Slow Motion Training video

Since arriving in Soelden almost a week ago we’ve gotten some good training time on the race hill. It’s been a little soft since it just snowed here so it wasn’t exactly race conditions but still good to train on a World Cup hill, which is a rarity.

Here’s a little slow motion video from the first pitch.

Portillo Camp

It’s one month to the first World Cup in Soelden and we are just finishing up camp in Portillo. Chile had a less than stellar snow year so we were a bit worried that this camp might not shape up. Yet we have had a great camp and used every bit of snow Portillo had left to offer. (First time I in my 7 years of coming here the lake was not frozen.) The only thing we miss out on was the usual big downhill jump, otherwise the conditions were perfect.

People are probably wondering how the new 35m GS skis are feeling: They definitely take some getting used to, aren’t easy to warm up on and take some more muscling but as long as the snow is hard, they ski well and are probably faster in most World Cup conditions. Out of principle I do have to say I still believe they are not safer, they will be hell for younger, smaller FIS kids and they don’t turn in soft soft. Though interestingly enough, the Speed skis are way easier for me to ski on.

Here’s a sampling of some of my training runs. (All runs are on the new skis).

Me falling in AK

Generally I’ve made it through the last couple winters without any major crashes (knock on wood). This week filming with Warren Miller I’ve taken 2 pretty good tumbles. The first I tomahawked pretty good and lost my GoPro so unfortunately I lost all the footage from the crash and the day which was our best. On my second big crash we weren’t filming because the sun was no longer on the face we were skiing, so I took fun run with another GoPro on a line I had already skied. The line was a pretty simple steep face into about a 20 foot cliff band. I was trying to lose a little speed coming into the cliff when I hit a hard piece of snow or a rock and the sluff took out my tails simultaneously. I was fine, just another lesson learned: don’t throw speed checks in the gut where the sluff is going.

Alaska Heli skiing with Warren Miller

I’ve always fancied myself as a good freeskier and would watch ski movies totally respecting what those guys were doing but thinking that it wouldn’t be a hard transition and I would be comfortable doing comparable lines. It turns out there is a lot more then meets the eye. First off every race I do I get to slide down the course and memorize where I’m going. Obviously you cannot do that on these lines, so you look at them from the bottom, disguise the line, take some pictures and then look at the line from the heli and take some more pics. Yet when you stand at the top of the line you can’t see anything, or the ridges are way bigger then you thought or the “small” cliff is actually huge or you can see anything until you 60 meters down the line. Outside just finding the line you thought was good, you have to deal with you sluff (mini avalanche that’s normal on these steep lines) and often times you have to ski though or land off features that have already sluffed off which look fine but it turns out those patches of not so awesome looking powder have 3 foot deep ruts and are hard-ish snow. Once you’ve made it most of the way down your line you then have to deal with the bergschrund (mini crevasse) that can be a gaping hole or a moderate sized drop off depending on the line.

Luckily Phil Meier is here, who’s a veteran Swiss big mountain skier, as well as Marcus Caston; a Shred athlete awesome skier and winner of Rahlves Banzai races but very green in this realm too. Phil knows what he’s doing and has dispersed a plethora of advice and knowledge to both of us along the way. Our guides Lel and Rich with Chugach Powder Guides have been extremely helpful as well. I cannot give enough credit to them for helping gauge the lines, finding the good snow and talk us out of doing stupid lines and into good lines.

The first day here was a real eye opener. First filming run Phil lined up a big spine, 4 turns in a slab broke off starting an avalanche that swept him off his feet and into the chute. He deployed his ABS pack and was right on the surface and fine when he came back into site at the bottom. I was standing 10 meters from the crown at the top and was sufficiently scared. Needless to say that ended our first day.

After watching a seasoned vet like Phil take a real ride, we took it back a few notches and have been easing our way back into some of the bigger lines. I’ve taken a few tumbles each of which has taught me a lesson, so that I’m not totally naive to this scene, yet I’ll still admit I’m very green.

