Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Tour de Ski

In a little more than five days I will board a flight to Munich on my way to the Tour de Ski. I will be joining four other service staff to make race skis for the US Ski Team. My role in the team will be wax and structure testing. Interestingly, the USST has indicated that the plan for the Tour de Ski is to use it as a test run for the major Championships (Val di Fiemme and Sochi) of the next two seasons. My plan is to work had and see what doors open up down the road!

This will be the fifth edition of Tour de Ski and the event runs December 29 until January 8. The numbers are pretty astonishing:
  • 9 races
  • in 11 days
  • at 5 venues
  • in 2 countries
The overall results are based on the aggregate time for all events, as well as bonus seconds awarded on sprint and mass start stages. The sprint races carry bonus seconds for the finish, which are subtracted from the overall time. In mass start competitions, intermediate points carry bonus seconds as well. The final stage of the race includes a ridiculous climb up to Alpe Cermis. The competitors start with the gaps they have from earlier stages, so the first one on the top is the overall winner.

FIS has produced a really great graphic that shows the route we will follow:

I thought it would be interesting to see what we can learn about each of the venues!

Oberhof, GER - skate prologue, classic pursuit
Oberhof is situated in the middle of the Thuringian Forest (800 m over sea level) in Germany. The town boasts a unique concentration of winter sport facilities and based on its long-term engagement for young athletes it is known as one of the strongest training centers of the German Ski Federation. Top skiers like Axel Teichmann and Ronny Ackermann have their sportive homes in Oberhof.

The DKB Ski Arena is located at the Rennsteig about 2 km outside of Oberhof. At the stadium (814 m over sea level), there is space for about 15,000 spectators in addition to 10,000 more on the course.

Oberstdorf, GER - classic sprint, skiathlon
Oberstdorf is an internationally recognized winter sports resort with one of the most up-to-date and largest ski jumping hills of the world. Together with the neighbouring region of Kleinwalsertal, Oberstdorf is the largest mountain and ski resort on the northern edge of the Alps.

The Cross Country Stadium in Ried is located in the south of Oberstdorf.  The Stadium was built up in 2003/2004 for the FIS Nordic World Ski Championships 2005.  The Stadium itself offers space for 10,000 spectators and additional 15,000 spectators on the track. For the sprint races almost the complete slope can be seen from the stadium and in addition the spectators in the stadium have a perfect view on the video wall.

Cortina - Toblach, ITA - classic distance, skate sprint, skate pursuit
Details are a bit slim on this venue...

Val di Fiemme, ITA - classic distance, skate pursuit (final hill climb)
The Cross-Country stadium is situated approx. 5 km east of Cavalese, the main city of Val di Fiemme. The capacity of the stadium is about 8,000 spectators and on the track approximately 20,000 can follow the competitions.

Every January, Cross-Country skiers can take part in the famous ski marathon, "Marcialonga," which starts in Moena and reaches Canazei in Val di Fassa, and then returns to Val di Fiemme while passing by many villages near Cavalese.

The best places to follow along with the results will be Fasterskier, FIS Cross Country, and the FIS Tour de Ski Leader board

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Early Results

Earlier this year, Fast Trax undertook fleet management projects with Matt Saurette and Ember Large, two of our sponsored athletes. Matt and Ember are both Madshus athletes and each of them have a significant fleet of skis. However, the challenges they were encountering were distinct and worth discussing.

Matt became a Madshus athlete in the 2010-2011 season and his ski bag was full of a lot of good materials. Most of his skis came from Reece at Madshus and were skis that had been passed on from other athletes. A few of the pairs came directly from Beckie and were skis that she had raced on prior to her retirement in 2006. The issue was that while his skis were excellent, Matt's fleet was put together with no overall plan and had some significant holes.

After spending some time with Matt in the spring, I determined that there was room for improvement with respect to both warm and cold skate skis, as well as with respect to hardwax classic skis. Matt's best pair of cold skate skis was a 116 mold from 2010 that I had selected from regular inventory. This skis had worked quite well and Matt was very happy with them, however I suspected there was room for improvement. Matt's only other pair of skate skis was an old 166 mold that had never seen much success (see the discussion on Madshus models here - ski service).

With this in mind, I was able to select some new materials in Norway to help Matt round out his fleet. The addition of a 119 universal warm ski and a 118 universal cold ski means that Matt is well positioned for skating. The addition of a nice 102 universal hardwax classic ski means that Matt now has good options for both hardwax and klister (from his existing fleet).
Testing the new 119 skis in Norway.
Matt's new materials.
 Ember, on the other hand, is new to Madshus and inherited a large fleet of skis from Kate Brennan who switched to Fischer for this season. In addition, Ember received a few pairs of new skis that were selected by Reece. As a result, Ember's fleet was nicely put together - she just didn't know what she had or when to use specific skis.

I strongly believe that having a well managed fleet of skis is a crucial asset for any aspiring athlete. There needs to be enough choice in the materials to be able to get the appropriate pair of skis on the snow on the appropriate day. However, the "well managed" part is key. A large, unorganized fleet of skis creates unnecessary stress for both the athlete and the technical staff and makes it virtually impossible to find success. Having a choice in skis should reduce stress rather than create stress!

As there is no snow in Edmonton, the assessment of Ember's fleet was done by hand - literally. I reviewed each pair of skis and identified specific characteristics that indicate under which conditions the skis will be useful. I consider the shape of the running surface, tip/tail pressure, flex, and bridge characteristics as part of the equation.

In the end, I was able to produce a nice summary document for Ember that provides the information she needs to make educated decisions. You can take a look at that document here - Ember Large fleet. I also created some stickers that provided a summary of the same information right on the skis:

Useful information, terrible picture quality.
Now, none of this really means anything until the skis get out on the snow. In his early testing in Lake Louise, Matt's new 119 skis were killing his old warm pair - an excellent sign. More interestingly, however, are the results of competition from the first Alberta Cup in Canmore. Matt handily won both the sprint and distance races using his new 118 and 102 skis. Ember finished first and third in the sprint and distance races respectively. Excellent results!

It should be noted that Ulf, Les, Reid, and Dan put in a ton of work testing wax solutions for the weekend and, by all accounts, the ENSC athletes had amazing skis. Those guys deserve big congratulations - Canmore is usually a pretty easy venue for waxing overall, but a pretty hard venue to make yourself stand out from the crowd. Nicely done!