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Scientists Give Skis a Tech-y Tune-Up on the Eve of Olympics

alpine skiing

With the Vancouver Olympics fast approaching, it’s appropriate that researchers in Germany are studying how to adapt ski wax and coatings to best suit particular snow conditions, allowing skiers to obtain the fastest speeds possible.

Using a ski tribometer, researchers at the Fraunhofer Institute for Mechanics of Materials have been testing the friction between snow and skis in various temperatures–a small section of ski circles about a snow-covered disc, trying out different combinations of ski waxes and coatings to achieve optimum speed.

The test is then taken to the ski hall, where athletes perform hundred-meter glide tests. A leg-mounted transponder promises split-second accuracy so the research team can see how much time, down to the thousandth of a second, can be shaved off when the appropriate combination is used.

“The snow, the ski coating, and the wax that is applied all unite to form a single entity,” Matthias Scherge, head of the Microtrobilogy Center in Karlsruhe, said in a Fraunhofer press release. “We can’t alter the snow, but we can adapt both the wax and the coating to suit particular snow conditions.”

As ski races are typically decided by mere fractions of a second, finding the perfect combination of weather, wax, and coating could carry some serious rewards. The researchers are working with Holmenkol, the official wax supplier of the U.S. Ski Team, to develop new waxes and coatings for athletes.

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