World Cup Racing posts

WHY SHIFFRIN AND HIRSCHER ARE DOMINATING

Existing footwear does not provide for the dynamic nature of the architecture of the foot by providing a fit system with dynamic and predictable qualities to substantially match those of the foot and lower leg.

MacPhail, US Patent 5,265,350 – November 30, 1993

Of all the figures who have influenced the development of the plastic shell ski boot over the years, the Australian, Sven Coomer, stands tall as one of the most significant and innovative. More recently, Coomer was involved with the development of Atomic’s race boot, the Redster, used by Marcel Hirscher and Mikaela Shiffrin. Coomer claims that the Redster allows the skier’s forefoot to flex and move naturally within the confines of the shell.

A 2014 article by Jackson Hogen quoted Coomer as saying:

This liberation of the previously stunted, frozen and crushed forefoot is what allows for the subtle edging and foot steering that initiates the slalom turns of World Cup champions Marcel Hirscher and Mikaela Shiffrin. (1.)

Four years, later Hirscher and Shiffrin are dominating the technical disciplines of the World Cup circuit.

The ability to establish balance on the outside foot and ski in milliseconds is dependent on the ability of the forefoot to fully spread and acquire fascial tensioning that extends to the ankle and knee. This is called time-to-stabilization. Although Coomer doesn’t mention them, a myriad of other factors are also critical; including the alignment of the big toe on the long axis of the foot and the optimal ramp angle.

Coomer suspects that if racers would only fit their boots more accurately, coupled with a dynamic molding inner boot medium between the foot and shell, and without down-sizing into short, narrow, thick-sidewall shells, their results just might improve. (1.)

In order to realize their maximum potential it is critical that racers and even recreational skiers have a ski boot fit with dynamic and predictable qualities that substantially match those of the foot and lower leg. Yet Coomer readily acknowledges:

Many racers believe they need downsized, super-stiff, ultra-narrow boots. The most accomplished alpine ski boot designer of the plastic era, Sven Coomer, believes that’s changing.(1.)

But then, he seems to retract his optimism when he says that after forty-five years as the Cassandra of the ski boot world, he knows all too well that just because you can prove you’re right, it doesn’t mean your advice will be heeded.

My observation is that since Hogen’s 2014 article, the situation with downsized, hyper-restrictive ski boots that severely compromise the dynamic nature of the architecture of the foot, has gotten worse. I have seen instances where after having ski boots properly fit, it took several full seasons for the competence of the balance to be fully restored after a skier or racer’s feet and legs were constrained for years in ski boots that were too small and too tightly fit.

Marcel Hirscher and Mikaela Shiffrin have heeded Coomer’s advice. Others choose to ignore him at their own peril. In so doing, they handicap their efforts and limit their race results.

In my next post I will start a series of posts on how to build a ski boot from the snow up; one that provides a fit with dynamic and predictable qualities that substantially match those of the foot and lower leg.


  1. The Master Boot Laster by Jackson Hogen: The International Skiing History Association – Article Date: Tuesday, June 3, 2014

IS SHIFFRIN ON THE LEVEL?

By on the level, I am suggesting that Shiffrin may have a much lower zeppa-delta ramp angle than her competition.

Here are some screen shots from the March 18, 2018 Are Slalom where Shiffrin won by  1.58 seconds. She is on and off her edges in milliseconds as she just seems to pop from turn to turn – Total Domination From Shiffrin (1.)

Compare the angles of Shiffrin’s ankle, knee and hip in the photo below to those of her competition in the second and third photos below.

Notice how extended Shiffrin’s lower body is as she exits the rise line and enters the bottom of the turn in the photo below from a training session earlier in the year.

Extended in the Are Slalom.

Out of the start her knees and ankles are almost straight!

In my next post I will explain what I think is happening and why.


  1. https://youtu.be/gQu-LkyfsRQ?list=PLo6mlcgIm9mzWPBpeXnH2CpFOXrWhBiEB

WEIRATHER SWITCHES TO HEAD

This is a quick post to comment on a gutsy move by Tina Weirather; one that probably caught most off guard after her very successful 2016-17 World Cup season and especially just before the upcoming Olympics.

I believe Weirather’s timing is impeccable.  Said Weirather;

……….I’ve spent a long time thinking about all these steps. I asked myself a lot of questions and balanced the risks as well as all the potential advantages and disadvantages. The most important questions were: “How can I be most successful, how can I ski the fastest, how can I evolve the most?” The answers got clearer and clearer with every day I tested, every conversation I had, and the more I listened to my gut.

