Biathlon: Why it Matters

FasterSkierJanuary 15, 2008

Visit the race room of any major ski company in September or October and you will be sure to see the equipment coaches from the major Biathlon teams picking skis. The manufacturers have learned that working with national Biathlon teams is every bit as important as working with top cross country teams. We called Roman Toferer, director of The Thin Red Line (Team Atomic) to discuss the importance of working with Biathlon.

RICK HALLING: Why would a ski company want to put so much time and money into working with Biathlon teams? Why not just focus on cross country?

ROMAN TOFERER: I tell you this so listen to me. Biathlon teams of most countries still have very close and strong ties to their military. This means they have government money that cross country teams do not have. With the government resources, they can do far more research and testing than regular cross country teams.

RICK HALLING: What has this research and testing by the Biathlon teams entailed?

ROMAN TOFERER: The research by the Biathlon teams have been big help for every aspect of ski design and construction. This includes molecular structure for bases, the grinds we use, sidecuts and flex patterns. In the early 1980’s the ski companies were very basic with structure and stone grinding. We knew that a deep structure was good for wet and warm snow, we knew that a fine structure was better for cold and dry snow. It was the national Biathlon teams that had the money and the testers to really develop stone grinding and structures. There are so many crazy patterns out there and most of what we know comes from the Biathlon. The national cross country teams just took structure for granted in the early days and they did not pursue it like the Biathlon teams.

RICK HALLING: You think it was the government support via the military that allowed Biathlon teams to research the grinding to such a high degree?

ROMAN TOFERER: I think so, certainly, yes. You know for many years we thought all skating skis should be the same percentage body weight for all skiers. So if a 75 kilo guy has a ski that is 90% his body weight then a 95 kilo guy should also have a ski that is 90% his body weight, but Biathlon taught us this is not true. A ski can reach a maximum stiffness and then it has diminishing returns on the snow. We learn from working with the Biathlon technicians that we should put the 95 kilo guy on the same ski as the 75 kilo guy and it work better for that big guy than a super stiff ski. The Biathlon teams have more people and time to help us study that sort of thing.

RICK HALLING: How about the athletes themselves? A lot of American citizen racers have the view that Biathletes are second tier skiers not at the same level as cross country skiers.

ROMAN TOFERER: Maybe they think that because America does not have too much TV coverage of Worldcup competition. But if they could watch Worldcup Biathlon and Worldcup Cross Country they would see that the athletes are at least equal. Yes, sure,
Biathlon does not have classic events so Cross Country skiers are better classic skiers. But for 5 — 20 K skate races the Biathletes are just as fast as the Cross Country racers.

RICK HALLING: Did the Biathletes play a key role in developing “Red Cheetah” technology.

ROMAN TOFERER: Oh yes, the national Biathlon teams were very important in creating “Red Cheetah.” And I tell you, this technology will be very exiting news when we make it available to American citizen racers.

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