When the world’s best speed specialists launch themselves down the Streif slope in Kitzbühel today and tomorrow, it’s enough to make you feel giddy just watching it on television. The skiers can reach speeds of over 150 kilometres an hour, with Michael Walchhofer even managing to arrive at the finishing slope in 2006 at 153km/hour. This is because they’re the best skiers in the world, of course, but it’s also because they have the very best equipment under their feet. And because their skis have been properly tuned. But what does that mean?The most important elements are the edges and the surface. “With a racing ski,” explains Hannes Gastl, “the edges are sharpened differently than with a simple hire ski.” In contrast to normal hobby skis, where the edges are sharpened to a right angle, racing skis mostly have an angle of 86 degrees. When the ski is on its edge and carving, then it can grip earlier. Another difference: hobby skis have blunt tips, whereas racing skis are sharpened right the way to the front. This is also to ensure the ski grips the snow earlier and draws more quickly. All of which explains why (alongside the technique and enormous strength of the skiers) racers keep their skis so precisely even on slopes where normal people could only look good on ice skates, if at all. The choice of wax and the structure worked into the surface are just as important as the sharpness of the edges. Non-professionals can see the structure if they turn over the skis and look at the surface. There’s a pattern of grooves worked into the surface. “Deeper grooves are important so that the water is displaced and the speed is increased,” says Gastl. Because if the ski were too smooth, it would stick to the piste like a suction pad.
The teams servicing world cup stars have been working away for a long time by now to ensure the perfect tuning for the Hahnenkamm races tomorrow. Because who ends up right at the front will depend in no small measure on what they have strapped to their feet.