Phil Meier one turn before the slab broke off

"Spine Cell" where Phil took his ride

Big face we skied. I ended up tomahawking off the lower bergschrund after I landed the cliff.

View from the top of the face above

Fun line

Long leg burner

Moscow aka MOCKBa

Headed back to the alps after a few days here in Moscow. We competed in a parallel slalom on a ramp last night. I went out in the first round after getting hung up in the start from barraging the gate first run then was way too conservative out of the gate second run.

Julia Mancuso, Aksel svindal, Felix Neureuther, Andre Myhre, Mario Matt and I adventured town on the subway to see the sights. Here are some pics.

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Pics from PO3A XYTOP aka Rosa Khutor

Our hotels

View of the downhill

View of downhill


Sniper at the top of the mountain. His rifle had a silencer, bit scary.


Massive construction everywhere

Sochi, Russia

We are currently racing in Rosa Khutor the alpine site for the 2014 Olympics in Sochi, Russia. The downhill race was today in which I did not partake in and the Combined is tomorrow in which I hope to crush it. The downhill track here is one of the coolest hills in the world and has the ability to be legendary. This being the first time it’s ever been run I think organizers were nervous so they set it way to turny. It resembles a SuperG set more then a downhill but I’m guessing they will have that ironed out for the Olympics.

Outside the race venues this mountain is probably the best ski area you’ll never ski, since getting into Russia (visa-wise) is a feat unto itself and it’s not easy to get here/to Sochi. The mountain has something like 5000 feet of vertical and after the Olympics they will connect the three resorts here so it will be massive with incredible terrain. (Snowbird/Alta+JacksonX5=)

We landed in Sochi (via private jet with the Russian team) at 3am and construction was in full swing the entire hour drive to the hotel. I’ve never seen anything like it, it seems like they are starting completely from scratch; new roads, railways, hotels, lifts etc. The security is something else too. The security is infinitely tighter then the Olympics in Vancouver and similar to airport security to get on the gondola, other then many of the security personnel are carrying machine guns. It will be very interesting see what this place will be like for the Olympics!

I attempted to poach a few powder turns today and got a taste of the skiing and the security. Here’s a video:

35 meters of Irony

As anyone who’s read this blog or follows ski racing knows; I am very against the FIS imposed 195cm 35m ski rules for next year. Try as, myself and others have to fight FIS’s decree, FIS has stuck to their phony science and held their ground in not being dissuaded by the mass populous of ski racers, parents and knowledge of ski engineering experts (which FIS is not). Since the battle has shown to be futile, I (and Head) have focused on developing skis for next year on which I can win. This week I have been testing the second generation of Head 35m skis, in Hinterreit, and (…drumroll…) I am faster! Significantly faster! HA! Ironic!? (Perhaps even more ironic is the word on the hill is the company behind the rule changes; Atomic, is struggling to make he new skis work).

This poses an interesting scenario, now that I’m faster and theoretically should or would want to race on these FIS deemed “safer” skis, would FIS allow me to use these skis? (They are currently illegal since the they are too narrow). One would think since FIS has been quoted (see quote below*) as saying their decision to change the equipment regulations was at least partially to protect themselves of liability, thus they should allow athletes to use next year’s “safer” equipment if the racer saw fit. Otherwise, are they not liable if they do not allow a racer to ski on the “safest” equipment available and that racer were to get injured. As of now, FIS has stated that next year’s skis are not legal for racing this year. Rules are the rules and at some level I accept that but (me not being a lawyer) does that not open FIS up to liability?

(*Quote from FIS official Bernhard Russi referring to why the ski rules were put in place and FIS’s liability. “We could have said, ‘No, we don’t do anything,’ but then we would have gone against safety,” said Bernhard Russi, a former downhill great from Switzerland who is chairman of the FIS Alpine Committee. “If the scientific people and the experts say, ‘If you want to go in the direction of safety, then you have to do that,’ and if then FIS says, ‘No, we don’t do that,’ then we have a problem. We probably even have a legal problem.”)

