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Race skis really haven't changed much over the years

December 17, 2010

Race ski shop owner Robin Falkingham. Photo/George Shirk

While radical new designs are taking hold in snowboarding and recreational ski design, one thing hasn’t changed much.

“Race skis have not changed that much at all,” said Robin Falkingham, the longtime ski racer supplier at Command Performance in Mammoth.

“The race ski hasn’t changed dramatically because the race courses haven’t changed dramatically.”

He said the only difference in the past couple of decades has been that the skis have become shorter, but that’s not out of design considerations, but because of the materials with which skis are now built.

It used to be that a racer needed longer skis for stability. Nowadays, they can achieve stability with a shorter ski.

But as for the shape, it’s still more or less the shaped ski that K2 introduced to the world with the old K2 Four.

“Bode Miller actually was involved with K2 at the time,” Falkingham said.

“With those shaped skis, or parabolics, or sidecut skis, whatever you want to call them, Miller won the national (junior) championship and he’d hardly won a race at the junior level at all.

“Everyone kind of said, ‘Wow, look at this!’ And he didn’t win by tenths of a second. He won by four seconds or something like that.”

Thus, while the all-mountain crowd is looking at rising tips, fat crud skis and fatter powder skis, the racers are still using side-cut skis – not because they have to, but because the race courses themselves demand them.

In ski racing, a Giant Slalom course and a slalom course have FIS specifications as to how far apart the gates can be set, so that determines the turning radius of the ski, he said.

In a slalom ski, racers are looking for a 10- 11- or 12-meter turning radius.

GS skis for the top women racers need a 23-meter radius, while men GS racers want a turning radius at 27 meters.

As for Super G and downhill skis, the turning radius should be 35 meters for women and 45 meters for men, and there is not much of a side cut to them.

While Falkingham discussed the technical reasons race skis haven’t changed that much, he said the shaped ski actually might have been credited to Mammoth, had the Austrian Ski Federation just listened.

He said Sven Coomer, the master bootmaker and one of the founders of Footloose Sports back in the day, wrote a letter to the Austrian Ski Association about 40 years ago, to suggest that someone, somewhere, needed to solve the problem of getting an intermediate skier to carve a good turn.

Coomer had the idea of the curved ski well before K2 came out with the K2 Four.

“So the idea of a carving ski has been around for a long time,” he said.

“At that time it was pooh-poohed by the Austrians.”

“They said, ‘We’re Austrians, so we know what the consumer wants.’ But Sven was one of the early lights.”

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