FIS postpones introduction of air bag system aimed at protecting skier during crash

Alpine skiing's governing body has postponed the introduction of an air bag system aimed at improving safety in speed racing.

FIS men's race director Markus Waldner said Friday the back protectors cannot be approved yet as their shape doesn't comply with existing equipment rules.

The system is worn under the suit and activates a built-in air bag as soon as a skier crashes, protecting neck, shoulders, arms and backbone.

"They are not ready to be approved and they cannot be used in the races," Waldner said. "So we continue working on it."

FIS has been cooperating on the development of the system with Italian manufacturer Dainese for four years. Prototypes were tested by downhill specialists Werner Heel of Italy and Jan Hudec of Canada last season and FIS planned to start using them at the World Cup in Val Gardena, Italy, on Dec. 19-20.

According to Waldner, the problem is the positioning of the gas generator, which enables the air bag to inflate.

In its initial position, the generator created a shape that could give the skier an aerodynamic advantage. Alternatively, the generator was built into the protector.

"But it then exceeds the maximum thickness," said Waldner, adding that rules only allow back protectors of up to 45 millimeters.

"It's unfortunate because this is really a big step forward in safety," he said. "We go on and I am sure we find a good solution."

A similar air bag system has been in use in motorcycle racing since 2009. The air bag inflates when the body leaves the bike with a forward rotation, though the system had to be adapted to make it suitable for ski racing. The exact moment where a skier loses control, and thus the moment the air bag should inflate, varies from one crash to another.