Tag Archives: biathlon ski technician

Ian Daffern: The Interview!

Photo Credit: Les Berezowski Photography.

Ian Daffern is the head ski technician for the Canadian Para-nordic team. He has been to five Paralympic Games with the team starting in Salt Lake City and continuing all the way to the Winter Paralympics this past March in PyeongChang. He oversaw the skis for the 14 athletes who won a record 16 medals including 4 gold medals in cross country skiing but more importantly 1 in biathlon! 🙂

You can follow Ian on Twitter: @skiingwithian

Why did you become a ski technician? How long have you worked with the Para-nordic team?

I have been working with the Canadian Para-nordic team for 17 years. In the fall of 2001 Brian and Robin McKeever were looking for a ski technician to help them prepare and compete in the Salt Lake City Paralympics. They had just started with the team on the Para World Cup circuit and needed more ski and wax support on the race days. Since I had experience coaching at the same ski club and was friends with Brian and Robin it was a natural fit and as they say the rest is history. Five Paralympics later and I’m still excited to help as best I can in support of the Para team athletes quest for Gold.

The Canadian Para-nordic team had an amazing Paralympics. How did it feel to contribute towards that success?

Yes it was an unbelievable Paralympics for the team. It was amazing and very satisfying to see Canadian athletes on the podium everyday knowing the wax room technical plan and hard work since Sochi to prepare specifically for Korea was paying off. I have to thank my wax team of Laurent Roux, Bruce Johnson and Bjorn Taylor for believing and contributing to my personal Paralympics wax room goal of trying to have the best skis of the field for every race.

Can you describe what your typical day was like in PyeongChang?

A typical race day started with a 6am alarm followed by breakfast in the village food hall and a 7am bus to the race site. At the site we would check out the track conditions, have a quick discussion about the weather, snow and temperatures and start to prepare and plan the ski and wax testing for the morning prior to the athletes arrival. Once athlete skis, wax and structure selection was made the skis were prepared for racing just before the athletes start time. We had a runner who would bring the skis to the start line from the wax room. Strava records were broken everyday. 😉

Once the races were over, the afternoon was spent prepping, grinding and testing athletes skis for the next day races. Almost every night, due to the athletes success, the wax team would often go to the medal plaza for the 6:30pm ceremony followed by dinner back in the athletes village. After dinner there would be an athlete team meeting followed by a coaches / technicians meeting to go over the next days assignments usually finishing up by 10-11pm each night. Luckily Bruce is an expert at making cappuccinos on a wax iron so we were never short on caffeine!!

What is it like waxing in the cross country relay when you have someone racing two legs? What can you do to the skis in such a short time? Is it a bit stressful?!

It’s more of an adrenaline rush knowing you only have about 6-7 minutes to prep a pair of skis between relay legs. This was the case when Brian and Collin Cameron won bronze in the relay in Korea with each skier doing 2 legs. With the dirty snow conditions the main goal is to clean the skis right away and then apply a layer or two of the best testing flouro liquid or puck as quickly as possible. We were lucky to be able to bring a bench close to the exchange zone so it was fun to be in the thick of the action.

Are you excited about the World Championships coming to Canada? Will you have a wax advantage on home snow?! 😉

I am very excited to have the World Championships this upcoming season in Prince George. Head Coach Robin McKeever and I did a site visit in April to ski the trails and learn more about the conditions we can expect. I think and am hoping we will have a wax advantage since I plan to do some pre World Championship testing and we are familiar with the cold February conditions and snow in Canada. Some of the athletes on our team have competed on these trails before so they know what to expect. It will be a great event with challenging trails, a world class biathlon range and a enthusiastic organizing committee.

Are there any differences in waxing for para cross country than able bodied?

For a skier like Brian who is at a high level as an able bodied skier there are no differences. In classic skiing, grip waxing can slightly change for one arm or no arm skiers depending on the snow conditions as one pole or no poles can effect the amount of grip wax needed to climb the hills. Testing and waxing skate skis for the visually impaired and standing classes would be the same as for an able bodied program.

The biggest difference for sure would be in the sit ski category where there are many factors to consider such as whether the sit skier will use the tracks or race outside the tracks, the fact that the skis are always on the snow, the ability of the sit skier to control the skis on corners and on downhills etc. Most of the testing for sit skiers is done by the sit skiers whenever possible so they can test not only for speed and free glide but also their ability to turn and control the skis on corners. In a pinch though if time is tight one of the techs or coaches can run the sit skis since they have regular ski bindings on them.

Are you responsible for certain athletes skis or do help with them all?

