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Black Diamond: The Deaf Ears of the FIS

It really doesn’t matter what you think or whether FIS research provides a credible basis for decision — ski lengths and radii will be changing on the World Cup next season, like it or not. The FIS has unilaterally mandated the change.

Continental Cups, Europa, NorAms, and Far East Cups will get another year of grace from the FIS decree. No decisions have been made regarding non-continental FIS races and junior levels as to when the changes will be required.

Constantly citing safety and pointing to data provided by the Oslo Trauma Research Center (OTSC), Guenter Hujara, director of the men’s World Cup said: “The facts are the facts. If you want safety this is a step you have to take.”

The OTSC injury sample came from a very small universe: World Cup athletes only. The study included injuries from training and competition, recording athletes who were out for 28 days or longer over a five-year period. Knee injuries accounted for 38.6 percent of the accidents. Whether that is a fair sample for all levels of FIS regulated competition — World Cup through J2 — is subject to criticism as far too narrow. Suffice it to say that by going back only five years, the study involved injuries only since the advent of shaped skis. The FIS has no information as to the rate of injury before the introduction of shaped skis and has no scientific data to demonstrate if the current five-year World Cup injury rate has increased over the previous five years.

Scientists at the University of Salzburg determined through a subjective study of 63 experts that the main risk factor was the “system ski, binding, plate, boot,” among five identifiable problem areas. None of the experts were identified and none of them were women as notably pointed out by Swedish star Anja Paerson at a meeting with FIS officials, researchers and athletes. Women were glaringly absent from the project and the research presented.

While the FIS contends that technical engineers can arrive at radius solution for women, the fact that women — athletes, coaches or officials — were so blatantly ignored not only suggests that the FIS doesn’t care about women, but also completely derails the validity of the research. Women’s views very likely could have influenced the findings, perhaps substantially. 

Unfortunately the FIS put itself in a box the safety issue. Once the organization broadcast that safety was the only priority, the FIS had to come up with a solution to demonstrate that they were actually doing something. Since working to solve the other identified risk factors would not demonstratively show change (snow conditions were deemed not possible to address, as was fatigue — which is primarily brought on by the absurd World Cup travel schedule), the FIS was left with skis, boots and bindings.  By their own admission, boots are too complex, and plates are, too. That left skis as the straw man and helped ease any potential insurance liability.

How the FIS initially arrived at the ski conclusion, too, is cloaked in a bit of intrigue. And, it seems, the deft maneuvering of Austria may well be the manipulation behind the decision. While conspiracy theories seldom gain credibility in fact, consider this. The chair of the safety committee is Toni Giger, the immediate past coach of the Austrian men’s team. The head of the SRS, the ski manufacturers’ group, is the president of Amer, whose brands includes Atomic, an Austrian ski company. The names of testers of the prototypes were withheld, but it would be a safe bet that more than one Austrian was involved. To hammer the point home, during the athletes’ meeting with the FIS and the researchers, not one Austrian team member attended nor did any other Atomic athlete. Surprised? Want to bet on which skis are going to be fast on next year’s World Cup circuit?

As an early editorial pointed out, the FIS answers to no one save its council, whose members have no incentive to think or look at the effects of this decision. No serious thought has been given to what this does to junior alpine ski racing. The FIS answer: it is in committee. And so was the safety issue. Simple considerations as to what is the cost in losing kids to sports that use the “cool” skis, or losing those current young athletes who simply do not want to learn a yesteryear’s technique at the expense of having fun and enjoying racing have not crossed any FIS official’s mind. Just think of undergoing the expense of purchasing all new equipment at a cost of almost $5,000 (€3616). Not on the FIS radar.

All of the above doesn’t concern to the international governing body. If you are going to ski FIS sanctioned races you will comply because that is what the FIS World Cup authorities have mandated based on dubious research. Old-fashioned skidding skis are going to be the factor in next year’s World Cup and shortly everywhere else. If you want to continue to play best learn to live with the new shapes. How sad! — G. B. Jr.

Gary Black

Managing Partner

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