2019-02-11

In search of speed – sleuths on boards seeking fast, faster, fastest

The three may not be private investigators or defense attorneys. Their names are Roman Liesinger, Silvan Aemmer and Marco Gämperle. But they are nevertheless on a vital mission in Are: They are in search of speed.

In search of speed – sleuths on boards seeking fast, faster, fastest

Three men, one mission: Searching for the fastest skis for Ilka Stuhec, Marco Odermatt and all the others. Skis buckled on, and for 20 seconds at a max of 115 kph (72 mph), they plummet down the test run, then hitch a ride back up on the snowmobile to the start, ready for the next run, and do it all again. “Every one of us tests five pairs of skis and does with each pair three runs directly one after the other,” says Silvan Aemmer, director of the test team. On the short run, it’s all about hundredths of a second. Aemmer, Roman Liesinger and Marco Gämperle must do every run with precisely the same body position on the ski. “It is not at all about who among us three is the fastest. We seek the fastest ski for our athletes.” Essential is that the position on the ski is comfortable and for our test pilots not too strenuous. “It’s not useful if the first run is in a perfect tuck and the last ones, because of the lack of leg strength, are done half-standing up. We need comparable data to get reasonable results,” says Aemmer.

The most important tests about the choice of a racing ski also take place during the same time of day planned for the race. “That makes sense because the chances are the highest that we will have similar temperatures and weather conditions on test day as on race day. A test at 8 a.m. at -15 degrees Celsius isn’t useful when the race the next day will be at 12:30 p.m. at about 0 degrees.”  A small weather station aids their work. It shows the air humidity and snow moisture content for every test run, as well as the air and snow temperatures and the time of day. “This data can then be collated for every run and for every ski. That then makes possible variations in run times more understandable.”

Gämperle is in a tuck on the way to the bottom, Liesinger sits on the snowmobile and is headed back up, and Aemmer is getting ready for his next run. Communication among the test skiers is held to a minimum during their ski work. “It’s true, we don’t talk a lot. In this respect, our work progresses quite peacefully,” says ex-ski racer Marco Gämperle. “But everything else is pretty hectic and is done under lots of time pressure.” One clear indication for that: Boots stay buckled shut. At the beginning of the first World Championship week, when the temperatures in Are hit lows down to minus double-digits, the trio was not to be envied. While athletes were in their racing outfits for just a short time and only briefly had to do without insulating clothing, the test pilots had to be out for several hours at a time in just thin garments. But Stuhec, Odermatt and the others know how much to value this. “We get always get a big thank-you from all the ski racers. They know how much work we do for them,” says Aemmer. 

Everything has to move along pretty rapidly and get done in a tight window of time. That’s the only way tests can get finished in  hopefully similar conditions. Only in that manner can the data collected have the significance sought. Three runs per ski result in three times. The three times then result in an average time, and this can be used as a reference time to determine if the ski is fast and also appropriate for the prevailing conditions. “We can also perceive influences from wind and weather in the times.” Thus, it’s essential that glide testing is completed in the shortest possible period of time.” Depending on the day’s program, they test ski models, various structure and base preps, and also different types of waxing and wax brands in order to know what the service staff will apply at the finish shortly before the start of the race.

The face that Ilka Stuhec attackrf the World Championship downhill with a ski that was damaged by a stone in a World Cup race is for example a concrete result of the testing work performed. “The ski was repaired, and a new base grind was performed. We used the comparative values we had from test results from two reference skis to compare to the tests in Are. The results were obvious: This ski was the fastest even with the repair.”

Steady snowfall over the last few days has not at all limited the test results or their usability for races, Silvan Aemmer adds. “Every ski that was fast on the first weekend when the sun was shining is also still fast today even with the changed conditions. Of course, here and there, one ascertains deviations, but in general that holds true. Clear changes on the other hand are seen when it comes to wax and gear for the finish.” 

The work of Silvan Aemmer, Roman Liesinger, and Marco Gämperle is similar to scientific methodology – just doesn’t take place in the laboratory, but rather outdoors. In the middle of Sweden the three Stöckli skiers were on the hunt for speed. That’s where they transform themselves during the days in Are into gumshoes, sleuths and P.I.s. And, in that pursuit, managed to find gold too. Gold for Ilka Stuhec, who in Sweden was able to defend her downhill title from 2017.

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