Snow Ski

Posted by PITHOCRATES - February 26th, 2014

Technology 101

Gravity and Speed keeps a Skier’s Skies in contact with the Mountain and Provides Control

The Winter Olympics have come and gone.  And if you are a big fan of the Winter Olympics you probably were somewhat disappointed.  Especially if you’re a fan of alpine skiing.  Because it was just too warm.  They have the Olympics in February for a reason.  Because February is a very cold month.  And the mountains have a couple of months of snow on them by February.  Allowing the snow groomers to do their magic.  And turn those mountains into hard sheets of ice.

Yes, ski racers ski on ice.  Not snow.  If you ever skied on a mountain where there was once an Olympic downhill racecourse you will see very steep slopes of ice.  If you ski slowly across the fall line of the slope at the top of the mountain you will slide further down hill than you ski across the slope.  With your ski edges sliding across the ice.  And about the only thing that will stop your ‘free-fall’ slide down that steep ice-covered slope is the loose snow on the sides of the slope.  But if you travel down this same slope at speeds around 70 mph your skies will carve into that ice.  Giving you great control.  If you have the skills of an Olympic downhill skier, that is.  If you’re not as skilled as a downhill racer then you shouldn’t try this.  Because if you fall at speed up there you can do some real damage to yourself.

Downhill skiers love that speed, though.  And will give themselves up completely to gravity.  And let it pull them down these steep, sheets of ice at breakneck speeds.  With nothing to keep them from flying off the mountain and breaking their necks but their skies.  As gravity and speed keeps their skies in contact with the mountain.  Giving them control to stay on their skies.  And carve their way down the mountain.  Literally.

When a Skier leans over on a Ski the Curved Edge of the Ski carves into the Snow or Ice and Turns the Skier

In alpine skiing there are 5 different races.  The downhill.  The super giant slalom (known as super G).  Giant slalom.  Slalom.  And combined.  Which is a combination of two ski races.  One downhill race and one slalom race.  The downhill is the straightest and fastest down the mountain.  The super G is a little more ‘turny’ and a little slower than downhill.   The giant slalom is more ‘turny’ and slower than Super G.  And the slalom is more ‘turny’ and slower than giant slalom.  The downhill is all about speed.  The turns aren’t that sharp.  While the slalom is all about the turns.  With speeds that aren’t that fast.

Each of these races requires different types of skies.  The downhill race needs long skies that will absorb the bumps of rough terrain without bouncing off.  And speed is more important than turning.  While slalom skies need shorter skies to make sharper turns.  And because they are shorter they may come off the snow as they bounce over rough terrain.  So they match the ski to the race.  And because of the requirements of downhill racing these skies are available only to professional skiers.  You will not find them in any sporting goods store.  As amateur and recreational skiers could not control them safely on steep sheets of ice at downhill speeds.

If you look at a ski lying on the ground you will see that it is narrower at the center where it attaches to the ski boot and wider at the tip and the tail.  And it goes from wide to narrow to wide in a continuous curve.  This curve is the side-cut radius.  This is what turns the ski.  When a skier leans over on the ski the curved edge of the ski carves into the snow or ice.  Turning the skier.  The more curved the side-cut radius the tighter turns it will allow.  So slalom skies are more curved in the side-cut radius than downhill skills.

The Winter Olympics are in February so Ski Racers can ski on Mountains that are Hard Sheets of Ice

Looking at a ski resting on a hard surface you will notice something else.  The center of the ski will be off that hard surface.  While the tip and the tail will be in contact with that surface.  This arch—or camber—of the ski helps to force the ski into contact with the snow when you place weight onto them.  Especially the steel edges when turning.  When a skier carves a turn he or she will literally carve that turn into the ice of the mountain.  In a clean turn the tail of the ski will follow the same groove carved by the tip.  With a minimum loss of speed.  If the tail slides out of this groove and carve its own groove it will slow the skier down.  And in downhill skiing where first and second place can be separated by one one-hundredth of a second one slight skid in a turn can be the difference between winning and coming in second.

As downhill skiers leave the starting gate they will take a couple of pushes with their ski poles to help gravity pull them down faster and then assume a tuck position.  To decrease their air drag.  As they approach a gate they will turn by leaning on their edges.  The sharper the turn the more they will lean onto to their edges to carve a tighter turn.  And the more speed they will lose.  Which is why racers will look for the best ‘line’ down the mountain.  One that minimizes sharp turns.  Once out of the turn they will release their edges and ski on the bottom of their skies.  Gaining speed.  They will absorb the rough terrain in their legs.  And fight the compression of the g-forces with their legs.  They lean into turns, release their edges, ride on the bottoms of their skis in the flats, lean on their edges, etc.  At speeds around 70 mph.  As they carve their way down a mountain of ice to cross the finish line in the shortest amount of time.

As spring approaches the ski resorts warm up.  Some people love this.  Spring skiing conditions.  Loose snow on the slopes but warming weather.  So warm that a lot of ski areas will have events like bikini races or lingerie races where girls will ski down the mountain half naked in the warming weather.  It can be a real party on the slopes.  But the skiing will be horrible.  The snow will be melting.  It will be wet.  Granular.  Pushed up into piles.  Making it easy to catch an edge and fall.  And difficult to build up any speed.  Which is why the Winter Olympics are in February.  In the coldest part of winter.  With a lot of snow frozen on the mountain.  And they typically don’t hold them in subtropical climates.  Where the average temperature in February is 50 degrees Fahrenheit.  Like in Sochi, Russia.  Where skiers had to deal with spring skiing conditions.  And varying conditions.  As the snow at the top of a run was different from the snow at the bottom of the run.  Despite the amount of chemicals they put on the snow to try and raise the melting temperature of the snow.  Making these Winter Games not as good as past Winter Games.  If you’re a fan of alpine skiing, that is.  Or prefer seeing cold winter vistas at the Winter Olympics.  And not people lying on the bare grass catching a suntan.

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