Without good skis, nothing works in the fight for medals at the Biathlon World Championships. The changeable weather presents the ski technicians with an immense challenge. It’s good that the German Ski Association has upgraded for the World Games.
It is a fallacy to say that a biathlon race begins with the starting signal. While the athletes get physically and mentally up to competition temperature in advance, the ski technicians go on a daily hunt – to find the optimal ski. “That’s the thrill for us,” says Enrico Heisig and grins: “Our motivation is to try to bring the best material worldwide to the athletes’ feet.”
“Material development is rapid”
Enrico Heisig, head of research and development at the German Ski Association, stands in a large gray truck in the parking lot in front of the Nove Mesto arena. It’s noisy. Heisig’s colleague Christian Beetz pushes one ski after the other into the massive-looking grinding machine. “Basically, a dresser goes to the grindstone and pulls the structure onto it so that I have the negative of the structure on the stone,” explains Beetz, the grinder at the German Ski Association, of the complicated technique: “Then the ski is with help of a wheel then pushed through.” The grindstone transfers the structure to the ski. The fact that the mobile grinding machine and three additional ski technicians are present in Nove Mesto is not a given. Instead of six, there are nine technical crews in the Czech Republic.
“Material development is very rapid and you always have to stay on the ball,” says Enrico Heisig: “In order to be able to react quickly, we have to have a grinding machine with us – especially given the difficult conditions here.” So the question arises: Why not always like this? The answer is simple: given the shortness of the World Cup weekends, the effort is disproportionate and the costs are too high.
100 pairs of skis are prepared every day
To illustrate the importance of a good grind, Heisig likes to use a comparison from motorsport: “A grind is a structure brought to the base of a ski – it’s like the car tires in Formula 1. There is a smooth one in dry conditions Tires to have good grip – but in the rain, for example, there are strong tread tires. That’s how it is with us too.” While the 53-year-old is talking about this, the rain is pounding on the roof of the truck: “I’ll put it this way: If you don’t have really good skis, then it’s difficult to get ahead of the pack given the density of the world‘s best skiers.”
The German team’s “normal” wax truck is just a few meters away. “Normal” because he takes part in every World Cup. Chief technician Sebastian Hopf is – as always – busy. On average, his team of six prepares 100 pairs of skis every day. In addition, there is an average of 35 test kilometers per person – that too per day. Hopf is very pleased about the support of the development team including the grinding machine: “This also involves development projects that have been running for years. And here we have the opportunity to compare the further developments in the competition with our status quo. And of course, if the new thing is better then we can use it directly.”
Competition on and off the track
Exactly what further developments these are is largely kept silent. The competition between the technical departments of the top nations is huge. “The things that happen with us only stay with us. We won’t find out what happens with the Norwegians, French or Swedes. That remains the respective secret. Otherwise it wouldn’t be any fun,” says Enrico Heisig and laughs . Days with significantly more than ten hours of work are standard for the DSV ski technicians.
Ironically, the moments when things are a little quieter in the trucks are during the races. When the 30,000 fans along the track and in the stands turn the arena into a cauldron, the technicians’ work has already been done. The service men watch what is happening in the dry on small televisions. The start of the World Cup was satisfactory for Enrico Heisig, Christian Beetz, Sebastian Hopf and the rest of the team. In the mixed relay and fifth place for Germany, only Vanessa Voigt struggled with her material. Overall, the skis made a good impression. Nevertheless, no matter how good the results may be, the hunt for the perfect cut will continue. Whether it actually exists at all doesn’t really matter that much.