THE SPORT OF COMPETITIVE ALPINE SKIING

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THE SPORT OF COMPETITIVE ALPINE SKIING

OVERVIEW

This section provides an overview of the sport of alpine skiing. The following content was shaped by the thorough work of previous PhD candidates (Gilgien, 2014; Kröll, 2010; Meyer, 2012; Nilsson, 2019; Reid, 2010; Spörri, 2012), the summary work in Lind and Sanders (2004), and information in the archives of the relevant governing and competitive bodies – the Fédération Internationale de Ski (i.e., the International Ski Federation; FIS) (2018) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) (2020a).

HISTORY

Skiing has a long and varied history. The earliest variations of skis appear ~6000 years ago, where they were used primarily to traverse areas of snow more easily than on foot or by wearing snowshoes. Initially used by hunters and subsequently military personnel, it was not until recently that skis were used in their primary modern manner of descending the mountain (i.e., alpine skiing). The first notable skiing manual publication—‘Die Alpine Lilienfelder Skilauftechnik’ by Matthias Zdarsky in 1897—is widely regarded as the catalyst for the popularization of the steep downhill skiing style we see today (Lind & Sanders, 2004).
Alpine skiing was not competitive until the early 20th century, with the founding of the International Skiing Commission in 1910. The commission was formalized as the FIS during the International week of skiing in 1924 in Chamonix, France (Fédération Internationale de Ski, 2018; International Olympic Committee, 2020b). The FIS is the governing body for many alpine sports, for which it sets competitive regulations. 1936 saw the introduction of alpine skiing into the Olympic program (International Olympic Committee, 2020a), after which the sport has become increasingly professionalized.

COMPETITIVE SKIING

In its competitive function, alpine skiing comprises four events spread across technical (slalom [SL] and giant slalom [GS]) and speed (super-giant slalom [SG] and downhill [DH]) disciplines. Depending on the competition, there are also combined events (combined [2 runs SL/1 run of DH] and super combined [1 run of SL/1 run of SG or DH]), and parallel events (GS and SL) where two athletes perform beside each other along a matched course. Each event has different rules and regulations set by the FIS, which are further determined based on the sex and age of competitors. Rules dictate the ski-slope characteristics, the course, and the positioning of gates; these factors manipulate the constraints under which the athlete must perform (Gilgien, Crivelli, Spörri, Kröll, & Müller, 2015), with the result being a certain targeted course speed, length, turn number, and technical difficulty.
Athletes will participate in competitions relative to their age and level. At the highest levels, athletes represent their country in international circuits, namely the Europa Cup, the FIS World Cup, World Championships, and the Winter Olympics. In the Olympic cycles, there are many medals on offer in alpine skiing. Alpine skiing represents a prime opportunity for countries to gain an overall advantage, with ‘alpine’ countries, notably Austria, historically dominating (Fédération Internationale de Ski, 2020b). Speed discipline
The speed discipline is aptly named, as the two events are set to allow the athletes to perform fewer turns and reach higher speeds (see depiction in Figure 3). For example, in 2013, on the World Cup circuit at Wengen, Switzerland, French downhill skier Johan Clarey set the current DH speed record of 161 km/h (100 mph). While strictly regulated, generally both events focus on allowing the athlete to ski in the fall line of the course, with SG being more ‘technical’ (in essence, a combination of GS and DH), and DH minimizing turning altogether (while maintaining a relative ‘upper limit’ for safety). In any case, both events feature considerably longer courses and faster speeds attained compared to the technical events. For instance, DH courses are approximately 2 to 3 min, with SG around 1 to 2 min. Lower level athletes (notably, Europa Cup) will typically perform shortened versions of the full courses skied by World Cup athletes.
The image shows the ‘tucked’ aerodynamic position characteristic of the speed disciplines.

Technical discipline

The technical events take place on shorter but steeper courses with gates set to provide sharper turns. The consequences are lower overall course speeds and shorter course times than their speed counterparts (45 to 90 sec across the two events). SL is the shorter of the two, with regularly set gates forcing the athlete to perform rhythmic turns and characteristically ‘punch’ gates out of the way as they pass (see depiction in Figure 4).

