Are You Skiing with a Short Rope?

Have you ever wanted to hang yourself with your tow line after a bad set? Well, put those suicidal thoughts on hold - it might not be your fault. Not every rope is what it says it is, so don't be surprised if your 75-foot tow line only stretches 73 feet or if your 28 off is actually 30 off. Instead of taking the rope manufacturer's word for it, break out the tape measure and verify the specs.


The first thing you want to do with a new rope is stretch it, says John Worden, an AWSA technical controller for Jack Travers' International Tournament Skiing in Okahumpka, Florida, and the go-to guy for all things rope. One way to stretch a rope is to attach each end to the hitches of opposing trucks, then gently pull the rope taut and leave it in this stretched position for an hour. Or just ski five or six sets with the rope, and then let it sit for half an hour before measuring it.


After stretching the rope, attach the handle and the end of a measuring tape to a hook. The rope should have about 20 kilograms (42 pounds) of pressure on it. Worden uses a fish-weighing scale to make sure his tension is precise, but he says you can get pretty close simply by pulling the rope tight. With the rope in one hand and the tape in another, stretch the rope out to the first loop and measure. If it's within tolerance (see Tolerance sidebar), move on to the next loop. If not, you need to change the rope's length.


"Lengthening a rope is a bit difficult," Worden says. "It is done by adjusting the splice and interwoven sections, and you need to have experience to do it." If lengthened incorrectly, the rope may come apart while you're skiing, resulting in "a rattling of the rib cage." If your rope is short, don't risk adjusting it - send it back to the manufacturer.

Shortening, though, is much easier. All you need is a fid, a large, tapering pin used to open strands of a rope before splicing, and a short section of old ski rope. Go to your local hardware store and ask for a 5/6 inch fid. If you can't find one, use a pen cap.

Insert a section of the old ski rope into the fid. You may need to tape the end of the rope to form a narrower point to fit into the fid or pen cap. Now hold the section of line that needs to be shortened with your forefingers and push it together to "open" it up. Insert the fid parallel into the center of the open rope and pull the old rope completely into the center. About every four inches of rope that you insert reduces the rope length by an inch. Once you've inserted the necessary amount of rope, cut off any excess.


Since you can use either a metric or a standard measuring tape, here's a cheat sheet of metric-to-foot conversions to aid in your rope-measuring endeavor:

Rope Length Meters Feet
43 off   9.75 31' 11 7/8"
41 off 10.25 33' 7 9/16"
39.5 off 10.75 35' 3 1/4"
38 off 11.25 36' 10 7/8"
35 off 12 39' 4 1/4"
32 off 13 42' 7 10/16"
28 off 14.25 46' 9"
22 off 16 52' 6"
15 off 18.25 59' 10 1/2"


IWSF/AWSA rules allow a tolerance of plus or minus 7.5 cm (3 inches) on rope lengths of 9.75 meters to 13 meters (43 off to 32 off). Tolerance is twice that for 18.25-meter, 16-meter and 14.25-meter (15 off to 28 off) ropes. This tolerance is for the total rope measurement, including the roughly 1.5-meter handle. If you're measuring a rope without the handle, add 1.5 meters to your figure.

Account for Switch Sections

A slalom switch is a device that connects the rope and the pylon. When a skier pulls, the switch closes and additional throttle is applied. Throttle is reduced when the skier completes the pull and begins the turn. Because this device adds approximately half a meter to the length of the rope, high-end ropes now have switch sections-about half a meter of rope that can be removed to accommodate the extra length.

"Be aware of whether the rope has a switch section," Worden says. "This may seem elementary, but I've seen an open skier bring his own rope to practice and use it on a boat with no switch. A rope that's a half-meter short will ruin the set." When measuring a rope without a switch section, simply add half a meter. Therefore, a 38-off loop will measure 391/2 off if there is no switch section.