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Sports, Fitness, and Nutrition

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Engineering a Win on Skis

Posted February 16, 2010 12:00 AM by julie

I love the Olympics, especially the Winter Games. My favorite events to watch are the downhill skiing events. Now, I've been skiing for 20 years and am not too shabby. I'll take on the most difficult trails on a mountain, and I'm always up for some nice glades. But the skiers that compete at the Olympic level blow my mind. They are some of the most talented athletes I've ever seen.

It's not just their innate talent that helps them win gold medals, however. The planks they strap to their feet are specifically engineered to get them down the mountain faster than seems humanly possibly. The performance of a ski is affected by its shape, materials of construction, and methods of construction.

Ski construction plays the biggest role in determining the strengths and weaknesses of a ski. Downhill racing skis use a variety of combinations of varying ski shapes, weights, lengths, and widths to achieve faster performance with high levels of speed control on groomed runs.

Ski Material

All skis are designed with the same primary structure: a wood, steel, or foam core which is then surrounded by more durable water-resistant materials. Traditionally, skis were made of wood from a single plank. Wood can still be used in the construction of skis, but usually serves only as filler to keep the ski lightweight. Today, the most common materials used are aluminum and fiberglass. Additional materials of construction can include Kevlar (DuPont), titanium, carbon, and boron fibers.

Ski Construction

Ski construction must address a variety of factors. A ski must be light enough to glide on top of the snow, strong enough to withstand the weight of the skier, and versatile enough to accommodate varying snow conditions. Skis are built with camber - a curvature in the length of the ski - that provides stability in uneven terrain and varying snow consistency.

The presence of camber in the core increases the cost and time needed to manufacture the ski. The ski also must be able to bend, too, in order to optimize maneuverability and accommodate weight shifts during turning. A slight difference in core thickness has a great effect on the flex or stiffness of a ski. The stiffer the ski, the faster you can go on hard-packed surfaces.

So the next time you see those downhill skiers cruising through the course and across the finish line, remember that it's not just their bodies getting them there but thousands of hours of ski engineering with attention to skier weight, form, and snow conditions.

Check out this cool video on how skis are made: http://science.discovery.com/videos/how-its-made-alpine-skis.html

Additional References:

http://www.spadout.com/wiki/index.php/Skis

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ski_manufacturing_techniques

http://www.abc-of-skiing.com/skis/anatomy-and-construction.asp

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