The Winter Olympics are in full swing. As someone used to watching cyclists in competition there are many crossovers from the impressive VO2 max scores of the XC skiiers to the importance of aerodynamics in downhill skiing.
But what of aerodynamics? Looking at the Alpine ski events there seem to be many things where the skiers could take time for free. Take the TV screengrab above with Italy’s Verena Stuffer for illustration, what goes for her seems common across the other men and women:
- Many will notice the bib is creased. But they are given this and the FIS rules say they cannot pin or modify it so let’s look elsewhere.
- The suit is creased too, these lines interrupt the airflow and if the suit moves like this in the start hut it’ll do the same elsewhere.
- Look at the helmet. FIS rules reject spoilers and protrusions but could the shape be improved?
- The holes in the helmet around the ears look odd given this is a competition event and you don’t need to listen out for someone else. They risk disrupting the airflow.
- Look at the dangling chin strap, why can’t be it be cut to size to stop it flapping in the wind?
- Now for the goggles. Why is there a big elastic strap over the helmet, breaking the lines of the helmet? It’s also one of those adjustable ones with a double band and metal clip, can’t an Olympian get a piece of elastic to fit?
- FIS rules don’t allow aerodynamic modifications to the goggles but why the could fit flush to the helmet to improve aerodynamics, no?
- Look at the gloves, the second photo shows items that flare over the wrists like medieval gauntlets. Normally you’d expect something tighter to help with airflow but maybe this flare helps spread the air around and over the arm?
- We can go on, look at the pronounced bindings and the boots with their exposed ratchets
- I know personal style is important for many but long hair? Surely a hairpin or two could stop it flapping in the wind
I’ve checked the FIS rules and they don’t allow aero helmets but there’s little on big gloves, long hair or boot design to stop some gains. Presumably it’s commercial pressure, the skiers are paid to wear gear that is sold to ordinary punters so boots have the kind of ratchets someone with frosty fingers inside thick gloves can adjust when sitting on a ski lift - but such a level of practicality isn’t needed this week.
Of course downhill skiing needs huge skill and enormous strength and there’s a lot of danger, it’s so much more than a windtunnel session. But that’s the point, all the power and precision shouldn’t be held back by long hair or a flappy strap.
These ski races are so short and often decided by hundredths of a second. The winning margin between gold and fourth place was just 0.27 seconds in the women’s downhill.
To end, there are plenty of cyclists who can make aero gains too including some big names; and cyclists can get obsessive and compulsive about aerodynamics, eg expensive wheels for a Sunday spin. But I’m curious why skiers are leaving some obvious gains behind at this high level.
FIS rules 2013/2014 PDF