Biathlon Behind the Scenes: Ski Selection

by Sara Donatello

We all know what happens on race day, but what happens during the months before may be a mystery to most. The 2023/24 season will kick off on November 25, 2023, in Oestersund, Sweden, but ski service preparation has been underway for a while. 

U.S. Biathlon’s team of ski technicians, led by Team General Manager Federico Fontana, spent the last six days in Oberhof, Germany’s ski tunnel testing and selecting race skis for U.S. Biathlon National Team athletes. When testing new race skis, the focus is on the flex and camber, which will then determine which stone grind each ski will receive. 

“This is part of our ski selection procedure which starts with selecting skis in the ski race department of our suppliers,” said Fontana. “Together with the reps, according to the needs of every single athlete, we select the skis. Before making the athlete’s fleet, race skis get tested on snow at least 5-6 times during the summer.”

No fluor wax and stone grind tests are the two most important pieces of the process. With the recent fluor ban, there needed to be a transition to new no-fluor wax, which meant testing each type of wax to determine which is the best quality. Stone grinding testing might be even more important than wax. Thanks to a new state-of-the-art stone grind machine, U.S. Biathlon boasts a world-class grinding system and development. 

“I am very satisfied with how the work went, we were able to collect many on-field tests and some interesting results on both new grinds and no fluor waxes,” said Fontana. “The ski testing before we head to Vuokatti with the team in November will continue in October. Over the next week, we will focus on cleaning skis and equipment to decontaminate everything from every trace of Fluor. I am happy to see the guys putting together a lot of motivation and hard work. The season is not far away and the goal is to be at the first competition confident about the work we did and to be ready to start the fluor-free era, which will be the biggest change we will face in many years in ski waxing.”

Ski service - the processes behind getting an athlete to the start line with a competitive pair of skis - is one of the most important parts of our team,” said Lowell Bailey, U.S. Biathlon Director of High Performance. “We can have the most talented athletes in the world, coached optimally, in peak shape; but if they arrive to the race without competitive skis, they may as well have stayed home. With the fluor ban arriving this season, we are facing an unprecedented challenge, but with it comes unprecedented opportunity. We have worked extremely hard for the past three years, preparing for this moment - working with our partners and undertaking tests in every season and condition. The guys have put forth a herculean effort, led by Federico’s tireless resolve, and as a result, we are more than ready for the new non-fluor era.”

U.S. Biathlon’s World Cup ski service team consists of Federico Fontana, Giovanni Ferarri, Luca Tomasi, Christian Sieler and Max Bergmann.