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Over the past few seasons there have been some pretty high profile crashes in skiing. Chemmy Alcott is part way through her second season without racing after a crash, while Lynsey Vonn recently suffered concussion while racing. The Hahnenkamm in Kitzbuhel has also claimed several victims over the past four years, including Scott McCartney — who was kept in an induced coma to recover from his head injury.
With ski racers getting faster and faster the FIS have decided they need to improve safety in the sport and have teamed up with Italian company Dainese to create a ski racers airbag — yes, an airbag. The project is set to run until the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi, and will hopefully be successful in delivering a safety system to reduce injuries for ski racers.
Dainese have already pioneered a similar airbag system that is used in motorcycle racing, hence why the FIS have turned to them. They also make a variety of helmets, back protectors and pads that mortal skiers and snowboards, like you and me, use everyday on the slopes. So these guys are pretty much the best bet to get this right.
Günther Hujara, FIS Chief Race Director for the men’s Alpine Skiing, said: "Thanks to the close cooperation with Dainese that began three years ago, we have already seen many improvements in the protection of ski racers. Our latest project, the development of an air bag system for Alpine Skiing, is the most extensive of all and relies on Dainese's long-term experience in motor racing."
He added: "Research and data collection are under way since last season, seeking to define the exact point at which the racer is no longer in control and a fall becomes inevitable. Whilst much data have already been gathered, further information is still needed. We look forward to continuing this excellent cooperation with Dainese into the future."
The biggest stumbling block so far has been timing when the airbag would be released. Due to people skiing in very different fashions — just watch Didier Cuche and Bode Miller take on the same run if you don't believe me — and also due to the variety of crashes that take place. On motorcycles, the airbag is set to deploy when the rider leaves the bike with a forward rotation, but that wouldn't work in skiing.
The project, known as D-air® Ski, is working with another study put together by the FIS, the FIS Injury Surveillance System (FIS ISS), to gather as much data as possible on crashes, to enable the best possible development. The FIS ISS is working with 16 World Cup athletes, including Aksel Lund Svindal and Kristian Ghedina — who are serving as athlete testimonials on the D-air® Ski project.
Aksel Lund Svindal stated: "I'm honoured to be part of this high-level project. Protection is extremely important for us athletes and the development of an air bag for ski racing can increase the level of our safety. I'm happy to give my contribution for the data collection and to transfer my feedback. I hope that very soon all my colleagues will be able to use this outstanding device."
With ski racers traveling at speeds of over 90 mph, with 96.6 mph the faster recorded in a race (Klaus Kroell, on the Lauberhorn course in Wengen, Switzerland), safety has to be of paramount importance. But will an airbag system work?
I'm all for the exploration of making the sport safer and helping to guard against injury prevention, but I'm struggling to see how this will work. Will they have to rely on the user to set off the bag, or will studying enough algorithms and skiing styles bring around the answer?
Also, what will the impact be on skiing? As I said, I am completely for improved safety across all sports, but the excitement comes from watching athletes push themselves to the ultimate level of their ability. Will skiers push themselves further, knowing there is less risk, or will safety take precedent over competition?
After the tragic loss of Sarah Burke and the dreadful crash that Kevin Pearce had two years ago, will these safety measures make their way over the the freestyle elements of skiing and snowboarding? Safety is on a lot of people's minds at the moment and it will be interesting to see the long term effects on the sport, as long as we don't lose the exciting characters, the adrenaline rush from watching or participating and athletes continuing to push the limits of the sports.
In case you haven't seen the news, read the papers of been on any snowsports related websites, the Alps have been under a constant blanket of snow for the last few weeks. After a week or so of sunshine, the snow is gearing up for another go. However you look at it, this season's conditions are pretty epic!
The start of the season was beginning to look slow until mid-December, where dump after dump arrived across the Alps, turning green landscapes into glistening, white mountains just in time for the Christmas holidays. But the snow didn't let up there, with more falling into the new year and only subsiding around 10 days ago.
The huge amounts of snowfall led to resorts being cut off from the outside world over night due to road and rail closures, mostly in case of avalanche, though one or two roads did need clearing in the morning. Val d'Isere, Tignes and Val Thorens were the first resorts, then Zermatt and St. Anton, and finally, Ischgl — where the road was closed off for three days while all danger was removed by the authorities.
What we have been left with is some amazing piste skiing and huge snow depths. The off-piste is a little more tetchy, as the snow settles a stable base is beginning to form, but with a crust appearing any fresh snow could lead to slides quite quickly. Essentially we need the crusty layer to melt or slide before this weekend's snow arrives.
