Slalom, in its current form, was introduced in 1922 by Sir Arnold Lunn and with the exception of breakaway gates, very little has changed in the form of the course. Giant slalom diverted in 1950, downhill is as old as the first skis and super-G was added some years later in 1987.
The rules were crafted to fit the type of technique, equipment and surface. In that era there were stiff wooden skis, bees wax, no edges or very primitive dull edges and leather strapped bindings. Athletes wore baggy pants, soft leather boots they skied on soft natural snow.
They slid around the stiff gates by good old Christiania technique. The average speed was 10 mph. The finish time was rounded to seconds. The term DNF was unheard of; DSQ was seldom used. The acronym ACL was just an anatomical term with no relationship to skiing.
The sport progressed as skiers adopted the spirit of their heroes and were trying to ski like Mathias Zdiarsky or Toni Sailer. All young skiers on any level were dreaming about being a racer. The race was a centerpiece of happenings at the ski area. It’s also important to note that skiing had a very little impact on family budget and money used to be spent on tea or chocolate. This was the time when gate skiing was born.
Fast forward to today and we have modern ski racers with knight-like armor, cross blocking the flex gates on icy surfaces with razor sharp edges. They are wearing skin-tight Lycra, in extremely stiff boots tuned to a fraction of degrees in perfection, with state of art bindings. Skiers today are carving perfectly clean turns on skis meeting antagonistic physical qualities, grinded and tuned to precious perfection, coated with state of art wax, topped with expensive additives. The racers move with routine precision on identical width of surface – the line – with average speeds 30-40 mph. The time is measured by hundredths of seconds and occasionally we have three-way tie.
And we are still being held to the same good old standards invented in 1922. There is nothing wrong with this and kudos to tradition. However, there are a few new phenomenons virtually unknown in 1922.
DNF and ACL became a most frequently used abbreviation in alpine skiing. We all adapted philosophies to treat torn ACL as we might a common flu. As a skier, you either had torn your ACL it or you would have it torn eventually.
This is a fairly unique phenomenon in athletics across sports.
Rehab is expected to make you physically and mentally stronger or you quit because you do not want to take the chance of repeated injury. The high cost of surgery is not so much a concern. After all, it is somehow absorbed by society. But it could be also a “tough call” for loving parents.
Occasionally, there is the race where the number of athletes who DNF exceeds half the size of the field. A while back we started pay attention to a course set with hopes that the number of DNF’s would decrease and it did not happen. Racers are fighting regret in skiing because they are not sure if they should “go for it” or “just ski to finish.” An absolutely unknown phenomenon in any other sport with exception of golf. Just kidding!
Alpine racing is the only sport with zero tolerance for error. So many things in our sport is at the limits. One mistake and you are out. This is something Sir Arnold Lunn did not anticipate. He also did not envision parents with check books following every step of their junior racers.
This is where tradition becomes questionable. We should think about an overhaul of traditional formats to accommodate 96 years of evolution in alpine skiing. We need to give kids better chance to finish the race without fear of not finishing.
Below is a proposed format which I think should help to accommodate the physics and dynamics of modern skiing. It would also give racers a second chance and parents satisfaction even if the young racer made a mistake or two. The fastest racer will still win, but all could stay in the race until very end.
It would not be easy to present it to the traditional European mentality, but it will make racing more enjoyable, it would give parents a better and less expensive product, and it would promote a technical development of young racers.
PARALLEL PANELED SLALOM
1. To promote a spectator appealing form of alpine racing and provide racers the feeling of excitement that results from head-to-head competition.
2. To expedite the speed of race execution (two racers at the time.)
3. To provide a tool in the development of junior alpine ski racers.
4. To offer attractive form of racing for affordable price.
This is a modified version of the FIS parallel slalom. It is not a single elimination format, rather it is to provide the maximum number of runs to the most athletes.
This “pro” start dual format is intended to be as simplistic as possible in an effort to reach the desired objective outlined above.
It is designed to be conducted with 2 to 4 heats where each heat consists of 2 runs by each athlete. The number of heats can vary based on the number of athletes, or the allotted time available, or both. In the final, results are the sum total of the 2-3-4 heats (four, six, eight) runs that determines the winner.
