Text by Hannes Larsson. March 22nd 2014:
Engadin Skimarathon had announced a new start system to be adopted in 2015: 14 starting blocks with 5 minute intervals. We welcomed this improvement but suggested that the Ideal Start like at Marcialonga and Jizerská Padesátka would be much better. Something unexpected happened in the 2014 race: the start from the lake was impossible because of dubious ice thickness that did not allow heavy grooming machines to prepare the start area. The organizers created what they called a “box start” arranged on the lake shore. It was nothing else than a good first approach to the Ideal Start: the skiers waited in14 boxes with the skis in their hands and when the gate of the box opened they flowed in the start area, put on the skis and started skiing. At the Worldloppet skiers’ reception on Saturday I had the pleasure to talk with the OC president Ivo Damaso who expressed some concern about this new system that they had never experienced before and on which they had sought advice from Marcialonga. But these fears were not justified, everything worked nicely. The participants observed three great improvements compared to the previous years:
1) Until now skiers had to come early to Maloja. First they walked to the start area where they left their skis, then walked back to the Maloja Palace, where they killed the time, visited the toilets, then left their warm clothing in the truck and walked or run to the start area where they sometimes had difficulties to find their skis. These wanderings back and forth of thousands of skiers were a stupidity. This year, no such wanderings. The flow of skiers with the skis in their hands from the start boxes to the start field went easily. The skiers were relaxed and everybody was able to adopt the most suitable pace right from the beginning.
2) The flow of skiers was continuous and there was no crowding on the track. Until now the simultaneous start of thousands of skiers created a mini-battlefield effect, stress and often falls. All this had disappeared.
3) I was curious to see the first climb when approaching the St Moritz jump-hill. Miracle: several parallel lines were moving upwards in a continuous movement, no bottleneck! Bottlenecks occurred in earlier years also at several points after Pontresina. This year no bottlenecks. I presume that the same was observed by faster and slower skiers (my time was around 3.5 hours). This resulted from the extension of the total duration of the starts compared to previous years.
Thus we can say that it was fortunate that the climatic conditions had forced the organizers to adopt this new start system. Organizers tend to be afraid of changing a system that they have routinely applied for years.
Improvements are easily applicable to this start arrangement. The main point is that the start times (i.e. the times when the gate of the different boxes opens) must be given for each box. This year it was given only globally for the big groups, e. g. the start time of all four boxes of the B-group was given as 9.05. The huge advantage of the Ideal Start is that every skier knows his/her start time and can optimize the moment in which he/she leaves the bag in the truck and comes to the start box in light clothing. At the entry of the boxes the corresponding bib numbers need to be shown, preferably on high poles visible from far away.
A new seeding table is needed for all start boxes. It should be based on times in previous Engadin Skimarathons, but results from other Worldloppet races need to be taken into account, based on the time ratio. The registration forms should contain a space for results obtained in other Worldloppet races.
Another minor point related to the comfort of the skiers is the following. In the start area I was glad to receive help from a young man who helped me fix the skis and took care of the plastic bag that I had put on my body to avoid getting cold. This year the snow was not sticky and it was easy to fix the boots on the skis. But there are years when the snow is sticky and can form an icy hard layer in the groove under the boot. It is difficult to scrape off the snow from the sole of the ski-boots and the ski pole is not a suitable tool for this. In such conditions it is useful to have helpers in the start area. There could be a new category of volunteers, maybe called start assistants or “scrapers”. In conditions of sticky snow it would be nice to have many of them. They should have a specially designed tool that allows the snow and ice to be removed quickly from the bottom of the boots. This sort of service is not indispensable, rather a “luxury service” offered to the participants.
I am confident that the organizers are convinced about the superiority of this start and that they will apply it from now on. With a few easy improvements they can call it proudly the Ideal Start.
UPDATE April 9th 2014:
Se news regarding startarrangement: Boxed start is to be used also in 2015: http://www.engadin-skimarathon.ch/engadin-skimarathon/aktuell/news/news/news/detail/News/boxenstart-wird-beibehalten.html