When the new FIS men’s giant slalom ski regulation changes were announced in the summer of 2016, there was an almost universal sigh of relief from racers and coaches alike when it was learned that the much maligned 35-meter GS ski was soon to be on the outs and a new 30-meter radius was to be adopted for the 2017-18 season.
In perfect conditions and with the right technique, the 35-meter skis worked great — they were even fun to ski on — albeit quite unforgiving in the gates when it came to any mistakes due to pilot error. Throw in some softer snow and course deterioration, however, and the skis became unwieldy beasts that required an uncomfortable amount of body torque and strength to use with any kind of success, creating excessive wear-and-tear on bodies and countless sore backs, hips, and knees.
If everything went according to plan this past weekend, we were supposed to see the debut of the new 30-meter skis in the men’s World Cup opener in Soelden, Austria. Alas, Mother Nature wasn’t in the cooperating mood and delivered gail-force winds on the Rettenbach and forced the cancellation of the race, moving the first men’s GS of the season to Beaver Creek, Colo. on Dec. 3.
Having to wait an extra month to see the new skis in action isn’t necessarily a bad thing, though. Athletes will now have that much more time to fine-tune their gear without precious World Cup points on the line, always a positive whenever equipment regulations change.
“I think the new 30-meter radius is a lot better for our bodies,” says American GS legend Ted Ligety, who has been vocal about the 35-meter skis in the past, despite his success on them. “Over the long term, there was so much wear and tear on our bodies on the 35-meter skis, always trying to pull your body around and trying to get that last bit of turning radius out of them, especially on bad snow. I think the new skis, now that you can be more aligned with your body, are going to be a huge benefit.”
“Initially, right off the bat everyone was stoked to ski on them,” adds U.S. Ski Team Head Men’s Coach Sasha Rearick. “They’re much easier to ski, much more friendly and adaptable. You can pull different radiuses on the skis much easier. Everyone thought it was going to be great, but when we really thought about how to ski and ski fast, the whole realm of tactics and technique can be adapted.”
Rearick explains that even though the skis are “easier” to ski on, finding the optimal setup of equipment, technique, and tactics for each race will present a challenge as some scenarios may even call for the old 35-meter ski to be used.
“There’s an opportunity and maybe a problem of having different skis that are better for different scenarios, so it opens up the door to test a lot more than maybe we would have before,” says Ligety. “At 35-meters, you weren’t going to go less or more radius than that, where now we’re tweaking with stuff at different radiuses. Pretty much over the last bunch of years, I’ve always had the one pair of skis I liked the best and that’s what I raced on and I didn’t have to think about it. Now, you kind of have to think about what’s best for each scenario.”
Adjusting from ski to ski could present another challenge as the timing required to effectively use a 30-meter ski versus a 35-meter ski is just different enough to make even the best skiers in the world take a step back and slowly ease into the new equipment. In Soelden, French ace Mathieu Faivre admitted to his initial struggles with the new skis, but says he is now confident in his equipment and is eager to get the racing season underway.
With lots of equipment tinkering being done, don’t be surprised if the top of the GS results are shaken up a bit in the first few races of the year before each athlete and equipment manufacturer finds their groove. The fastest men in the world will likely still be the fastest men in the world, but there’s a definite opening for lesser-known racers to spoil a podium or two, especially early in the year.
“I think it’s going to favor the athlete that’s really going to throw down the mountain,” Rearick says. “The skis are more forgiving and adaptable so you can throw down harder because the skis have the ability to recover better from mistakes.”
What are your thoughts on the new 30-meter GS skis? Let us know in the comments below.