Despite being faster on the new skis I still believe that FIS has no place to creating equipment regulations. These rule changes may benefit me but by benefitting me, someone else is losing out. That is unfortunate and unfair. Regulations should not be in place that could in a sense pick winners and losers. It opens the door for the system to be corrupted which ski racing has been. I’m guessing the news of myself and some other racers being faster on the new equipment will displease FIS, and goes to further discredits FIS’s study.

As to how the new skis felt; they for sure do not turn as easy, they lock onto the edge hard, are slightly smoother through small bumps, take more muscling and twisting of the ski (manual pressure as opposed to body position), recoveries are slower, there is less energy out of the turn and are far more tiring to ski on. (It will be difficult for young FIS athletes to safely ski on these skis since they don’t have the size and strength of WC athletes and the difficulty in turning/arcing 35m skis will drain the fun out of racing). It will be interesting to see where the injury numbers go, especially since there haven’t been any injuries in mens’s World Cup GS this year.

January Training

After going home to Park City for 5 days over Xmas, I thought I was going to get some productive training in Soelden to prep for Adelboden and the rest of January. No such “luck”, it snowed a ton in the days before I got there and while we were there making training useless. No complaints though instead we skied epic powder, might not be the best for race prep but after seeing no snow in PC it was nice to use the fat boards and have some fun. The fun continued after the race in Adelboden which as it turns out is an awesome mountain, they just don’t like it when you ski in the trees. Opps. Below is some of the fun taken from my GoPro.

Great Letter to FIS by David Dodge

Finally someone with a science and equipment development background broke down the new ski rules that FIS calls (they must have a very loose definition) “scientifically proven”.

Copied from skiracing.com

The following letter has been sent to FIS officials and others suggesting that the scientific logic behind the changing of ski regulations for safety reasons is flawed. It was sent by David Dodge and contains considerable research. Ski Racing urges all concerned to read it.

To:

FIS President – Gian Franco Kasper
SRS President – Michael Schineis
FIS Alpine Executive Board – Bernhard Russi(SUI), Janez Flere(FIS), Niklas Carlsson(SWE), Herwig Demschar(USA), Reno Fleiss(CRO), Janka Gantnerova(SVK), Janne Leskinnen(FIN), Svein Mundal(NOR), Hans Pum(AUT), Ken Read(CAN), Fabien Saguez(FRA), Reinhard Schmalzl(ITA), Walter Vogel(GER), Toni Vogrinec(SLO)

FIS Legal and Safety Committee – Jose Luis Marco (ARG), Christopher Moore(CAN), Tsvetan Atanasov(BUL), Frits Avis(NED), Sortiris Babatzimopoulos(GRE), Marco Cozzi(ITA), Marco De Robles(SPA), Dean Gosper(AUS), David Howden(NZL), Klara Kaszo(HUN), Jerker Lofgren(SWE), Fransois-Kavier Manteaus(FRA), N.N(ISR), Alex Natt(USA), Naralia Ovchinnikova(RUS), Corinne Schmidhauser(SUI), Franz Steinle(GER), Robert Wallner(AUT), Sean Wilken(GBR), Katarina Zajc (SLO)

CC: Oslo Sports Trauma Research Center – Tone Bere, Tonje Wale Florenes, Trone Krosshaug, Lars Nordsletten, Roald Bahr; University of Salzburg – Erich Muller

The intention of this letter is to bring to the attention of the FIS that a large body of scientific evidence is at odds with the conclusions underlying the 2012-13 equipment regulations and that the studies used to develop the new 2012-13 equipment regulations do not constitute scientific proof.

The new skis were “scientifically proven to enhance athlete safety and reduce risk of injury,” F.I.S. said in a statement. “The meeting participants jointly agreed that the goal of the entire equipment review process is to only implement new rules that are scientifically proven to enhance athlete safety and reduce risk of injury” says an August 24th 2011 FIS press release. The studies referenced as “proof” were well conducted, the conclusions are disputable but not unreasonable and they are an important addition to the scientific body of evidence. However, the science as it exists now is not settled and the studies the FIS used to draw their conclusions certainly do not amount to proof.

