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Rule changes in a nutshell

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Rule changes in a nutshell
The 2017/2018 ski racing season will feature intense FIS World Cup action from late October 2017 to mid-March 2018. While the body of rules is subject to continuous review, there are only two more substantial rule changes coming into effect this season that the ski racing fan should be aware of.
Giant slalom: smaller radius for the men
The main rule change concerns the men’s giant slalom skis. For many, giant slalom is the queen discipline of skiing that allows carving perfect curves at a high speed. For some, the rule amendment may sound like a back-to-the-future adjustment given that the radius of the GS skis was changed as recently as before the 2012/2013 season. Five years ago, these modifications caused heated discussion with some of the top athletes expressing vocal dissent. In short, the new rules for the 2017/2018 season apply to the specifications of the male competitors’ giant slalom skis with the new minimum radius changed to 30 metres and the minimum length of the skis set to 193 centimetres. That means, the skis will be shorter and have more shape than the older models, which had to adhere to the requirement of a minimum radius of 35 metres and a minimum length of 195 centimetres. The rule change will apply to all male competitors racing at FIS levels from the current season onward with a five-centimetre tolerance for FIS level competitions. The GS course regulations have remained unchanged, as have the specifications of the female giant slalom skis which will continue to require a 30-metre radius.
Changed circumstances
Commenting on the change that was introduced following the 2016 FIS Congress in Cancun in June 2016, Markus Waldner, FIS Chief Race Director for the men’s World Cup, said: “Fact is, there has been an evolution and the 35-metre radius skis were not working anymore, not only on the World Cup, but especially on the lower levels… All the main stakeholders were in favour of a change. For the first time, the ski brands are on the same page, and a significant majority of the athletes agreed to the proposal to return to 30 metres from Sölden 2017 on.” Initially, some stakeholders were against the change before an Olympic season but all parties then agreed to apply the new rules starting with the 2018 season. Industry experts highlighted especially the issues the younger athletes were having with the 35-metre radius skis due to the physical strength required to control them properly. Waldner stated further: “The feedback we have received from testing this spring and summer has been ok. The first impression is that the new models are more fun to ski and easier to turn. That's especially great for the younger racers! Work of course continues for everyone to find the perfect set-up between the ski, the binding and the boot. The first races will show the direction, also in terms of course setting.” He added: “We do hope that some of the speed racers that opted not to race GS in the past few seasons because of the long radius skis will now add the event back to their calendars. That would help bring the speed and tech racers more together again.”
Positive feedback from athletes and coaches
The introduction of the 35-metre radius skis in 2012 was based on research and data that pointed to an increase in knee injuries. Unfortunately, racers developed different problems with the new skis, including a number of athletes suffering from back pain. Busy preparing for the season, athletes and their coaches seem excited about the return to the 30-metre radius skis. Martin Rufener, the former head coach of the Swiss men’s team who now serves as Athletic Director for Alpine Canada, commented: “What’s old is new again. Athletes with the greatest power and confidence will have the most success with the 30-metre radius skis, as they will have the ability to power through the turn, even after the gate, resulting in a tighter and faster line. We are very happy about this change, not only for our World Cup and Development Team athletes, but also for the younger provincial and club level racers. The 30-metre radius skis are much easier to turn, which should help to reduce back injuries and issues many athletes experienced with the 35-metre radius skis.” Dustin Cook of Canada, the 2015 vice-world champion in super-G, agrees: “Even though they're a lot easier to turn, it’s completely different tactically and the way you ski on them is different… Now that we’ve kind of figured them out, it’s a lot more fun. It’s a lot less work and it looks a lot better.”
In a sport where victory and defeat are sometimes separated by hundredths of a second, small changes may make a substantial difference.
Costly adjustment
From the perspective of the ski manufacturers, the change is resource intensive. Estimates of the incremental cost of the new skis amount to more than €100,000 per manufacturer. Racing Director with the Austrian brand Atomic, Christian Höflehner notes in an interview with Skionline.ski that there will be no use for the skis that the elite raced with last season. “There is no reason to ski on the 35-metre radius skis anymore because the new models are distinct and behave completely differently. Even a good recreational skier will not enjoy skiing on the old skis and will hardly manage to control them.” He added: “By contrast, the new racing skis with a smaller radius will be suitable for ambitious recreational skiers and that will help us offset the costs for the development of and production tools for the new models.” Some experts speculate that the radius change without corresponding amendments to course regulations may allow for more creative course sets for the men. In any case, the new skis promise additional excitement since all racers will have to get used to the new material which presents certain risks especially for those who mastered the previous models. The more direct and tactical approach to the gate may not suit everyone equally and the speed of adjustment depends on the individual. It will also remain to be seen whether the number of injuries will diminish and whether the athletes continue to experience back pain.
Small refinement to downhill training start order
After a number of changes to the start order of the speed races in recent years, small changes will again be introduced from the start of this season. In a sport where victory and defeat are sometimes separated by hundredths of a second, small changes may make a substantial difference. Fine-tuning the rules can also help enhance the fan experience and improve the sport’s success as TV product. Under the revised rules applicable from the previous 2016/2017 season, the top 30 speed racers were divided into three groups based on the World Cup Start List (WCSL): the top 10, 11-20 and 21-30. Starting with the top group of ten athletes, the athletes could choose their start position on odd numbers from bibs 1-19 before the respective event. The next ten athletes (ranked 11th-20th) were then randomly drawn into the even number slots between 2-20. The athletes ranked 21st-30th were drawn into start positions 21-30. This applied to all speed races, both super-G and downhill competitions, and downhill training runs. The news for the 2017/2018 season is that in the downhill training runs, all the bib numbers for the top 30 will be randomly drawn. The top 10 racers will thus lose their personal choice to select their favourite odd number between 1-19. This minimal change is being implemented for the sake of fairness. Last season, few top ten racers were often left with the early bib numbers 1, 3 or 5. Conventional wisdom in ski racing holds that the best starting numbers are around bib number 10 although weather conditions play a large role and depending on the circumstances, an early start number can also be lucky. And that luck will still continue to play a role as the adjustment only applies to downhill training runs and the start order procedure in place last season will be used in all speed races this season as well. Markus Waldner commented: “It is too early for us to draw any conclusions for the start order based on one season only. Our goal was to use the modifications to grow our TV audience by making the race more interesting from the start, instead of having the best racers start in a group after bib 15.” He added: “Last season we saw that the result largely depends on the course, weather and snow conditions. The best racers tend to pick bibs 7-11 but in some cases, risk-taking pays off and you may win with bib #1. We also saw bib #26 winning last season. So, the start order change has helped make the races more interesting and we also saw more tactics and better storytelling. But overall, we do not yet have enough data to confirm whether we have reached our objective in terms of TV figures.”
Longines Ambassador of Elegance Aksel Lund Svindal during the super-G in Val d’Isère in 2016.