PERFORMANCE

Attaining the shortest time from start to finish (without disqualifying factors), as measured by a FIS approved timing system, describes performance in skiing competitions. In the speed events, each skier performs a single run of a course, with the best time crowning the victor (in DH, several practice runs are allowed, which cover multiple days before the event). In the technical events, two runs are performed on the same course but with slightly differing gate settings, and the athlete with the lowest combined time is the competition winner. Unlike speed events, where there are limited slopes available worldwide, and the courses do not change much between races (i.e., approximately the same gate setting for the same venue), technical events can be held in numerous locations and with considerable variation in the gate and course setting.
Despite the challenging and variable nature of courses at the highest competitive level, mere milliseconds regularly separate top finishing athletes, which increases the spectacle of the sport. Winning on the world stage represents a significant success for athletes and federations, with large sums of prize money on offer and more extensive viewership (both on-location spectatorship and televised coverage) providing lucrative opportunities for sponsorships. Notably, the most prestigious events offer ~100K Swiss francs for the top qualifying athlete, and according to the 2020 season standings (Fédération Internationale de Ski, 2020c), the top three male and female athletes each earned over 290K Swiss francs in prize money.
FIS points (FISpt) represent the overall competitive performance level of athletes, provide a means of comparing athletes to each other, and a marker of functional performance in research. Briefly, points regulate starting position in competitions and are regularly scaled based on the best athletes per event (zero and six points, for the first ranked and 30th athlete, respectively). For each race, FISpt are calculated as:
Eq. 1 • ℎ =( )− where Fdisc is a scaling factor dictated seasonally by the FIS, tath is the athlete’s course time, and tbest is the time of the best athlete on the course. The athlete’s overall score is a representation of their best two scores for the current period.

COMPETITION AND TRAINING SCHEDULES

As of writing, the world is currently in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Quarantine procedures disrupted the 2019-2020 season, and its effect on the upcoming competitive season is yet unclear. Usually, the competition calendar for ski athletes depends on their specialist event, level, and geography. The full FIS calendar begins in July, but most high-level athletes plan their first core races around October (the beginning of the World Cup Circuit) and finish around late-March. In the following period, athletes typically transition into national events and preference on-snow training (developing and individualizing new technology with sponsors and working on specific facets of skiing technique) while the snow is reasonable. Athletes will often engage in non-specialist ski events during this period; for example, the Super Slalom event in Europe popularized by French World Cup slalom skier Julien Lizeroux, which consists of 320 gates set approximately to SL regulations, is over 4 km in length and lasts over 4 min in duration.
During the ‘off-season,’ training for high-level skiers consists of periods of physical conditioning, punctuated by ski camps on glacial mountains, that become more frequent or lengthy as the competitive season approaches (see Figure 5). The frequency of these camps is dictated by training group, with higher-level groups benefiting from increased access to costly ski-camps. Generally, coaches follow a non-specific-to-specific transition of conditioning during the pre-season, with an early focus on aerobic base and muscular hypertrophy, followed by strength, power, anaerobic metabolism, and work in hypoxic environments (Hydren et al., 2013). Focus towards the end of the period transitions to skiing and maintaining underlying qualities while fostering on-snow performance (Gilgien, Reid, Raschner, Supej, & Holmberg, 2018).
High-level athletes can spend almost a half year skiing or up to 150 days of on-snow training and competition during the competitive season, depending on the discipline (Gilgien, Reid, et al., 2018). Each on-snow training day typically lasts around 2 to 4 hours, with most of that time spent in recovery (purposeful or returning to the top of the slope).
Athletes will perform warm-up runs of the course and up to 14 training runs, depending on the discipline (less for speed, more for technical). The total physical load experienced by the athletes varies per discipline, the training objectives, and the course constraints, among other factors; however, reports from various national federations are that technical disciplines can perform up to 700 turns per session, and speed disciplines between 100 and 300 (Gilgien, Reid, et al., 2018). During ski camps, coaches and athletes will continue to perform conditioning sessions but are careful to minimize the accumulation of fatigue and ultimately maintain the quality of on-snow training. For more information regarding the specific training practices of skiers, see the works of Hydren et al. (2013) and Gilgien, Reid, et al. (2018).

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TECHNOLOGY

Technology is central to skiing (e.g., see Figure 1) and includes skis, bindings and binding plates, ski-suits, and safety equipment (e.g., helmet, poles, guards, and back protectors), each of which conform to FIS regulations (Fédération Internationale de Ski, 2020d). Since the beginning of the professionalization of skiing with its introduction into the competitive sphere, the association of competitive teams and technology companies has driven the advancement of skiing technology. Notably, the introduction of parabolic carving skis in the 1990s (superseding the traditional straight skis of the time) drastically changed the predominant skiing techniques by allowing athletes to perform more rounded turns with the skis on edge (i.e., carving) rather than frequently skidded turns (Supej, Kugovnik, & Nemec, 2002). Moreover, carving skis in tandem with molded ski boots and elevated binding plates allow athletes to direct and transfer force with greater precision and increase their inclination angle to the snow. The result of these developments is the more dynamic skiing style typified in modern ski racing (Müller, Schiefermuller, Kröll, & Schwameder, 2005).
Figure 5. A representation of the preparatory training schedule of a high-level French ski racer
Note that while this plan typifies a technical specialist, the main difference for speed athletes is that the primary competitive season does not begin until late November (regardless, the preceding period focuses on skiing). Note that the frequency of ski camps is not fixed and depends on financial availability, evolving meteorological conditions, and the agreed direction between coaches and conditioning staff (e.g., denoted by the ‘*’). However, for high-level French athletes, it is uncommon to undergo conditioning blocks longer than six weeks in duration without attending a ski camp.
While bindings and boots vary mostly regarding athletes’ preferences, the ski lengths are drastically different. For example, SL skis are >1.65 m for the men, with no strict regulation of the radius (although other shaping regulations apply). However, DH skis are >2.18 m for the men, with a radius >50 m. These rulings effectively manipulate the range of turning approaches of the athletes, and this area continues to attract research in balancing the elevation of performance and its restriction (or even regression) to improve athlete safety and fair play (Spörri, Kröll, Gilgien, & Müller, 2017).