I feel it is very probable that the unintended consequences of the FIS decisions will cause more injuries than will be prevented. I feel the FIS should reconsider their actions and take a slower more careful approach to equipment change that does not unnecessarily put at risk the health and safety of thousands of athletes.

The new skis might be safer, but I believe it much more likely they will be more dangerous. It can not be proven one way or the other, but the FIS decision forces thousands of athletes to accept this unknown risk to their health and safety in order to participate in their beloved sport. The ski industry will spend ten’s of millions of dollars developing and producing the new skis. If the FIS’s bet that the skis will be safer is wrong the liability is huge. Can the FIS survive if the new equipment decisions turn out to be wrong? The FIS can not say they were not warned.

I believe that increasing the length and increasing the sidecut radius for competition GS skis from the current 185cm minimum length and 27m minimum sidecut radius to 195cm minimum length and 35m minimum sidecut radius will have the following effects:

Non-linear control response – unstable leg geometry.
Higher probability of Phantom Foot ACL injury.

Non-linear control response

The Salzburg study shows that loads on the skier are reduced on longer, larger sidecut skis compared to the current 185cm, 27m sidecut skis. Their tests assume the load reduction is due to the ski differences but I believe it is more likely due to the fact that the comparison was made between a ski that was very familiar to the testers and several that were unfamiliar. I argue that the testers would have generated lower loads on any ski they were not familiar with and the ski design differences did not play a significant roll in reducing the measured loads. Athletes will find ways to use 100% of their strength no matter the equipment. This is what athletes do.

The geometric relationship between sidecut radius, edge angle and turning radius is well known to all ski designers. The theory shows that a 35m ski will have the same turning radius as a 27m ski if the ski is tipped on edge approximately 7 degrees more in a typical WC GS turn. The edge angle must be increased relative to the skiers COM (center of mass). In other words to ski the same line at the same speed the skier‘s COM must be in the same place, but the ski must be edged 7 degrees more. Thus more knee angulation. Athletes will discover that more knee angulation will allow them to ski the same line at the same speed as they are accustomed to skiing on their 27m sidecut skis vs. 35m sidecut skis. More knee angulation will cause an unstable leg geometry leading to uncontrollable, non-linear, generation of loads.

A typical WC GS skier on current skis will angulate in such a way that a line from the inside edge of their outside ski through the center of their knee will fall slightly outside their COM. This leg geometry is stable as a sudden increase in load will cause the edge angle to be reduced and the load to be reduced during the abrupt transition giving the athlete time to react appropriately.

The line from the ski edge through the knee of a skier using 7 degrees more knee angulation will fall well inside of the COM. This leg geometry is unstable as a sudden increase in load will cause an increase in the edge angle as the knee collapses inward leading to additional loading, leading to additional knee angulation, more loading, and so on until the skier can react. By the time the skier reacts this load generation can cause serious injury and/or loss of control. This is a non-linear reaction to natural control input and is to be avoided at all costs. Aggravating this problem is the likelihood that more knee angulation will make it more difficult for the inside ski to track parallel with the outside ski since adding more knee angulation on the inside leg is very difficult. This may encourage the skier to transfer weight from the inside ski to outside ski thus increasing the load on the now more vulnerable outside knee.

A supporting fact is that many of the best WC skiers choose skis with larger sidecut radii than the allowed minimum 27m and 23m for men and women respectively. For example Ted Ligety and Lindsey Vonn use 29m and 27m sidecut radii, respectively. It is reasonable to assume that Ted and Lindsey prefer these skis because they encourage postures that are stable, strong and safe. A less accomplished or weaker skier would need more sidecut to achieve the same postures. Too much sidecut for the skier’s ability and strength causes the line of force to fall too far outside the COM. Too little sidecut for the skier’s ability and strength cause the line of force to fall too far inside the COM. Both are undesirable, especially the latter.

The well known geometric relationship between sidecut radius, edge angle and turning radius shows that a 35m ski will fit the FIS description of a ski that is “too aggressive”. Of course it would take some training time on these 35m skis for the athletes to learn that they can ski faster using more knee angulation so it is unlikely to show up in short term tests.

