Alpine Ski Chief Stands Behind Controversial Rule Changes

(ATR) FIS alpine race director Günter Hujara tells Around the Rings he supports the International Ski Federation’s recent equipment regulations despite substantial opposition from some of the sport’s top athletes.

(ATR) FIS alpine race director Günter Hujara tells Around the Rings he supports the International Ski Federation’s recent equipment regulations despite substantial opposition from some of the sport’s top athletes.

Following a rule change in July to dramatically alter ski specificationswith the interest of improving safety, FIS once again made modifications last week after 41 of the top 50 skiers signed a petition in protest.

New specifications were initially made by FIS to increase the turning radius and minimum lengths of giant slalom, super G and downhill skis taking effect for the 2012-13 season. The changes are an effort to reduce speeds and limit pressure on knees during high-speed, arcing turns.

After a Wednesday meeting with the Ski Racing Suppliers association led by FIS president Gian Franco Kasper, officials reversed the decision to change to 40-meter radius giant slalom skis from the current 27-meter ski and move to 35 meters instead.

Hujara spoke exclusively to ATR about the recent equipment changes, which have provoked substantial opposition among social media and websites.

"We could only go that much lower with the radius where we still see a clear improvement compared to the old skis," he said.

"With 35, it’s a little less than 40, but it’s in a framework where we could say under the circumstances that everybody accepts this agreement as something which is good for everybody and does not jeopardize safety."

In response to the change, three-time world cup giant slalom champion Ted Ligety sounded off on his personal website.

"I hate to sound uncompromising on the new FIS GS radius and length rules after FIS backed off its original 40m radius rule to a reduced 35m but the truth is, it is still going to be bad for the sport," he wrote.

"FIS should relinquish ski regulation powers to the ski companies," Ligety added.

As part of the initial modifications, the minimum length of the GS ski will be increased from 185cm to 195cm (and 180cm to 188cm for women). Similar changes will be in effect for the length of downhill and super-G skis, though no additional modifications were made to the radius of downhill and super G skis.

In cooperation with the Oslo Sports Trauma Research Center and University of Salzburg, FIS has been involved with a six-year scientific research project with the goal of limiting the inherent dangers in the sport. The equipment project has involved development of special ski prototypes along with the collaboration of ski manufacturers.

"These data show very clearly that if you want to change something with a result you have to increase a few parameters and especially the radius," Hujara said.

"The dramatic change with the radius is the only way to go – higher than 35, 36 or 37. The most clear result was with the 40-meter radius ski."

Ligety recently tested the 40-meter prototype skis and offered feedback on his website last week.

"Try as I might, I could not get the skis to come around without a huge slide and step," he wrote.

"Wave goodbye to the sport’s progression of arcing the cleanest possible turns."

According to Hujara, racers have been encouraged to submit concerns and suggestions since the beginning of the study. Approximately 400 reports, interviews and opinions have been taken into account and shared with the University of Oslo.

"It’s not that we did something without considering what the athletes think. I really, really understand the position and concerns of the athletes," he said.

"If you are an athlete presently ranked high in the points or a leading athlete like Ligety, it cannot be in your interest that something is changed which may cause a real change in behavior or skills in alpine ski racing."

Ligety notes that over the past two seasons, only three injuries have been suffered among top giant slalom skiers, none of which should be attributed to equipment.

"If the rule changes truly were safer and wouldn’t ruin the sport, I’d be all for them even if it were to my disadvantage," the 2011 giant slalom world champion wrote prior to the change to35 meters.

"If anything, I fear these new rules will drain all the fun out of the sport and will deter future generations from picking up a pair of race skis when they head out to the slopes."

Marco Buechel, a six-time Olympian who recently retired and serves as an athlete representative with the FIS Working Group for Technical Equipment, also weighed in on the recent changes.

"Trust me, we talked so much about course setting, snow conditions, made tests with different suit fabrics, helmet and body protectors, but the bottom line is, the most dangerous part is still the ski itself," he said.

Hujara seems convinced that the changes will not have as big of an impact on the sport as athletes are suggesting.

"We want to take out the aggressiveness of the ski and I’m sure the athletes will be able to adapt very quickly and do everything they do now and manufacturers will deliver high-tech products as they do now," he said.

U.S. Ski Team racer Warner Nickerson also spoke to ATR regarding his concerns.

"Our biggest fear is that this is going to suck the fun and excitement out of GS," said the recent winner of the New Zealand Winter Games giant slalom.

"Ski racing is all about the glory of bending a ski and snapping a clean, crisp arching turn, and it’s the liberating feeling of excitement, power and freedom that makes the sport so special.

"In my opinion, the fun of arcing far outweighs the potential health benefits of sliding."

Hujara advised that the rules, which go into effect during the season prior to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, could once again be modified.

"As in the past, if urgent changes must be done, then they will be done," he told ATR.

"If it’s proven that things do not work, then we sit down together again. It’s an ongoing process with everything."

Written by Brian Pinelli.

Homepage photo courtesu U.S. Ski Association.