Just when one thought things were modernizing at the International Ski Federation (FIS) with the
recent advent of an athletes’ council— reasonably structured and well charged committees working
to create a contemporary future for snow sport — the folks at Oberhofen reverted to their all-too-often blundering ways of the past. It is a shame.
In the name of safety, the powers that be announced, seemingly unilaterally, that the FIS would institute new radius ski dimensions for World and Europa Cup competitors for the 2012-2013 season. The
most radical change, which raised howls of protest and negative comments (see Letters, pages 4 and
5) about the FIS, was the edict concerning giant slalom skis which, inexplicably, were changed from
their current 27-meter radius to – gasp – 40 m. “That is like asking Nadal and Federer to go back to
wooden racquets,” quipped one wag on Facebook.
The FIS has had pressure regarding safety issues, especially after the horrific accident to Matthias
Lanzinger in Kvitfjell, Norway. The organization deserves credit for doing what appears to be a research project that was well thought-out, seemingly with sound methodology. So where did the effort
go astray? In short there was no transparency of the FIS research. No facts or data that back the FIS
conclusion have been released, despite repeated requests. Even more damaging was the organization’s blatant failure to engage constituent groups. Not only did FIS management avoid involving their
own athlete’s council in any meaningful form of discourse, they also ignored ski manufacturers, current athletes and coaches in the process until well late in the game — and when conclusions, for good
or bad, had been drawn. As of this writing, the FIS still has refused to publish or air the research facts
leading to a decision that many feel will set back giant slalom 20 years.
The resulting debacle took what could have been a very positive action for the organization and made
it the subject of ridicule, sprouting disparaging Facebook pages and hilariously funny but sad videos
of current top- 30 World Cup athletes struggling to ski GS on skis with yesteryear’s dimension of the
There is a ray of hope still. Recently, the FIS bowed to pressure from ski manufacturers and agreed
to 35 m radius skis for men and 30 m for ladies. Not great, but an improvement and an indication that
there might be room for sounder thinking, especially about alternative safety possibilities, rather than
the ruinous direction the FIS is applying to what was an exciting alpine discipline.
The Internet is full of commentary on the new GS ski dimensions, virtually all of it negative. Many feel
that this may yield some constructive rethinking of what is viewed by all — save the closed circle of
FIS management — to be a stunning leap backward. Unhappily, outside influence may have little trac-
tion with the FIS. Its council and president have no impetus to respond or take action as the member
national associations, including the ones on this side of the Atlantic, are at best ineffectual and for the
most part, patently indifferent to what goes on in ski sport.
It beggars belief that after 50 years of imperious decision-making the FIS could turn the corner and
govern the sport in a fresh and transparent manner. The safety initiative offered a classic opportunity
to demonstrate how open dialogue and constituent engagement could arrive at well-documented
and thoughtful safety conclusions that would enhance alpine sport. Instead, the FIS finds itself facing
whopping discord and condemnation. It wasn’t necessary. — G.B. Jr.