ASPEN, Colo. -- The most important official at World Cup ski races this year may be the one with the tape measure.
Trying to make sure that equipment doesn't get too radical and potentially dangerous, the International Ski Federation has a full-time "equipment control" officer at each race to measure ski length and the height that boots rise off the skis.
Skis are wider, and more than a foot shorter, than the old standard used for slalom racing. This allows for easier turns, but gives little margin of error.
This season, FIS set new standards for ski lengths - 62 inches for men, 60 inches for women.
"It's a maximum minimum," said Patrick Lang, press chief for the World Cup tour. Without limits, race skis might keep on getting shorter and shorter, he said.
The revolution in ski design has affected boots, too.
"As skis get shorter, boots also have to be able to flex more because more ankle comes into play," said Warren Wilkinson, a World Cup equipment supplier.
Boots rise almost 2 inches off the surface of the ski to give racers a better angle. New rules limit the rise to 2 1/2 inches for men, 2 inches for women.
"Athletes are on a mission to get as high off the ski as possible. ... But there's a danger of blowing out their knees," said Mike Kertesz, in charge of equipment control for the men's World Cup tour this season. "There came a point that FIS decided we have to get some sort of limit to maintain safety."
The new equipment takes time to figure out, say competitors. The winner of the season's first men slalom, Ivica Kostelic of Croatia, said: "I really mastered these old skis. But all of a sudden, the small skis appeared and I got lost."
Kostelic practiced on the new skis over the summer and won Sunday's race from the 64th start position.
Lasse Kjus, a 30-year-old racer from Norway, said the shorter skis make "make it possible for us old guys to hang on to the turns. It's nice. Now, it's more easy to ski slalom and more fun."
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