New Zealand Speed Skier Tawny Wagstaff (Methven, 44) has broken the twenty-year-old NZ Speed Skiing record, clocking an incredible 248.610kph at the Speed Skiing World Championships held in Vars on the 22nd of March.
Wagstaff in fact broke the NZ record twice over the last four days, initially breaking the twenty-year-old NZ record on the 20th of March with a speed of 233kph, then subsequently topping his own record with a speed of 248.610kph on the 22nd of March. Wagstaff is now the eleventh fastest person in the world of all time.
Wagstaff said, “This speed is still sinking in. Breaking the NZ record was a goal, but I still want to get as fast as 250kph and above. I love the intensity and the purity of this sport, I am constantly refining my equipment and working tirelessly to perfect the tuck position. Technically speaking, everyone can ski in a straight line, which is why I love this sport.”
Speed Skiing is the fastest unpowered sport on earth where the athletes remain in contact with the ground. Wagstaff has been competing in this high speed discipline since 2017. Prior to that he was a youth Alpine Ski Racer competing in the technical events, but has now found a need for speed.
The Vars track where Wagstaff broke the NZ record starts at 2700m altitude, with a vertical drop of 400m over just 800m of track. There is a 400m long area at the bottom for reducing speed and stopping once they have crossed the finish line.
Speed Skiing is not a sport for the faint hearted. Wagstaff explained that speed skiing is not just physical, it has a huge mental element where the higher you start, the faster you go, requiring absolute poise under pressure.
“To ski really fast and do it well is very hard, and to ski really fast you have to start high which brings its own mental challenge. 30 seconds is all it takes to complete a run. Dropping from the top of the track in Vars is another world, no one wants to fall at these high speeds. If you are lucky enough to walk away from a fall, at these speeds you will still destroy your skis and outer shell of your helmet, damage your suit and you will have burns and bruising from the snow. On top of that you thenhave your mind to deal with.”
Athletes use specific equipment to ensure minimal drag while still being protected in case of a fall. Their suits are airtight and they wear a back protector. Their ski boots have spoilers, much like a race car, to reduce drag. They also wear specific helmets which are wide enough to cover their shoulders. Their skis can have a maximum length of 240cm and they are very heavy to help hold the athletes on the snow at these incredible speeds.
When Wagstaff isn’t flying down the mountain on his skis at twice the speed of the NZ open road speed limit, he is a race coach for Team Hutt and a stone mason and bricklayer based in Methven, Canterbury.
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