CARRABASSETT VALLEY — Danijel Andisilic didn’t stand on a podium at the U.S. Alpine Championships this week. He didn’t hold up a gold-plated hatchet, or coast into the finish corral to a round of adoring adulation.

Drew Duffy, Alice McKennis, Nina O’Brien, Tim Jitloff and Mikaela Shiffrin have done that.

But they wouldn’t have, without someone like Andisilic.

Tucked in the corner of Sugarloaf’s competition building that houses equipment for Carrabassett Valley Academy, the University of Maine at Farmington and a host of other organizations, Andisilic and other ski tuners have plied their trade this week in a workshop setting. Just to walk from end to end, they weave through a half dozen tuning machines like the slalom racers to whom they cater slice through gates.

“How sharp they are, how high the bindings are, forward, backward, it’s all different,” Andisilic said in a thick Croatian accent. “What kind of snow, what kind of hill do we have? Is it steep is it flat? It’s kind of like a setup for a car. It’s not every time the same.”

Many members of the U.S. Ski Team’s technical support staff hails from Europe. Paula Moltzan placed second Saturday in the women’s slalom race at Sugarloaf. She calls the technician who worked on her skis her “Italian Stallion.”

“Matteo (Fattor) does my skis every day, and we couldn’t ask for a better technician,” Moltzan said.

The slalom, Moltzan said, is a particularly tough race to set up for.

“Your edges have to be sharp,” she said. “You have to trust your skis and your technicians to do everything right. Over a season, you build that trust in your technician and you believe in them 100 percent so you never have a doubt going into the start gate.”

At the top of the run, just outside the start area skis sit in the snow, lined up like planks on a suspension bridge, sorted by skier, placed there ahead of the run. If a skier takes a lift to the top of a course, they will many times use non-race skis to reach the start area, and switch when it’s their turn to go.

Going it alone

What about skiers who don’t have the backing of a full team? College teams will often have their own equipment and someone on staff able to help the skiers with tuning. The skiers with the U.S. Ski Team have its full support.

For independent skiers, like Megan McJames, their skis are their own responsibility.

“I race on the World Cup independently, so I have to do mine all myself,” McJames said. “It’s an added challenge.”

The challenge isn’t so much the knowledge, but the time commitment to get it done properly.

“When you know you’re the one who’s looking after your own back,” Hailey Duke said after a fourth-place finish in Saturday’s slalom. “You’re the one in the tuning room with all of the other servicemen.”

Duke, who also skis independently, said Saturday’s race was likely her last.

“The biggest thing is, you lose hours in the day,” she said. “Really, you have to be super efficient, think ahead and cram it all in. Unfortunately it does add up, and not in a great way, but if you can fight it for long enough, it will turn around.”

All in the details

Duke has a bit easier than some racers, though. For the most part, she is tuning her skis for one event: the slalom.

“Good thing I’m only a slalom specialist, though, so it keeps it easy,” Duke said. “It’s really just the feel of the edge. I know exactly what I’m feeling, and I can turn it and adjust accordingly. And I don’t have to explain that to anyone.”

McJames, meanwhile, skis a variety of disciplines.

“In speed events, the wax is more important, because you spend a lot more time on the boards,” McJames said. “You want as little friction as possible. In slalom, you are on your edges a lot more, so you want them to be the correct sharpness in the snow. Sharp is better for ice, and if it’s a little bit grippier you want to dial it back a little. It’s very small adjustments that make the difference.”

Back in the makeshift tech room for the U.S. Ski Team, Andisilic was getting skis ready for Sunday’s men’s slalom. He typically tunes for Tommy Ford and Brennan Rubie.

“Everybody wants their skis differently,” Andisilic said. “All these guys are different, how they are made up, some have more muscle and are taller. And that all matters.

“Someone who is taller and stronger, he doesn’t feel so much,” Andisilic added. “If he is lighter and thinner, he feels a lot of things.”

The type of snow matters, too. From Maine to Colorado to Europe, the snow is different.

“More or less, you know before what the snow is like where you are,” Andisilic said. “You know for Colorado, the snow is going to be like sandpaper, so you are ready for that. Europe is icy, you know when you go to Europe to prepare for that.

“Here is something very different. There is a lot of moisture in the air, but the snow is dry. This is my first time here, and I’ve never seen this. It’s so warm, the air is so warm, but the snow is so dry. It’s very different.”

Different, but still fast — at least for Andisilic’s skiers. Ford placed second in the giant slalom Friday, and 18th in Wednesday’s super-G. Rubie finished the super-G in sixth position.

“I am getting feedback from them all the time, what was good and what was bad,” Andisilic said. “That’s learning for me, and it’s learning for them. We need to communicate a lot.”

Whether American, Croatian or Italian, the common language among the athletes and technicians: Skiing.


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