Top speed – at a breakneck pace

The Flachau speed skier Manuel Kramer – in the spotlight

Speed skiing is an extreme sport. On 2.40 m long skis, the winter athletes whizz down an incredibly steep slope – whereby the focus is always on maximum speed.A guy who lives for his passion for speed is Manuel Kramer from Flachau. He recently provided me with an insight into this very special ski sport discipline. He told me why the latex suits are nearly always red, that the aerodynamic helmet has the catchy name of “Monster“ and what the optimal conditions have to be for a new record to be set.

But first of all I’m simply dying to know what motivates someone, who seems so down to earth, to throw himself down such a steep slope at such enormous speed. Manuel smiles: “My love of speed is in my blood, and what many people forget is that the “Streif“ ski run in Kitzbühel is much scarier and much more dangerous. I have the speed under control up to 230 km/h, thereafter it’s all in the mind, to force myself to fight for every single millimetre and achieve a top speed.“ The man from Flachau knows what he’s talking about, after all he’s raced 25 Downhill and Super-G World Cup runs including the “Streif“ What the downhill run in Kitzbühel is for Alpine Ski World Cup, the run in Vars (France) is for speed skiing. Vars is the fastest run in the world. It is 1.000 m long, the altitude difference is around 400 m and it features a gradient of an unbelievable 98 %. I’m surprised to learn that the perfect speed ski piste is not iced, but requires an optimum temperature, not too warm and not too cold. ”The sun has to break the crystals and open up the upper layer of snow. That’s why speed competitions only take place in the months of February, March and April, according to the speed star from Flachau.

When and how is the speed measured and how do you slow down afterwards?

“The skiers accelerate from 0 to 200 in around 7 seconds. Then the aerodynamic resistance becomes stronger and it gets more difficult to increase more speed. Every single millimetre of position change has an extreme effect“, Manuel explains.“Acceleration takes place during the first 900 metres. Then, the time the speed skiers require for the remaining 100 metres is measured using two light barrier sensors and finally converted into km/h. Slowing down takes around 500 metres by straightening up and as soon as the speed permits, taking 2 turns to brake.“

The dream of a world recordThe current speed skiing world record is 254.958 km/h, set by the Italian Ivan Origone. This season in Vars the “Speed Masters” take place, where the best speed skiers try to break this record.

Manuel: “In my opinion 60% of the conditions (piste, wind, run consistancy …) must be ideal and the remaining 40 % is in within the sphere of influence of us skiers and our equipment. The world record attempt is set for a specific week. According to the weather we have a time frame of about 1.5 hrs. per day in which the conditions have to be just right for us to set a new record.During the week we take it step by step, first we begin with a 160-km/h start, then a 180-km/h start, followed by a 200-km/h-start, a 220-km/h start and then a 240-km/h start, before we finally get to a “top start“. During the week the 5 best skiers qualify for the Speed Masters and then they try to set a new world record.In addition to the Speed Masters there are plenty of other sporting goals for Manuel in his discipline, after all the runner-up World Champion from 2017 has 8 World Cup races and also the World Championships in his calendar this coming season.

Cue preparation - what does that involve?

“I’ve grown up with sport. I spend the summer on my mountain bike and road racing bike. Plus I undertake mountain and climbing tours. The region in and around Flachau offers so many possibilities for these activities. In the intensive preparation phase in autumn I train in the weights room and as soon as possible on snow. At the start of the World Cup season in Idre (Sweden) we’ll arrive early and either train there intensively or in Vars for a week.In addition I’ll obviously test equipment and work on fine tuning.  I’m now in my 4<sup>th</sup> season and have been able to gain a lot of experience. That helps me of course to optimize my tuning. I work together with Atomic, Boa Technology and Flachau and therefore have good prospects for a successful season.”

Here’s some information regarding equipment, as in speed skiing it really does play a decisive role.

Manuel’s skis and boots are from Atomic, his poles from Leki.People always ask what “Boa” is:“In speed skiing the boots don’t have any clasps – they are covered with sticky tape. The boots are closed with a cuff. This was designed by Boa Technology, a company from Mondsee.  I was able to be part of the development of the now patented system“, Manuel explains, not without pride.“Then there’s the 30 cm long spoiler on your calves, the futuristic aerodynamic helmet called the “Monster”, which is a custom-made and the red latex suit, which is only red, because for financial reasons it was ordered in large numbers in this colour.

Portrait of Manuel Kramer
Date of birth: 01.01.1989
Ski Club: USC Flachau
Education: 2015 Matura, followed by Bachelor’s Degree.“Smart Building“ at the FH Salzburg, Campus Kuchl. This autumn Manuel has started his Masters Degree “Smart Building at the Smart Cities”.

Info and Tips: You can follow Manuel and his crazy hobby on Facebook.

Here you can find general information about Speedskiing.

Photo credits: Manuel Kramer