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Uncover the Team and the Equipment Behind the Athlete

4 min read
January 5, 2021
Chemmy Alcott

On paper, ski racing is very much an individual sport but that is far from the truth. Behind the racer is an incredibly important support team. From the coach who takes on all the responsibility for tactical and technical input, to the physical trainer who helps the athlete get in their best form and the physio who helps the athlete get to their peak physical condition.

One of the most important members of the team is the ski technician; they spend countless hours waxing, scraping and edging (around 100 hours before it is race-ready) the skis so that they have the fastest bases in downhill or the sharpest edges on a steep technical slalom piste. They spend so long with the skis that they actually start to care for them. I used to humanise them by giving them names - I named my fastest ever downhill skis Excalibur. It is beneficial having a favourite ski as knowing you are using it improves the trust in the ski and so increases your confidence to ski as aggressively as possible. However, it can also be a huge hindrance if you crash and break your favourite skis. It may sound silly, but I once saw my technician cry when I broke my fastest ski because to him those skis were his baby. So, you must be able to park the emotions and move on as any lack of confidence in your new, slightly slower skis could spell disaster.

The art of waxing to make the base of a ski fast is complex and ever-changing. My husband, downhiller Dougie Crawford, was known as somewhat of a genius in this area, with other technicians always asking him what he was using. His family own Data Ski Wax, so he is much more knowledgeable in this area than me. However, in his absence I will still try and explain the art of waxing as best I can. Every base has a different structure which is best suited to different snow and this base has to be combined with a wax that is at the exact correct temperature to allow performance to be maximised. Once you understand these complexities me calling this a ‘waxing art’ seems less farfetched.

When I raced my fourth Olympic Games in Sochi, there was so much inconsistency with the previous weather during February that our team skied with one other girl from Norway and shared a technician. We didn’t have much valid or accurate data to go on, so we took 40 pairs of speed skis all the way to Russia - for just two girls and a 2-minute downhill!! If this doesn’t show you how important equipment is, nothing will.

The importance of the fit of the equipment on the body is huge, especially in the speed disciplines. We spend hours in wind tunnels checking the fit and material of our catsuit, helmet design and whether our bent speed poles hug the body correctly. Even the way we wear our long hair is important and we discovered that the fastest hair cut is actually the mullet (but I didn’t think this would suit me).

Sometimes you can do everything right on the day but something you have changed on your equipment makes you perform worse. I was told by Deborah Compagnoni (Italian Giant Slalom skier who won three consecutive gold medals at the 1992, 1994 and 1998 Winter Olympics) that after an incredible season in 1997/98, she was inundated with offers to change equipment with bigger, better financial contracts and rewards. Deborah started the 1998/99 season with a completely new set up, top to toe. To everyone’s surprise, she was really slow in the first races. Thinking it must be her skis she broke out of her new contract and returned to the ski she had raced on the previous year. Again, she was slow. So, she changed back to her old boot with her old footbed, she was still slow! Exasperated she did a complete top to toe mirror of what she had skied on the year before, she won the race. It turned out her new helmet was making her slow, not because of its aerodynamics but because of the fit. It was pressing on a small scar which she had from falling over on the top of her head as a toddler! That small change was making a huge, debilitating impact on her speed! The lesson learned here is that testing each piece of equipment and validating each change of equipment with data is imperative as a ski racer. Just as it is imperative to a business when making major decisions.