The newest edition of the FIS Homologation Manual was published this month and two changes are significant for North American venues. Major A-climbs now require five fewer meters of elevation gain, and courses that reach above 1800 m have been clarified as eligible for certification (and always have been) at the Continental Cup level and below.
According to John Aalberg, a FIS homologation coordinator for North America, the elevation clarification and A-climb reduction were both written with North American venues specifically in mind.
In the past, the language in the manual stated that at the Olympics, World Championships, World Juniors and World Cups, “the highest point of a cross country course should not exceed 1800 m,” or about 5900 feet (311.2.7). Whether this rule also applied to the Continental Cups or FIS races the manual didn’t specify, but Aalberg said it was implied that it did not — that courses above 1800 m could always homologate for the lower-level races.
When the rules only applied to Europe the omission wasn’t an issue, since many competition courses in Europe are easily below 1800 m. When FIS first extended homologation requirements to all Continental Cup and FIS competitions, it granted temporary exception to the U.S. and Canada to allow its venues time to meet the requirements. The exception ended in the 2011-2012 season, and for the first time SuperTours, NorAms or any FIS-sanctioned race in North American needed homologation certification, where the number of high-altitude cross-country venues is relatively greater.
“This is clarified in the new homologation manual since it was not mentioned anywhere in the past,” Aalberg wrote in an email. “The manual only talked about World Cup courses. This is mostly an issue in North America, since most all competition courses in Europe are below 1800 m. Now that FIS is stricter in requiring homologated courses for COC (and other FIS points) competitions, this needed to be clarified.”
Bob Gross is one of a handful of homologation inspectors in the U.S. and was recently part of the working group for the homologation manual at the annual FIS Congress in South Korea. He said the old wording of the 1800-meter rule has been misinterpreted as applying to all FIS races.
“We could always homologate courses above 1800 meters,” Gross said. “Interestingly enough, a lot of people didn’t realize that. So common knowledge has been that 1800 meters is the max, but it has not been.”
Whether the clarification is news to any high-altitude North American venues, and if it will spur them to seek homologation certification, remains to be seen.
The other change to the manual, in which A-climbs need only gain 25 meters in height instead of 30, was also made to support North American courses.
“We have seen that a few venues (both in North America and other places) meet all other requirements, but are a few meters short of the 30 m height difference in one or more of the uphills,” Aalberg said. “An uphill with over 25 m height difference is still a good climb, and FIS would like to support such venues and courses. This was important for some U.S. venues.”
Five meters translates to about 16 feet, not an insignificant difference for venues needing to move dirt around to meet the criteria. Aalberg emphasized that A-climbs, which are the largest uphills of a homologated course and must be between a 9 and 18% grade, still meet the intended purpose of homologation to design good competition courses.
“A good competition course must contain certain uphills such that the uphill technique and the aerobic capacity of a skier is being ‘tested,’” Aalberg said, and courses with 25 meter climbs that meet all other requirements still do that.