Boot builders, technicians, developers, inventors, craftsmen, tinkerers, mechanics, spare parts specialists, support guys or “just” boot service men on the FIS Alpine Ski World Cup? All of these roles can be used to describe the job of Reinhold Gappmaier and Hannes Reiter from Fischer Sports.
Perfectly fitting boots are crucial for athletes and the optimum set-up can often mean the difference between victory and defeat when exciting races are won or lost by mere hundredths of a second. But what do boot service men do exactly and why are there only two of them for so many Fischer athletes?
Reinhold, you come from Forstau, a small place near Radstadt, and Hannes, you’re from Altenmarkt im Pongau. How long have you been together with the Fischer Racing Family and what brought you to Upper Austria?
Reinhold Gappmaier: I’ve been with Fischer for 11 years now – actually ever since we’ve had boots. I used to ski competitively myself and always wanted to work in the racing field. When I heard about the vacancy I sent an application and changed to Fischer within the space of two weeks. Once you get the racing bug it’s difficult to leave it behind you.
Hannes Reiter: This is now my fifth season at Fischer. I used to ski in races as well. I started at Fischer when my career ended and it enabled me to stay loyal to racing.
Ski service men normally look after a maximum of two or three athletes. Why are there only the two of you?
HR: The bulk of our work takes place in spring and summer when the material tests are carried out. This is when the boots are adapted, fixed and prepared in advance as far as possible. Everything then has to be just right when winter comes. As a rule, and depending on weather conditions, all that is required is fine tuning. Only one of us is then present at the races themselves in case any last-minute minor adjustments have to be made.
How many athletes do you look after?
RG: That’s a tough one, I’ll have to think. We don’t only look after World Cup skiers. We are also responsible for our Europa Cup and junior athletes. Plus we have athletes who use other ski brands, but all-in-all it must be in the region of 120. Together we also handle about 500 pairs of boots which we adapt every season.
Many athletes say that boots are critical for a perfect setup.Everything has to be meticulously tuned. What are the key factors in your job?
RG: In my opinion the most important part of our job is intuition. It is important to listen to which problem the athlete has and then find the best possible solution.
HR: The most difficult thing is to find out what exactly is the root of the problem. If an athlete says for example that the boots are too “aggressive” we have to find out where it comes from and what exactly the cause is in this particular person’s case. Our experience helps us here, plus our knowledge as former racers. If you’ve competed in races yourself you know what the athlete needs and what makes him or her tick.
Who then makes the final decision regarding the boots and the tuning?
RG: It is important to decide things together. The athlete has to accept responsibility for his or her equipment and in turn we are responsible for the athlete. It is a process and in the end we decide together.
Who does the work prior to what you do and what role does the development department play?
RG: The cooperation with the development department is incredibly important and has to be very close. We are on location on the pistes with the athletes and speak on their behalf. We have to complement each other and they have to know what is required out there.
How often do athletes’ feet change and how often do you need to make new boots?
HR: Feet are generally larger and broader in summer because of the heat and we do sometimes face the problem that the boots cannot always fit in winter if the fitting procedure has taken place in summer. This is experience that you pick up over time. It’s best to fit the boots in the morning in summer as the feet have not done too much walking and are not swollen. On the whole it can always happen that you have to do some rework, but it’s normally only a matter of fine tuning.
In Soelden one week, then in Lake Louise, Beaver Creek and Åre. You are on the road the whole time. Do you divide up who does what races or do you decide it spontaneously?
RG: There is no clear split along the lines of Hannes doing the speed events and me the technical ones, for example, but we do agree before the season gets underway who is where and from when to when. Individuality has become increasingly important recently and the tendency is towards one of us being responsible for certain athletes. Having said that, each of us has to know what work the other one is doing at all times. The communication between us is the be-all and end-all and we have to be there for each other.
You don’t only look after athletes from one nation, you have skiers from all different countries. Does this ever cause any problems?
HR: The language barriers are probably the biggest difficulty. It is often difficult enough to find out exactly where the problem lies in German. If you then have a Russian or a Frenchman, for example, who is explaining something to you in English and we try to make something out of it in German, you can lose some vital information that we urgently require. In the meantime we have found ways of getting around these barriers as far as we can. Not forgetting that you learn from experience, of course.
The service man plays a considerable part in the success of the athlete. How about the two of you – are you proud of your athletes?
RG: We are always pleased about successes, obviously. It’s the reward for all the hard work and when you know you’ve played a small part in achieving the success, it is of course motivating. What also makes us very proud is that we work at Fischer. You can simply tell that we are still a family business and that we are more than just a number. Every person counts and that makes work even more enjoyable.
Release courtesy of Fischer Sports