The tests went really well……………”

When I worked with Provincial and Canadian Team racers, I always made boot changes as soon as possible after the competitive season ended. The changes were done in a structured, systematic manner involving one-on-one testing where changes were made to one boot at a time and then compared to the unchanged boot. Only when the changes were proven better when compared to the unchanged boot were changes made to the other boot. In setting up new boots, it was standard practice to swap the liners from the current boots into the new shells to confirm they were properly set up and do one-one-one testing that compared the new shells with the liners from the previous boots to the previous shell/liner combination.

Always have an Escape Route

Even with a lot of testing that resulted in new boots that appeared to be an improvement, I always recommended that racers keep their old boots intact and with them during training right up until racing started. If last minute doubts arose, the best practice was to revert to the old proven setup. Recall Shiffrin’s disastrous start to the 2014-15 World Cup season after changes were made to her boots in the fall of 2014. Fortunately, Shiffrin was able to revert to her old boots, train in Italy over Christmas and get back on track in the New Year. Many racers are not so fortunate.

It was my policy to not make changes to a racer’s ski boots should during the competitive season unless there was no other option. Making an equipment change now, such as Weirather has done, provides a big window in which to make adjustments in technique and fine tune equipment before the start of competition.

A Formula (One) for Success Team

Weirather impressed me when she said;

It took a while, but I’m now 100% convinced I’ve found my dream team: HEAD (new) Tech: Reini Berbig (new) Coach: Charly Pichler (new) Dryland training: Micha Eder / @rotorteam Sports therapist: Fabienne Frommelt Team: Swiss Ski WC 1 Manager: Christopher Holzknecht (new).

I have long maintained that in order to succeed, ski racers need to adopt the Formula One model where the racer drives the skis and a whole team works together to support the racer.

In important ways, I believe Tina Weirather is the role model for World Cup ski racers.

 

COMMENTS ON SUPER PETRA VLHOVA

As time permits, I analyze the movement and loading patterns of elite skiers such as Mikaela Shiffrin, Lindsey Vonn, Ted Ligety, Tessa Worley and others. Occasionally, a source sends me video of these racers training.

I have identified a specific movement and loading sequence pattern that I use to analyze technique. This requires decent quality video and specific camera angles. In a future post, I will describe the process, the key metrics I look for and what they indicate.

Up until I saw the video of Vlhova, that is the subject of my post, SUPER PETRA VLHOVA’S EXPLOSIVE IMPULSE LOADING IN ASPEN SLALOM, I rated her as one of the better technical racers on the World Cup circuit. But I did not consider Vlhova to be in the same class as a Shiffrin or a Worley.

When someone posted a link on FaceBook to Vlhova’s winning run in the Aspen slalom, I was stunned by what I saw in first few gates. This was not the same Vlhova I had analyzed earlier in the season. Vlhova has definitely changed and it is for the better.

SUPER PETRA VLHOVA’S EXPLOSIVE IMPULSE LOADING IN ASPEN SLALOM

I am blown away by the explosive impulse loading of her outside ski that Petra Vlhova displayed in winning today’s World Cup Slalom in Aspen, Colorado. Vlhova’s powerful impulse loading made other racers, including Shiffrin, look like they were in slow motion in comparison. There are several videos of Vlhova in action on YouTube already.

For those who don’t know how to change video speed and definition in YouTube, the screen shot below shows the range of speed options available from 0.25 to 1.5 times Normal. To select the speed option, click on the gear that says HD then select Speed. I usually watch race videos in several speeds, including pulse frame stepping using the space bar on my keyboard.

Vlhova’s rapid and explosive loading of her outside forefoot at edge change literally supercharges the small nerves in her feet and the muscles in her foot to pelvic core in a way that transforms her into a literal super racer.

Petra; on it – all over it.

Here’s a short video clip in reduced speed of Super Petra in action. In one word; WOW!

Bravo Petra Vlhova! You made my day.

 

A RACE WINNING FORMULA? THERE ISN’T ONE

An article in the April 7, 2015 edition of Ski Racing makes a shocking admission, There’s no set formula or timetable for ski racing success.  According to author, Jim Taylor, it doesn’t matter how talented a racer is, how fit they are or how hard they work, there is no guarantee they will ever succeed. Taylor concedes:

And, the really bad news is that those results that you devote so much time and effort to  achieving may never materialize – that is the inherent risk of giving your heart and soul to ski racing.