As head technician I am responsible for the overall working of the wax room and all the athletes skis. Unlike many able bodied wax rooms I don’t assign specific techs to certain athletes skis as we are too small and few in number but instead have developed our own system of making sure each athlete has the correct skis for race day. I work closely with all the athletes each race to discuss and make sure the correct skis get tested pre race with the help of other coaches and technicians. Our grip wax specialist Laurent Roux will work only on classic skis but for all athletes on the team.

Have you ever had any waxidents? (accidents with wax)

Well most of our waxidents involve our grip waxer. 😉 He once set our wax table on fire with a heat gun and since he used a lot of soft klister wax in Korea our door knobs and everything else were always sticky. Perhaps the funniest waxident in Korea though was when I found klister wax all over our ski caddy which is used to take skis out on course for testing. It took a lot of wax remover to clean it up so I could use it for glide test skis again….

Do you have any good waxing tips for the non-expert?

Best advice for novices looking to make fast skate skis is to keep it simple. Sometimes the least expensive waxes can be the fastest especially in colder conditions so don’t be fooled by the price or amount of flouro as it doesn’t always correlate to ski speed. High flouro powders, gels, liquids and pucks for sure can be faster in humid and wetter snow so in those conditions try some of the newer waxing methods out such as the fleece buffer applications instead of ironing in powders and creating lots of fumes and smoke unless you have proper safety masks or good ventilation system. Also when the snow is wet, ski structure to prevent suction is more important than the wax so it’s good to invest in some basic ski structuring tools.

The Para-nordic season is pretty short with usually 3 World Cups and a major Championships. What do you do for the rest of the year?

Currently I am in Bend, Oregon (this was in June) where the Canadian Para team is having their first camp of the season. We normally have 3-4 camps in the off season which I help out at with the biggest being a 3 week skiing camp at the Snow Farm in New Zealand in August. Besides assisting at camps I am involved with planning, budgeting and purchasing equipment and wax for the upcoming racing season. Part of the this involves visiting the Fischer ski factory in October to select and pick up athletes skis followed by testing and a camp in Ramsau on the Dachstein glacier. Once we can ski in Canmore on the Frozen Thunder stored snow loop I am working with the athletes testing new skis and wax and preparing for the upcoming season. I often end up waxing at non para races throughout the winter season also.

Describe yourself in three words.

As a ski technician I would say organized, calm and relaxed.


Quick fire Questions:

Favourite biathlete: Mark Arendz of course!
Favourite track: Snow Farm, New Zealand.
Favourite biathlon nation (not your own): Sweden
Favourite rifle design (any biathlete): Samurai design on Mark’s rifle
Favourite ski suit design (from any nation): Italy
Funniest ski tech on the World Cup: Our grip waxer Laurent Roux !
Nicest ski tech on the World Cup: Steiner from the Norwegian Para Team
Best thing about being a ski tech: Celebrating a great day with the athletes.

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Andrew Chisholm: The Interview!

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Andrew Chisholm is a Canadian ski technician and former biathlete. He was born in Calgary on the 17th of November 1991 and started biathlon at age 13. He recently retired from the sport and is now preparing the skis for his former teammates.

Follow Andrew on Twitter: @andrewkchisholm

You gave up biathlon and became a ski technician. Why was that?

There were definitely multiple reasons as to why I quit, but one big reason was that I was just struggling to improve and keep my performances at a level I found acceptable. I’m not a small guy by any means, so I struggled a lot with the big climbs. I ended up becoming a ski technician a little bit by accident. I was attempting a transition into sliding sports (I was hoping to be a bobsleigh brakeman for the 2015/16 season) and I was actually hitting all of the testing numbers that I needed to do so (weight lifting, sprinting, jumps, throws, etc), but I ended up having a brutal hamstring injury a few days before the official tryout day. I couldn’t even walk properly, and I knew it was going to be a long road for proper recovery, so I asked our then head technician Tom Zidek if I could try to get on board with the wax team and he took me on right away. What I was thinking would be a little bit of part time work turned into an incredible opportunity, and I’m more than grateful for it!

Can you describe your typical race weekend?

We arrive a few days before the first race, get the skis cleaned and zeroed with the same wax for testing, and then it becomes a bit of a cycle of testing, cleaning, waxing, repeat! Race day is just a repeat of that process except we will test the wax and best skis for the day and get those skis out to the athletes on time.

What are the best and worst things about being a ski technician?