Skiers should be allowed and encouraged to choose skis with sidecut radii that promote the most stable, strongest and safest postures. Coaching guides should be developed to help athletes achieve better postures through a better understanding of the relationship between ski design variables and skier postures.

The geometric relationships described above are well known and understood. The implications can not be responsibly dismissed or ignored.

Higher probability of Phantom Foot ACL injury

The Slip-Catch injury mechanism is identified in the Oslo3 study as the predominant cause of knee injuries on World Cup athletes. It is in my opinion a combination of the well known Phantom Foot and BIAD mechanisms. A review of the video and pictures included with the Oslo studies show a loss of edge grip on the downhill (outside) ski followed by a transfer of weight to the inside (uphill) ski. Prior to the loss of grip the skier’s center of mass (COM) was balanced between the skier’s feet. The sudden loss of grip on the outside ski caused an out-of-balance situation with the center of pressure suddenly moving uphill and forward causing the skier to start falling downhill and backwards. This backward rotation combined with the downhill rotation produces a precessional rotation on the third vertical axis that rotates the skiers mass away from the hill. Of course all these rotations are undesirable and the skier responds by retracting his uphill ski to reduce the forces throwing him out of balance. This allows the downhill ski to reengage. In order to arrest the unwanted rotations the skier naturally pressures the tail of the ski to correct the backwards and downhill rotation, but this creates an uphill rotation acting against the precessional downhill rotation of the skier’s COM (Center of Mass) causing the skier’s upper body to twist downhill, producing an internal-valgus rotation of the knee joint.

The skier is now in a position universally recognized as the final stage before a Phantom Foot ACL rupture except that his leg is relatively straight. Please note the ski sidecut had nothing to do with this scenario. All that is needed is a specific set of out of balance rotations and a lever extending backwards from the foot.

If the ski has less grip in the tail the skier will continue to fall backwards; the ski will skid and continue to rotate uphill due to the slope of the snow surface relative to the skier’s COM. If the skier fights these rotations with sufficient vigor he will most probably rupture the ACL on the downhill knee in a classic Phantom Foot posture. If he gives up the recovery attempt, pulls his body into a safer posture and lets the fall progress naturally he will almost certainly avoid an ACL injury. No WC racer is likely to do this without extensive training on how to avoid the Phantom Foot trap. Ettlinger et al5 have shown that such training can dramatically reduce the likelihood of Phantom Foot ACL injuries.

If the ski has aggressive grip in the tail the skier may be able to reverse the backward and downhill fall, re-center his for-aft balance, quickly enough that he is able to reengage the uphill ski in a way that arrests the downhill rotation without resorting to twisting his upper body in a way that applies the injury producing valgus-internal rotation of the downhill knee.

Supporting the above analysis is a large (34 year, 6,780,940 skier day) epidemiological injury study by Ettlinger et al4 showing that the knee injury rate has increased steadily from 1972 until approximately 1992-1993 unabated by all the equipment developments during that time period. Since 1992-1993 the trend has reversed. Shorter, shaped skis became popular in the 1992 -1993 time frame. Superior edge grip at the tail, stronger self steering effect and the shorter length are the differentiating features of these skis compared to the older skis they replaced. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that one or more of these features lead to the reduced knee injury rate.

It is clear that a less aggressive ski will reduce the forces that appear to contribute directly to the injury in the Slip-Catch scenario. However a less aggressive ski limits the skier’s ability to arrest the rotations that lead to Phantom Foot type injuries.

Equipment related solutions to the above scenarios are not very well understood, but my opinion that a longer ski with less sidecut will increase Phantom Foot injuries is reasonable. The implications can not be responsibly dismissed or ignored without further investigations.

Conclusion

I believe the FIS is recklessly endangering thousands of athletes participating in their sanctioned events by irresponsibly ignoring or dismissing large bodies of scientific evidence, the opinions of many experts and the gut instincts of the vast majority of coaches and athletes. I believe that the FIS is forcing the industry to spend ten’s of millions of dollars to develop and manufacture skis that may turn out to be too dangero

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