While it is shocking that no formula exists for ski racing success, it should come as no surprise. Raw talent is only one aspect of a ski racing winning formula. Like any competitive program, ski racing  doesn’t exist to develop raw talent. It exists to determine who the best overall ski racer is, all things considered. And with rare exceptions, ski coaching doesn’t exist to create a synergy of the components that make up a winning ski racer/equipment formula. Coaching is more like a filter where training and running gates ultimately determines which racer has the strongest combination of  factors needed to win. In this respect, coaches are more like talent scouts than developers of raw talent.

The process is simple. Run racers down a course and see who’s the fastest. It is the shortest and most economical path to the podium. The problem with an unsophisticated approach like this is that the best athlete doesn’t necessarily win. The winner is usually the least compromised athlete. In this format, there is no incentive to develop raw talent.

Although athletic ability is important, athletic ability in itself, it is not enough. Ski equipment, but especially the ski boot, can make or break a ski racer by enabling or disabling performance potential. Even if a ski racer finds the right combination early in their career, history has demonstrated that seemingly insignificant changes can quickly relegate an emerging champion to oblivion.

Have trust. Despite the lack of any formula, Taylor advises racers to have trust and “believe in every aspect of your ski racing including your natural ability, effort, coach, equipment, and program.” Why? With no guarantee of success, there is no good reason any ski racer would do this. It is not that a winning formula in ski racing is not possible. It is. And it is relatively simple. It involves the coordination and integration of the various factors.

Where to start?

The human system with an emphasis on movement science and the application Newton’s Third Law, “For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction”.

A strong stance and the ability to move precisely from one ski to another is the foundation of a successful ski racing winning formula.  On firm pistes, it involves the ability of a racer to balance external torques and precisely align the resultant force R and the load W (R-W) emanating from COM on the same force vector  in opposition to SRF in two bisecting planes; the saggital plane (front to back) and frontal plane (across the body). The point centre cross-hair where the opposing forces align is called the centre of pressure (COP). Without the ability to create and maintain a precise alignment of the forces of R-W and SFR, athletic prowess and strength and conditioning are irrelevant.

In a series of future posts, I will describe the conditions under which opposing torques can be balanced in 3 planes.

 

WINNING BY A FOOT

Numerous studies have attempted to find a correlation between foot size and height. I believe there is a reasonable correlation between foot size and height if stature is considered. Ski racers tend to have moderate body masses. When I worked on racer’s boots, most female racers had a US ladies size 7 foot (US men’s 6). Male racers tended to have a US  8 or 9 foot size. Ski boot makers usually make prototypes in a US men’s size 9 then scale the shell up or down to create other sizes.

Lange recently introduced a size 4 US men’s race shell. Perhaps it is more accurate to state that Lange reintroduced a size 4 race shell.  After I learned how to read the shell mold codes forty years ago, I knew that Lange made size 4 shells. However, they only sold them in softer children’s boots in North America. The XLR Race boot was only sold in Japan. After I got the Canadian distributor to bring in a supply of size 4 XLR Race boots, I was inundated with calls from all over Canada from female racers with small feet who heard that a size 4 XLR was available.

In my experience, I was usually able to estimate the size of a racer’s foot by looking at their stature and height. Here is a list of 6 top World Cup racers in order of height.

Ted Ligety 1.80 m
Lindsey Vonn 1.78 m
Marcel Hirscher 1.73 m
Tina Maze 1.72 m
Mikaela Shiffrin 1.70 m
Anna Fenninger 1.66 m

Based on Lindsey Vonn’s stature, I estimate that she has bigger feet than both Tina Maze and Mikaela Shiffrin who are very close to the same height. Vonn is  close to the height of Ted Ligety. I estimate that she has at least a US ladies Size 8 to 8.5 while Ted Ligety’s foot is in the order of a US men’s 9. Anna Fenninger is 1.66 m and small boned. She probably has small feet, smaller than Shiffrin who probably has a size 7 ladies (6 men’s). Anna Fenninger’s foot will be no bigger than a size 6 ladies (US men’s size 5). Marcel Hirscher at 1.73 m probably has a size 7.5 to 8 US men’s foot.

With a ski that is 65 mm in Minimum Profile Width who has the winning feet? Ted Ligety and Lindsey Vonn.