Vail Daily letter: ACL injuries just part of the sport |

Vail Daily letter: ACL injuries just part of the sport

Otto Wiest
Vail, CO, Colorado

The Alpine World Championships just finished up in Schladming, Austria.

At the podium of the ladies combination (downhill and slalom combined), all three winners have had at least two ACL surgeries. Also, Vail’s Lindsey Vonn just had her ACL repaired after a bad spill in the championships.

It is by far the most common accident of alpine skiing, and it is a very unpleasant experience. No wonder that people over 40 declare quite often that “skiing is too dangerous.”

A letter in the Vail Daily some days ago said, “Now, there is one way to prevent a tear of an ACL. Don’t go skiing, play soccer, ice skate or do anything physical.” I liked this letter, which says clearly that this is part of the game and we have to live with it.

Well, as with safety bindings, there are some ways to reduce the risk of being hurt by good engineering.

About 25 years ago I tore an ACL at Mary Jane and I was smart enough to get it repaired in Vail because they have the most experienced and advanced doctors. My knee was repaired by Dr. Peter Janes, and it seems after all these years to be better then the other one. Talking to Peter about the reasons for my ACL tear, Peter Janes told me: Look at your feet. We humans have a long forefoot and a very short heel. Our body, our muscles, our bones – all of this has been developed and was growing for this special kind of pressure through the feet.

Now stand on your skis and you will recognize the long ski tail. It is way too long for your body. This can lead to ACL injuries.

As a result, I understood, to make it short and simple:

The construction of alpine skis is wrong and doesn’t fit our bodies. And the better (and stiffer) our ski equipment became over the years, the more torn ACLs we got.

Alpins skis have been developed out of cross country skis in Norway, which were used to walk through deep snow. Of course, the binding was in the middle of the ski so that you could stand well balanced and have equal pressure on tip and tail.

Alpine skiing used the same skis, but the pressure on the skis changed through speed, steepness, ski boots, body position and many other things. Also the skis changed, but the position of the binding is still like 100 years ago.

I don’t know why, but many things – like the form of skis, style and so on – seem to be kind of a religion in alpine skiing.

When I got some of the first shaped skis about 15 years ago (it was a ELAN SCX test ski from Buzz Schlepper), I got a lot of ugly comments about those “stupid” skis. But three years later, everybody started to use them. Isn’t this amazing? It took the skiing industry about 50 years to find out that shaped and wider skis work better.

I write this as an example, because there needs to be another big change of equipment. It has to come because the position of the ski binding is simply wrong, with a few exceptions. If you are a ski racer, a high-speed skier or freestyler, you need the long tail.

But the long ski tail leads to ACL injuries, and also makes skiing tiring and turns difficult and unsafe. It’s well known that it also is a pain in deep snow.

Last year, I was reading in an advertisement of big ski company Rossignol that “the tail of the ski is not important for skiing!” Great! They are finally on the right track, but it will take long long time to get this into the brains of traditional skiers.

It might be helpful to inform you that there is a very unknown and very little recognized ski bum named Adrian Floreani. He lives in his motor home , and he is an engineer. I call him a genius of skiing. Like many inventors, he doesn’t make any money, but his life has been skiing for many years. Isn’t it nice that real ski bums still exists in a country where money seems to be everything?

Floreani developed his own skis with very short tails. To replace this missing piece of ski behind the binding, he has put a well-working liquid dampening system at the tips of his skis. He now produces his own skis.

I have used those skis for many years, and they are my favorite all-around Skis. As long as I stay below 40-50 mph, they work well on ice, powder and even in bumps.

My wife will not go skiing without those “Flo Skis,” and most of my friends don’t ski anything else. Even the chief instructor of our German Ski Instructors Association, Herbert Sedlmaier, used them for a whole season and gave me on paper his statement that they worked very well for him.

He mentioned only that people in the cable car looked at him with irritation because without the tail, those skis have been pretty short.

Now, what is really the reason for an ACL injury on skis? If you sit back or fall back on your skis, then the long tail doesn’t allow you to sit down or to fall down like you do without skis. Instead the long tail holds you upright, and you have a pretty stiff connection between all the parts until up to your knee. (The ski tail doesn’t bend, the boot doesn’t bend, and the shin bone doesn’t bend, and then the binding doesn’t always release in time.)

So all the pressure is finally at your knee. Let’s say if you weigh 200 pounds, that if you fall back, you have those 200 pounds of pressure on the tail of your skis. Normally the length of your ski tail is about as long as the distance of your knee above the snow. This relationship of 1: 1 causes the pressure at your knee as high as the pressure at your ski tail.

A sudden pressure of 200 pounds or even more through the speed with which you ski is enough to tear the ACL.

If the tail of the ski were only half as long, then the pressure at the knee would be only half as much. Just ask a knee doctor what a big gain for your knee this might be.

If you are not a ski racer and you are looking for a reduced risk of a torn knee, go to the Internet and look for “ACL,” “ACL skis,” “Flo Skis,” or “HDS skis.”

Someday, maybe, there will be a store in Vail that sells those skis.

Otto Wiest

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