I honestly love everything about being a ski technician. Everything from the skiing, the testing, being on tour, the creativity we can use to try and gain an edge over the other nations… all I’ve really done is apply my love of competition to ski teching instead of racing!

The worst parts might be the long time away from your family and friends, but with how well you can keep in touch with Skype or Facetime nowadays, it’s not so bad. You have a bit of a family on the road too.

Are you responsible for certain biathletes skis or do help with them all?

I help with them all. Some days each tech will take on a certain athlete with the testing, but the team works as a whole to make sure everyone has the best skis possible.

Have you ever had any waxidents? (accidents with wax)

I’ve burned my arm with the iron once, dumped over base cleaner a few times… The only real accident I can remember was once I waxed an athlete’s skis differently that we had tested to be best, but there was plenty of time to re-wax them the way we had agreed on!

Is the world of wax very secretive? Have you ever been tempted to go and spy on what the other teams are doing? Do they spy on you?

Kind of. No. Not sure.


Do you ever get wax truck envy or are you happy with Canada’s set up?

I don’t get envy at all, we are able to do a pretty good job with what we have. I’m mostly happy with the set up, there are a few things I would have done differently if I was designing it all from the ground up, but I think that would be the same for anyone. Everyone has their own vision!

Do you have any good waxing tips for the non-expert?

Yeah, remember to do it 😉 In terms of race waxing, I’d say make sure you brush and wipe down your skis well. It doesn’t matter how fast your wax is if you don’t finish it properly!

Canada had a great season in 2015/16 with a World Championship bronze for the Men’s Relay Team and a Single Mixed Relay podium. Is it a coincidence that this happened in your first season? How much credit are you taking for the success?

With a question like that I feel like you’ve been hearing some rumours! I’d definitely say it was a coincidence. I won’t deny that I brought something new to the team, but I can’t take very much credit at all. It was the culmination of several years of hard work done by the athletes, coaches, staff, and tech crew before me. In my opinion it had been a long time coming and it just happened to all come together the year that I joined the team.

Did your rifle have a name?

Nope!

Describe yourself in three words.

I am terrible at things like this so I asked some of my best friends outside of biathlon and this is what they came up with:

“Is remarkably average.” (You can really feel the love with that one…)

Maybe the best three words that describe me are probably “Up to something”

Quick fire Questions:

Favourite biathlete (past or present): The Canadians. I grew up training and racing with them, having them as role models, or both!
Favourite biathlon track: Whistler.
Favourite event: (sprint, pursuit etc): Pursuit
Best race you have prepared skis for: Best result: Ostersund Single Mixed Relay (also my first race with the team)
Most Fun: Relays at Presque Isle
Best skis: Obertilliach IBU Cup

Favourite wax tech: Can’t choose just one!
Favourite wax truck (not your own): The French team. They have one of the best ventilation systems in my opinion.
Favourite ski suit design (any nation): For the last season, I think the Finnish had the best.
Favourite rifle design: I liked my old stock that I built with the Van Halen style paintjob, but Nathan Smith’s is probably #1 for me right now.

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Federico Fontana: The Interview!

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Federico Fontana is a ski and wax technician from Frassinoro in Italy. He has been working in biathlon for 4 years firstly with the Polish Team, then Great Britain and has just taken a new job with US biathlon. He currently lives in Germany but is still involved in the Frassinoro Summer Biathlon Festival. Apparently his nickname in biathlon is “Helmut” but we are not allowed to know why!!:-)

You can follow Federico on Twitter: @fedefontana82

How did you become a wax tech? Are you just a frustrated athlete or do you prefer the equipment/technical side?

A nice question..well I wasn’t like that, I was a cross country skier but after the junior category I decided I wasn’t good enough….or the results did it for me! I started to ski when I was around one year old (in my dad’s child backpack). In Frassinoro, my town, you don’t have any choice but to try to be a cross country skier so the passion for my sport is inside.

After my short career as an athlete I started all the steps to make it my profession first becoming a ski teacher then a 2nd level cross country and biathlon trainer with the dream to work at the top in the World Cup. An important role in that was played by my “GURU” Gianluca Marcolini,one of the best wax techs in the world, who was also my former coach and he gave me the motivation to achieve my goals and the biggest help to learn about wax and skis. He has always been my role model in that and with him my first ski teacher,a legend in Italian cross country skiing history, Leonello Biondini, president of my ski club, a dedicated person that loves the sport more than everything. He taught us to work hard and do it with passion and love.
I can never thank Gianluca and Leonello enough for what they gave me in my career.

