Phenomena

Sochi 2014: Downhill Skiing

Like the athletes who compete on ice, skiers rely on a film of liquid beneath their skis to provide the low friction necessary to glide. The moisture results from the friction of the ski’s base and edges cutting into the snow, and, depending on the conditions of the snow, different surface treatments are recommended for the skis to help control and direct this lubricating film. Similarly, skiers uses various waxes on their skis to lower surface tension and provide additional lubrication. Fluid dynamics can also play a role in tactics for various ski-based events. In endurance events like cross-country skiing, drafting behind other skiers can help an athlete avoid drag and save energy. When drafting, cross-country skiers have lower heart rates. Drag and aerodynamics can also play a significant roles in alpine skiing, especially in speed events like the downhill or super G. In these events solo skiers reach speeds of 125 kph, where drag is a major factor in slowing their descent. Between turns smart skiers will tuck, decreasing their frontal area and reducing drag’s effects. Athletes use wind tunnel testing to dial in their tuck position for maximum effect, and, like speedskaters, skiers may also wear special aerodynamic suits. (Photo credits: F. Cofferini/AFP/Getty Images, C. Onerati; h/t to @YvesDubief)

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