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MasterBlast: The Most Expensive Skis On The Planet (August 2015)

Thu, 08/27/2015 - 16:09 -- JD

The following is a translated and summarized from an original article by Øeystein Vik originally appearing in Aftenposten, Jan 14, 2015. Translation and summary by Inge Scheve exclusively for AXCS membership.

AXCS Editor: The intent of using this translated/summarized article is unquestionably NOT to encourage masters to spend more money aiming for faster skis! Rather, it's a fascinating glimpse at the extremes of where our favorite winter sport has gone at the highest levels -- for good or ill. It also contains a strong take-home message for all competitive skiers in terms of how things can backfire when you overthink the technical side of skiing. Enjoy.

The Norwegian national teams will spend 14 million Kroners, roughly 2 million US dollars, in their pursuit of medals, fame and glory between Spring 2014 and the 2018 Olympics. And team officials don’t think a cent is wasted. “We get a lot of medals out of this. Simply put, it’s good value for our money,” Tore Oevreboe said to Norwegian newspaper Bergens Tidende.

Oevreboe is the director of the Norwegian Athletic Association. Norway earned a lot of medals at the 2014 Olympics in Sochi (RUS), but missing the wax for the men’s and women’s relays was something the wax team in hindsight considered unnecessary and nobody wants to see a repeat of that.

Accordingly, the Olympic Development Center (Olympiatoppen), the Norwegian Ski Association and the Norwegian Biathlon Association are pooling their resources, money as well as staff and know-how, between now and the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea in the pursuit of having the best skis on the course.

“This is a solid effort, and we are thankful that there is such an interest in winter sports in Norway that we have the support we need to make this happen. But the standards and expectations are sky high,” says Knut Nystad, head coach for the Norwegian cross-country wax team. He has been named program manager for the new joint effort named “Ski 2018,” in addition to his position as head wax coach for the Norwegian cross-country ski teams and the Norwegian Ski Association.

The Norwegian wax project working on making sure the Norwegian skiers have the best skis in the world was established after the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, which was announced a scandal and a fiasco for Norway. Leading up to the Olympics in Sochi, the project was named “Ski 2014,” and between the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver and the 2014 Winter Games, Norway’s national teams spent 9 million kroners (more than 1.25 million dollars) on wax, research and related expenses. Now the team is re-launching and stepping up the program.

Between last year’s Olympics and the next winter games, the team, which consists of five people working fulltime, will spend around 3.5 million kroners (500.000 US dollars) every year on glide and kick research, totaling about 2 million US dollars by the time the Olympic torch arrives in Pyeongchang. This is in addition to the day-to-day business of the regular wax teams in the national teams involved.

For starters, the Norwegian Ski Association has 11 wax techs working fulltime with the national teams. “Cross-country, Nordic Combined and biathlon are the sports that deliver the most medals. This is a targeted effort to increase our medal chances in those sports,” Oevreboe said. The Olympic Development Center (Olympiatoppen) is supplying the largest portion of the financing. Oevreboe defines the effort as a research project that also spills over to other sports including the Paralympic ski disciplines.

But what about the infamous screw-ups in Sochi?

The wax team notoriously missed the coating in February 2014 for a few Sochi Olympic events – something that made the list of top 10 major national screw-ups in Norway for 2014 – right along with politics, immigration issues, embezzlement, murder and crime. In fact, the wax screw-up was ranked as the second-worst incident of the year when the national newspaper Aftenposten’s listed the top 10 in the weekend magazine on December 24, 2014. So what exactly was the offense?

Norway shipped off the largest, ugliest and most expensive wax trailer ever to the 2014 Olympics in Sochi. The two-story monster was almost too big to be offloaded from the ship once it arrived at the shipyard at the eastern shores of the Black Sea. Finally on site in the mountains above Sochi, the largest national wax crew at the 2014 Winter Games – maybe with the exception of the Russian crew, but nobody really knows what the Russians do – for both men's and women's relays, the Norwegian wax techs managed to put the slowest skis in the field under the feet of the Norwegian racers. This was nothing shy of a national crisis, and head wax coach Knut Nystad had to answer for the embarrassing fiasco to the Norwegian people.

On national TV, Nystad explained the disaster: his crew had simply done the job too well.

“The main cause for the slow skis was the choice of manual structure added to the bases along with a coating, the latter is there to make the skis super-hydrophobic, he said.

“If you choose an aggressive structure for fine-grain snow with small crystals, these tiny crystals dig all the way to the bottom of those deep grooves in the applied aggressive manual structure. The snow crystals at Holmenkollen in Oslo are like sugar cubes compared to the snow crystals in Sochi. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a method for supplying sufficient coating given the combination of structure, snow type and crystal size. The grooves were not sufficiently coated by the applied fluoro coating product, and accordingly, the skis picked up dirt and the water repellent effect of the coating was reduced. The result was that the skis deteriorated dramatically over the course,” Nystad explained.

The über-effort of the wax techs was rewarded with a very disappointing fifth place in the women’s relay and fourth place in the men’s relay, which clearly qualifies as a national scandal in Norway.