Aside from the overall excitement of this format, this type of racing was originally intended for NCAA to balance Nordic Sprints as a third event. However, the format, due to the fundamental form of body position in the turn, is extremely beneficial for the development of junior racers. The classic slalom turn with out cross blocking offers ideal tool of technical improvement.
The intent is not to challenge traditional forms of alpine racing, but to bring down the cost of races, among another aspects, and to maintain the excitement of dual slalom.
a) The format requires only 150-250 meters of hill space.
b) It can be accomplished with a minimal personnel involvement.
c) It could be timed with one dual slalom or two independent sets of wireless timing systems.
d) It accommodates 4 racers in one minute, (120 in 1/2 hour) up to 8 runs.
e) With a “forgiveness” formula the penalty of disqualification is not as eminent as in standard SL/GS format.
f) It does not require use of a snowmobile.
g) Estimated entry fee should be $15-$20 per race.
h) Spectators can see the entire race.
I) The fastest racers compete in the end of the heat.
Rules and Definition
The parallel race is a competition where two competitors race simultaneously, side by side, down courses. The setting of the courses, the configuration of the hill and the preparation of the snow are to be as identical as possible. The race could be sanctioned for two, three or four heats based on the number of race entries.
The vertical drop of the course should be between 80 and 120 m. There should be between 20 and 30 gates, not counting the start and finish.
Choice and Preparation of the Course
1. Choose a slope wide enough to permit two courses safely, preferably slightly concave (permitting a view of the whole course from any point). The terrain variations must be the same across the surface of the slope. The course layouts must have the same profile and the same difficulties. For junior skiers there should be no jump.
2. Over the full width of the chosen slope, the (snow) surface should be consistently hard, and must offer equal race conditions on both courses.
3. The course should be entirely closed off by B-netting. It is recommended to fence off reserved places intended for trainers, competitors and servicemen.
1. Each course is designated by a series of gates, each gate is composed of two slalom poles with a GS gate panel stretched between them and fastened in such a way so as to tear or break away according to FIS specifications,
2. Poles and panels are red for the course on the left and blue for the other course on skiers right. The bottom of the panel must be approx. 1m above the snow.
3. The same course setter establishes the courses and makes sure they are identical and parallel. The course setter must ensure that the course flow is smooth and that there is variety in the curves (very pronounced curves) and that the course causes rhythm changes. In no case should this event resemble a long straight run from top to bottom.
4. The first gate in each course should be placed no less than 8m and no more than 10 m from the start. Distance between consecutive gates on the same course should be no less than 10m and no more than 15m in a parallel slalom. For a GS, no less than 20m and no more than 25m.
5. The separation between courses must not be less than 8m.
6. Shortly before the finish line, after the last gate, the separation between the two courses must be well marked so that they direct each competitor towards the middle part of the respective finish.
Distance Between the Two Courses
1. The distance between two corresponding gates (from turning pole to turning pole) should be no less than 8m.
Pairs will start by the order of the board or start list with odd number on the red course and even number on the blue course. Odd number of competitors in the field in will start solo on the red course.
If a DNF or DSQ occurs to one of racers, the racer will remain in the race on a “onetime forgiveness” rule, however his recorded time will be a time of his opponent +2.00 second penalty. Note: (Could use a penalty of +10 percent of his/her opponents time). If neither racer finishes, there will be a re-run and they will be inserted in to next available interval without penalty.
Cross-block technique, any attempt of opponents interference or not sportsman like behavior is prohibited and would be qualified as unsafe. It is a jury liberty to distinguish between accidental and intentional violation of this rule. The penalty of +2.00 seconds of opponent’s time would be imposed on violator and he/she can continue in the race.
If both racers of the same run violate above provisions the time of faster racer of previous couple would be used as a base +2.00 seconds penalty for both violators and they both can continue in the race. More than one violation in two heat, two violations in three heat and three violations in four heat race would result in disqualification from the race.
RICHARD ROKOS, Head Alpine Coach at the University of Colorado
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