After all my courses I worked for several years with my ski club coaching and waxing,then with the Emilia Romagna regional team (my region). Then in 2011 the opportunity came… I received a phone call from a person who at that time turned out to be an other important person in my life…Bruno Maddalin, asking me if I would like to work with him with the Polish team…the answer was easy:let’s do it!Two years with Bruno were perfect,if Gianluca was and is still my guru and my role model and one of my best friends,Bruno taught me so much,a great man,and very good friend now. The rest is history and I have more goals and hopefully a long career to come.

You just got a new job working for the US Team. How is it going so far?

Yes the contract with the US I can say is a big step forward for me, a huge injection of motivation and desire to do a great job.
After two years with Poland and one season with the British Team as main wax tech, which gave me a big opportunity to improve myself taking decisions and organizing a working system, the time came and I accepted without hesitation the offer from the US.
After the first months of work I’m really satisfied, it is a great team, hard working and really well organised….and other than that a really tight group of positive and friendly people, that always helps towards working for a good result.
We will show you next season what we can do!!!

Have you ever had any waxidents (accidents with wax)?

A nice question!….well I had… but I prefer not to mention it or describe it! Not good for kids but I just suggest you should always wash your hands after powder application even if it is only to go to the washroom 😉
Biathlon23 is very grateful to Federico for not going into detail here. You can use your imagination!!!

What advice would you give to someone who is learning to wax skis?

There are a lot of suggestions but the best and this is what someone said to me, and I chose to make it my motto is : in our job nothing is written, don’t make the mistake of thinking that you can learn everything from the label of a powder bottle, don’t be afraid to try or to do crazy applications that don’t seem logical. Behind these things you can find the pot of gold!

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What are the best and worst things about being a wax tech?

Everyday I put everything into my job so as a person I remember everything, the good and bad things and I try to learn from all of it…also in the bad days you must learn a lesson and especially in this you must find the reason.
For sure when you have a good result and everybody is glad it is nicer, but you can find good things also when the skis are not perfect. Basically never give up!

How much input do the biathletes have when you are choosing the wax for the skis? Who makes the final decision?

For the wax athletes have nothing to do it is all in our hands. We work with them for the choice of the skis this of course, and it works like an exchange of feelings and several combinations,considering snow conditions, place, start number, weather etc…but most of the time when you and your athletes have a good connection they trust you 100% and in the end we choose for them.

Are you responsible for preparing all the skis or are you assigned to certain biathletes?

With the US I will be responsible for wax and application plus I will follow directly Susan Dunklee and our male talent Sean Doherty.
And I’m very happy for my position.

Describe your typical race weekend? What are your responsibilities, how long do you spend waxing, testing etc? Do you help on the tracks or shooting range during the race?

Oooh! Do you have enough space in the article? Just kidding! Everyday we write down a working plan schedule with time and action but basically to make it short the day can start at 8 am and finish at 8 or 9 pm.
During the race every tech has a job to do and we cover all the critical points of the race course following also the request of the coaches, for example if needed we do the feeding during the individual etc.. but me for example I will be the last to leave the cabin in case the weather changes and I receive from my colleagues information from the track…and if this happens it can be panic….you must be cold enough and have the solution ready in your pocket…and you can save or rescue the performance…basically it is hard work in stressful situations.

Is the world of wax quite secretive? Do you have special formulas that you don’t want other teams to know about?

Sure I like to keep everything secret, application formulas etc….everything that we develop stays in a database and only we know how we do it….we are jealous about our job!

What do you do in the summer? Roller skis don’t need wax so what do you do until the start of the new season?

In the summer we are not always on holiday, we also have a summer working schedule which means selecting skis,inventory and testing. For the rest of the time most of us have a second job. Me for example I work as a “pizzaiolo”(pizza baker) and cook helper in an Italian restaurant here in Germany! Cooking is one of my passions….these Italians. …pasta pizza e mandolino!!!

You are involved in the Frassinoro summer biathlon festival. Can you tell me something about it and why biathlon is so popular in such a small place?

This is something I’m really proud of! As I said we are a huge cross country center with a big tradition and good athletes in our history, but Frassinoro being a town of 700 people is funny because it seems like we have some genetics to be wax techs. Right now three of us work on the World Cup and in total there have been 6. The passion for biathlon grew up from me and another 3 or 4 guys, first going to Ruhpolding to watch the World Cup, and it was love at first sight. Day by day the group became bigger and bigger and the trips for the events more and more. Now it’s one of the largest fan clubs in Italy – The Frassinoro Biathlon Friends.