On top of the amazing snow on offer, it looks like we have another 4 days of snow due to arrive in the Alps this Thursday, with an estimated 50cm of snow on offer, if not more. If the snow keeps coming and the temperatures stay low, we could be looking at the best season this century and maybe even rival the amazing winter of '99.
As it stands our snow reports data is showing a story of amazing conditions. The numbers may have dropped as the snow packs down, but with figures that show 460cm of snow in St. Anton, 300cm in La Plagne, 205cm in Tignes, Meribel and Courchevel, the pistes are in great condition. If you look at the snow history over the past five years, the current conditions are blowing everything out of the water.
Val d'Isere's snow history show 171cm in January 2009, as the previous best compared with the current snow depths of 205cm, having seen 375cm fall this season.
St. Anton's snow history shows their deepest snow as 235cm, compared to the current 460cm on the upper slopes.
Ischgl's snow history shows a similar story, with 200cm of snow on the slopes, having seen 275cm of snow this season, compared with previous high of 147cm in January 2008.
I could go on and on and on, looking at the incredible conditions in Les Arcs, La Rosiere and Avoriaz, the amazing snow in Wengen, Crans Montana and Verbier. But I'd begin to bore you.
As more snow is on its way, all I can say is this year looks to be the best since I discovered skiing and snowboard 10 years ago. Holiday prices are low, snow is high and more powder is on its way. Today is supposedly the most depressing of the year, but with the mountains looking incredible and holidays affordable, it's anything but depressing to us!
This week we have a guest post from expert boot fitter, Profeet's Michelle Wilcox. What these guys don't know about ski boots isn't worth knowing, so here's a few gems about ski boot fitting, the importance of getting it done professionally and the benefits of owning your own ski boots.
Better performance, more comfort and therefore increased enjoyment are all benefits of owning your own ski boots, even for less experienced skiers. It is important to get your boots fitted professionally & it is advisable to have this done by a specialist retailer before travelling on holiday.
Top Tips For Getting The Perfect Fit:
Research your boot-fitter. Make sure that they have professional staff, a large range of boots and a comprehensively stocked workshop.
Allow enough time and don't rush! A comprehensive ski boot fit should take around one-and-a-half to two hours.
Think about previous experiences. Before you buy, think about your previous ski boots — what you liked, what you didn't, how comfortable were they etc.
Be open. Don't go in with specific boots in mind. Certain manufacturers produce boots for different shapes and sizes of feet — your boot-fitter should choose a boot for you. Just because a model suits your friend doesn't mean it will be any good for you... and NEVER buy based on colour!
Be honest. Don't lie about your ability otherwise you could end up in a top level race boot that will be much too stiff and therefore very uncomfortable. Be honest about what you want from your boot — if you are a one-week-a-year skier and want comfort, let them know.
Budget for a footbed. A footbed, be it custom or off the shelf, will improve comfort by reducing pressure points. Ski boots are designed for the 'ideal' foot — but not many people have this. By supporting your foot in the ski boot, you'll experience better alignment, your feet will be warmer and your balance & proprioception will improve — all leading to better comfort, enjoyment & performance.
Don't panic! They WILL feel tight initially. When you first put a boot on, your toes should touch the front of the boot. Ski boot liners are very thick to provide warmth and cushioning to the foot.
Prepare for change. Boots might need modification to accommodate any lumps and bumps. Your boot-fitter will have a workshop with a whole host of machines with which to make modifications to your boots. Small changes to the shell of your boot can make a big difference.
Consider your socks. A very important part of the fitting process — they are the closest thing to your foot in the ski boot. Select a sock that has shape so that it stays in the right place on your foot — some ski socks are even left and right specific. By selecting a technical ski sock with a preset shape you can avoid wrinkling and bunching. A good ski sock will have great wicking properties to prevent excessive sweat inside the boot. A thinner sock will actually keep you warmer as it will increase circulation in your foot and take up less room in the boot. They have varying amounts of padding in strategic areas such as shin and ankle bones. Ski socks are available in different thicknesses — choose a thicker sock for more comfort and if you have a narrower foot. Choose a thinner sock for more a performance orientated fit or if you have a higher volume foot.
Break them in. After buying your boots, make sure that you wear them as much as possible — if you can't get in some skiing at an indoor-snow or dry ski slope near you, then wearing them round the house will help. The more you wear them the more the liner will pack out and mould to your feet.
Dry your boots. Once you've worn your boots, make sure you dry your boots thoroughly every evening and wear fresh ski socks everyday. A damp boot will not only be much colder but will also be a breeding ground for bacteria.
Michelle Wilcox is Head Ski Technician at Profeet. Michelle has over 14 seasons of boot-fitting experience in the UK, France and New Zealand. Michelle is also a British Ski Boot-fitters Association Trainer.
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