federations and others July 20 and signed by Dr Michael Schieneis of Amer Sports, Franz Foettinger of Fischer, Klaus Hotter of Head Sport GmbH, Jonathan Wiant of Marker Voelkl International GmbH, Reto Rindlisbacher of Nordica, Bruno Cercley of Rossignol and Beni Stoekli of Stoekli, the SRS questioned the process which led to the proposed specifications, “certain aspects of their content,” and expressed concern that issues will arise in the effort to implement the new ski specs.

The FIS is calling for longer skis as well as changes in radii and standing height in reaction to studies of racing injuries.

The SRS stressed it remains steadfastly, and actively, supportive of the effort to improve safety, but underscored that “a process of controled testing,” was a prerequisite for determining equipment regulations.

While the FIS has conducted tests, the SRS said: “to form a valid basis, a test process must be sufficiently complete” both to support any changes to specs and to verify any possible negative implications. “The manufacturers are of the opinion this was not the case,” the letter reads, pointing  out that prototype downhill skis were not tested on “sufficiently representative” conditions.

Danger of “boot-out,” when a racer’s boot comes in contact with the surface, could result, the SRS said, “from the concurrent narrowing of the skis and lowering of the standing height,” and suggested the tests undergone did not allow for proper evaluation.

“The decisions have been made in a rush and with the risk, which materilized in the past, not to be fully adequate, or worse still, to possibly create new sources of problems,” the SRS letter reads. “The whole point of the process. … was to avoid just such a situation.”

The SRS said they “fundamentally agree with the principle that changes to equipment specifications can and have to be considered and implemented when they significantly contribute to safety.”

The SRS objected to lowering the standing height in speed disciplines and what it termed an “extreme change in radius” for GS skis (the minimum radius for men’s GS skis was changed from 27 to 40mm). Standing height changes could prove “hazardous” due to boot out without providing a decisive safety advantage and – in addition – could increase chances of bindings tearing off of skis due to a lack of material to afix them.

In regard to the 40mm GS ski radius the SRS said: “While the manufacturers do not challenge an increase in the radius, to set it at 40 is bringing the GS ski twenty years back,” and would further affect the attractiveness of alpine competition for “younger generations which carving had reintroduced to skiing.”

The SRS also said a resulting demand for ski fitting the new specifications will almost certainly “not be covered” for any level of racing other than World Cup or Europa Cup.

Suggesting that equipment specifications are not the most relevent factor in safety, the SRS illustrated its point by noting prototype testing against existing skis provided measures of fractions of a second while changes in course setting could have an impact of several seconds.

“While it is announced that new specifications are presented as part of a wider project to improve safety, the ski manufacturers note with regret that the only measures which seem to be rushed are ones which affect equipment and that, so far at least, no other concrete measures seem to be forthcoming.”

Hank McKee

Senior Editor

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