In Frassinoro we are stubborn and when we decide to do something we do it, typical of mountain people and the idea to bring an event home was born during a Saturday night aperitivo. We try to do as much as we can and I really want to make it clear that it is all volunteering, with help from sponsors and all done by ourselves. Now we showed to the institution that we are serious and we presented a project for a summer biathlon center which will complete the sport and touristic offers that we already give for the winter with an amazing cross country center also in the summer. They like it and the first installment of financing is approved!
It is worth it to visit our mountains even if they are not The Alps. They are amazing and Frassinoro is a wonderful place to do sport, relax and enjoy the typical friendly Italian lifestyle!

Quick fire Questions:

Favourite biathlon track: Ruhpolding most for the atmosphere
Favourite biathlete (past or present): Past:Ole Einar….ok well he is still a present athlete (joking)
Present: my girlfriend….;-)
(Megan Heinicke)
Favourite event (sprint, pursuit etc): pursuit
Favourite wax tech: Gianluca Marcolini
Favourite food: pasta and pizza
Favourite singer/band: Rod Stewart
Favourite film: I’m not a movie person but I like the historical genre
Favourite sports team: USA biathlon team
Favourite TV show: The Simpsons, Hells kitchen


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Gianluca Marcolini: The Interview!

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Gianluca Marcolini from Frassinoro, Italy is one of the top ski technicians working in biathlon at the moment. Previously he worked in cross country skiing and was ski technician to the likes of Stefania Belmondo and Dario Cologna. In 2013 he switched to biathlon to work with the Russian team in the run up to and during the Sochi Olympics. In 2014 he took up a position with the Norwegian team and he kindly took some time to talk to me about his job.

You can follow Gianluca on Twitter: @marcolinigluca

How did you become a ski technician? Are you just a frustrated athlete or do you prefer the equipment/technical side?

I’ve always been a lover of ski wax and skis as a child, I was an athlete as a young man but always with the passion of a ski technician.

You currently work for Norway. How does an Italian gets a job waxing for the Norwegians?

I work for Norway and I’m proud to work for them. It is the most I can ask, a dream come true. I consider myself privileged to have the honour to work for the number 1 nation in the world.

Have you ever had waxidents (accidents with wax)?

I’ve never had problems with my work, I have always tried to use the maximum precautions.

What advice would you give to someone who would like to be a ski technician?

The advice I could give to a person who wants to start the job of ski/wax tech is just to have a lot of passion and love the job.

What are the best and worst things about being a ski technician?

The best things are when your team wins and I’m able to do my job well. The worst thing for me doesn’t exist if you are supported by a group of wax techs, coaches, staff and athletes with whom you can talk openly, even when you are wrong, to try to find the mistake because that’s the only way you can grow positively.

How much input do biathletes have when choosing wax for skis? Who makes the final decision?

I think it’s important to have a good feeling with the athletes when testing skis both in training and before the race. The final decision for the selection of cross-country skis is taken between the ski technician and the athlete, but many times it takes just the ski tech to choose the skis and the products to be used on the racing skis.

Are you responsible for preparing all the skis or are you assigned to certain biathletes?

I mainly follow three athletes, Johannes Bø, Tarjei Bø and Synnøve Solemdal, but the whole group of ski technicians work together in harmony and help each other.

Describe your typical race weekend? What are your responsibilities, how much time do you spend waxing, tests, etc.?

I do not help on the tracks or shooting range during the race. I think the hours we spend in the ski room are already a lot. There is no timetable to start and finish it’s just when you think you’ve achieved the result you wanted. I sometimes go to help the coaches on track to give supplies to athletes.

Is the world of wax quite secretive? Do you have special formulas that you don’t want other teams to know about?

I try to do my work based on my experience and my professionalism. If I have any product or solution that I feel is good I want only my team using it and I don’t want it to be disclosed to the other teams.

What do you do in summer? Roller skis don’t need wax so what to do until the start of the new season?

In summer I talk with the ski companies, I go to the companies to research and test new skis for next season to try to always have the top skis.

The Italian biathlon team is doing really well right now. Why do you think that is?

I think that the Italian team is working very well both on shooting and on their physical abilities. When the Italians are strong in the race I’m happy, but I’m much happier when the Norwegians win.

Quick fire questions:

Favourite track biathlon: Holmenkollen
Favourite biathlete (past or present): Johannes Bo
Favorite event: (sprint, pursuit, etc.): all of them
Favourite Ski Tech: all of them
Favorite food: Pizza
Favourite singer/band: U2
Favorite Movie: Fast and Furious 6
Favorite team sport: cycling
Favourite TV show: quark

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