Motocross, meet alpine skiing.
In an attempt to improve performance among mono-skiers, U.S. Paralympic officials are turning to motocross designers and manufacturers to create a suspension that will enhance top performance.
“We’re trying to find people with mountain bike or motocross experience that can look at it from a suspension side of it and fine tune our suspension on mono-skiers and have a different perspective,” said Kevin Jardine, the United States Olympic Committee’s high performance director for Paralympic alpine skiing.
Jardine said he contacted shock manufacturers and people who worked with high-end motocross equipment. Some of them couldn't picture what was needed.
“We want to make sure technique (among skiers) is good and now we’re finding that we need to work on equipment,” Jardine said. “We’ve been talking about it for awhile, but finding the right person was a challenge.”
Jardine said the initiative would be a one to two year project.
Some initial connections have been made with those in the motocross world and work has begun. The adjustments started three months ago during a training camp at Mount Hood in Oregon. Shocks were torn apart and rebuilt during the 10-day camp to improve the suspension for five sitting athletes.
“It’s making a huge difference,” said two-time Paralympian Tyler Walker, one of the athletes who participated in the June camp at Mount Hood.
“The interesting thing is that we have a shock mono that is adjustable, and a lot of athletes don’t make adjustments between disciplines,” Jardine said. “We want to get to the point they are comfortable with their shocks, that piece of the puzzle is out of their head and they can focus on skiing.”
In the fast world of mono-skiing, athletes ride above a suspension and double-wide ski. Speed and balance are critical as skiers proceed over hills and landings, and make quick turns over a course.
Among the top U.S. mono-skiers is Walker. He was the overall International Paralympic Committee World Cup downhill champion in 2009 and placed 10th in the slalom at the Vancouver 2010 Paralympic Winter Games. In addition to taking part in the training camp in June, he also demonstrated a new shock by Team HOC in July at Mount Hood. Walker is a team member with Hands on Concepts, a product-development company specializing in adaptive sports.
“You’re always working on technique,” said Walker, who finished last season with four World Cup medals. “There is no getting away from the fact you’re strapped to a machine and it also has to work.”
Turning to the world of motocross for assistance displays innovation for the U.S. program, but the U.S. skiers aren't alone. Jardine said Canadian mono-skiers are using suspension pieces similar to mountain bikes and the Japanese “have always had some motorcycle manufacture within their designs.”
“There have been improvements and more money is getting thrown at equipment,” Jardine said. “It’s a race (of) who will figure out the fastest and the next big stride, and I want to make sure we’re in the cutting edge.”
Making those improvements does not come cheaply. The retail price for mono-ski seats, suspensions and skis is more than $5,000 apiece. Custom-built equipment is well over that.
“Our biggest challenge is that very expensive process,” Jardine said. “To hire someone with that expertise is not cheap. … The financial side is always a factor.”
Mono-skiing has been a part of the Paralympic Winter Games since 1988 in Innsbruck, Austria. Alpine disciplines include downhill, slalom, giant slalom and super-G.
“One thing we hope to do,” Jardine said, “is fine tune the suspension and make our athletes more competitive on the international circuit.”
The wait for that won’t be long. The IPC Alpine Skiing World Cup circuit begins in January. A NorAm event will be held in December in Copper Mountain, Colo.
Story courtesy Red Line Editorial, Inc. Paul D. Bowker is a freelance contributor for USParalympics.org. Aaron Gray contributed to the story. This story was not subject to the approval of any National Governing Bodies.