Mr. Waibel, can you imagine competitive Alpine skiing without crashes?
Not really. It is racing, after all! And falls are an inherent part of it, unfortunately. The attraction for spectators is that they see the athletes pushing their limits. It’s also what makes it appeal to the athletes themselves. If there weren’t any risky maneuvers that could also lead to a wipeout the sport would lose something. Having said that, the risks must be kept within reasonable bounds. Therefore the safety aspects of competitive Alpine skiing are among my many tasks as the national coach for science and equipment.
How difficult is it, reconciling the athletes’ safety with putting on a good show?
It’s pretty complex, especially because so many factors play a role in skiing. There are the people, the equipment and what it’s made of, how the course is prepared, the natural conditions. The fascination of racing is built on these components: the better and safer the conditions, the more confidence athletes have in doing more. When they know that the slope is well prepared, with top safety precautions, and that their equipment is functioning optimally, they can take more risks.
How have the risks of the sport changed over the past years?
Major efforts have been made to provide more safety. Just think about the protection on the course: in the seventies and eighties, hay bales and wooden stakes were the safety standard. Today we set up threefold safety zones. We use high-tech to protect athletes. Moreover, the coaches regularly discuss what can be improved—even with small details.