Table of contents :

ABSTRACT
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS
1. OVERVIEW 
1.1. ADMIN
1.1.1. Attestation of authorship
1.1.2. Thesis publications
1.1.3. Co-authored publications relevant to the thesis
1.2. GENERAL INTRODUCTION
1.3. THESIS OVERVIEW
1.3.1. Thesis format
1.3.2. Thesis structure
1.4. CONTENTS
1.4.1. List of figures
1.4.2. List of tables
1.4.4. Uncommon abbreviations
2. SCIENTIFIC BACKGROUND 
2.1. THE SPORT OF COMPETITIVE ALPINE SKIING
2.1.1. Overview
2.1.2. History
2.1.3. Competitive skiing
2.1.4. Performance
2.1.5. Competition and training schedules
2.1.6. Technology
2.1.7. Injury
2.2. SKIING PERFORMANCE AND FORCE OUTPUT
2.2.1. Prelude
2.2.2. Overview
2.2.3. Skiing performance
2.2.4. Force production and performance
2.2.5. Force-production characteristics
2.2.6. Measurement
2.3. FORCE-PRODUCTION CAPACITIES OF ALPINE SKIERS
2.3.1. Prelude
2.3.2. Overview
2.3.3. Physiological basis for force production
2.3.4. Evaluation of the force-capacity of the lower limbs
2.3.5. Force capacity in alpine skiers
2.3.6. Conclusions
2.4. THESIS AIMS
3. EXPERIMENTAL THEME 1: FORCE OUTPUT 
3.1. FORCE OUTPUT IN GIANT-SLALOM SKIING: A PRACTICAL MODEL OF FORCE-APPLICATION EFFECTIVENESS
3.1.1. Abstract
3.1.2. Prelude
3.1.3. Introduction
3.1.4. Materials and methods
3.1.5. Results
3.1.6. Discussion
3.1.7. Conclusions
3.2. VALIDITY OF TURN-AVERAGED KINEMATICS IN ALPINE SKIING USING A LOW-COST REAL-TIME KINEMATIC (RTK)
SYSTEM
3.2.1. Abstract
3.2.2. Prelude
3.2.3. Introduction
3.2.4. Methods
3.2.5. Results
3.2.6. Discussion
3.2.7. Conclusions
4. EXPERIMENTAL THEME 2: FORCE CAPACITY
4.1. LOWER-LIMB FORCE-PRODUCTION CAPACITIES IN ALPINE SKI DISCIPLINES: EVIDENCE OF THE IMPORTANCE OF FORCE-DOMINANT PROFILES
4.1.1. Abstract
4.1.2. Prelude
4.1.3. Introduction
4.1.4. Methods
4.1.5. Results
4.1.6. Discussion
4.1.7. Conclusions
4.2. THE EFFECT OF COUNTERMOVEMENT ON FORCE PRODUCTION DEPENDS ON EXTENSION VELOCITY: A STUDY OF ALPINE SKIERS & SPRINTERS
4.2.1. Abstract
4.2.2. Prelude
4.2.3. Introduction
4.2.4. Methods
4.2.5. Results
4.2.6. Discussion
4.2.7. Conclusions
4.2.8. Practical implications
4.3. STRENGTH-ENDURANCE ASSESSMENT IN ALPINE SKIERS: DOES TARGETING SPECIFIC FORCE-VELOCITY CONDITIONS & INTENSITY CHANGE OUR VIEW?
4.3.1. Abstract
4.3.2. Prelude
4.3.3. Introduction
4.3.4. Methods
4.3.5. Results
4.3.6. Discussion
4.3.7. Conclusions
5. PERSPECTIVES, PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS, & CONCLUSIONS 
5.1. PERSPECTIVES
5.1.1. Summary of thesis take-aways
5.1.2. Suggestions for future research
5.1.3. Reflections
5.2. PRACTICAL APPLICATIONS
5.2.1. Training implications
5.2.2. Testing
5.3. CONCLUSIONS
6. BIBLIOGRAPHY 
6.1. REFERENCES
7. APPENDICES

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